Certainly by now you’ve seen Panthers rookie safety/linebacker Jeremy Chinn’s back-to-back fumble recoveries for touchdowns in the Panthers’ unfortunate loss to the Vikings this past Sunday. If not, here’s a refresher of Chinn’s first touchdown.
.@Panthers rookie safety @ChinnJeremy2 ran back 2️⃣ @Vikings fumbles for TDs on Sunday.— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) December 1, 2020
He’s just the third player in @NFL history with multiple fumble-return TDs in a single game, and the first since 1948. #KeepPounding pic.twitter.com/eFvvmiHdwZ
Massive hat tip to Zach Kerr for rag dolling Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to cause the fumble. Chinn simply executed the scoop and score flawlessly. The second one was less luck and more determination to pry the ball loose from Dalvin Cook. The play reminded me of the time Steve Smith got into a scrum after the catch and suddenly burst out the side of the pile for a long touchdown run.
Prior to the game, Chinn was mentioned as a top candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year, but as a long shot. Was his performance this past Sunday enough to push him into the lead? In my view, not just yet but he still has time to make his case. Remember it’s what you do at the end of the season versus the beginning that voters remember. Right now Chinn is in the conversation, and possibly improving his position, but he might need his main competition to come down from the clouds. No I’m not referring to edge rusher Chase Young, the preseason favorite to win DROY. While Young is a beast, I’m referring to Colts third round pick — safety Julian Blackmon — who is not only outperforming his rookie counterparts but is playing like a seasoned veteran. Blackmon (69.1) is currently the No. 25 ranked safety in the NFL per Pro Football Focus whereas Chinn is No. 55.
Since his debut against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2, Blackmon has become a star on one of the best defenses in the league. Through nine games, he’s picked up 26 combined tackles, two interceptions, six pass deflections and a crucial forced fumble in overtime against the Green Bay Packers to set his team up for the game-winning field goal.
Even Blackmon’s advanced statistics are impressive. According to Pro Football Reference, he has only missed one tackle all year, and opposing quarterbacks have posted a passer rating of just 48.9 when throwing at him.
That is pretty impressive, especially given he is a third round pick. Of course Chase Young will remain in the mix as sacks are sexy. If Young goes on a sack tear in these last few games he could over take Blackmon.
Here’s one pundit putting Chinn in the mix even before the Vikings game:
Jeremy Chinn turned some heads with an impressive athletic profile in the predraft process. Now he’s living up to that hype with some solid performances for the Carolina Panthers. The second-round pick out of Southern Illinois has lined up all over the field and produced regardless of where he’s played. He’s logged 74 combined tackles with five pass deflections and an interception through 10 games. However, opposing quarterbacks are having a field day when throwing at the rookie. Chinn has already been targeted 47 times this season, per Pro Football Reference, giving up four touchdowns and a 109.9 passer rating. The future is bright for Chinn given his versatility, but he hasn’t generated enough pressure or forced enough turnovers to be ranked higher on this list.
Chinn on the other hand is easily the more versatile player, and a playmaker in his own right (obviously). We’ve seen it from Week 1 with the rookie. He is No. 15 in the league in tackles with 86, with one interception and five passes defensed. If Chinn continues to log double digit tackles like he did against the Vikings he can close the gap as well.