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The Brandt Report

Deshaun Watson, Kareem Hunt head 2017 All-Rookie Team

As I did last year, I thought I'd take a look back at the top first-year talent from the 2017 season and assemble an all-star team of the NFL's top rookies. Below is my position-by-position look at the cream of the rookie crop.

Just missed the cut: Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars; Keelan Cole, WR, Jaguars; Takk McKinley, DE, Falcons; Deatrich Wise, DT, Patriots; Zach Cunningham, LB, Texans; Haason Reddick, LB, Cardinals.

Quarterback: Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

Draft position: Round 1, No. 12 overall.

In less than half a season, Watson showed the makings of a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback who's capable of taking a team to the playoffs. I liked what I saw a lot, especially in his final appearance of 2017: that 402-yard, four-touchdown effort against Seattle in Week 7.

Running back: Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs

Draft position: Round 3, No. 86 overall.

Hunt is tricky to evaluate. He's a good player in a good system, as his dazzling start to the year -- in his first seven games, he averaged 143 yards from scrimmage, with almost a touchdown per game -- proved. But then he hit a lull, averaging just 59 yards from scrimmage and failing to score once in five games from Week 8 to Week 13. He rebounded, and, of course, finished the season as the NFL's rushing leader, but at this point, I tend to think Hunt will be more of a very good pro than a sure-fire perennial Pro Bowler.

Running back: Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Draft position: Round 3, No. 67 overall.

While Hunt sprinted out of the gate, Kamara started relatively slowly, but once he got rolling, he got rolling. The Saints traded Adrian Peterson away after the Week 5 bye, and from Week 6 to Week 13, Kamara scored nine total touchdowns in eight games, racking up 124 yards from scrimmage per game while he and veteran Mark Ingram established themselves as an extremely potent running back duo. He's fast and can be a major contributor in all three phases: on the ground, as a receiver and as a kick returner. That gives him tons of upside. Worth noting: Kamara finished with more receiving yards (826) than all but two rookie players, including receivers.

Wide receiver: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

Draft position: Round 2, No. 62 overall.

Smith-Schuster was targeted 79 times and caught 58 passes for 917 yards -- 15.8 yards per catch -- and seven scores. He also posted six catches of 40-plus yards, more than anyone but Tyreek Hill, Brandin Cooks and Antonio Brown, and a healthy yard-after-the-catch average of 6.8, per Pro Football Focus. Smith-Schuster proved himself to be an important part of the Steelers' offense, and his ceiling is as an All-Pro.

Wide receiver: Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

Draft position: Round 3, No. 69 overall.

Kupp was the biggest surprise of this rookie class. I think everyone was thrown by his lack of speed and probably underestimated his route-running ability. He makes clutch catches, as evidenced by his 42 first-down catches, most among rookies. Kupp projects as a top-notch No. 2 receiver.

Tight end: Evan Engram, New York Giants

Draft position: Round 1, No. 23 overall.

Engram finished with 722 receiving yards, more than any rookie tight end since Jeremy Shockey posted 894 in 2002. He's a matchup nightmare, thanks to his combination of speed and size, and served as a bright spot in an otherwise dire season for the Giants. His biggest problem is avoiding drops -- he had 11, most among tight ends in 2017, per PFF. But if he fixes that correctable issue, he's got a real chance to be great.

Tackle: Cam Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

Draft position: Round 2, No. 34 overall.

Robinson started 15 games at left tackle and allowed just two sacks. With Robinson in the fold, the Jaguars cut down on sacks, dropping from 34 in 2016 to 24 in '17.

Tackle: Ryan Ramczyk, New Orleans Saints

Draft position: Round 1, No. 32 overall.

Ramczyk quickly proved himself to be a stalwart on the Saints' line, starting all 16 games and establishing himself as a solid right tackle. He has Pro Bowl potential and should be a factor in this league for a long time.

Guard: Dan Feeney, Los Angeles Chargers

Draft position: Round 3, No. 71 overall.

Feeney made his first NFL start in Week 8, replacing injured veteran Matt Slauson -- and the Chargers went 6-3 the rest of the season. Feeney is better in the run game than in the passing game, though he did give up just one sack. He has the potential to someday become a Pro Bowler.

Guard: Ethan Pocic, Seattle Seahawks

Draft position: Round 2, No. 58 overall.

While he might never climb to the level of a Pro Bowler, Pocic -- who allowed two sacks -- projects as a long-time starter after playing reasonably well in his first pro season. He's a versatile lineman who can play guard or tackle.

Center: Pat Elflein, Minnesota Vikings

Draft position: Round 3, No. 70 overall.

Elflein projects as someone who will be very good for the next 10 years, even if he never quite reaches the Pro Bowl tier. He's a technically sound player who did a very good job helping to stabilize the Vikings' offensive line.

Defensive lineman: Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns

Draft position: Round 1, No. 1 overall.

Garrett, who was dogged by injuries in 2017, played in 11 games and made nine starts, finishing with 7.0 sacks and 37 pressures. He might not have surpassed Joey Bosa's jaw-dropping rookie campaign in 2016, but Garrett is going to be a perennial All-Pro player -- you could see it when he was healthy. He's going to be a factor.

Defensive lineman: Carl Lawson, Cincinnati Bengals

Draft position: Round 4, No. 116 overall.

Lawson contributed 8.5 sacks and 59 pressures (per PFF), which is a nice total for a first-year pro. If he can stay healthy, Lawson will be a Pro Bowl-type player.

Defensive lineman: Derek Barnett, Philadelphia Eagles

Draft position: Round 1, No. 14 overall.

Barnett didn't start any games, but that's misleading, given that everyone contributes in the Eagles' Wide-9 defense. In 15 games, Barnett totaled 5.0 sacks, 37 pressures and a forced fumble. He's going to be a solid, complementary player.

Defensive lineman: Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants

Draft position: Round 2, No. 55 overall.

Tomlinson started 16 games, finishing with 50 tackles and a sack. He projects as a solid player, if not quite a regular Pro Bowler.

Linebacker: Jarrad Davis, Detroit Lions

Draft position: Round 1, No. 21 overall.

Davis started 14 games and finished the season with 96 tackles, 2.0 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. Though he wasn't quite as dominant as I thought he'd be, ultimately, he played well. Matt Patricia should have no trouble getting the most out of Davis as the Lions' next coach.

Linebacker: T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers

Draft position: Round 1, No. 30 overall.

Watt surprised me every step of the way. I didn't think he'd be a first-rounder, and I didn't expect him to make such a significant impact immediately. But he played quite well in 2017, finishing with 7.0 sacks, seven passes defensed, a pick and a forced fumble. He'll be a regular fixture in the Pro Bowl in the years to come.

Linebacker: Reuben Foster, San Francisco 49ers

Draft position: Round 1, No. 31 overall.

Injury is the only thing that will keep Foster from being a perennial Pro Bowler (provided he avoids any more trouble like his arrest earlier this month on a possession of marijuana charge). He plays so hard and is so competitive that he tends to get banged up. In 10 starts, Foster logged 72 tackles and a pass breakup.

Cornerback: Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints

Draft position: Round 1, No. 11 overall.

Lattimore was burned on just 36 of 68 targets, per PFF, allowing 486 yards and zero touchdowns. He finished with 18 passes defensed, five picks and 52 tackles while helping to spearhead a defensive turnaround in New Orleans.

Cornerback: Tre'Davious White, Buffalo Bills

Draft position: Round 1, No. 27 overall.

White was burned on just 39 of 77 balls thrown his way. He finished with 18 passes defensed, four picks and 69 tackles in a really phenomenal rookie season. He matched the impact of former Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore -- who left via free agency for New England -- at a significantly lesser cost to the team.

Safety: Jamal Adams, New York Jets

Draft position: Round 1, NO. 6 overall.

Adams started all 16 games and finished with 83 tackles, two sacks and six passes defensed. He's going to be a Pro Bowler for many years to come.

Safety: Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints

Draft position: Round 2, No. 42 overall.

Forget about his failure to stop Stefon Diggs during the Minnesota Miracle -- really. That was simply a rookie mistake. The rest of his debut season included exceptional play that strongly suggests he'll be a regular Pro Bowler in the future.

Punter: Rigoberto Sanchez, Indianapolis Colts

Draft position: Undrafted.

Sanchez posted the fourth-best net yards per punt (42.6) in the NFL, which is pretty good. Twenty-eight of his 84 punts were inside the opponent's 20-yard line, and just three went for touchbacks. The Colts have their punter of the future.

Kicker: Harrison Butker, Kansas City Chiefs

Draft position: Round 7, No. 233 overall (by the Panthers).

I saw Butker at Panthers camp and thought he'd make the team for sure, but Carolina's loss was Kansas City's gain. Butker has a big leg, outstanding accuracy and a very bright future in the NFL. Butker made 38 of 42 field-goal attempts (including four of five of 50-plus yards) and all 28 of his extra-point attempts, while 61 of his 78 kickoffs went for touchbacks.

Kick returner: Ryan Switzer, Dallas Cowboys

Draft position: Round 4, No. 133 overall.

Switzer, who averaged 25.0 yards per kick return, helped the Cowboys post the NFL's third-best kick-return average (24.8) in 2017. His ability to out-quick everybody in college might not have translated fully to the NFL, but he did provide Dallas with good field position, and there's definite value in that.

Punt returner: Jamal Agnew, Detroit Lions

Draft position: Round 5, No. 165 overall.

Agnew -- who also contributed on a limited basis as a defensive back -- led the NFL in punt-return yards (447), average (15.4) and touchdowns (two -- no one else had more than one), earning a first-team All-Pro nod for his efforts. Agnew also returned 11 kicks, with an average of 17.8 yards per kick return.

Special teams player: Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

Draft position: Round 2, No. 36 overall.

Baker projects as a capable starting safety -- and his ability to contribute on special teams only adds to his value. He posted 13 special teams tackles this season, most in the NFL, en route to securing first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors as a special teams player.

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