As we near the end of another NFL regular season, TSL ranks the top frosh on the gridiron. This week the top honor goes to former Jackson State edge rusher James Houston.
James Houston, Lions, Edge
Nicknamed “The Problem” for the havoc he caused SWAC offenses while playing for former Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders. JSU is where Houston became a real draft prospect after two quiet seasons at Florida.
Taken in the fifth round, the Lions drafted Houston with the belief that he’d be ready to contribute at some point. But not even head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn could’ve predicted this kind of dominance. Houston, who didn’t play much until Thanksgiving, leads all rookies with eight sacks.
Houston has been a terror for opposing offenses weekly, and with fellow rookie and No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson on the other side, double team efforts are feeble. Houston had three sacks in Sunday’s 41-10 win over the Bears.
Aidan Hutchinson, Lions, Edge
“Hutch” is known for his relentless play and effort, which reminds us of reigning DPOY TJ Watt of the Steelers. In fact, he’s done some things like Watt in his inaugural season. His 7.5 sacks are tied for second amongst rookies with Giants edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and 2022 No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker of the Jaguars.
Sacks aside, Hutch has also done some things not usually associated with an edge rusher. He has three interceptions, becoming the first player with at least seven sacks and three picks since sacks became a stat in 1982.
First player w/ 7+ sacks and 3+ INT in a season (since 1982 when sacks became official):
Aidan Hutchinson pic.twitter.com/kDysxVV6Jm
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 1, 2023
It’s safe to say the Lions made the correct picks for their future in the 2022 NFL draft.
Sauce Gardner, Jets, CB
All season Sauce has been at the top of our rankings, and this week is no different. The rangy former Cincinnati Bearcats star allowed three receptions on Sunday for the first time since October. But he only allowed 17 total receiving yards on those three grabs.
What Sauce has accomplished as a rookie playing the game’s most challenging defensive position should win him the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Kenneth Walker III, Seahawks, RB
When you watch Walker, the first thing that jumps off the screen is his elusiveness and quickness in and out of cuts. In Sunday’s win over the Jets the former Michigan State Spartans Heisman finalist posted his fourth 100-yard rushing day of the season. He’s now just 64 yards from reaching the 1000-yard benchmark. Having touched paydirt nine times, Walker is also averaging 5 yards per carry.
Head coach Pete Carroll seems to have solidified his future backfield with Pro Bowl QB Geno Smith and Walker.
Brock Purdy, Niners, QB
Purdy is the man for the Niners Super Sunday hopes. The rookie was thrust into action when both starter Trey Lance and backup Jimmy Garoppolo were lost for the season with injuries.
“Mr. Irrelevant” has stepped up in big way. He hasn’t lost a start and has the highest passer rating in the league since he became the starter.
Purdy has impressively won his first four NFL starts, going 70 of 104 for 920 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s also 4-0. Head coach Kyle Shanahan acknowledged the way his rookie QB stood strong in the face of adversity. Following Sunday’s 37-34 come-from-behind win over the Raiders, Shanny said, “I think it was great for him.”