Rookie Impact: AFC North
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.
WR John Ross, Washington
The speedy, shifty John Ross set the NFL combine record for fastest 40-yard dash time earlier this offseason, as the Washington product saw his draft-stock rise because of it. The Bengals nabbed Ross to add to their receiving corps in giving QB Andy Dalton another weapon to work with. He showed a glimpse of what could be in the preseason with his dynamic end around, but will need to stay healthy moving forward.
At Washington, Ross was nothing short of unstoppable. He finished his final season with the Huskies hauling in 81-of-123 targets for 1139 yards and 17 touchdowns while only one pass targeted his was wound up in the hands of the defense. His 131.7 passer rating when targeted was good enough for 16th-best among all wide receivers with at least 54 targeted passes a year ago. What maybe makes him so dangerous as a weapon however, is how he makes his yards count. Despite running 374 snaps in route a season ago, Ross averaged 3.05 yards per route run, good enough for third-highest in the Pac-12, and 21st-highest nationwide a season ago. Dynamic speed, the ability to haul in passes and making his yards count, all equal one impactful rookie, if he can stay healthy.
ED Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Garrett’s pass-rushing prowess and overall play on the field made him the consensus No. 1 pick this past April, and his impact will be just that: bolstering the Browns defense all around. A season ago, Garrett ranked 13th overall in pass-rush productivity (13.5) among the nation’s edge defenders and finished with the fifth most stops (17) in run defense among SEC edge defenders.
Only Jamie Collins ranked in the top 20 in terms of highest pass-rush productivity last season for the Browns, and he was a late addition to the team. Garrett registered 53 total quarterback pressures a year ago and 46 total in 2015 – both of which were more than any other Browns edge defenders combined totals, while matching Emmanuel Ogbah’s 46 last season. The only difference, Garrett did his damage on far less pass-rush snaps (292 to 463).
LB Tim Williams, Alabama
Out of Alabama, Tim Williams seems fit to be yet another piece of a Baltimore defensive puzzle that just produces. Last season in college, Williams was second among all 3-4 outside linebackers with his ridiculous 16.8 pass-rush productivity mark, racking up 59 total pressures on the opposing quarterbacks, on just 299 pass-rush attempts. He has no problem beating any side of the offensive line either, as 29 of his pressures came from the left side, while the other 30 came when he lined up on the right.
While he can pass-rush extremely well, another positive thing for the Ravens from Williams is his run-stopping prowess. Again last season, he among the top of the nation in run stop percentage, actually finishing with the second-best run stop percentage (12.7 percent) out of any 3-4 OLB who logged 100 or more snaps in run defense. He registered 15 stops in run defense on just 118 snaps against the run. His skills in both pass-rushing and run defense are what will make him extremely impactful when he sees the field for the Ravens.
ED T.J. Watt, Wisconsin
The AFC North has two of the top pass-rushing 3-4 OLBs from the college season a year ago, as the aforementioned Williams finished just above Steelers edge defender T.J. Watt. The younger brother of All-Pro J.J. Watt, T.J.’s impact was immediately felt in his first preseason game, pulling in six QB pressures including two sacks, giving a glimpse of how impactful he actually can be.
During his final season at Wisconsin, Watt finished the season with 57 total pressures, with double-digit numbers across the board – 10 sacks, 16 hits and 31 hurries. He also was great from both sides of the defensive line, accruing 29 pressures from the left, another 26 from the right side of the D-line. Rounding out his game, and ultimately his full impact, is his prowess against the run (12th-highest run stop percentage at 7.7 percent) and across 646 snaps on defense, only missed six tackles. The Steelers have the defensive history, and seem to have another sure-tackling, run-stopping, QB-rushing edge defender on their hands in the impactful Watt.