Expectations are high for first-round draft picks, especially for those picked in the top 10. Players don’t often reach their full potential as rookies regardless of how high they are selected in the draft. Players often make their biggest leaps from Year 1 to Year 2 and writing a player off after one season is foolish.
These three top-10 rookies from the 2019 draft are primed to start living up to their potential in 2020.
Quinnen Williams, New York Jets
There’s no doubt that Quinnen Williams didn’t make the Year 1 impact expected of him after he went third-overall pick in the draft. After absolutely dominating the SEC in 2018, Williams suffered an ankle injury during his first regular-season NFL game. He missed the next two games and never really got going after that.
Making the leap from the college ranks to the NFL level is difficult for every rookie, but especially for an interior defensive lineman. The emphasis on polished technique and what is required to defeat blockers at the pro level is a stark contrast to college football, even from the SEC.
Williams is immensely gifted, and there’s no reason to come anywhere near pushing the panic button on his ability to develop into a dynamic defensive playmaker. It wasn’t so much that Williams struggled as a rookie, he just didn’t produce to the level that would meet his draft status.
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
In his first NFL game, T.J. Hockenson hauled in six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown, providing the ultimate tease for what his potential right off the bat. Unfortunately, that production did not sustain for the entirety of his rookie season and Hockenson only had 236 more receiving yards in 2019.
Tight ends don’t typically enter the NFL and find immediate stardom, and Hockenson is no expectation. But his future is incredibly bright. Hockenson’s athletic profile, hands, ball skills, size and physicality are top traits that should lead to him becoming a dynamic offensive weapon in the near future.
Starting quarterback Matthew Stafford only played the first eight games of the season and Hockenson suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss the last four, which heavily contributed to his modest Year 1 results.
A healthy Stafford and Hockenson should lead to a big jump with Hockenson now having a season of experience under his belt.
Clelin Ferrell, Las Vegas Raiders
After recording an NFL-low 13 sacks in 2018, the Raiders were starving for pass-rush help entering the 2019 draft and made Clelin Ferrell the fourth-overall selection. Logging 4 1/2 sacks and eight quarterback hits while playing 62 percent of the Raiders’ defensive snaps wasn’t exactly the rookie year production Ferrell had in mind, especially when fellow rookie Maxx Crosby recorded 10 sacks and 14 quarterback hits in 72% of the snaps and being drafted 102 slots later.
Development happens differently for every player, and Ferrell is likely to be a much more effective player in future years, starting in 2020. While Ferrell is a talented player with plenty of potential to improve, the addition of Rod Marinelli as the defensive line coach will help Ferrell reach his ceiling. Marinelli is arguably the NFL’s best defensive line coach with a history developing premier pass rushers.
In Year 2 under Marinelli, Ferrell could double his sack total in a breakout season.