The final four weeks of the season often mark the time when young players hit the wall. One of the five disappointing NFL rookies from Week 13 will need a strong bounce-back effort next week to avoid speculation that he has hit the wall. Some of the other members of the list had circumstances out of their control set the tone for their week, while another needs to find a big breakout effort to generate momentum for 2018.
Here are five disappointing NFL rookies from Week 13.
WR Juju Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
Ignore Juju’s production on the field, his presence on this list is on account of the league office. Smith-Schuster has been suspended for Week 14 by the NFL, a disappointing result of a violent play that has been wrongly chastised since it occurred on Monday Night.
That play was a massive, crushing blow to LB Vontaze Burfict on an outside run, a crack-back block that rattled Burfict’s bell and put him flat on his back. There has been much talk that the play was a “dirty” hit, which I do not believe to be the case.
Smith-Schuster peels down the line and lines up a big hit on Burfict by placing his upfield shoulder pad directly between the numbers on the front of Burfict’s jersey. The issue to many was some contact to the helmet, but Juju clearly makes the block with the vast majority of his force applied directly into the center of Burfict’s chest.
There is “incidental” contact on many collisions at the line of scrimmage — this is no different. The view and violence of the collision were amplified because Smith-Schuster caught Burfict unaware at the point of impact. These athletes carry far more speed.
The expectation for Smith-Schuster to “go lower” simply isn’t a realistic one. Neither is any suggestion that he was headhunting on the play. A suspension for a fine block during a live play? That’s disappointing.
DL Solomon Thomas, San Francisco 49ers
Thomas hasn’t had the kind of season San Francisco likely envisioned when it made him the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Thomas has 29 tackles and 2.0 sacks on the season, but his game against Chicago highlighted an alarming problem.
Thomas had some success in this game from the interior, particularly as a pass rusher. He found penetration and got into the face of QB Mitch Trubisky on more than one occasion. Why is that a problem?
Because the 49ers invested high draft selections on interior defensive linemen (Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner) in each of the prior two seasons. Depth is a great thing to have at any position, but if Thomas’s play continues to excel inside as compared to the boundary, it will be a cruel twist for the 49ers, who have had success with their 2015 and 2016 first-round selections on the inside.
Thomas’ disruptive game against Chicago was encouraging as Thomas continues to settle into what would be a full time role at the next level. But Thomas’ proportion of outside pressure needs to be better in the future than it has been all season, even against the Bears, for him to be of optimal value in relation to his draft selection.
RB Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
It had finally happened: the Joe Mixon breakout week. In Week 12, Mixon eclipsed 100 yards rushing, an especially impressive feat considering the Bengals’ refusal to feature rookie players. But as soon as the big breakout came, it was gone.
Mixon left the Bengals’ game against Pittsburgh with a concussion, which will put the remainder of his season in doubt. With the Bengals on life support for the postseason at 5-7, another dropped game could mean the team will be content to protect its future starting RB and allow him to heal.
If that’s the case, fans should be disappointed, because Mixon is a very fun player to watch.
CB Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints
Lattimore has missed the last two weeks with an ankle injury. The rookie prodigy was stopped by seemingly the only thing that could prevent him from shining on a weekly basis: his own body.
Lattimore’s status for Week 14 is up in the air. The Saints play the Falcons on a short week of rest. A big test against Julio Jones and company certainly would be worth the price of admission, but in the meantime it’s hard not to lament missing such a gifted talent play in two consecutive weeks.
SAF Jamal Adams, New York Jets
One tackle. It’s been a tremendous and fruitful year for the Jets’ top selection, but this game against Kansas City won’t add very much to the highlight reel.
It was the first time in Adams’ career that he didn’t post multiple tackles in a game, bringing his season total to 53 tackles in 12 games for New York. Of course coming home with a win will always ease the pain of a quiet game on the stat sheet. The Jets upset the Chiefs, 38-31.