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Projecting top NFL rookies in 10 stat categories: Who will lead in passing yards, total TDs and sacks?

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It has been nearly a month since the 2024 NFL draft, and we now have a much better grasp of what each team’s roster core will look like this season. That means we can start to project expectations for this year’s batch of rookies.

First-year players tend to experience a learning curve, but we will see plenty of standouts right out of the gate. Which newly drafted players will lead the pack in major statistical categories? How many yards should we expect to see from this year’s crop of first-round QBs led by Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye? What are reasonable expectations for running back Jonathon Brooks as he recovers from a torn ACL? And who will pace all rookies in tackles and sacks?

Let’s take a look at the top five projected leaders among rookies in a variety of categories for the 2024 season. These team and player projections are my own, compiled through a process that is both quantitative (league, team, coaching and player trends) and qualitative (projected depth chart placement and role).

And for full statistical outlooks, you can check out this handy PDF or head over to our projections page to sort and filter through the entire league. Both are updated often leading up to the start of the season.

Jump to:
Passing | Rushing | Receiving | TDs
Tackles | Interceptions | Sacks

Passing yards and touchdowns

1. Caleb Williams, Chicago Bears: 3,532 yards, 23 TDs (15 starts)
2. J.J. McCarthy, Minnesota Vikings: 3,527 yards, 19 TDs (14 starts)
3. Jayden Daniels, Washington Commanders: 3,457 yards, 16 TDs (15 starts)
4. Drake Maye, New England Patriots: 3,378 yards, 17 TDs (15 starts)
5. Bo Nix, Denver Broncos: 3,165 yards, 16 TDs (14 starts)

Barring injury, Williams (the No. 1 overall draft pick), Daniels (second), Maye (third), McCarthy (10th) and Nix (12th) are going to play early and often as rookies, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if all five are under center in Week 1.

The history of the position tells the story: From 2011 to 2023, 34 of 41 first-round quarterbacks (83%) took over as the starter prior to Week 10. Twenty (49%) started in Week 1 — and that list includes all three QBs selected in the 2023 first round (Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson). Of the 18 QBs picked in the top three, 13 started in Week 1 and three others took over by Week 5, leaving Jared Goff (Week 11) and Trey Lance (Jimmy Garoppolo‘s backup) as the exceptions.

There have been 24 quarterbacks who appeared in at least 14 games as a rookie since 2011, and that group averaged 3,433 passing yards and 18.4 touchdown passes as rookies. If we conservatively project 14-15 starts for this year’s group (as noted above), the projected output seems to check out.

This is a bit of an unusual class in that the supporting cast/scheme around a few of these QBs provides optimism that they can produce at a higher statistical level than a typical rookie. That group includes Williams and McCarthy, who will benefit from excellent offensive playmakers around them in Chicago and Minnesota, respectively, as well as Daniels, who gets a boost from Kliff Kingsbury’s fast-paced scheme in Washington. Of the 41 QBs drafted in the first round since 2011, 10 reached 3,500 passing yards, and 10 reached 20 TDs through the air as rookies.

Michael Penix Jr. was selected eighth overall by Atlanta, but he won’t play much this season if Kirk Cousins — whom the Falcons signed in free agency — is healthy.


Receiving yards and touchdowns

1. Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Arizona Cardinals: 1,121 yards, 6 TDs
2. Malik Nabers, WR, New York Giants: 1,033 yards, 5 TDs
3. Brian Thomas Jr., WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: 814 yards, 5 TDs
4. Keon Coleman, WR, Buffalo Bills: 810 yards, 5 TDs
5. Rome Odunze, WR, Chicago Bears: 803 yards, 6 TDs

This wide receiver rookie class has a chance to be one of the best ever after seven were selected in the first round, including three in the first nine overall picks — Harrison (No. 4), Nabers (No. 6) and Odunze (No. 9). Let’s look at the production of the 14 wide receivers (excluding 2017 first-rounder John Ross since he played in only three games) who were selected with a top-10 pick since 2011:

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