Leonard Fournette, T.J. Watt and DeShone Kizer: NFL Rookies Look Impressive on Film

1:13 | NFL
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Friday September 15th, 2017

1. Jacksonville rookie running back Leonard Fournette finishes runs with as much authority as anyone I’ve seen on film. And he needs to; it’s clear the Jaguars will be a smashmouth between-the-tackles running team in 2017.

2. Jacksonville’s second-round rookie, left tackle Cam Robinson, is also intriguing. He needs refinement as a run-blocker; his leverage and angles weren’t always crisp last Sunday at Houston. But as a pass-blocker, Robinson has strong, mechanically efficient hands, and his lower body is sturdier than an oak tree. He was unmoved (literally) by Jadeveon Clowney’s normally punishing bull rush.

3. Browns fans should be encouraged after DeShone Kizer’s first NFL game. O.K., yes, there were classic signs “rookieness.” Hue Jackson’s offense was reduced to mostly isolation routes, rather than the more intricate route combinations that are used to defeat predicted zone coverages. Browns receivers were easy to defend, and Kizer endured several sacks because of it. Kizer also didn’t read the field with much anticipation or promptness; this led to T.J. Watt’s interception and some missed opportunities. But this is all normal, especially when it’s a young rookie quarterback (Kizer is 21). Physically, Kizer, aided by Cleveland’s quality pass-blocking, navigated the pocket well. He made only the necessary movements and kept his eyes downfield. This is a vital part of a quarterback’s foundation, and there were times where Kizer did make the right read and attack at the deep-intermediate levels. The (very) early indications are Cleveland has something to build on here.

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4. Speaking of T.J. Watt, he was every bit as good as his stat line—two sacks, seven tackles, one athletic interception—suggests. Stylistically, he’s different than his brother (the defensive lineman in Houston, that is . . . though I suppose that’s true of the Chargers fullback, too). T.J. is more of a traditional edge rusher. He can dip and bend around the corner, and he has closing burst. He’ll be the pass-rushing force that’s been missing from Pittsburgh’s defense.

5. Poor secondary play kept the Packers out of Super Bowl LI. After allowing just nine points and 135 net yards passing Sunday against Seattle, the assumption is Atlanta will see a much better Packers defense Sunday night than it saw in January’s NFC Championship. But the film begs to differ. Green Bay’s back seven struggled against switch releases. Two Seahawks receivers would run vertically along gradually intersecting paths, and one would pop open inside. Unfortunately, Seattle’s pass protection usually broke down before Russell Wilson could target the open man. It will be different with Atlanta. Expect Matt Ryan to attack the Packers inside, and to really go after slot man Quinten Rollins.

6. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t make a lot of anticipation throws. When he does, they’re spectacular, but generally they don’t fit his offbeat, willy-nilly style. Rodgers will, however, throw with anticipation to Jordy Nelson, who seems to be the one receiver Rodgers trusts wholeheartedly.

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7. We wondered if the Eagles would feature more of a downfield passing attack with Carson Wentz in Year Two, with better receivers outside. So far, the answer is yes. An emphatic yes, in fact. The defining aspect of Philly’s gameplan Sunday at Washington was deep-dropback play-action passing. Results were mixed, but what’s important is the intent: Wentz is leading a more aggressive offense.

8. It’s a totally different style of ground game in Baltimore this season. Out are the outside zone stretch runs of past years. In are the more complex man-blocking runs, with pull-blockers and double teams at the point of attack. It’s a drastic change, but one Baltimore had to make given that starting linemen James Hurst, Ryan Jensen and Austin Howard lack mobility.

9. A blocker who doesn’t lack mobility is Washington’s Trent Williams. In fact, he’s the NFL’s best out-in-space left tackle. This gives offensive architect Jay Gruden an expansive screen game on the left side, not just from the backfield, but also with receivers out wide.

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10. The Texans won’t miss linebacker Brian Cushing, who is one game into a 10-game suspension for the second PED violation of his career. In run defense, Cushing is not quite slow, but he’s no longer fast. And in pass defense, he is slow, both in man and zone. Don’t be surprised if Cushing, upon returning, is greeted with a spot on the bench. The Texans have two young inside ‘backers in Benardrick McKinney and second-rounder Zach Cunningham, who has already assumed the all-important dime ‘backer role that Cushing once filled.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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