Rookie Impact: AFC East
As the NFL regular season draws closer, PFF takes a look at those rookies who should be very impactful on a team’s success this season. Be it a first-round pick, or later, these rookies will look to supplant their roles in helping their new team this season, and beyond.
Today, we look at those impactful rookies from the AFC East:
Zay Jones, WR, ECU
With the recent news of Anquan Boldin’s retirement, Sammy Watkins’ trade away from Buffalo and the offseason departures of Marquise Goodwin and Robert Woods, former ECU WR Jones may not have to wait too long at all to make his impact felt for the Bills. Jones was the most targeted receiver in all of college football last year, and it wasn’t even close. He was targeted 216 times, hauling in another FBS-high 158 receptions while the next closest for each of those were 171 targets (Trent Taylor), 137 receptions (also Taylor).
Impressively enough, Jones also made his snaps in route and targets count, despite the high volume of them. He still averaged 2.96 yards per route run during his last season at ECU, which ranked him 15th among all draft-eligible receivers. Jones ran 590 snaps in route a season ago; the Bills only return a total of 276 snaps in route from their WR corps a season ago. Jones’ experience and big-play ability (caught 12-of-12 catchable deep passes last year) should be felt immediately come Week 1.
Charles Harris, edge defender, Missouri
Harris wrecked havoc on opposing offenses a season ago at Mizzou, totaling 62 quarterback pressures, especially from the right side of the defensive line. His presence will be felt for the Dolphins this season from that right defensive end spot as well, where he logged 426 snaps last year. He racked up 51 of his total pressures when rushing from the right side of the defensive line. His 14.9 pass-rush productivity mark from the right was 12th-best in the nation a year ago, among all edge defenders.
Harris’ impact may be felt in more of a rotational role in Miami as he’ll have the advantage of playing along side veterans Andre Branch and Cameron Wake for snaps. One thing is for sure, and you can almost bet on it, under the tutelage of Branch and Wake, Harris’ impact will be felt with his experience in beating left tackles for pressures on the quarterback when he’s on the field.
Jamal Adams, S, LSU
This one is relatively easy to expound on. Gone is Calvin Pryor, gone is Marcus Gilchrist as neither of those two cracked the top 20 of league’s safeties in terms of run stops, or run stop percentage. Adams on the other hand finished eighth among SEC safeties with a run stop percentage of 5.1 while leading the SEC’s safeties with his 18 stops in run defense. He was particularly impressive in the box, making another conference-high 11 stops when lined up within eight yards of the line of scrimmage. His coverage stood out as well, fielding just a 54.7 passer rating when targeted in his last season at LSU.
Adams was also a smooth tackler, finishing his 2016 season with a tackle efficiency rating of 11.1 (seventh in the SEC) while Gilchrist ranked 24th and Pryor ranked 79th among the NFL’s safeties in the same metric. Adams impact should be felt immediately, if not sooner, and should be felt all over the field as he has already shown his versatility in his limited preseason action, lining up at safety, linebacker and in the slot in his debut.
Deatrich Wise, edge defender, Arkansas
Wise is another edge-rusher that should make an immediate impact in the AFC East, this time for the Patriots. Gone is Jabaal Sheard, gone is Chris Long, retired is Rob Ninkovich and injured is fellow rookie Derek Rivers. Wise’s snap count appears to be on the rise this offseason, and it’s by no means just a product of availability. Wise racked up 40 total quarterback pressures during his last season at Arkansas including 11 hits, which tied him for 16th among draft-eligible edge defenders.
An area that may be overlooked with Wise, but will help him make a big impact this season, is his versatility. He was one of just 11 draft-eligible 4-3 defensive ends with 15 or more pressures from each side of the defensive line, as he totaled 15 from the left and 23 from the right. Trey Flowers, the only incumbent on the Patriots roster, totaled 11 from each side of the defensive line a season ago. Wise was no slouch against the run either, tallying the nation’s eighth-highest run stop percentage at 7.8, among draft-eligible 4-3 defensive ends. Pass-rush or run defense, Wise’s skillset should fit in nicely with the Patriots defensive front.