3 NFL Rookies Who Will Be Re-Writing History Books by Decade's End
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This is a fun time of the National Football League offseason, as the draft is behind us but the season forthcoming. Every fan—and each organization for that matter, too—can dream on all of the players in the most recent rookie crop.
Will that first-round quarterback become the franchise signal-caller that is so desperately hoped for? Who is the next impact sleeper from the middle rounds? And which late-round selection or undrafted free agent will obliterate all measured expectations and become a household name?
Channeling this notion into an even more specific and admittedly longer-odds prediction, this article examines three players that I believe have a legitimate chance to establish new records in some way by the end of the decade. This time frame gives the players in question eight full seasons to arrive at these marks.
In attempting to be creative and have some fun with the exercise, along with the selfish notion of actually trying to be correct on some level, I am employing some clever rigidity to the predictions in the hope that it comes off more interesting yet plausible at the same time.
Most Playoff Wins by a Quarterback Listed Under 6'0"
Russell Wilson, University of Wisconsin, Seattle Seahawks
Between scouring the Internet for stories and references to the unicorn of NFL quarterbacks (sub-6'0"), I compiled a list of the following names as the most prominent qualifiers of all time: Doug Flutie, Bob Berry, Pat Haden, Sonny Jurgensen and Eddie LeBaron.
Due to the non-parenthetical nature of the search, I encourage readers to bring any other names to my attention in the comments section.
LeBaron (5'9") and Berry (5'11"), despite combining for five Pro Bowls, never even reached the postseason during their respective NFL careers.
Flutie (5'10") and Jurgensen (5'11") went a combined 0-3 in career playoff appearances. Going into the research on Pro-Football-Reference.com, Jurgensen's Hall of Fame status and name recognition may have pointed to him as the group's biggest hopeful.
Despite throwing the ball all over the yard for years, leading the NFL in various passing categories on numerous occasions during an era when this tactic was less prevalent, Jurgensen still finished with a slightly-below .500 record in 149 career starts. He also remains the highest-drafted sub-6-footer ever, going 43rd overall to the Philadelphia Eagles out of Duke University back in 1957 (although that constituted a fourth-rounder at the time).
This leaves Pat Haden (5'11") as the only quarterback in NFL history listed under six feet to have ever won a playoff game. His record? He went 2-3, including two conference championship losses with the Los Angeles Rams.
Haden, in fact, made playoff starts under center in each of his first three seasons in the league, but only played for three more years and was done following his age-28 season. His 180-185-lb. frame was no doubt a contributing factor to this relative lack of longevity.
Enter Russell Wilson, whether he is ultimately listed at 5'10" or 5'11", at a robust 205 lbs. and likely more as he puts in several years during his mid-20s on an NFL conditioning program. I have repeatedly gushed with projections on the former Colorado Rockies farmhand, both here and here.
Whether it is in Seattle with his drafting team after the Matt Flynn ship sails or later, like Drew Brees, when he moves on to his second franchise, look for Wilson to become an above-average NFL starting quarterback and win at least three playoff games before the decade closes.
Most Touches from Scrimmage in the First Five Years of a Career
Trent Richardson, University of Alabama, Cleveland Browns
Again, this was not a definitively exhaustive search, which reminds me that I need a direct phone link to Elias Sports Bureau, but from the data I could mine, the workhorse mantle belongs to LaDainian Tomlinson.
In the first five seasons of his NFL career, all with the San Diego Chargers after being taken with the third overall selection out of Texas Christian University, LT racked up an astounding 2,044 touches. This breaks down to more than 400 a season and, while missing only one regular-season game during this window, 26 totes per contest.
Richardson's situational factors all combine to make him an excellent candidate to challenge and, ultimately eclipse this arduous standard of durability and impact. Physically, he possesses the build, power and running style that should enable him to handle this kind of load.
His skill set, namely that he combines durability, sure-handedness and adept receiving skills, also project him to remain on the field on nearly every offensive down.
Finally, in going to the Cleveland Browns to begin his career, there is an environment of poor weather, suspect quarterback play and an absence of other elite skill position players. All of these factors play in his favor for being given the rock upwards of 25 times a game.
The one caveat to this argument is that if Cleveland remains a double-digit loss kind of team, something that is eminently possible in the AFC North, especially if its QB play does not improve, the Browns may be trailing in too many fourth quarters for Richardson to consistently hit that 25-30 mark in finishing wins for his team.
Most Kickoff Touchbacks in a Single Season
Greg Zuerlein, Missouri Western State University, St. Louis Rams
Prior to 2011 when the NFL moved kickoffs forward another five yards to the 35-yard line, Billy Cundiff set the standard with 44 in 2010. Last year alone, eight specialists, including Thomas Morstead of the New Orleans Saints, tied or bettered Cundiff's figure.
Which of the three proposed records is most attainable?
Morstead holds the new mark at 69. And while that was 16 better than second-place finisher Olindo Mare, Morstead's prowess was not only a product of kicking off 105 times (second only to Green Bay's Mason Crosby at 107).
Morstead also placed second in the NFL in overall average per kickoff at 70.1 yards per boot, behind only Josh Scobee's 71.0, according to Pro Football Focus. One situational factor that does work in his favor is playing home games inside a dome, plus one more on the road (Atlanta) and two relatively weather-friendly locales (Carolina and Tampa Bay) also in-division.
Zuerlein will operate with a similar advantage during his time with the Rams, though not quite as fortuitous with two of his division opponents (49ers and Seahawks), since they call home to a domed stadium also.
The Division II product, who began his career at the University of Nebraska-Omaha before its football program went defunct, enters the NFL having averaged 65.1 yards per kickoff with a 42.3 touchback percentage during his college career.
With a little bit of luck, the Rams offense will grow with Sam Bradford into one of the more prolific in the NFL. This would provide Zuerlein with several seasons of around 100 kickoffs from which to work in reaching the 70-mark in touchbacks and set the new single-season record during this decade.
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