Marquise Brown and Other NFL Rookies Already Looking Like Future Stars
The NFL Week 1 slate always produces odd occurrences that don't necessarily reflect what happens the rest of the way. Teams throw out new things that aren't on film, and players are still getting used to full speed and contact again, among other reasons for the opening-slate oddities.
But these rookies flashed in ways that transcended the Week 1 anomalies.
They not only looked like naturals at pro speed and within their units, but they also produced while using their defined strengths. Statistical regression will come in some instances, but by and large, these performances showed traits that hint at long-term stardom.
Looks for big things to come from these rookies—and soon.
Marquise Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown is an obvious regression candidate, which is what happens when a rookie gets to erupt against the seemingly tanking Miami Dolphins.
Brown led the Ravens in receiving in Week 1, catching four passes for 147 yards and touchdowns of 47 and 83 yards.
This was what the Ravens envisioned when they drafted Brown 25th overall out of Oklahoma this year—he might've given them a bit more. He's a key part of the offense that was remade to suit Lamar Jackson's needs, and the fact that the quarterback went after him deep hints at big things for both.
Keep in mind Brown was questionable for this game, broke a tackle on his first score and roasted talented defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick on the second. It's clear Brown is already the top wideout in Baltimore and a candidate to emerge as the best at his position from the class, even if he doesn't hit 147 yards or score multiple times again as a rookie.
Devin Bush, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers were a Week 1 punching bag when they took a 33-3 whipping at the hands of the New England Patriots in Foxborough.
Devin Bush's play has been lost in the chaos, though, which is a shame.
Bush was every bit the linebacker the Steelers hoped he would be when they moved up to draft him at No. 10 in April, one spot ahead of the rival Cincinnati Bengals. He led the team in tackles with 11, seven of them solo, and they weren't all just cleanup plays after big gains.
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say Bush could be the best thing the Steelers have had defensively since Ryan Shazier—just ask head coach Mike Tomlin.
"I thought it was a very solid performance," Tomlin said, according to Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Really (it was) kind of reminiscent of Ryan Shazier's performance in his first home preseason game a number of years ago in terms of production and getting around and making a number of plays."
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions also had a superb rookie debut spoiled by an odd occurrence thanks to a tie on the road with the Arizona Cardinals.
For shame, as tight end T.J. Hockenson should be the talk of the NFL.
The Lions took the Iowa product eighth overall this year, which raised eyebrows, considering the ho-hum nature of 2014 No. 10 pick Eric Ebron's tenure in Detroit before he went on to break out in Indianapolis. Hockenson then had a quiet preseason and looked poised to be the second tight end.
Now, he's the owner of the best rookie tight end debut since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Matthew Stafford targeted him nine times, resulting in six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown—and a 21.8 yards-per-catch average.
Hockenson will regress statistically, but the usage and rapport with Stafford signals a sooner-than-expected push toward an immense ceiling.
A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans' A.J. Brown is another name to watch in the best-in-class category at wideout.
The second-round pick led the team in receiving during a 43-13 road blowout of the Cleveland Browns, catching three of his four targets for 100 yards and going for long gains of 47 and 51.
Those big gains weren't fluky either—not with Brown using his 6'0", 226-pound frame and elusiveness to break through multiple tackles along the way.
His big day was the first 100-yard performance for a Titans player in a debut since 1964.
"I think A.J. has started to understand what we're doing," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said, according to Paul Skrbina of The Tennessean. "The quarterbacks trust him."
Brown's ability to shove aside pros while making big plays and his connection with quarterback Marcus Mariota make it seem like Week 1 was just the beginning.
Devin Singletary, RB, Buffalo Bills
Better late than never, right?
The Buffalo Bills largely ignored rookie third-round pick Devin Singletary until late in the third quarter of a Week 1 win over the New York Jets.
He finished with the team lead in rushing on four carries for 70 yards (17.5 YPC), added five catches for 28 yards on six targets and had a key block on a touchdown.
The Jets don't have a bad defensive front either: No other Bills rusher averaged even four yards per carry on the day. To put things in perspective, Singletary joined Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley as the only running backs with four or more runs of 10-plus yards in Week 1—and he did it on just four carries, while the other two needed at least 11.
Now that the Bills have gotten the lean-on-Frank Gore decision out of their systems, Singletary should see an expanded role and could reach even bigger heights.
Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
There were always going to be hiccups.
First overall pick Kyler Murray got through those during his Arizona Cardinals debut in an eventual 27-27 tie with the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
The final line isn't great: Murray went 29-of-54 for 308 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, completing just 53.7 percent of his passes.
But—and this is a big but—Murray looked calmer in the fourth quarter, and Kliff Kingsbury's attack seemed more cohesive once the team fell behind 24-6. One of the rookie's downfield throws to the sideline in overtime said it all. Murray threw both of his scores and for 150-plus yards in the fourth quarter.
Kingsbury took the blame for his team's poor performance over the first three frames, according to Darren Urban of the Cardinals' official website: "Three quarters of the worst offense I've ever seen, and it was my fault."
A first-time NFL coach with a rookie passer who's trying to make it all work was bound to experience trouble. But the arm talent, accuracy and sheer playmaking ability were there for Murray, and it feels like he merely scratched the surface.
Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Redskins
Here's one last contender for the potential best-in-class wideout: Terry McLaurin of the Washington Redskins.
McLaurin was a third-round pick who seemed like he was added by the front office because he had a strong college rapport at Ohio State with the team's first-round pick, Dwayne Haskins. Even after the Redskins moved on from 2016 first-round receiver Josh Doctson, he seemed to fly under the radar because he didn't see a ton of usage in the preseason.
Yet in his debut, McLaurin almost casually led the Redskins in receiving with five catches for 125 yards and a score on seven targets. His first career touchdown came on a 69-yard connection with veteran passer Case Keenum.
On paper, it looked like the Redskins would boast a spread-it-around attack with a game manager under center. Jordan Reed is a big-play artist when healthy, and Trey Quinn is a savvy slot guy. Two offseasons ago, they paid Paul Richardson Jr. to be a deep threat.
Yet it was seemingly only a matter of time before a 6'0" target with 4.35 40-yard dash speed naturally started making plays. That's McLaurin, who at this pace might be a No. 1 sooner than expected.