We witnessed another considerable contribution from Indianapolis Colts rookies on the road against the Washington Redskins. In fact, it is fair to say that rookies had an even bigger impact on the outcome of Sunday’s game than they did against the Redskins week one.
There are three rookies who are really starting to separate themselves as some of the most productive players to come out of this year’s draft class. Linebacker Darius Leonard is certainly leading all rookie linebackers, if not all linebackers period, in terms of production and in-game impact on defense. Guard Quenton Nelson continues to make his presence felt as a dominant force on the offensive line. He has played an important role in this group taking steps forward. Running back Jordan Wilkins built off of his impressive training camp and preseason performances and has been the Colts most efficient and effective ball carrier.
Let’s take a look at the performance provided by rookies on each side of the ball.
Quenton Nelson played every offensive snap for a second straight week. This won’t change as long as he stays healthy. He helped the offensive line block for a backfield committee that generated 104 yard on 28 carries, good for 3.7 yards per carry. He also helped limit a formidable Redskins front seven to 1 sack and 7 quarterback hits in 31 attempts.
Fellow offensive lineman Braden Smith did not take a on Sunday and appeared to be replaced by Ryan Hewitt in jumbo packages, which call for an additional blocker. With Le’Raven Clark serving as Anthony Castonzo’s backup at left tackle and Joe Haeg a likely starter until Denzelle Good returns from injury, Smith could be left to compete with Matt Slauson for starting duties at right guard as the season progresses.
With Marlon Mack clearly not back to 100 percent, rookies Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines were the primary weapons in the backfield. They each received 24 offensive snaps, which is just shy of 40% per player. Wilkins was more heavily utilized as a runner, carrying the ball 5 times for 31 yards, a 6.2 yards per carry clip. Nyheim Hines only carried the ball 3 times for 7 yards with a long run of 8. He has been getting short-yardage carries and hasn’t proven overly effective in this area.
In case you were wondering, Wilkins is currently fourth among all rookie rushers in total yards through 2 games.
NFL Rookie Rushing Leaders— Ryan Koenigsberg (@RyanKoenigsberg) September 17, 2018
1) Phillip Lindsay, DEN (178)
2) Saquon Barkley, NYG (134)
3) Jordan Wilkins, IND (101)
4) Royce Freeman, DEN (99)
5) Kerryon Johnson, DET (60) pic.twitter.com/BTFvd0ztNR
Darius Leonard’s performance on Sunday has been discussed at length. It was one of the most productive and dominant single game performances by a Colts linebacker in the team’s history. His 18 total tackles pushed him ahead of Anthony Hitchens for the league lead after two games. His forced fumble shut the door on any hopes Washington had to complete a comeback. In general, the speed he brings to the game is unlike anything fans have seen in Indianapolis for quite some time. If he can play anywhere close to the level he played Sunday the rest of the season, he will play a major role in Colts victories.
Rookie defensive end Kemoko Turay continues to get a lot of reps as the team’s edge rusher. He has not yet put everything together and finished without a sack or hit on Alex Smith but he did have 3 total tackles. The roster is currently lacking in any other legitimate edge rushing options so it’s likely he will continue to get live reps until another player can take his spot.
Linebackers Skai Moore and Zaire Franklin played a much smaller role against the Redskins than they did a week ago but part of the reason is that second-year linebacker Anthony Walker increased his snap share and safety Clayton Geathers didn’t leave the field. Geathers was used as the nickel linebacker on more than one occasion and certainly played a role in blazing speed fans witnessed on the field. There is no question that Skai Moore is a valuable pass defender but he isn’t as fleet of foot as Geathers and Eberflus appears to have gone that direction for now.
Skai Moore and Franklin still out-snapped veteran Najee Goode and are clearly on the Colts radar as developmental depth players. It has to be discouraging for Goode who many thought joined the with an inside track on a starting job as a veteran leader who is familiar to head coach Frank Reich from his time with the Eagles. Instead, he has had to sit and watch as young players ahead of him continue flashing potential and taking his snaps.
Sophomore players Malik Hooker, Kenny Moore, Nate Hairston, and Quincy Wilson continue to get a lot of time in the secondary. Wilson suffered a concussion that limited him to 13 defensive snaps, but he was able to gather 2 tackles and entered the game as a starter. Hooker (1 tackle), Hairston (6 tackles) and Moore (9 tackles and a TFL) all played every defensive snap.
When you throw second-year defensive lineman Grover Stewart (1 tackle) into the mix with 12 snaps, it is clear the youth movement is very real for Chris Ballard and his Indianapolis Colts.