Derrick Johnson, a 34-year-old linebacker who is four games into his 13th season, almost sighed when asked about Sunday’s Chiefs-Texans matchup in Houston that features rookie sensations Kareem Hunt and Deshaun Watson.
“This is a young man’s league,” the Chiefs’ Johnson said. “It’s always been a young man’s league. It just so happens two of the dynamic rookies are in this game, both on offense. Our rookie is doing great, and their rookie is doing great.”
The Chiefs’ Hunt and the Texans’ Watson have been the best rookies, not only at their position but at any position as the season begins its second quarter.
Watson was well known out of college, leading Clemson to a pair of College Football Playoff title game appearance and last season’s championship. He was the overall No. 12 pick and the third quarterback selected in the NFL Draft.
Hunt, from Toledo, was selected in the third round as the No. 86 overall selection. He was the sixth running back drafted but the first from a non-Power 5 conference.
After fumbling away his first rushing attempt as a pro, Hunt has been dazzling. He leads the NFL in rushing with 502 yards, having surpassed 100 yards in three of his four games. His rushing total of 372 yards in second halves alone is more than any other player overall for the season.
“Where do you begin?” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said of trying to deal with Hunt. “Really good vision, very strong runner, very fast, strong lower body, difficult to tackle. He’s a dangerous guy.”
Statistics provided by Pro Football Focus support that description. Hunt has forced a total of 25 missed tackles on rushing attempts, which is more than any other player has forced on runs and receptions combined.
Watson didn’t start his team’s season opener. Tom Savage did. But Watson took over in the second half and has energized the Texans. His 49-yard touchdown run put Houston ahead to stay against the Bengals. He passed for 301 in a three-point loss in the final minute at New England, then ripped the Titans with four touchdown passes and a rushing score last weekend.
What’s impressed Johnson most is Watson’s ability to escape trouble.
“The last game he should have been sacked, he had two or three guys on him and he got out of it,” Johnson said. “He’s just going to get better and better.”
Both players appear on that track, and Sunday’s game could turn on whose defense can contain the other’s rookie star.