Rookie Watch: Will Hurns' historic performance prove to be a fluke?
Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns first hit my radar when Tony Khan, the team's senior vice president, football technology & analytics, told me in late August that the team was very impressed with the undrafted Miami alum, and we should expect to see more of him. Hurns had a great preseason, leading the league with 232 receiving yards and finishing third with 14 catches.
His big-play ability carried over to the Jaguars' season-opener against the Eagles, when Hurns caught four passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. The scores came on Jacksonville's first two possessions, making Hurns the second player in NFL history to score touchdowns on his first two receptions (Detroit's Charles Rogers did it in 2003, proving that things can go downhill after a hot start very quickly).
Pressed into service because Cecil Shorts III was injured, Hurns first beat Eagles cornerback Cary Williams straight up on a deep post for a 34-yard touchdown with 9:06 left in the first quarter, and then bumped through Philly's zone defense for a 21-yard score to end Jacksonville's next drive.
As an outside receiver, he showed excellent acceleration off the snap, good route awareness and a definite ability to sink into defensive openings. He has an advantage in this offense because it's similar to the one he was in throughout his college years, and the familiarity showed up right away. It's quite possible that even when Shorts returns, Hurns' Week 1 performance will be no fluke -- instead, he could be a major part of this offense into the foreseeable future.
Other rookies who showed up in their first regular-season games:
Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB / Jason Verrett, CB, San Diego Chargers
"Not shocking at all, to be honest with you," Chargers head coach Mike McCoy told me Wednesday when I asked him about the efforts of Attaochu and Verrett, San Diego's first two draft picks in 2014. "They had an outstanding offseason program and have put an unbelievable amount of time into preparing themselves and getting ready for the opportunity. That's exactly what they did in the game the other night."
In San Diego's 18-17 loss to the Cardinals, Attaochu logged three tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a blocked punt.
"That was fun coming off the edge and using my speed and athleticism," he said after. "And to get the turnover, more than the sack."
Verrett needed time to recover from injuries after he was drafted, but he had no trouble in his first real NFL game. Against Arizona's multi-faceted passing attack, the rookie from TCU was targeted seven times, allowing just three receptions for 25 yards, and two yards after the catch. Per Pro Football Focus, his quarterback rating allowed was just 52.7. It appears that San Diego improved its defense a great deal with its first two picks.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers
Coming out of Florida State, Benjamin looked like a raw receiver who could be dominant in the red zone, but might struggle with more advanced route concepts. But in the Panthers' 20-14 season-opening win over the Buccaneers -- and with starting quarterback Cam Newton sidelined to boot -- Benjamin was physically imposing when facing press coverage, ran subtle routes very well and simply overwhelmed opposing defenders with his ability to high-point the ball. Benjamin finished the day with six catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. He has a very bright future in a Panthers receiver corps that is looking to bounce back from several offseason departures.
Chris McCain, LB, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins had linebackers going down all over the place before and during their upset win over the Patriots, and it was McCain -- who was dismissed from Cal last September for conduct detrimental to the team and undrafted in May -- surprised everyone with an outstanding performance in which he blocked a punt and had a third-down sack of Tom Brady. It was a fairly huge return to prominence for McCain, and an emotional one at that.
"It's just a blessing," he said. "I just feel real good about being here. ... I'm just excited and looking forward to the next 15 games."