By Conor Perrett
Here are the best rookies from the four teams in the NFC and AFC Championship games.
Safety Reed Blankenship (UDFA): When you are as successful as Philly, it’s hard for rookies to make an immediate impact on the team. In Blankenship’s case he was the next man to step up when C.J. Gardner-Johnson went down mid-season and paved a way onto the starting defence.
Blankenship is the only rookie on this list to go undrafted, but that shouldn’t qualify how talented he is. Collecting 34 tackles, two pass breakups, and one INT, he started the season as No. 4 safety, but soon earned the right to No. 3 and got starting thanks to injuries. Gardner-Johnson soon returned but coaches still wanted the undrafted rookie on the field. Blankenship now comes into the lineup when the Eagles move into nickel, and will likely still play a key role in Philly’s playoff run.
San Francisco 49ers
QB Brock Purdy (7th Round): That seventh-round rookie I just mentioned shouldn’t be taken as a negative and despite starting the season as the third-string QB, Purdy is the man of the hour in San Francisco right now. Being the last pick in the draft can be embarrassing when the title ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ comes into play, but Purdy has almost won it as a badge of honour.
Making his first appearance for San Fran, during their massive ‘Master vs Student’ game against Miami in Week 13, Purdy came in to replace Jimmy G mid-game and hasn’t looked back since. Brock has a sense of confidence you rarely see in a rookie QB, let alone one taken at pick 262 in the NFL Draft. His passer rating of 107.3 is the best amongst quarterbacks in the span of his first snap and he caused serious confusion on what the 49ers might do at the QB position next season, which will have the third overall pick from 2021 Draft Trey Lance vying to start.
Kansas City Chiefs
Running Back Isaiah Pacheco (7th Round): When Pacheco was selected with the 251st pick in the draft, there was probably no intention for him to make the impact he did in his rookie season. With 4.3 40-yard speed, Pacheco looked to be a return specialist that could also be a speedy piece in the backfield.
That speedy piece has proved his worth and it was Week 1 when he started to make impacts with a rushing touchdown. It wasn’t soon after that Pacheco had beaten out the likes of Clyde Edwards-Helaire and was announced the starter by Week 7. From there, Pacheco grew into his role with 960 scrimmage yards on the season, leading NFL rookies and the most yards in NFL history from a seventh-round pick in his rookie year
Guard: Cordell Volson (4th Round): Much like the best teams in the NFL, the Bengals didn’t have too many rookies contributors on the team. Their first-round pick Dax Hill didn’t see the field too often, but left-guard Volson played in every offensive snap.
The Bengals’ offensive-line has been a problem over the years, but it gradually improved over the course of the season. For a Day 3 pick to make the contribution he has on a Super Bowl contender, should be seen as an enormous achievement, and his confidence should keep growing.