In every NFL season, some rookies are bound to make an impact at some point or another in their debut seasons. In 2017, the crop of first-year players seemingly took the league by storm and became some of the league’s top storylines. While some performed at All-Pro levels, others performances topped the previous best seasons that we had ever seen by a rookie in the PFF era in several of our Premium Stats, which returned to the PFF Elite subscription just last week.
Below are 10 rookies who set PFF records in their first season with their respective franchises:
1. Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
PFF Era Records Broken: Most yards per carry, most yards after contact per carry, highest elusive rating, most yards per route run, most receiving yards, most missed tackles forced as a receiver and highest receiving grade recorded by a rookie
When the former Tennessee Volunteer was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft, few would have predicted that Kamara’s first year in the NFL would lead to the sheer destruction of about half a dozen of PFF’s regular season rookie records.
Let’s start with his performance in the rushing attack. Through 17 weeks of the regular season, Kamara performed incredibly well as a runner behind teammate Mark Ingram and concluded his season with an average 6.1 yards per carry and 3.83 yards after contact per carry, which both now rank first among rookies in the PFF era (2006-present).
Moving on to his production in the passing attack, where he was arguably at his very best, Kamara racked up 826 receiving yards at an average of 2.81 yards per route run, forced a total of 29 missed tackles and ended the year with an elite receiving grade of 92.7, all of which are now tops among the 69 rookies that logged at least 18 targets in their rookie seasons. Due to his stellar production both as a runner and as a receiver, Kamara also racked up an elusive rating of 108.5, which, as you probably guessed, is also the best mark ever recorded by a rookie player at the position. Whichever way you look at it, Kamara performed at an unprecedented level for a rookie and he figures to be a major threat in this league for years to come.
2. Tre’Davious White, CB, Buffalo Bills
PFF Era Record Broken: Best overall grade recorded by a rookie cornerback
The former LSU cornerback put forth a spectacular debut performance this past year and made a legitimate case for being named defensive rookie of the year at this year’s NFL Honors. White ended the year with a whopping 1,093 snaps, the second-most ever played by a rookie cornerback and on average, he allowed a reception once every 15.8 coverage snaps, which is the third-best mark ever recorded by a first-year corner. His excellence in 2017 ultimately led to his selection as PFF’s rookie of the year, and he ended the season with an elite overall grade of 92.0, the best grade ever recorded by a rookie cornerback.
3. Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
PFF Era Record Broken: Most missed tackles forced by a rookie running back
Hunt’s NFL career started in the worst way imaginable after he fumbled on his first professional carry, but from then on, he was near-flawless and he ended the year with an overall grade of 88.9, the third-highest grade among running backs. At the close of the campaign, Hunt’s 1,327 rushing yards were good enough to claim the league’s rushing title, while his 527 yards from breakaway runs (runs of 15-plus yards) were also good for first among players at the position. However, it was Hunt’s elusiveness that truly separated him from the pack. On the ground, he forced a colossal 61 missed tackles as a runner, 13 more than the next running back this year and four more than any other rookie running back in PFF history. Add in the 16 missed tackles that he forced as a receiver and you get a total of 77 missed tackles, nine more than any rookie running back has managed over the last 12 seasons.
4. Desmond King, CB, Los Angeles Chargers
PFF Era Records Broken: Most sacks by a rookie cornerback, most defensive stops by a rookie cornerback, highest run-stop percentage by a rookie cornerback
In a season that was somewhat overshadowed by some of the “bigger names” at the cornerback position, the former Iowa Hawkeye quietly produced an extremely productive rookie campaign that saw him ranked third among rookie cornerbacks with an 86.5 overall grade. As PFF’s Billy Moy mentioned, King spent 95.5 percent of his snaps from either the slot cornerback or linebacker position, which allowed him to showcase his skills as a run defender, an productive blitzer and an overall defensive playmaker. At the close of the regular season, King had produced a whopping 36 defensive stops (solo tackles that constitute a ‘win’ for the defense), four sacks and tallied a run-stop percentage of 5.9 percent, all of which broke PFF era records among rookie cornerbacks. With such an impressive rookie season in the books, it’s hard to make a case against King being the steal of the 2017 NFL draft.
5. O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
PFF Era Record Broken: Highest passer rating generated when targeted
The first-round pick from Alabama emerged as a dangerous receiving threat for the Buccaneers in 2017 after he hauled in 26-of-36 targets for 432 receiving yards and six touchdowns. All told, the first-year tight end generated a near-perfect passer rating of 151.9 on his targets, which beat out the previous best that was produced by Martellus Bennett (151.1) back in 2008.
6. Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Dallas Cowboys
PFF Era Records Broken: Fewest yards allowed per reception, fewest yards allowed per coverage snap
A nagging hamstring injury limited the second-round pick to just 309 snaps in his debut season, but when he was on the field, the former Colorado Buffalo certainly impressed with his stinginess in coverage. Playing a total of 192 coverage snaps, he allowed 133 yards on 19 receptions (29 targets), which averaged out at just 7.0 yards allowed per reception and just 0.69 yards per coverage snap – both the lowest marks ever recorded by a first-year corner, beating the previous bests posted by Cortland Finnegan (7.6 in 2006) and Brian Poole (0.80 in 2016), respectively.
7. Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
PFF Era Record Broken: Highest passer rating recorded from a clean pocket
The Texans’ first-round draft pick exploded onto the NFL scene before a heart-breaking knee injury prematurely ended his season. In seven games that included six starts, Watson was a shining light for the franchise and his performances led to an overall grade of 75.1, which was second only to Mitchell Trubisky among rookies this year. In those seven appearances, Watson was especially lethal from a clean pocket and posted a passer rating of 124.1 on his throws that were free from defensive pressure, which is now the best mark ever recorded by a rookie signal-caller.
8. Vincent Taylor, DI, Miami Dolphins
PFF Era Record Broken: Highest run-stop percentage recorded by a rookie defensive tackle
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy was taken in the sixth round of the NFL draft and was a real difference-maker for the Dolphins defense when he saw the field. Throughout the campaign, Taylor produced 12 run stops on just 89 run-defense snaps, resulting in a run-stop percentage of 13.5 percent, the best mark ever recorded by a defensive tackle.
9. Christian McCaffery, RB, Carolina Panthers
PFF Era Record Broken: Most snaps in route by a rookie running back
McCaffery may have had an up and down year in the running game, but the former Stanford star enjoyed a stellar campaign as a receiver out of the backfield and earned an elite PFF receiving grade of 90.5, the second-highest ever recorded by a rookie running back. In 16 regular season games, McCaffery saw a whopping 106 targets, which is the second-most in PFF history for a first-year player while his 448 snaps in route were a staggering 87 more than the next closest rookie running back over the last 12 seasons.
10. Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants
PFF Era Record Broken: Most targets for a rookie tight end, most snaps in route by a rookie tight end
The first-year tight end didn’t quite have the season that many hoped for, but he certainly showed glimpses of potential as a dominant receiving threat. Through 17 weeks of the regular season, Engram was used extensively in the Giants passing attack and he ended the season with 108 targets and 722 receiving yards from his 496 snaps in route, all of which are the most ever recorded by a rookie player at the position. Unfortunately for Engram, the big workload came with a big responsibility, and he did fail to capitalize on some of the chances that he was given, as he dropped a total of 11 passes, which is also more than any other rookie tight end.