Green Bay Packers rookie safety Darnell Savage already shined in his NFL debut against Mitchell Trubisky on Thursday Night Football, but the rookie standouts list won't stop with him. Here's a look at five first-round rookies to watch as we approach Sunday's and Monday's games in Week 1.
Murray had a solid preseason with an overall grade of 72.1, but all eyes will be on the first overall pick’s performance when the games start to matter this Sunday. Cardinals running back Chase Edmonds said recently about the Arizona offense, “We’ve kept it really vanilla, super vanilla and super basic in preseason.” When they open up full throttle against the Detroit Lions, the Cardinals will have college football’s top-graded quarterback from last season at the helm. Murray’s 93.7 passing grade was second to only his predecessor, Baker Mayfield, of any quarterback since 2014. He adds dynamic rushing ability from the quarterback position, as well. In 2018, Murray was one of three college quarterbacks in the PFF era – joining Marcus Mariota in 2014 and Khalil Tate in 2017 – to record grades of 80.0 or higher as both a runner and a passer on 500 or more offensive snaps. Murray is electric as a passer and a runner, and his debut is one of the top storylines of the opening week.
EDGE NICK BOSA, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
It’s been quite some time since we’ve been able to watch Nick Bosa in game action after a couple of injuries sidelined him for the majority of his final season at Ohio State and all of the preseason, but all signs point to him playing in the opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Among all FBS edge defenders with 500 or more pass-rushing snaps from 2016 to 2018, Bosa’s pass-rush grade of 93.6 led the way, and his pass-rush win rate of 25.5% was over four percentage points higher than anyone else. He has all the makings of being an elite pass rusher at the NFL level, and he should provide an immediate spark on the 49ers’ defense. His return yields a matchup with an offense that allowed a quarterback hit or sack on 23.5 percent of their offensive snaps this preseason, the second-highest rate in the league. Given the time that he missed and the opportunity that he has to come out of the gates swinging in a juicy matchup Week 1, Bosa will surely be counting down the hours to kickoff, and so will we.
Devin Bush just wants to be Devin Bush, but it’s hard not to draw comparisons between him and Ryan Shazier. The Steelers have missed that dynamic playmaking ability and speed at linebacker since Shazier’s injury towards the end of the 2017 season, and it’s something that they coveted enough to trade up and secure Bush in the first round of this year’s draft. He flashed all those reasons that the Steelers coveted him so much this preseason, flying around the field with a nose for the football. His 73.3 overall grade would have been higher if not for his marks in coverage, though. Bush allowed all ten of the targets in which he was the primary coverage defender to be caught for 117 yards. Considering that coverage was one of Bush’s biggest assets coming out – his 87.7 coverage grade in 2018 was among the top marks in the class – his preseason performance does come as a bit of a surprise. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are among the best in the league at exploiting matchups, especially over the middle of the field, so Bush will need to show early on what made him so effective in coverage at Michigan.
EDGE BRIAN BURNS, CAROLINA PANTHERS
In a pre-draft interview with PFF Lead Editor Austin Gayle, Burns said, “I record everything I do, so after I do it, I look at myself and try to picture myself doing it in the game.” Here at PFF, we also recorded everything Burns did, and he impressed in his first taste of NFL action, recording an overall grade of 87.0 this preseason. Burns won a massive 28.2 percent of his pass-rush snaps which ranked third among all edge defenders with 25 or more pass-rushing snaps. It matches up with his college production, as well, where Burns recorded 66 total pressures in his final season with Florida State, tops among draft-eligible ACC edge defenders. He’ll get a tough test in the regular season opener going up against one of the top tackle duos in the league in Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein, but if Burns continues to play as well as he did this preseason, Jared Goff will be feeling some pressure off the edge on Sunday.
The Falcons made a concerted effort to improve their offensive line and protect Matt Ryan this offseason, spending two first-round picks on offensive linemen Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. It was a necessary step as both the right guard and right tackle ranked below 20th in pass-blocking grade for the Falcons in 2018. McGary missed most of the preseason, but he did return in their fifth and final game to play 41 offensive snaps, recording an overall grade of 64.3 in the process. He should provide an upgrade in pass protection as his pass-blocking grade in his final season at Washington ranked 7th among the 50 draft-eligible right tackles with the most pass-blocking snaps last season. Considering that Ryan took 104 combined hits and sacks last season – the 4th-highest mark in the league – the reinforcements on the right side of the line are a welcome addition to the offense. They’ll have an intriguing early test against a talented Minnesota Vikings’ defensive front in Week 1.