Time to move along to the AFC to check out how much of a Rookie infusion those 16 teams added as final cuts were made. Please remember that these numbers come from initial, but official, rosters on September 2nd. To say the least, many team rosters are very fluid for the first several weeks of each season.
RAVENS: There are several significant factors at work in looking at the RAVENS 2019 roster composition. Under the leadership of GM OZZIE NEWSOME, this team has been primarily assembled through the yearly Draft process. After 20-plus years as the man in charge of things, NEWSOME announced his retirement as GM at the conclusion of the 2018 NFL season. His hand picked replacement and protege, ERIC DeCOSTA, took over the GM position and was the captain of the ship in April. They had a full compliment of 8 Picks, and they all made the roster; 7 active, 1 reserve list. Most of the Picks will see back-up action initially, although a healthy first rounder, MARQUISE BROWN/WR/OKLAHOMA, looks to be an immediate starter in a heavily revamped receiver group. Second Rounder JAYLON FERGUSON/ER will see plenty of situational time after leading the FBS with 17.5 sacks in 2018. Based on past history, it should be safe to say, based on the RAVENS track record, that many of these picks will be starters in a year or two. Two URFA’s also made the 53-man roster.
BILLS: This team significantly turned over its roster after finishing 6-10 in 2018. 7 of their 8 Draft Picks made the 53-man, while the 8th is on Reserve with an injury. Their 8th roster rookie is RYAN BATES/OG, whom they acquired from PHILLY in August. That makes 8 roster Rookies and 2 on Reserve lists. Rookie 3rd Rounder DEVIN SINGLETARY/RB was so impressive in pre-season that he helped push SHADY McCOY all the way to K.C. ED OLIVER/DT looks like the real deal at DT, as does CODY FORD, currently playing at OT, after some early speculation that he might end up inside at OG. The biggest surprise of their Draft group may be 7th Rounder TOMMY SWEENEY/TE, who has played a starting role because he can block and catch.
BENGALS: Training Camp had barely opened for the BENGALS when they lost First Round Pick JONAH WILLIAMS/OT/ALABAMA, who had been pencilled in at LT, as part of a major OL overhaul. His injury, along with the retirement of CHRIS WESTERMAN/OG, had the team so jumpy that it brought back ANDRE SMITH/OT, who was their First Round Pick way back in 2009. Perhaps the biggest surprise from the Rookies came after back-up QB JEFF DRISKEL was injured. The final roster featured 4th Round Rookie RYAN FINLEY and URFA JAKE DOLEGALA as the backups for ANDY DALTON. Another Rookie to watch closely is DREW SAMPLE/TE from Round 2. SAMPLE is a solid blocker, and displayed good hands and route running in Camp. He may allow the team to move on from expensive, injury prone vet TYLER EIFERT by the end of this season, so count the BENGALS in for 8 roster Rookies and 2 on reserve.
BROWNS: GM JOHN DORSEY has chipped away at his roster, trying to upgrade every position on the team. The only one of 7 draftees to not make the roster was 7th Rounder DONNIE LEWIS/CB. Remember that their first round Pick was, in essence, ODELL BECKHAM. Their second rounder, GREEDY WILLIAMS/CB, is basically already entrenched opposite DENZEL WARD, giving them perhaps the best young pair of Corners in the league. DORSEY also came up with a way to improve the teams kicking needs with 2 Rookies. AUSTIN SEIBERT/K grabbed a roster spot, while URFA JAMIE GILLAN/P secured the other. MACK WILSON, from the ‘BAMA talent motherlode, was also impressive in Camp and should see plenty of playing time at LB. 7 roster spots and 2 reserve slots went to BROWNS rookies.
BRONCOS: GM JOHN ELWAY had plenty of personnel gains to make, with only 6 picks in which to do so. The payoff looked pretty good after Training Camp, with 8 Rookies making the roster, with 3 more on reserve lists. As if they needed more, HC VIC FANGIO was more than pleased to add a couple of good looking rushers to his D, which already has stars MILLER & CHUBB. 5th Rounder JUSTIN HOLLINS and URFA MALIK REED are both LB size, but can rush from the outside with their hand on the ground, or standing up. 3rd Rounder DRE’MONT JONES offers quickness and energy to pressure from the inside at DT. DALTON RISNER/OL looks like a starter, either inside or out, in short order. The long term question is whether DREW LOCK is a potential franchise QB, because we all realize by now that JOE FLACCO is a stop gap answer. NOAH FANT/TE flashes, but must get more consistent in everything he does, as well as stay healthy.
TEXANS: The good news is that all 7 draftees made the team. The question now becomes whether or not any of them are ready to contribute much right away. The frenzy of trading around cutdown time would tend to indicate that HC BILL O’BRIEN is not ready to count on very much help right away, as starters for his team. Remember folks, this is the team that, after the death of Owner BOB McNAIR last year, fired GM BRIAN GAINE this off-season and decided to handle the GM duties by Committee. How could that concept possibly go wrong? 6 Rookies on the 53-man, 2 on reserves. And I’ll leave discussion of this mess at that!
COLTS: GM CHRIS BALLARD went all-in on the defensive side of the ball in the 2019 Draft. Of 10 total Picks, BALLARD used 7 of them on his LB and DB groups, and 6 of those made the 53-man roster. PARRIS CAMPBELL/WR in Round 2 was the only significant offensive draftee. And then ANDREW LUCK retired! Only time will tell if CAMPBELL is a serious helper for JACOBY BRISSETT, and whether they have enough in their RB stable to run more. Unfortunately, they also look pretty thin to me at RB. 8 Rookies made the 53-man, and another 3 are on reserve lists. Even before we found out that LUCK was moving on to life post-football, I was feeling that BALLARD should have balanced his Draft a bit more.
JAGUARS: New blood was a by-word in the JAGS front office this past off-season. It started with VFA NICK FOLES/QB. Then it was capped off with the Draft. From that draft process came an opening day roster with 11 Rookies on the 53-man, and another 3 on reserve lists. Pass Rusher deluxe, JOSH ALLEN/KENTUCKY, was the star of pre-season action, and will start the season ostensibly as a DE. When/if healthy, (bad right knee), QUINCY WILLIAMS, who was a surprise 3rd Rounder, was also a big hit in Summer sessions, and starts Inside at LB. At 5’11/233, he’s a bit short, but his workout numbers, speed, and being the brother of QUINNEN WILLIAMS got him noticed pre-draft. JAWAAN TAYLOR has been forced into a starting OT slot because of injuries to vets, but he may be hard to pull out, even when others get healthy. Many of the others are making their way on Special Teams for now, but could be starting by mid-season or so. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of Camp was the play of GARDNER MINSHEW, who won the roster spot backing up FOLES.
CHIEFS: The CHIEFS draft choices were seriously affected by the pre-draft trade for DE FRANK CLARK. However, their actual 6 draftees all made the active roster. The star of the group, as expected, has been JUAN THORNHILL/S. He’s a great athlete, who has successfully started as a CB while at VIRGINIA, and has a nose for the ball. He is starting right away. Their other Round 2 Pick, MECOLE HARDMAN/WR/RS, will likely spend much of his rookie year returning punts and kicks, with TYREEK HILL back in the fold. But his speed and quickness is only a bit less than TYREEK, so look for them on the field at the same time on a regular basis soon. The team also started the season with 4 Rookies on reserve lists.
CHARGERS: I mentioned when Training Camps opened that I thought the Chargers were likely to keep all 7 of their draftees on the 53-man, if healthy. That projection came to fruition, and in true CHARGERS style under GM TOM TELESCO, another 3 URFA’s also made the 53-man. They have no rookies on the reserve lists, but about half their Practice Squad are Rookies. Perhaps the most interesting Rookie development was the fine work from EASTON STICK/QB (R5), who forced CARDALE JONES off the roster with his play. STICK has shown good arm talent, but most importantly, perhaps, his running ability has been a nice addition to a QB room, along with VFA TYROD TAYLOR. Most of their defensive rookies have been immediate contributors, with several of them starting. 10 Rookies, and all contributing, is a real positive for a team looking to advance in the Play-Offs this season.
DOLPHINS: The “Tank for TUA” roster assembled in MIAMI got their first of many beatdowns on opening weekend. The opening weekend roster contained 11 Rookies, which included all 6 of their draftees. CHRISTIAN WILKINS, has been the productive leader from Day One of Camp, that they expected. On Offense, the big surprise was URFA DEION CALHOUN/OG earning a starting spot in pre-season. URFA PRESTON WILLIAMS/WR was an immediate hit in Camp, and in essence, became one of their 3 top receivers, when KEN STILLS was traded to HOUSTON. Expect more Rookies to show up as the season progresses. This team needs all the additional help it can get, now that they have additional Draft ammunition for the next several years, thank you BILL O’BRIEN.
PATRIOTS: BILL BELICHICK led his organization into the 2019 Draft with great energy, effort, and confidence. The team was the possessor of 10 Draftees on their roster, as well as a nice group of Rookie Free Agents, heading into Training Camp. The only draftee who failed to make their roster was their final pick in Round 7, KEN WEBSTER/CB, who is now a DOLPHIN. Some of the most notable Rookie additions came in areas where the team was looking for immediate help. URFA JAKOBI MEYERS, caught every ball sent his way in pre-season action. CHASE WINOVICH, the CLAY MATTHEWS look-alike, played like his hair was on fire, providing spirit and QB pressure. Two major surprises were Punter JAKE BAILEY beating out vet RYAN ALLEN. (A little side note here is that BAILEY gives BELICHICK his first right footed Punter since who knows when.) Also, best of all long term, was the stellar play of JARRETT STIDHAM at QB. He beat out vet journeyman BRIAN HOYER for the second QB job on the roster, and showed long term starter potential, IMO. The opening roster showed 9 Rookies on the 53-man, and 4 reserves.
JETS: Like many, I was surprised when the JETS decided they needed a new GM, after the 2019 Draft. MIKE MACCAGNAN faced a tough job when he came to the JETS franchise in 2015. His biggest success in NYC was likely maneuvering to draft SAM DARNOLD in 2018. But clearly the apparent rift with new HC ADAM GASE, and a paltry Rookie group, tipped the scales. The needy JETS needed lots of roster help, but ended up with 5 53-man Rookies, and another 3 on reserve lists. MACCAGNAN hit once again in Round 1 with QUINNEN WILLIAMS, a probable starter along their DL, sooner or later. Also, CHUMA EDOGA came out of Camp fighting to start. The best move of all would seem to be replacing MIKE with EAGLES VP/Personnel guru, JOE DOUGLAS. I look for a bigger bounty from the 2020 Draft with DOUGLAS in charge, but for now the new blood is thin.
RAIDERS: Now that the ANTONIO BROWN soap opera is over in OAKLAND, concentration can shift back to watching one of the youngest teams in the League develop. 11 Rookies dot the opening 53-man, with 1 more on a reserve list. FERRELL/DE and ABRAM/SS are starters, and JOSH JACOBS/RB heads the 3-headed RB group. DE MAXX CROSBY made a strong early Camp impression, but a cast on a broken hand has held him back. Look for him to emerge as a pass-rusher, when fully recovered. With BROWN gone, expect HUNTER RENFROW to get time in the slot. FOSTER MOREAU will split TE time with vet DARREN WALLER. MOREAU can catch, but is an even better blocker, which is not WALLER’s forte’, as a baked up wideout. In the long run, this draft will also go a long way to raise the talent level in their secondary. KEISEAN NIXON/URFA, TRAYVON MULLEN/R2, and ISAIAH JOHNSON/R4 (reserve list), will all contribute.
STEELERS: With two soap opera’s out of town, in BROWN & BELL, the team welcomed in one of the boldest Rookie groups in the TOMLIN era. It cost a bit to go up in Round 1 for DEVIN BUSH/LB, but he represents the kind of talent and style play that has been missing at the second level since RYAN SHAZIER was lost to injury. Of their 9 overall Picks, 7 made the roster. Two more URFA’s also made the team. DIONTAE JOHNSON shows flashes, just like ANTONIO BROWN did as a Rookie out of the MAC. Another MAC performer in TUZAR SKIPPER/LB/TOLEDO (URFA), was a Special Teams ace during the pre-season. These 9 Rookies can help the depth chart, if only MIKE TOMLIN will play them, instead of redshirting most of them as is his usual habit.
TITANS The team had another light Draft group of 6, with first rounder JEFFERY SIMMONS possibly missing most of the season after blowing out a knee in his January performance camp work. So it should come as no surprise that only 5 Rookies made the 53-man roster, with another 3 on reserves. NFL vet player, turned Head Coach, MIKE VRABEL has NOT shown great confidence in letting Rookies learn in game action right away. Their entire draft group shows potential, but will probably have to wait for vets be injured before they get big time exposure. This team likes to let multiple URFA-types get a year on the Practice Squad as Rookies. Thus, 5 of such players dot the 10-man Squad to start the year this time around. The lone URFA on the 53-man right now is ISAIAH MACK from UT-CHATTANOOGA, who is a good looking 6’1/306# wide body, who looks even beefier than his numbers suggest. I was impressed with his ability to clog the middle of the line-of-scrimmage in a couple of pre-season games.
As Bugs would say… that’s all folks! That’s 131 total Rookies on AFC rosters. Throw in those reserve list Rookies and those on Practice Squads and the NFL has it’s annual customary number of Rookies.