With the regular season so close, but yet so far, I tossed up some projections for the 2017 rookies ranging from leading tackler to league MVP (all pending no serious injuries throughout the season). This is my very first article with Breaking Football, so please feel free to let me know how I did in the comment section below or on Twitter. You can find me @nflcoastie. Now, let’s dive into it.

Leading Passer: Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans)

Projecting a leading passer is a toughie with none of them being considered definite starters going into the regular season (so far), which is why I threw five in the mix here for possible winners with no projected stats. Watson is my only lock to win-out over Tom Savage in the regular season at some point, which is the sole reason I have him as the winner. This is because both Mitch Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes II already find themselves in situations where they’ll be forced to compete with established veterans. Whether or not Watson steps in from day one, he should see the most time on the field of all the rookie signal callers. With a plethora of weapons surrounding him, including DeAndre Hopkins, the fellow former Clemson Tiger, Watson should have no problem racking up the passing yards.

Leading Rusher: Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville Jaguars)

With Chris Ivory’s decline in play from his J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS days after getting a sweet 5-year $32 million contract with Jacksonville in 2016, Fournette looks to be a shoe-in for the starting gig heading into the regular season. As any player taken in the top 5, other than a QB, is drafted to make an immediate impact. The Jags finished just below the bottom third in total rushing yards (1,631) and third to last in rushing touchdowns (8) in 2016.  Excluding Bortles’ 359 rushing yards in 2016, 1,272 of the remaining 1,631 rushing yards were split amongst Yeldon (465), Ivory (439), Grant (164), and Robinson (144).

With the additions of offensive lineman Brandon Albert and Earl Watford in free agency, plus Cam Robinson early in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft, Fournette and company hope to flip the script, especially if starting QB Blake Bortles continues his sloppy play. I expect Fournette to be a ground and pound two-down back with Yeldon complimenting as the third down back.  Sorry Ivory (aka Toby Gerhart 2.0), but hey, maybe you’ll get salary dumped and be one of the cogs in having enough $$$ to acquire QB Kirk Cousins in free agency next season if Bortles can’t step it up.

Projection: > 250 attempts/1,000 yards/8 touchdowns

Honorable Mentions

Joe Mixon (Cincinnati Bengals): With Burkhead’s departure to New England, Bernard’s struggle to stay on the field with injuries, and Hill’s decline in production, I expect Joe Mixon to be close to Fournette in total rushing yards. However, if the Bengals offensive line didn’t get hit as hard as they did this free agency losing both Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, I’d have Mixon winning the rookie rushing title instead.

Projection: > 175 attempts/750 yards/6 touchdowns

Jaamal Williams/Aaron Jones (Green Bay Packers): Rookie RB’s Jaamal Williams and Aaron Jones are Green Bay’s backfield when starting RB Ty Montgomery goes down with an injury, so expect some quality snaps from these two if he does. Especially with how much more effective Mr. Discount Double-Check himself, Aaron Rodgers, is with a consistent run game.

Projection: > 125 attempts/450 yards/4 touchdowns

Leading Receiver: Zay Jones (Buffalo Bills)

With both Marquise Goodwin and Robert Woods leaving for CAL-I-FORN-I-A, the Bills receiving corps looks bare other than Sammy Watkins, which is exactly why I think Zay Jones will get a whole lot of love this season. Jones will get this love and be the #2 receiver not just because of the lack of receiving playmakers, but because of the skillset he possesses. After watching the 2016 Senior Bowl game live and re-watching it a couple more times after that, I was all in on him after showcasing effortless routes and soft hands throughout the game.

Projection: > 50 receptions/600 yards/3 touchdowns

Honorable Mention

Corey Davis (Tennessee Titans): The only reason I have Jones edging out Davis here is the exact opposite of Jones: too many playmakers. Even though Davis showcases insanely crisp routes and a tremendous catch radius, Tennessee has a slew of receiving playmakers other than Davis with only one ball to give out. Four others on the roster could easily start for any team (Eric Decker, Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe, and Taywan Taylor). Also, I don’t think they plan to utilize a whole lot of 00 personnel with Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the backfield.

Projection: > 40 receptions/500 yards/3 touchdowns

Leading Tackler: Jamal Adams (New York Jets)

With the Jets defensive captain and 2016’s leading tackler, Davis Harris, leaving for New England, a big void is left on who will lead this defense and consistently bring down the ball carrier.  I expect a combination of their 2016 first rounder, middle linebacker Darron Lee, and Adams to lead this defense and will end up having to make a whole lot of tackles with how poorly I foresee the Jets offense turning out in 2017.

Projection: > 85 total tackles

Honorable Mentions

Jarrad Davis (Detroit Lions): Other than MLB Tahir Whitehead, the Detroit Lions LB corps are getting a complete makeover from 2016. Previous LB’s Kyle Van Noy, DeAndre Levy and Josh Bynes, are all no longer with the Lions (Levy went to New England…figures), so Davis should walk into minicamp and the regular season as a starting LB with the only other addition being Paul Worrilow from Atlanta. Davis is a vocal leader, reliable tackler, displays great athletic ability, and is someone that will instantly contribute on early downs against the run. Davis vs Adams is the closest race between first and second place out of the bunch and one that I wouldn’t be surprised seeing Adams coming out on top of.

Projection: > At least 80 total tackles

Malik Hooker (Indianapolis Colts): Indy doesn’t have both of their leading tacklers from 2016 returning in Mike Adams and D’Qwell Jackson.  They are one of the few teams in the NFL that don’t have a clear number one tackler, even though I think second year inside linebacker Antonio Morrison will have a great year. Even as a centerfield FS, I think Hooker will still get a solid amount of tackles.

Projection: > 65 total tackles

Raekwon McMillan (Miami Dolphins): Raekwon McMillan won’t be the starting MLB at first with Kiko Alonso impressing in his first season with the Dolphins, but definitely has the potential to one day be the MLB of the future for the ‘Phins.

Projection: > 40 total tackles

Reuben Foster (San Francisco 49ers): If he didn’t have a questionable shoulder injury and the 49ers didn’t pick up Malcolm Smith in free agency, I’d have Reuben competing with Davis and Adams for my leading tackler.

Sack Leader: Myles Garrett (Cleveland Browns)

You must have tremendous talent and be a very special player to get picked #1 overall and NOT be a QB, and that is exactly what Myles Garrett is. Garrett is someone that can change a defense displaying off the chart measurables and showcasing great athletic ability, change of direction, and upfield burst off the line of scrimmage. I am really excited to see how he is utilized in Cleveland with second year players Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib, who both posted multiple sacks as rookies.

Projection: > 8 sacks

Honorable Mentions

Solomon Thomas (San Francisco 49ers): Solomon Thomas is all-in on producing this season with reports that he has worked with some of the NFL’s heavy hitters in the pass rushing world like Warren Sapp, Demarcus Ware, Von Miller, and Khalil Mack before Training Camp. I foresee some battling amongst Garrett and Thomas regarding their production and draft selection at one and two, just like QB’s Jared Goff and Carson Wentz received last season.

Projection: > 6 sacks

Derek Barnett (Philadelphia Eagles): Philly had A LOT of playmakers along their defensive front, even before adding Barnett to the mix. Unlike Corey Davis above and his quest to get the ball in a crowded receiver corps, more is merrier when it comes to pass rushers. All that Barnett will be asked to do is to get to the QB as a rotational guy off the edge, which will be a lot easier coming out of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s wide-9 front while not having any pressure to start and be “the guy” every game. Seems like a pass rushers dream if you ask me.

Projection: > 4 sacks

Interception Leader: Malik Hooker (Indianapolis Colts)

It’s hard to say how he will project with only one year of experience at the position, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him surpass 5 interceptions with the amount of playing time he’ll be handed with his incredible range, instincts, and ball skills.

Projection: > 3 interceptions

Honorable Mentions

Tre’Davious White (Buffalo Bills): Tre’Davious White was drafted towards the end of round one and thrown into a CBs group that lost their CB1, Stephon Gilmore, during free agency to New England (seems like this is a very common theme here…) and nickel corner Nickell (ironic I know) Robey-Coleman to the Los Angeles Rams. With them both departing, the Bills look brand new at cornerback other than the only returning starter and new CB1, Ronald Darby. These new faces will make it even more intriguing to see them in new head coach and prior defensive coordinator, Sean McDermott’s, defensive scheme and someone who is known to get a lot of interceptions out of his defensive backs with Carolina.

Projection: > 2 interceptions

Jamal Adams (New York Jets): Like I said above for Adams in the ‘total tackles’ blurb, he is going to get a whole lot of reps on defense. This factor alone will make Adams a default contender in the interception category, as more reps = more opportunities to get interceptions.

Projection: > 1 interception

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Leonard Fournette

Honorable Mention: Zay Jones

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Malik Hooker

Honorable Mention: Myles Garrett

About The Author Sean Nazar

Sean loves all things football, ranging anywhere from scouting to analytics. Aspiring to work in the National Football League after serving in the Coast Guard. Dabbles with Affinity Photo, R programming, and doing what his wife tells him when he isn't at work or watching film. Follow him on twitter @nflcoastie.