Preseason Review: Notable non-first round rookies
It’s not all about the first rounders here at PFF. The preseason has come and gone, and the full weekend slate of NFL games is almost upon us. Time now to reflect, one last time, on those notable players from this past preseason who didn’t hear their names selected among the first 32 in this past year’s NFL draft:
WR Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville Jaguars (85.6 overall grade, 78 snaps)
Westbrook didn’t just lead rookies in terms of overall grade this season, the fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma led all receivers with his 85.6 grade. He played at least 20 snaps in two different games this preseason: Jacksonville’s second game (against Tampa Bay) and their final game (against Atlanta), and he finished each of those with game grades of 87.0 and 84.0, respectively. Westbrook’s 157.1 WR Rating (a quarterback’s passer rating when targeting him) led all receivers who saw at least 10 targets this preseason and his average of 6.40 yards per route run was best in the league.
T Dion Dawkins, Buffalo Bills (80.4 overall grade, 160 snaps)
Dawkins lead all tackles this preseason in terms of overall grade, largely thanks to the elite 90.2 run blocking grade he put up over the course of four preseason games. Dawkins, the second-round pick, held his own as a pass protector – his 95.6 pass blocking efficiency rating (PBE measures pressure surrendered on a per-snap basis, weighting towards sacks) ranked 52nd out of 131 qualified tackles (and 11th out of 29 rookie tackles) – but he was absolutely sensational as a run blocker. Dawkins started out his professional career with an average run blocking grade of 76.6 in Buffalo’s opener against Minnesota before exploding for run blocking grades of 94.7, 90.0 and 86.0 over the next three games.
G Taylor Moton, Carolina Panthers (82.5 overall grade, 170 snaps)
The second-round pick out of Western Michigan ranked third among all guards in terms of overall grade while leading the pack with his 86.0 pass blocking grade. He ranked fourth among all guards who saw at least 90 pass blocking snaps with a 97.6 PBE after he allowed three total pressures (two hurries and a hit) on 93 pass blocking snaps.
C Chase Roullier, Washington Redskins (82.3 overall grade, 95 snaps)
Roullier had his struggles this preseason in pass protection as he ranked 50th out of 66 qualified centers with a 96.7 PBE, he surrendered two pressures (a hit and a sack) on just 53 pass attempts. Where the sixth-round rookie out of Wyoming shined though was in the run game, where his 85.2 run blocking grade led all centers, by a significant margin (next closest center in terms of run blocking grade was Deyshawn Bond at 80.6).
Edge Adam Butler, New England Patriots (82.2 overall grade, 71 snaps)
Butler ranked tenth among edge defenders in terms of overall grade thanks to well rounded play, he finished the preseason with an 80.3 run defense grade and a near-identical 80.2 pass rush grade. The undrafted rookie ranked 15th among rookie edge defenders with a 9.9 PRP (he totaled five pressures on 38 pass-rush snaps) and fifth with a 10.3 run stop percentage (a stop constitutes a loss for the offense given the down and distance).
DI Elijiah Qualls, Philadelphia Eagles (85.9 overall grade, 142 snaps)
The most well-rounded rookie interior defender this preseason, Qualls finished the season-before-the-season with the third highest overall grade among all DIs and his 85.4 run defense grade ranked fourth while his 79.5 pass-rushing grade ranked eighth. Qualls ranked ninth among rookie DIs with a 13.3 run stop percentage – and when the sixth-round draft pick wasn’t getting stops he was forcing cuts and blowing up points of attack – and tenth with an 8.2 PRP.
DI Jaleel Johnson, Minnesota Vikings (85.7 overall grade, 124 snaps)
Arguably the best run defender from the entire rookie class this preseason, Johnson finished the four games ranked fourth among interior defenders in terms of overall grade and his 89.8 run defense grade ranked second among the position. The fourth-round rookie out of Iowa tied with Shakir Soto for the lead among DIs with eight defensive stops in the exhibition games.
LB Jordan Evans, Cincinnati Bengals (84.7 overall grade, 103 snaps)
Evans ranked second among all off-ball linebackers this offseason in terms of overall grade and he showed well in both run defense (81.9 run defense grade) an pass coverage (82.1 coverage grade). His 20.0 run stop percentage ranked fifth among linebackers (his eight stops were the third-most) and in coverage he did allow seven of nine targets to be caught, but he limited production to just 43 total yards on those receptions and he had two pass breakups.
CB Jaylen Hill, Baltimore Ravens (84.7 overall grade, 119 snaps)
No cornerback who was thrown at more than five times this preseason limited opposing quarterbacks to less production than Hill did, who held opposing QBs to just a 13.1 passer rating on 20 targets. Hill, an undrafted rookie, was targeted 20 times in coverage and he surrendered eight catches for a total of 83 yards; he didn’t allow a single score and broke up two passes to go with two interceptions.
CB Cordrea Tankersley, Miami Dolphins (82.7 overall grade, 183 snaps)
No rookie cornerback saw more playing time than Tankersley did this preseason and he made sure to take advantage of the snaps. A third-round pick, Tankersley held opposing QBs to just a 14.6 passer rating as he was targeted 15 times and surrendered just five receptions for a total of 29 yards and no touchdowns to go with an interception and an additional pass breakup. Tankersley’s average of just 0.33 yards given up per coverage snap ranked fifth among rookies and he allowed a catch on one out of every 17.6 snaps in coverage, a rate that ranked 12th among the rookie class.
QB Cooper Rush, Dallas Cowboys (77.4 overall grade, 108 snaps)
Cowboys fans witnessed one rookie quarterback raise heads last preseason and they were fortunate enough to see another garner some attention this year. Rush, an undrafted rookie from Central Michigan, ranked seventh this preseason in terms of overall grade (just narrowly getting bested by Dak Prescott) and his accuracy was notable. Rush ranked fourth among all quarterbacks this preseason with an 83.7 adjusted completion percentage and he was able to be accurate even when under pressure. Rush dropped back with pressure in his face 13 times over the course of the preseason, his 80.0 adjusted completion percentage on those throws under pressure ranked ninth among 84 qualified gunslingers and his 116.7 passer rating under pressure ranked fourth.