Clutch Performers

Offensive Player Rankings, Week 3: Three highly drafted players who might be turning the corner

High draft picks are expected to hit the ground running and deliver almost immediately, but it's not always that simple.

Rookie success is largely dependent on team fit and position, among other variable factors. This is why it's common to see a player take a few games -- or even a few seasons -- to settle in. Patience is a virtue. Of course, this goes against every instinct in the "Not For Long" league.

With that in mind, I wanted to spotlight three highly drafted players who appear to be turning the corner two weeks into the 2021 NFL season:

Sam Darnold
Carolina Panthers · QB

Drafted: Round 1, No. 3 overall in 2018


Darnold is enjoying life with a quality offensive coordinator in Joe Brady, which is a nice change from working with a guy who was wearing far too many hats in New York. Not to mention, there was so much pressure on the young quarterback in the Big Apple. While he's obviously still burdened to win games for the Panthers, Darnold probably had more cameras on him at USC than in Charlotte. The change of scenery has been a difference-maker for the better. He's reaping the benefits of playing with do-it-all running back Christian McCaffrey and a talented surrounding cast that includes former Jets teammate Robby Anderson. Darnold is moving around the pocket well, hitting his targets and making good decisions, evidenced by his 68.5 completion percentage, 3-1 TD-to-INT ratio and 100.5 pass rating through two games. Carolina's done a fine job protecting its new quarterback, too. According to Next Gen Stats, Darnold is facing the highest blitz rate of his career (38.2 percent), but experiencing his lowest pressure rate ever (21.1 percent). With a favorable schedule in the first half of the season, the fourth-year pro has a chance to build on what is already a promising campaign.

Henry Ruggs III
Las Vegas Raiders · WR

Drafted: Round 1, No. 12 overall in 2020


Ruggs' issue has never been about his ability. Rather, the hardest thing for a young receiver is being in an offensive system that demands a lot from a mental standpoint, and Jon Gruden's scheme does just that, from alignments to pre- and post-snap adjustments. The Raiders' offense is difficult to grasp. That's why veterans like Zay Jones and Nelson Agholor took reps away from Ruggs in 2020. Ruggs -- who logged 43 targets, 26 receptions, 452 receiving yards and two TDs as a rookie -- was utilized primarily to blow the top off the defense last season, not necessarily as a consistent focus of the route concept. This year, Ruggs has more experience and understands more of what his role is, which is why he's getting more opportunities. Fresh off a 5/113/1 line in the win at Pittsburgh, the second-year speed merchant appears to be finding his bearings in the NFL.

Michael Pittman
Indianapolis Colts · WR

Drafted: Round 2, No. 34 overall in 2020


Drafted to supplant the aging T.Y. Hilton, who started this season on IR, Pittman is settling into his role as WR1 of the Colts' offense. Two games into his second season, Pittman is already a quarter of the way to his 2020 production with 11 catches (40 total in 2020). His size (6-foot-4, 223 pounds) and physicality make him a TE-type who can still win against cornerbacks on the perimeter. He's also catching the ball better in Year 2. One thing that could potentially derail Pittman's production is the uncertainty at the quarterback position, with Carson Wentz now dealing with a pair of ankle sprains. Pittman should always be one of the main targets in the passing game, but it won't be his fault if his numbers dip due to Jacob Eason filling in for Wentz.


Side note: Pittman's father (Michael Pittman Sr., who spent 11 seasons in the NFL as a running back) was the first person I met when I arrived at Fresno State. He was doing bicep curls and his arms were the size of my thighs -- I kid you not. I remember thinking, There's no way I'm big enough to play college football. Luckily, not everyone's built like that guy.

Top 15 Offensive Players

Each week of the 2021 NFL season, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. For the first quarter of the season, the rankings are based on a combination of:

1) Player accomplishments from the 2020 season.
2) Weekly performances, factoring in strength of opponent.

Rankings will be solely judged on this season's efforts following Week 4. Heading into Week 3, here is Carr's list, with arrows reflecting changes from last week's rundown:

Rank
1
Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · QB

All good things come to an end, and Mahomes' September perfection did just that in Sunday night's loss to Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. Mahomes threw his first interception and lost his first game in September; before Sunday, the Chiefs QB was 11-0 with 35 passing TDs and zero INTs for his career in the month. He remains in this spot because these are the nits we have to pick with him.  

Rank
2
Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks · QB

Wilson was efficient against the Titans despite the loss, completing 22 of 31 pass attempts for 343 yards, two TDs and a 128.8 passer rating. He's the best in the biz on deep passes (20-plus air yards) through two weeks with three touchdowns, including a 63-yard strike to Tyler Lockett and a 68-yarder to Freddie Swain on Sunday. In fact, Wilson's 17 deep-pass TDs since 2020 lead the NFL, making Seattle's offense an unpredictable nightmare to defend.

Rank
3
1
Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · QB

Brady continues to defy the ageing process. With five passing touchdowns in Sunday's rout of the Falcons, Brady now has nine through the first two games of the season -- a personal best, beating his previous high of seven to start both 2011 and '15. I'm very interested to see if he can keep this up Sunday against the Rams, easily Brady's toughest defensive challenge yet.

Rank
4
1
Christian McCaffrey
Carolina Panthers · RB

McCaffrey was one of the big winners Sunday vs. New Orleans with 137 scrimmage yards and a TD, while division rival Alvin Kamara finished with just 30 scrimmage yards (including a career-low 5 rushing yards) on 12 touches. This won't be the last time the Panthers upset an opponent if they continue to run the offense through CMC.

Rank
5
1
DeAndre Hopkins
Arizona Cardinals · WR

In what ultimately felt like the Rondale Moore show, Hopkins didn't waste any time helping Arizona get on the board in the first quarter Sunday. Given some extra time to uncover courtesy of Kyler Murray's scrambling, Hopkins beat Patrick Peterson, who was back in Arizona for the first time with a new team, on a 15-yard touchdown catch. Hopkins now has TDs in consecutive games for the first time since joining the Cardinals in 2020.

Rank
6
1
Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · QB

A week after the debacle in New Orleans, it wasn't all that surprising to see Rodgers and the Packers' offense go off against a pedestrian Lions defense in Green Bay's home opener. In fact, Rodgers is 7-0 following a loss under Matt LaFleur (since 2019) and has at least four passing TDs and zero INTs in the next game after each of his last five losses. He's back.

Rank
7
4
Tyreek Hill
Kansas City Chiefs · WR

The victorious Ravens made it a point to take Hill away by double- and triple-teaming him all Sunday night, holding him to three catches for 14 yards and one carry for 15 yards. Good plan by Baltimore, as Hill is the most dangerous player in the NFL with the ball in his hands.

Rank
8
Davante Adams
Green Bay Packers · WR

Watching an in-sync Rodgers-Adams connection is one of football's not-so-hidden gems. Adams hauled in eight passes for 121 yards in the win over Detroit, highlighted by a majestic 50-yard reception that set the tone for the second half. 

Rank
9
3
Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans · RB

The Titans scored 20 more points and had 284 more totals yards in Week 2 than in Week 1, and a lot of this had to do with Henry's performance. The back-to-back rushing champion racked up a monstrous 182 yards on 35 touches, including three second-half touchdowns to help send the game to OT. "King Henry" picked the right time to rumble, as the Titans improved to 1-1 heading into their first divisional matchup (vs. Indianapolis).

Rank
10
1
Travis Kelce
Kansas City Chiefs · TE

The way Kelce can nonchalantly run past and through defenses is pretty remarkable. He had no business scoring on a short pass from Mahomes on second-and-10 from the Baltimore 46-yard line, but that size and athletic ability are what make this guy so special with the ball in his hands. He's now enjoyed six straight games with at least one receiving TD, the longest active streak in the NFL.

Rank
11
4
Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders · QB

Derek was prolific against Baltimore, but had an even better game in Week 2 versus a better defense in Pittsburgh, throwing for 382 yards with two TDs and a 126.2 passer rating. The Raiders have been thisclose to breaking through over the last few seasons, and it's always been the belief in the building that they can win the tough matchups at home and on the road. Now they're proving it to everyone else.

Rank
12
3
Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · QB

Allen and the Bills got back on track with a 35-0 shutout win over Miami -- the largest shutout for Buffalo since Week 3 of 1992. Allen still has some kinks to work out, but he flashed his big arm and playmaking ability on a gutsy touchdown throw across his body to Stefon Diggs. I'm still looking for more consistency and better decision-making; Allen will have a chance to showcase these traits against a fierce pass rush when Buffalo hosts Washington on Sunday.

Rank
13
Darren Waller
Las Vegas Raiders · TE

It was a relatively quiet day for Waller, who logged 65 yards on five receptions (seven targets), but the attention he demanded opened the field guys like Henry Ruggs III and Hunter Renfrow. Las Vegas needed everyone involved to beat a team like Pittsburgh on the road, and Waller is the ultimate team player. He'll get his again soon enough.

Rank
14
Stefon Diggs
Buffalo Bills · WR

Diggs owned the Dolphins since joining the Bills, registering 19 receptions for 289 yards and two touchdowns in three games vs. Miami, including four catches for 60 yards and one score in Sunday's win.

Rank
15
NR
Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · QB

Lamar had some great -- and not so great -- passes against the Chiefs, but the thing we forget is that the Ravens' backfield was devastated by injuries days before the regular season began. And yet, they still comfortably lead the NFL in rushing. Lamar has almost single-handedly put Greg Roman's unit on his back and delivered each week, with 193 rushing yards and two ground scores already this season. He's one of the toughest players to prepare for, even when you know what he's going to do.

DROPPED OUT: Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints (previously No. 10)

Follow David Carr on Twitter.

Related Content

Gamepass_vert_web_r

See all the Action

Replay every game all season.