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6 best rookies through 1st quarter of NFL season

Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt (27) is congratulated by wide receiver Chris Conley (17) after scoring a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
Ed Zurga/AP photo

With the exception of Miami and Tampa Bay, every team has played four regular season games. While it is difficult to decipher which teams are for real and which are pretenders, this NFL rookie class is really emerging and could be quite strong overall.

But which rookies are the best so far? Dalvin Cook absolutely would have been on this list after racking up 444 total yards in about 14 quarters of work. Unfortunately, we won’t have the pleasure of watching him the rest of the season.

Because this rookie class has been so impressive, I took Cook out of the equation — and I still couldn’t keep this group to just five top rookies. And that was even leaving Leonard Fournette off the list!

1. Kareem Hunt

The 86th player picked overall tops this list. Through three weeks, Hunt was on a historic production pace to start a career. On Monday night, Hunt started slow by his standards, but then really began to wear on Washington’s defense.

While there are still questions about his ability in protection, which isn’t rare for rookie running backs, Hunt has been excellent in all other phases of the position. He has been a major asset as a receiver and after the catch. He has been a tackle breaker, excellent after contact in pinballing fashion while demonstrating rare balance and passion to finish plays. Maybe the most shocking thing Hunt has done with regularity has been the big plays and long touchdowns, which likely are coming at an unsustainable level. Still, few rookies ever burst onto the scene like Hunt.

2. Jamal Adams

Many looked at the Jets as a joke this year. Adams has been a major reason why that hasn’t held true. This is an extremely competitive player who was considered a fantastic leader at LSU. In the NFL, Adams has been a safety without a weakness. That is amazing for a rookie given all that is asked of this position. Adams has been excellent against the run and in coverage as both a zone and man-to-man player. He is all over the field and has superstar written all over him.

3. Tre’Davious White

After three wide receivers surprisingly fell off the board before Buffalo’s pick at No. 10, the Bills called an audible and made a trade with Kansas City to move all the way down to the 27th pick in the first round. There wasn’t a wide receiver worth taking at that pick, so Buffalo selected White, even though Sean McDermitt’s defense traditionally doesn’t put a premium on cornerbacks. But White was too good to pass up, and the Bills then traded Ronald Darby to Philadelphia.

White is already the Bills best cornerback in this zone-heavy scheme and is making big plays on a weekly basis while allowing very little in receiving production. It is uncanny how often White has gotten his hands on the ball in his first four games as a professional. Even his run defense has been impressive. 

4. Deshaun Watson

Watson looked out of place and overmatched during the preseason and in his first two regular season starts. But, wow, did things change in Week 3 and then carry over to the Texans utter dismantling of Tennessee on Sunday.

Bill O’Brien has done a tremendous job of altering Houston’s offense to fit Watson’s strengths. The Patriots and Titans certainly didn’t properly adapt. No quarterback is holding the ball longer before letting it fly, and there is certainly some question as to if this insane production will keep up for Watson and the Texans offense. There is also much more to quarterbacking at this level than making highlight reel plays, but you can’t argue with the results from these past two weeks. Houston fans should be excited.

5. Marshon Lattimore

Lattimore doesn’t have an interception at the professional level yet, and maybe you haven’t noticed him all that much. That is a great compliment to a cover corner such as Lattimore, who is already lining up against the opponent’s best wide receiver a high percentage of the time. Lattimore didn’t play in Week 3 at Carolina but did great work against Brandin Cooks the week before and was instrumental in shutting out the Dolphins on Sunday. The Saints were fortunate that Lattimore lasted until the 11th pick overall, and with a wealth of young talent in their secondary now, the back end of New Orleans defense is really rounding into shape. Lattimore is the key. 

6. Carl Lawson

Highly productive at Auburn, Lawson has kept it up at the NFL level. With the exception of Geno Atkins, Lawson might be Cincinnati’s best defensive player despite only playing about half the snaps thus far. The Bengals have traditionally preferred oversized defensive ends. That doesn’t fit what Lawson brings to the table, but he might be in the process of changing their minds of what they look for coming off the edge. The consistent pressure Lawson is generating through four games is really eye-opening. He needs to play more.

Honorable Mention: Kendell Beckwith, Tarik Cohen, Pat Elflein, Evan Engram, Leonard Fournette, Malik Hooker, Alvin Kamara, Jourdan Lewis, Christian McCaffrey, Solomon Thomas, Eddie Vanderdoes, T.J. Watt, Deatrich Wise

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