NFL1000 Week 1 Notebook: Rookie RBs Kareem Hunt, Tarik Cohen Break Out

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2017

NFL1000 Week 1 Notebook: Rookie RBs Kareem Hunt, Tarik Cohen Break Out

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Each NFL season presents its fair share of new faces and surprises, and Week 1 of the 2017 season has been no different. Beginning with the Chiefs' upset of the Patriots on Thursday, we've already seen some shockers.

    Who would have expected Jared Goff to be one the league's most efficient quarterbacks, or for the Jacksonville Jaguars to amass 10 sacks against the Houston Texans, a 2016 playoff squad? Did Andy Dalton really throw four interceptions against the Baltimore Ravens? And who's this Tarik Cohen guy? The fourth-round rookie from North Carolina A&T was the Bears' most dynamic player in Chicago's near-upset of the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.

    At B/R's NFL1000, we look to answer those questions—and others—and tell you what really happened every week. In our weekly Monday morning reviews, our scouts will bring you the stories behind the surprises:

    Lead Scout: Doug Farrar
    Quarterbacks: Mark Schofield
    Running backs/Fullbacks: Mark Bullock
    Receivers/Tight Ends: Marcus Mosher
    Offensive Line: Ethan Young
    Defensive Line: Justis Mosqueda
    Linebackers: Derrik Klassen
    Secondary: Ian Wharton

    Here's our scouting review for Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season.

Sean McVay Gets the Best Out of Jared Goff

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    There's no way around it, Jared Goff was a mess last year as a rookie, but it wasn't all his fault. Former Rams offensive coordinator Rob Boras' game plan was regressive at best, as it forced Goff to place throws into tight windows, which he isn't yet prepared to do.

    Replacing head coach Jeff Fisher with former Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay was a lifesaver for Goff. McVay was the architect behind Kirk Cousins' Pro Bowl season in 2016, and Cousins' regression since his departure speaks volumes about McVay's ability to get the most out of limited quarterbacks.

    What McVay did for Goff in the preseason is what he did for Cousins last year. He gave Goff easily defined openings and allowed him to get comfortable and in a rhythm. That carried over to Week 1 of the regular season, where Goff shredded the Indianapolis Colts.

    Last year's No. 1 overall pick had his first 300-yard game in the NFL, as he completed 21 of 29 passes for 306 yards and a touchdown. Yes, the Colts defense is a hot mess, but put that aside for the momentWith McVay's passing concepts and new targets like Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp aiding him, Goff demonstrated significant development Sunday.

    Cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner each had pick-sixes against Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien, so the final 46-9 score was about far more than Goff. But for the first time in his NFL career, Goff looked like a quarterback you can build an offense around.

    Many of Goff's throws in this game were quick passes on slants and other fast angular routes between defenders, but Goff wasn't just taking easy reads here; he was consistently throwing with anticipation. In other words, he had the confidence in the system to throw the ball to where the receiver would be. He also used play action to draw Indianapolis' linebackers in, and then he hit his receivers at the second level with timing and rhythm. Goff was in control of the passing game and didn't make any horrendous throws, which was an enormous improvement over his rookie season and several of his games at Cal. Goff has never been consistently accurate, but he's starting to turn that around with a coach who will give him confidence.

    Goff's 18-yard touchdown pass to Kupp with 5:20 left in the first half was the obvious highlight. Kupp ran a deep post from the left outside position in a tight formation, pinballed between two Colts defenders and cut inside to get to the end zone. Goff's timing and sense of communication with Kupp, a rookie, has been impressive through the preseason and into the regular season.

    Goff will face far more challenging defenses than Indianapolis', and there's no doubt he'll endure his fair share of struggles during his second NFL season. But in McVay's system, he at least looks like a professional quarterback. That's a massive upgrade from the 2016 season.

     NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar

The Cleveland Browns Found Their Franchise QB, but Obstacles Remain Ahead

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    DeShone Kizer, the fourth quarterback selected in the 2017 NFL draft, was the first signal-caller in his class to start a game. While the Cleveland Browns fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-18, he showed some of the flashes that earned him the starting job in camp. Kizer was by no means perfect Sunday, but he demonstrated he can be the face of the Browns franchise going forward.

    All rookie quarterbacks face an adjustment to the speed of the professional game. Players are faster, the throwing windows are smaller and when the defense rolls its coverage, it comes later in the play and much closer to the snap. To account for those differences, Kizer needs to speed up his mental processing.

    On many of the sacks he took Sunday, he was too slow to go through his progressions or to throw the ball away. One such play came on a max-protection concept, with only two receivers running pass patterns. Kizer was flushed to his left, away from the play design, but he tried to stay upright and work back toward the right to stay on structure. In such moments, he needs to get rid of the ball and move on to the next down. On his interception, he stared down the route concept and never felt the underneath zone coverage, throwing a bad-looking pick.

    On the bright side, Kizer seemed to speed up his processing as the game went on. Perhaps his best drive Sunday was on Cleveland's final offensive possession, which he capped off with his first regular-season touchdown pass and a successful two-point conversion to get the Browns within three points in the closing minutes. When Cleveland went uptempo, Kizer seemed more comfortable and quicker with his decision-making. His post route to Ricardo Louis that went for a 29-yard gain is a perfect example. Kizer confirmed the coverage, hit the final step of his drop and got the ball out right on time with good velocity and placement.

    Kizer is by no means a finished product, as he must continue improving his processing speed in particular. But his play in the final minutes against Pittsburgh and the growth he seemed to show throughout Sunday bodes well for him and the Browns moving forward.

    — NFL1000 QB Scout, Mark Schofield

Kareem Hunt Early Front-Runner for OROY

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    After he fumbled on his first career carry, Kareem Hunt appeared to be en route to a forgettable debut against the New England Patriots on Thursday night. The Kansas City Chiefs took the Toledo product in the third round and elevated him to the starting lineup after incumbent starter Spencer Ware tore ligaments in his knee during the preseason. But after that initial setback, Hunt turned a nightmare into a dream.

    Hunt looked a natural zone runner, showing patience and vision to press the hole and make decisive cutbacks as he knifed through the line of scrimmage into the second level. He fought through contact and consistently fell forward for extra yards. He picked up 148 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries and made the most of every tote.

    Hunt also had a huge impact in the passing game against New England, having recorded five catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest splash play came early in the fourth quarter when the Chiefs trailed the Patriots 27-21. Hunt lined up next to quarterback Alex Smith in the shotgun and worked out to the right of the formation after the snap. He ran down the seam, burst past newly acquired Patriot defender Cassius Marsh and broke inside on a post route, where Smith found him with a pass that hit Hunt perfectly in stride. The rookie dashed straight into the end zone for a 78-yard touchdown that gave the Chiefs a lead they would never relinquish.

    With Ware out for the year, Hunt appears poised to play a massive part in the Chiefs offense. He should be the workhorse carrying the load in the Chiefs backfield, while he proved he can be a threat as a receiver, too. His 246 total yards (a rookie record for a regular-season debut) and three-touchdown performance will be difficult to match moving forward, but it gives him a clear head start over the other Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates.

    — NFL1000 RB Scout, Mark Bullock

'The Human Joystick' Is for Real

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    While fourth-round rookie running back Tarik Cohen is tiny by NFL standards, he played a large part in the Bears' efforts to challenge the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Against last year's Super Bowl runners-up, the 5'6", 181-pound Cohen notched 66 yards on five carries and secured eight catches for an additional 47 yards and a touchdown.

    Cohen's top highlight came on 2nd-and-7 late in the second quarter. The Bears ran a toss play designed to go to the left, with a tight end and left tackle pulling outside to lead the way. But as Cohen secured the toss and assessed the situation, he felt the Falcons defense had plugged up all of the rushing lanes. About six yards behind the line of scrimmage, Cohen stopped and cut back, working around backside edge defender Brooks Reed before exploding down the sideline for a 46-yard gain.

    Cohen's touchdown came in the fourth quarter. He lined up to the right of Bears quarterback Mike Glennon in the shotgun before releasing out into his route. The Bears had receivers on the right run clearing routes while Cohen ran a wheel route behind them. Glennon found Cohen wide-open, but cornerback Desmond Trufant peeled off his assignment and worked down to the rookie. Cohen sold him a stutter fake that got Trufant to stop his feet, and then he dropped his shoulder to run over the Falcons corner and plow into the end zone.

    Cohen's 113 yards from scrimmage gave the Bears a spark that nearly led them to an unexpected victory over the Falcons. For him to have such an impressive debut against a team that played in the Super Bowl this past season suggests the man nicknamed "The Human Joystick" can be a legitimate threat in the NFL.

     NFL1000 RB Scout, Mark Bullock

Drops Continue to Keep Amari Cooper from Joining NFL's Elite WRs

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    James Kenney/Associated Press

    Just looking at the box score, Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper seemingly had a nice game against the Tennessee Titans, as he caught five passes for 62 yards and a score in the team's 26-16 win.

    However, Cooper didn't play as well as the numbers suggest. He finished with just five catches despite seeing a team-high 13 targets, and he had three drops on the day, according to Eric Eager of Pro Football Focus.

    On one drive late in the first quarter, the Raiders threw the ball to Cooper on three consecutive plays from the Titans' 2-yard line. He failed to haul in a single pass despite facing rookie cornerback Adoree' Jackson.

    On all three occasions, Cooper should have made the catch for a touchdown. The biggest letdown was on a tunnel screen that was perfectly designed to free him up for an easy score, as he dropped the pass. The Raiders were forced to kick a 20-yard field goal after those miscues.

    Cooper doesn't have bad hands, as he's repeatedly proved he can make spectacular catches in traffic. However, focus drops have plagued him throughout his young NFL career. According to SportingCharts, Cooper had 13 drops over the past two seasons. He had only three drops in 2016 after racking up 10 the year prior, but his first game in 2017 was a reminder of what has held him back from being considered one of the NFL's top receiver.

    The Raiders wound up beating Tennessee by double digits, but they need more from their No. 1 wide receiver moving forward. Cooper has all the talent to become an elite wideout, but his constant drops and struggles in the red zone—he had zero red-zone touchdowns on 13 targets in 2016, according to Pro Football Reference have kept him from getting there. For the Raiders to be serious contenders in 2017, Cooper needs to clean up his habit of drops.

     NFL1000 WR Scout, Marcus Mosher

Houston Texans Lost All Leverage in Duane Brown Holdout Talks

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    The Texans' offensive line struggled with the revamped Jaguars' front this week. Sure, Calais Campbell and friends are a unit to be reckoned with in the AFC South, but it goes deeper than the matchup. The Texans gave up 10 sacks, nearly a third of the 32 they gave up last year.

    What is the biggest issue? The tackles.

    Duane Brown is not in the lineup right now, and Derek Newton is out for the year with ruptured patellar tendons. Because of that, the Texans are rolling with Kendall Lamm and Breno Giacomini at tackle, and neither look like starting-caliber players.

    Lamm is a third-year player who doesn't have a lot of tape out there against top-level competition coming from Appalachian State and only has a few NFL starts under his belt. He was exposed in pass protection this week primarily due to his sloppy hand placement.

    Giacomini, on the other hand, is a known quantity and has always been a physical presence in the run game who has struggled to match the foot quickness of NFL edge-rushers. Giacomini lost a bit of his run-gameplay strength in his older age (31), but it's still the best aspect of his limited game at this point. He opened up a couple of holes for Lamar Miller on Sunday.

    All in all, though, these are not the types of players you want protecting your QB, especially when you just invested so much in a rookie. If the Texans want Deshaun Watson or whomever they line up under center to make it through the year, bringing back Brown to serve as the lynchpin needs to be a priority.

     NFL1000 OL Scout, Ethan Young

Mike Daniels Breathing New Life into Green Bay Packers Defense

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Mike Daniels is on the borderline of superstardom. For those who follow football closely, he's already considered a top-100, maybe top-50, player. He's in the Geno Atkins, Ndamukong Suh and Kawann Short tier of 3-technique defensive tackles.

    Against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1, Daniels was given a chance to prove this: He put up a highlight-reel game against one of the worst offensive lines in the league.

    Beating guard Luke Joeckel, a free-agent signing, several times, Daniels recorded 1.5 sacks on Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. He added a tackle for no gain against running back C.J. Prosise and a tackle of negative-three yards against former teammate Eddie Lacy.

    That's amazing for a defensive tackle. In 2016, the top full-time interior defensive linemen in tackles at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield against the run were:

    • 22 tackles: Leonard Williams (New York Jets)

    • 18 tackles: Ndamukong Suh (Miami Dolphins)

    • 17 tackles: Kawann Short (Carolina Panthers)

    • 16 tackles: Aaron Donald (Los Angels Rams) and Corey Liuget (Los Angeles Chargers)

    The Packers had to lean on their defense, as their offense didn't score in the first half. Daniels' contributions in both the passing game and the running game kept the team afloat against a projected divisional winner. Keep an eye out for Daniels' first Pro Bowl season.

     NFL1000 DL Scout, Justis Mosqueda

Jaguars Defense Significantly Bolstered by Addition of Calais Campbell

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars had a middle-of-the-pack to above-average defense in 2016, but the addition of former Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell kicked the unit up a notch. Coming off a second-team All-Pro campaign, the 31-year-old joined the Jaguars this offseason as a $60 million free agent.

    There were questions about how Campbell would fit in Jacksonville's 4-3 system when Malik Jackson, another former splash free-agent signing, had played the "big end" at times. The 2008 second-round pick silenced doubters by making an immediate impact in Week 1 against the in-division Houston Texans, as he flexed both inside and outside the offensive tackle. On the road, Campbell recorded a franchise-record four sacks in his first game with the team. For reference, only two Jaguars players amassed more sacks across the entire 2016 season.

    Overall, Jacksonville had 10 sacks against the Texans, who were missing left tackle Duane Brown due to a holdout. Last year, the Jags had just 33 sacks in 16 games. The duo of Campbell and Jackson inside with sophomore Yannick Ngakoue and third-year linebacker Dante Fowler on the edges could quietly turn Jacksonville into "Sacksonville," as the team's Twitter account boasted after the dominant victory.

    According to Jeff Sherman of the Westgate, Jacksonville is almost a pick 'em to go 2-0 based on its point spread against the division rival Tennessee Titans in Week 2. Prior to Sunday, the Jaguars hadn't been above .500 since the 2011 season, and they haven't started 2-0 since 2006. Perhaps this was finally the year to jump on the Jacksonville bandwagon?

     NFL1000 DL Scout, Justis Mosqueda

TJ Watt Is Living Up to His Last Name

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Sometimes, lighting does strike twice.

    One month ago, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt made his NFL debut with two sacks in his first preseason game versus the New York Giants. Watt made a similar impression Sunday in his first regular-season action against the Cleveland Browns.

    Once again, Watt finished with two sacks. Facing a rookie quarterback in DeShone Kizer may have aided his efforts, but it isn't easy to get sacks in the NFL regardless of who is behind center. The Browns have an excellent offensive line, too. Joe Thomas and Shon Coleman man the edges, while Joel Bitonio, J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler hold down the interior. There are at least three Pro Bowlers on that line, and Watt sliced through them like a veteran.

    Watt also came away with an interception against Cleveland. Though he typically serves a pass-rusher, the Wisconsin product drifted back into coverage late in the third quarter, and Kizer tried to fit a throw over his head. Kizer misjudged Watt's positioning and threw it right into his waiting hands. Outside linebackers in 3-4 schemes aren't often productive in coverage, but Watt is proving his versatility early on.

    Next week, Watt and the Steelers will face the Minnesota Vikings, who have one of the league's worst offensive lines. Watt got off to a stellar start Sunday, and facing the Vikings offensive line will give him the opportunity to pile onto his already impressive sack total.

     NFL1000 LB Scout, Derrik Klassen

Can the Eagles Overcome the Loss of Ronald Darby?

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles won an important divisional matchup on the road against the Washington Redskins behind a strong defensive performance. But their best cornerback, Ronald Darby, went down with a dislocated right ankle, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. He's set to undergo an MRI Monday to determine the extent of the damage, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    For a Eagles team that was so desperate for help at cornerback that it traded a third-round pick for Darby during the preseason, his injury could be a crippling blow.

    Third-round cornerback Rasul Douglas was scratched Sunday, and fellow second-round rookie Sidney Jones is still recovering from a torn Achilles. Jones will miss at least the first six games of the year, according to Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer, which means Douglas will presumably take the third cornerback snaps for as long as Darby is out. That leaves the top trio of Eagles corners as veteran Patrick Robinson, second-year corner Jalen Mills and Douglas.

    That group is as unproven as almost any across the NFL. Like they did against Washington, the Eagles will likely utilize a deeper safety position, with Jaylen Watkins serving as a versatile piece, instead of asking their young corners to play a man-heavy scheme. An already conservative secondary approach will need to focus on protecting their youthful and green corners, so expect to see safety help over the top and linebackers drifting back to give support on in-breaking routes.

    With a deeply talented defensive line and linebacker group, the Eagles can survive with a makeshift cornerback trio against average receiving units. But they'll be tested by some of the league's best as soon as Week 3, meaning the pressure to fill Darby's shoes will quickly rise in Philadelphia.

    — NFL1000 CB/S Scout, Ian Wharton