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The Epic Highs and Lows of Rookie Football

I know, I know, yet another bad reference title from me. At least this one is kinda to do with football, albeit from one of the weirdest teen dramas known to Netflix viewers.


If I know anything, it's that I know nothing. But that won't stop me from trying to predict the ceiling and floor for each of our draft picks this season by way of player comparisons. I've aimed to base my comparisons on player physique and last year's PFF grades where possible, but for some, the comparison is more based on situation or reputation.

 

Terrion Arnold

High- Kendall Fuller: This should be a name familiar to Lions fans, as he was someone we were linked with around the trade deadline last year. Fuller played 93% of his snaps at outside corner last season, posting an 83.1 defensive grade, which was 7th best of the 75 corners who played more than 630 snaps last season. None of his major grades was below a 78, with his 86.0 tackling grade leading the aforementioned group. Fuller's 82.8 coverage grade was 9th of all CBs to reach the 630 snap benchmark, and his 78.1 run defence grade was 12th. Overall, while Fuller isn't the flashiest name and perhaps isn't a top 5 corner in the league, he is a reliable CB1 who impacts the opposing offence in both the pass and run game.


Low- Jeff Okudah: Okay, okay, I know. This seems like a kiss of death. But hear me out. Jefe was seen as the consensus top corner in his class, coming out of a top school while running a bit slower in the 40 than most wanted, and was picked by the Lions. Seems like too easy a comparison. Okudah wasn't without good games, his elite game against Dallas springs to mind. But because of injuries and the regime he played under for most of his time in Honolulu Blue, Okudah didn't live up to the pick used on him. It wasn't his fault, but that's what happened. However, I do not wish the fate that befell Okudah on Arnold, but the possibility is there that Arnold doesn't live up to the hype and earns himself a reputation as a "bust".

 

Ennis Rakestraw Jr.

High- Trent McDuffie: The former Husky started his career on the outside for the Chiefs in his rookie season, but with a move into the slot this past season, his performance sky-rocketed. McDuffie compares to Rakestraw as they are the same height and, according to Rakestraw himself, they are at the same playing weight of 191 lbs. McDuffie spent 49% of his snaps in the slot and a further 15% in the box, earning himself an 84.8 grade from PFF. This was the 4th-best grade of any corner who played more than 630 snaps last season. His 71.8 run defence grade was 18th and his 81.5 coverage grade was 11th. While I have faith that Rakestraw's tackling will be better than McDuffie's (49.4 grade from PFF, 54th of the aforementioned group of CBs), the inside-outside versatility is what I hope we can get from Rakestraw in his rookie year, filling in as and where we need, before gaining a starting role in Year 2 be it in the slot with Branch moving to a safety role on more snaps, or on the outside opposite Arnold.


Low- Cor'Dale Flott: Of course, it's very likely Rakestraw doesn't see the field much on defence in his rookie year, leading to a lesser impact, especially if we don't see much development from him in Year 1. This could lead to him playing similarly to the 3rd round pick out of LSU in the '22 draft. Flott was a bit-part starter in the slot for the Giants last season, having started half of the games he appeared in. He played well in Week 5 in Miami, earning himself a 90.3 grade, and in Washington in Week 11 with an 89.6 grade. However, his season grade of 53.3 ranks 106th of CBs who played 253 snaps last season, his 49.2 run defence grade was 109th, his 59.4 coverage grade was 87th and his 39.9 tackling grade was 113th. While Flott has been in the league for two years, he hasn't developed due to his low playtime. This is something we could expect from Rakestraw in Year 1 as he plays a backup role both inside and outside, leading to rookie mistakes from him as he learns the nickel role in the pros.

 

Gio Manu

High- We Don't See Him: This is honestly the best thing that can happen for Manu. While he potentially has a very high ceiling, seeing him take offensive snaps this early can prove detrimental for his development. He needs to work on his technique, and throwing him into the fire could lead to bad plays on the field, which in turn could either snowball into more bad plays and/or ruin his confidence long-term, which could affect his development. Maybe give him some snaps on the field goal unit to get his feet wet, but we should be worried if we see Gio get proper game time this year.


Low- Jaelyn Duncan: Duncan's performance last season for the Titans is what could happen if Manu has to play a significant part of the season. Duncan played 8 games last season, starting 5 of those games. In those games, Duncan's blocking grades per PFF gradually went from a 65.8 grade at Pittsburgh in Week 9 (60.0 run blocking, 76.1 pass blocking) to a 26.1 at Houston in Week 17 (40.9 run blocking, 4.0 pass blocking). This performance against Houston included allowed 7 pressures on just 17 pass-blocking stats, including 2 sacks and 2 QB hits. If we have to start Manu for a long stretch of games, we could see the snowball effect that happened to Duncan happen to him, which might ruin any confidence the team has in Manu and Manu has in himself.

 

Sione Vaki

High- Matthew Slater+: This is a special teams thing, pure and simple. Despite only getting a 61.5 special teams grade from PFF last season, Slater has been one of, if not the best, special teamers in the league over his time in the league. Vaki gets the plus because Slater only took one snap last season that wasn't on special teams, and that was at free safety in Week 7. Vaki will be likely to figure into our plans at RB4 at the very least, so he could have an impact for our Lions that is greater than the impact Slater had for New England last season. Which is damn exciting in my opinion. If we could get one of the league's best special teamers who is also able to contribute on offence, that's a damn steal in my (slightly biased) opinion.


Low- Jordan Mason: While Mason, who some of you might remember as Gibbs' backfield mate at Georgia Tech, is perhaps not on the same level as Slater in terms of his special teams acumen, his usage is very comparable to how I see Vaki being used. Mason played 75% of his season's snaps on special teams, but he also logged nearly 100 snaps in the Niners' backfield as well as 3 snaps in the slot and 3 out wide. This is something akin to how I envisage Vaki being used this year, a lot of time on both the return and block teams and a handful of snaps on offence to potentially earn that RB3 job next season.

 

Mehki Wingo

High- Malcolm Roach: Wingo is likely to only play a rotational role this season, but we still hope he can make an impact on the snaps he does play. Of the 116 IDLs to play at least 194 snaps, Roach ranked 28th with a 72.9 PFF defence grade. He played in 12 games, playing 139 run defence snaps and 149 pass-rushing snaps. His 72.5 run defence grade was tied for 13th-best and his 52.9 tackling grade was 32nd, but his 62.9 pass rush grade was tied for 76th. Wingo could have a similar impact to Roach, playing a handful of snaps as the backup 3T as well as playing some special teams.m


Low- Matt Henningsen: Of course, Wingo could struggle in this role and with the transition from college to the pros, leading to a season like Henninghsen had for Denver. His 46.6 defence grade ranked tied-122nd of the aforementioned group, his 46.1 run defence grade was t-106th, his 54.2 pass-rush grade was 117th and his 29.6 tackling grade was tied for 126th with Chris and DaQuan Jones. This is perhaps a more realistic projection for Wingo's rookie season but the ceiling is there for a better one.

 

Christian Mahogany

High- Kevin Zeitler: It's perhaps a lazy comparison as they are both Lions, but I really think Mahogany is good enough to have a Zeitler-level season. While last season was a down year for Zeitler, he still posted a top-15 performance with his 71.6 offence grade ranking 13th of all guards to have played at least 687 snaps. His 82.3 pass-blocking grade was 2nd, and his 62.4 run-blocking grade was 22nd. Mahogany was a beast at BC (trust me, I would know as an FSU fan) and only fell due to some medical concerns. If these can be cleared up and Mahogany gets a chance, he could really impress.


Low- Alex Cappa: That is why Mahogany's floor projection is still really high. Cappa was a top-25 guard last season, with his 64.9 grade ranking 22nd in the aforementioned group, his 67.3 run-blocking grade was 13th-best and his 58.6 pass-blocking grade was 39th. While Cappa is not exactly a household name, he is a solid reliable guard who can relied on when needed. This is what I project Mahogany's floor as in the league, at the very least.

 

So there are my inaccurate rookie projections. Will I get any right, or am I just waffling more than a Waffle House on a Sunday morning?

 

Which of our rookies will have the best 2024 season?

  • Arnold

  • Rakestraw

  • Manu

  • Vaki

 

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Comments (2)

Ash, thank you so much for doing these. You and the rest of the ROTL UK gang are fantastic!

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Jerimy Walker
Jerimy Walker
Apr 30, 2023

Greetings, I was glad to listen to your interesting interview. The season went really well. I liked the quality of your broadcast, which application did you use for this? Is it on this list? I just want to do live broadcasts

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