10 most unexpected Week 1 NFL breakouts: T.J. Hockenson makes history, John Ross goes from draft bust to playmaker

Week 1 of the NFL season still features two Monday Night Football games, but there have already been enough unexpected developments to fill a quarter of the season. Prior to Sunday, if we played a game where you had to predict the top-10 leaders in receiving yards after Week 1, you would’ve been lucky to name just one who’s actually on the list. DeSean Jackson and Sammy Watkins are the two most likely to have been guessed, but even their breakout performances went unpredicted for the most part. T.J. Hockenson, John Ross, Marquise Brown, Terry McLaurin — no one saw those coming.

The passing game wasn’t the only aspect of Week 1’s offensive explosion that caught us all by surprise. A pair of quarterbacks proved they shouldn’t be counted out for big-time performances, the Colts found an offensive identity behind a lead running back, and a new running back has apparently taken over the C.J. Anderson 2018 postseason role with the Los Angeles Rams.

The first NFL Sunday is in the books and there’s a lot to go over. Fortunately Will Brinson, John Breech, Ryan Wilson and Sean Wagner-McGough are here to break everything down on the latest episode of the Pick Six Podcast. Listen to the full show below and be sure to subscribe right here.

Week 1 generally brings overreaction, and we’ll soon learn if these were outlier performances or a sign of season-long trends to come. Having said that, it was quite the day for several players who were barely mentioned during the summer months outside of their local broadcasts and blogs.

So let’s break down the 10 most surprising breakout performances, and otherwise, from Week 1.

1. T.J. Hockenson sets a rookie tight end receiving record

Hockenson was a top-10 draft pick who was viewed as a complete prospect at the tight end position due to his size and blocking ability. He finished with just 760 receiving yards and topped five receptions only twice during his final season at Iowa. The Lions saw more from Hockenson as a receiver and believed he was underutilized at the collegiate level, similar to tight end George Kittle, who came before him at Iowa and later broke out with the San Francisco 49ers at the pro level. It didn’t take long for Hockenson to move up the depth chart in August, put together a big performance in the Lions’ most important preseason game, and then make an impact immediately during the team’s 27-27 tie against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1.

Hockenson finished with six receptions (nine targets) for 131 yards and a touchdown. He totaled the most receiving yards by any rookie tight end in his debut in NFL history. Hockenson averaged 21.9 yards per reception on route to flashing as a big-play threat, red zone threat, and underneath option for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

2. John Ross comes back from the dead

Ross went from the No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to left for dead this offseason. The Athletic’s Jay Morrison made it clear Ross was struggling with consistency in Bengals spring practices as he attempted to learn Zac Taylor’s new offensive system. Fellow wide receiver Tyler Boyd said Ross needs to play faster. Fast-forward to Week 1 of the 2019 season and Ross appears to have seamlessly transitioned to the new offense. 

The third-year wide receiver finished with the third-most receiving yards in Week 1. Ross caught seven passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps most notable is the fact that Ross, and not Boyd, saw a team-high 12 targets from quarterback Andy Dalton. It was Ross’ first career game with multiple touchdown catches and his 55-yarder was the longest reception of his career. Ross entered the NFL with the fastest 40-yard dash time ever, and that made headlines, but he was also an excellent route runner on tape at Washington. Injuries in addition to a poor schematic fit have derailed the first two seasons of his career, but he appears to have reinvented himself in the Bengals’ new offense.

3. Gardner Minshew makes a name for himself

Minshew was forced into Week 1 action unexpectedly when starting quarterback Nick Foles was forced from the game due to an injury. Just a few months ago, Minshew was the No. 178 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He quickly rose to No. 2 on the Jaguars‘ depth chart and now the team plans to move forward with him as the starter during Foles reported (6-8 weeks) absence. How did we get here so fast? Simple — the rookie didn’t miss many of his throws.

Minshew completed 22 of 25 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Rather than locking on to one wide receiver and letting him do the heavy lifting, Minshew brilliantly spread the ball around to get multiple receivers involved, including Chris Conley, Dede Westbrook, and D.J. Chark. Minshew’s performance game in spite of the fact that he hasn’t taken any first-team reps with the offense he was forced into action with during the middle of game. Minshew’s 88% completion rate was the highest in NFL history for any quarterback with at least 15 pass attempts making their NFL debut. He also set a franchise single-game completion percentage record among players who attempted at least 25 passes.

The Jaguars reportedly traded for veteran quarterback Josh Dobbs, but he won’t be to start in Week 2. Minshew has the job, and if he builds on what he put on tape Sunday, it will be his to keep, at least until Foles is healthy again.

4. Marquise brings ‘Hollywood’ to Miami

Brown was the fastest wide receiver in the 2019 draft class, the first wide receiver off the board, and arguably the biggest playmaker in college football during the 2018 season with Kyler Murray as his quarterback. Then, a foot injury limited him during spring workouts, training camp, and the preseason. Not much was expected from Brown during his debut in Miami against the Dolphins even after he was somewhat surprisingly named the starter.

Meanwhile, Brown’s skill set is a perfect fit for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Contrary to somewhat popular belief, Jackson can throw the football well — specifically on deep passes that require touch and in the quick-passing game that relies on timing (slants, flats). This is the area Brown excels in — over the top and after the catch — and it was on full display during his rookie debut. 

Brown caught four passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns. All but 17 of his receiving yards came in the first quarter and he didn’t even play a snap in the second half with the game already decided by that point. In his rookie debut, Brown did that much damage in essentially one quarter of play. On his first NFL catch, Brown took a slant 47 yards for the score. On his very next catch, Brown made Ravens history with the longest touchdown catch (83 yards) by a rookie and he did it in Week 1.

5. Marlon Mack, Colts offense establish an identity

The post-Andrew Luck era in Indianapolis was a mystery heading into Week 1. No one was quite sure how head coach Frank Reich would retool his offense to fit Jacoby Brissett’s skill set. What we did know was this — the Colts had one of the best offensive lines in 2018. They also had several young linemen expected to make a leap forward in their NFL progression. Like any wise coach with a strong run-blocking offensive line led by future All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, Reich established the run. The Colts became a physical offense and they leaned on third-year running back Marlon Mack to be their focal point.

Mack racked up 174 yards rushing on 25 attempts. Finally, in the second half, the Colts were able to spring Mack free for an impressive 63-yard touchdown run — the longest of his career. Mack has now scored a touchdown in five consecutive games dating back to the 2018 season. Over the last seven games, Mack has rushed for 693 yards on 136 attempts (5.1 yards per carry) with four games of 100-plus yards.

6. Danny Amendola leads a fresh Lions passing attack

When the Patriots let Amendola walk, the expectations were low upon his arrival in Detroit. However, we might have all been sleeping on Amendola for the wrong reasons. After trading Golden Tate during the 2018 season, Stafford’s numbers fell off the cliff. Someone needed to replace that role in the Lions’ passing attack, and if Week 1 is any indication, that someone is Amendola. 

Amendola led the Lions with 13 targets in the passing game. He converted them into seven receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown. In the process, he scored the longest touchdown (47 yards) of his career. 

7. DJ Chark, Chris Conley, Jaguars’ receivers come alive

Jacksonville has quietly used multiple mid-round draft picks to improve the wide receiver position over the last three draft classes — these efforts have gone largely unnoticed — until now. In Week 1, the Jaguars’ passing game came alive with both Foles for a brief period and then Minshew. Although all of the preseason hype at wide receiver was focused on DeDe Westbrook, Chark and Conley led the way. Westbrook chipped in on his own, too, with a touchdown catch — one of three touchdown receptions by the Jaguars’ wide receiver corps.

Chark and Conley combined 243 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 10 receptions. Individually, Conley had six receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown while Chark tacked on 146 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. Prior to Sunday, Chark had just 174 career receiving yards. If the arrival of Minshew is for real, the young and underrated Jaguars’ receiving corps will play a big role in making it last.

8. Case Keenum finds success in Redskins‘ offensive system

Since when did Keenum become a downfield passer? In the first half of the Redskins’ 32-27 loss to the Eagles, Keenum attacked the defense vertically with a 69-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin. It was the longest touchdown pass of Keenum’s career. The Redskins had confidence in Keenum’s schematic fit and they never waned on it. During his debut with the team, Keenum 30 of 44 pass attempts for 380 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions.

The Redskins ultimately blew a 17-point lead, but it’s tough to place the blame on Keenum and on the defense. Going into Week 1, fans had already started the clock on when rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins would take over for Keenum. At least for now, that clock needs to be paused. Keenum has shown more than enough to give Redskins fans hope the passing game could thrive with him at the helm. Now, they just need to figure out their rushing attack, special teams, and defense.

9. Terry McLaurin emerges as Washington’s potential No. 1

There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Redskins’ wide receiver corps after a quiet summer. Heading into Week 1, it was easier to predict that no one was going to break out from this group rather than trying to pinpoint one wide receiver. After Week 1, we have a much clearer picture — rookie third-round draft pick Terry McLaurin has arrived and he’s here to stay.

During his debut performance, McLaurin totaled 125 yards receiving and one touchdown on five receptions (seven targets). He tied for the Redskins’ leader in total targets. It won’t show up in the box score, but after having already burned the Eagles secondary for a 69-yard touchdown, McLaurin beat them again — this time even worse — but Keenum overthrew him on a would-be 73-yard walk-in touchdown in the second half. McLaurin has 4.35 speed and it showed. The Redskins landed a third-round steal.

10. Malcolm Brown eats into Todd Gurley’s workload

During the pregame, we heard there will be no “pitch count” for Rams running back Todd Gurley in Week 1. That didn’t appear to be the case when Week 1 was over. In a game that remained relatively close throughout, it was Brown who finished with just three fewer carries (11) than Gurley (14) and not ballyhooed third-round rookie Darrell Henderson — who the Rams traded up for in the 2019 draft class.

Making matters worse for Gurley’s fantasy owners, Brown “vultured” two touchdown runs of the five and one yard variety, respectively, while Gurley finished with none. Gurley is paid to be one of the NFL’s few featured running backs who rarely come off the field, and most expected he would continue in this role after finding so much success doing so during the past two seasons, but that doesn’t appear to be the case in 2019. Adjust your expectations for Gurley accordingly.

Read this article from its original source at https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/10-most-unexpected-week-1-nfl-breakouts-t-j-hockenson-makes-history-john-ross-goes-from-draft-bust-to-playmaker/