Thank you to everyone who has stuck with this review series through the season. This hasn’t been the best defensive rookie class the NFL has ever seen, but there have been some obvious bright spots.
This final weekly review of the 2020 class is a bit abbreviated, and I wanted to take a look at some guys that I got extended playing time in the final week of the season. While most leagues conclude after week 16, we are interested in dynasty values of these players, and week 17 provides us with a valuable last look at some players prior to the off-season.
Next up, I’ll put a bow on the rookie reviews with four sets of articles: positional rankings and overviews for edge rushers, interior defensive linemen, linebackers, and finally safeties.
AJ Epenesa, DE BUF
57 of 83 (69%) snaps; three solo tackles; one quarterback hit
With Buffalo resting veteran starters Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, Epenesa received a season-high in snaps. He unfortunately wasn’t very productive with the extra work, but did land a hit on Tua Tagovailoa early in the third quarter on a second-and-goal play from the Buffalo four-yard line. Epenesa’s combo cross chop and inside spin move were effective, but Tagovailoa got off an incomplete pass before the hit came.
Bryce Huff, DE NYJ
18 of 65 (28%) snaps; one solo tackle; one sack; one tackle for loss; two quarterback hits
The undrafted Huff didn’t see the field a lot against the Patriots, but as he has shown already this season he proved he can be an effective situational pass rusher. Huff picked up his second sack of the season early in the second quarter, using a nice cross chop-and-dip move to turn the corner against rookie left tackle Justin Herron and drop Cam Newton. Later in the third quarter, he used the same move on tackle Korey Cunningham and landed a hit on the Patriots quarterback – Newton got rid of the ball as he was being driven to the ground.
Chase Young, DE WAS
62 of 68 (91%) snaps; two solo tackles; one sack; one tackle for loss; three quarterback hits; one fumble recovery
Young closed the season with a flurry, and had six p2ressures against the Eagles, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. He tallied one final sack, drilling Jalen Hurts when the Eagles quarterback kept the ball on an RPO. He added another hit on Hurts as well as one on Nate Sudfeld, picked up a Sudfeld fumbled snap that led to Washington’s final field goal. Now, upon request, he gets Tom Brady in the playoffs.
Others of note:
- Ross Blacklock, DT HOU – 35 of 71 (49%) snaps; three solo tackles. Played a season-high in snaps.
- Derrick Brown, DT CAR – 46 of 64 (72%) snaps; one assist; one quarterback hit
- K’Lavon Chaisson, DE JAX – 48 of 65 (72%) snaps; two solo tackles, one assist; one quarterback hit
- Michael Danna, DE KC – 60 of 71 (85%) snaps; two solo tackles. Played a season-high in snaps.
- Raekwon Davis, DT MIA – 54 of 64 (84%) snaps; one solo tackle, one assist
- Neville Gallimore, DT DAL – 42 of 58 (72%) snaps; one solo tackle, three assists
- Yetur Gross-Matos, DE CAR – 41 of 64 (64%) snaps; two assists
- Julian Okwara, DE DET – 19 of 80 (24%) snaps; one assist
- Alton Robinson, DE SEA – 18 of 66 (27%) snaps; one solo tackle; one quarterback hit
- Bravvion Roy, DT CAR – 38 of 64 (59%) snaps; one solo tackle, three assists
- Tershawn Wharton, DT KC – 63 of 71 (89%) snaps; two assists. Played a season-high in snaps.
- DJ Wonnum, DE MIN – 51 of 58 (88%) snaps; two solo tackles, one assist. Played a season-high in percentage of snaps played.
Notable inactives and injuries:
- Javon Kinlaw, DT SF – sidelined for second straight game with knee injury
Krys Barnes, LB GB
59 of 75 (79%) snaps; eight solo tackles, six assists; one tackle for loss
Barnes continued to impress in his expanded role and led the Packers in tackles, including a thumping hit that stopped David Montgomery cold in his tracks for a one-yard loss on a first-down run midway through the third quarter. It was a good example of Barnes’ solid fundamentals, as the linebacker got low to gain the leverage advantage over Montgomery on his cut. Barnes likely would have had a bigger day if not for injury – he was shaken up on a late third quarter tackle, and then again on a tackle early in the fourth. He ended up missing the remainder of the game.
Tae Crowder, LB NYG
58 of 82 (71%) snaps; seven solo tackles, four assists; one tackle for loss
Crowder finished his season on a high note, and played well for the most part this season. He looks good working downhill and has good speed on pursuit of the ball; like most rookie linebackers he struggles in coverage. His 11-tackle day included a couple of nice stops on Ezekiel Elliott: one for no gain in the early second quarter, and one for a loss of two late in the third quarter with Dallas at the Giants’ 11-yard line.
Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB CIN
54 of 74 (73%) snaps; six solo tackles, three assists; one interception; one pass defensed
With nothing to play for, the Bengals left Davis-Gaither on the field for his highest number of snaps on the season. He picked up his first career interception on a pass deflected into the air by defensive tackle Margus Hunt, but otherwise I didn’t see much to get excited about. His production was more a product of his snap count and Baltimore’s 54 rushing attempts. Oh, and the Ravens did run for 404 yards – that doesn’t reflect well on anyone wearing the orange-and-black stripes.
Jonathan Greenard, LB HOU
50 of 71 (70%) snaps; five solo tackles, four assists; one tackle for loss; one quarterback hit
Greenard has received more than 23 snaps only three times this season, and this was the first week he put up any sort of production. I’ve written about him previously as a rotational stand-up edge with some versatility to play as a true linebacker. I wasn’t impressed with his quickness midway through the season, but he looked improved against the Titans.
He also looked strong at various points. Early in the game, he shed a block by left tackle David Quessenberry and wrapped up Derrick Henry from behind. On the next play, he landed a hit on Ryan Tannehill, but probably could have had a sack had he not slowed his rush and danced a bit once met by Geoff Swaim, who pulled from the opposite side. Once he simply re-engaged his rush, he bulled over Swaim, putting the tight end on his backside. Early in the third quarter, he swatted away MyCole Pruitt to reach Henry in the backfield for a two-yard loss. Greenard definitely saved his best game for the season finale.
Alex Highsmith, LB PIT
60 of 62 (97%) snaps; six solo tackles, three assists; one sack; one tackle for loss; one quarterback hit
With Pittsburgh resting several defensive starters – TJ Watt, Cameron Heyward, Joe Haden and Terrell Edmunds – Highsmith again stepped up with a strong performance and led the Steelers in tackles. Toward the end of the first half, he picked up his second sack of the season, easily maneuvering past a weak block by rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. And just after the start of the second half, it was Highsmith’s pass rush that forced Baker Mayfield to trip up trying to escape the pressure. Jayrone Elliott tagged Mayfield after the Cleveland quarterback fell down and received credit for the sack.
Jacob Phillips, LB CLE
67 of 67 (100%) snaps; eight solo tackles, two assists; one tackle for loss; one quarterback hit
If there is such a thing as a week 17 IDP winner, Phillips is it. The rookie from LSU made his case to be a three-down option next season with an outstanding performance against the Steelers. It wasn’t just that he led the team in tackles, he put on display an ability to quickly see plays develop, and showcased great range and closing speed. It was what many were excited to see from Phillips prior to the season – then a week one leg injury derailed his progress.
I still hold hope for Mack Wilson, but his star certainly faded this season. Sione Takitaki hasn’t shown to be anything more than a part-time player or backup. BJ Goodson is a free agent, and even if Cleveland brings him back, he’s a solid but not spectacular option. We’ll see what the playoffs bring, but Phillips’ arrow is definitely pointed up.
Others of note:
- Zack Baun, LB NO – 22 of 62 (35%) snaps; one solo tackle, one assist; one tackle for loss. Played a season-high in snaps.
- Jordyn Brooks, LB SEA – 48 of 66 (73%) snaps; five solo tackles, four assists. Played a season-high in snaps and led Seahawks in tackles.
- Troy Dye, LB MIN – 21 of 58 (36%) snaps; one solo tackle, three assists; one pass defensed
- Willie Gay, LB KC – two of 71 (3%) snaps; one solo tackle. Sigh.
- Kenneth Murray, LB LAC – 53 of 53 (100%) snaps; one solo tackle, two assists. Set a franchise record for total tackles (107).
- Patrick Queen, LB BAL – 29 of 41 (67%) snaps; two solo tackles, two assists; one tackle for loss. Ravens defense logged a paltry 41 snaps.
- Isaiah Simmons, LB ARI – 25 of 73 (38%) snaps; one solo tackle, two assists; one forced fumble. Giddyap for 2021.
Notable inactives and injuries:
- Anfernee Jennings, LB NE – inactive; didn’t practice all week with shoulder injury
- Josh Uche, LB NE – finished season on injured reserve after injuring foot in week 16
- Logan Wilson, LB CIN – missed third straight game with a lingering foot injury
Jeremy Chinn, S CAR
61 of 64 (95%) snaps; one solo tackle, six assists; one quarterback hit
Chinn had an odd statistical day in that his first tackle was indeed a solo tackle, bringing down Adam Troutman on a short reception (Chinn was not covering the rookie tight end). Everything after that was credited as an assisted tackle. It was all fairly scored, it just made for an odd statistical day. He also landed a third-down hit on Drew Brees, lining up over the “A” gap and shooting through on a blitz.
Chinn never seemed to hit a rookie wall this year, and that’s impressive. He looked just as explosive and quick downhill as he did in the opener. I don’t know if he’ll play more linebacker in 2021, more safety, or again a combination of the two, but in any case he’s a playmaking star.
Kamren Curl, S WAS
68 of 68 (100%) snaps; three solo tackles; one interception; one pass defensed
It wasn’t a big tackle day for Curl, but playing cornerback he picked off Hurts after getting physical in coverage on tight end Zach Ertz. Assuming Landon Collins returns to his strong safety spot next season, Curl could find himself playing a lot of nickel – a role he filled earlier this season prior to Collins’ season-ending injury.
Xavier McKinney, S NYG
73 of 82 (89%) snaps; four solo tackles, four assists; one tackle for loss; one interception; one pass defensed
McKinney had his coming out party in the finale, making a statement on the Cowboys’ opening drive with an interception on a bad throw by Andy Dalton. McKinney read the play perfectly though as the field side deep safety, and got a great jump on the pass. Unfortunately the play was negated due to penalty, though it was no fault of McKinney’s. He did end up with an interception toward the end of the game, picking off a third-and-17 lob into the end zone.
Playing a combination of safety and cornerback, with some linebacker mixed in, McKinney looked smooth in all phases. His best play came on a short screen pass to CeeDee Lamb with McKinney in coverage. He read it quickly, then worked through a weak block by tight end Dalton Schultz to drop Lamb for a three-yard loss.
K’Von Wallace, S PHI
63 of 63 (100%) snaps; five solo tackles, one assist
Wallace played a full complement of snaps with Rodney McLeod and Jalen Mills out for the finale. Wallace didn’t put anything special on tape though, and in general moved his feet quite a bit before getting a read on the ball. He’ll need to read and react more quickly and cleanly if he’s going to have a meaningful role in 2021.
Antoine Winfield Jr., S TB
69 of 72 (96%) snaps; five solo tackles, two assists; one pass defensed; one fumble recovery
Winfield put a bow on his stellar rookie season with a seven-tackle showing. He added a couple of big plays, including his first fumble recovery of the season. Initially lined up as a weak-side linebacker, Winfield walked up to the line pre-snap as an edge rusher. His blitz caught the eye of Matt Ryan, who had his head turned to Winfield on his drop back and didn’t deliver a clean handoff to Brian Hill. Winfield redirected his angle to play the run on the handoff, and the ball actually fell out of Brian Hill’s arms and into Winfield’s grasp. He returned it for a 39-yard touchdown that was reversed on replay, which showed he was touched by Hill when he was on the ground after recovering the fumble.
A big third-quarter hit on Hayden Hurst prevented the tight end from completing the process of a catch that would have resulted in a 14- or 15-yard gain and given the Falcons the ball inside the Buccaneers’ 10-yard line.
Others of note:
- Julian Blackmon, S IND – 65 of 65 (100%) snaps; five solo tackles; one tackle for loss
- Trevon Diggs, CB DAL – 56 of 58 (97%) snaps; four solo tackles; two passes defensed
- Kyle Dugger, S NE – 63 of 63 (100%) snaps; five solo tackles. Played a season-high in snaps.
- Jordan Fuller, S LAR – 53 of 53 (100%) snaps; one solo tackle, four assists
- Alohi Gilman, S LAC – 46 of 53 (87%) snaps; one solo tackle, one assist; one quarterback hit. Played a season-high in snaps with Rayshawn Jenkins and Jahleel Addae out; left game late with possible concussion.
- Jeff Gladney, CB MIN – 58 of 58 (100%) snaps; three solo tackles; one pass defensed
- Bryce Hall, CB NYJ – 65 of 65 (100%) snaps; two solo tackles, one assist
- Lamar Jackson, CB NYJ – 65 of 65 (100%) snaps; five solo tackles; one pass defensed
- Michael Ojemudia, CB DEN – 67 of 69 (97%) snaps; five solo tackles, two assists; two forced fumbles
Notable inactives and injuries:
- Cameron Dantzler, CB MIN – inactive with hamstring injury
- Jaylon Johnson, CB CHI – missed third straight game with shoulder injury suffered in week 14
- Geno Stone, S HOU – waived by Ravens, claimed by Texans earlier in week
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