Less than 2% of college football players are drafted into the NFL. And not all of those who are drafted will make a roster.
So the odds of just playing in the league are small, let alone scoring a touchdown in one’s first few games.
Washington Commanders rookie wide receiver Jahan Dotson is way ahead of the curve. He might have only nine catches through three games, but he has compiled three touchdowns, including two in his NFL debut.
The only other rookie to join Dotson, the No. 16 overall pick, with a TD in each of his first two games this season is a major surprise — Los Angeles Chargers fullback Zander Horvath. Horvath, a seventh-round pick, has only three receptions for 7 yards and one carry for 2 yards. But he managed to find himself on the receiving end of a short Justin Herbert touchdown pass in each of his first two games.
In all, 11 rookies have scored touchdowns through the first three games of the NFL season. Indianapolis Colts tight end Jelani Woods joined the group this past Sunday, turning his only two receptions this season into touchdowns of 1 and 12 yards.
The question then becomes: What did each player do with the football? Did he give the ball to his parents? Stick it in a trophy case? It’s a special item from the start of an NFL career.
Here’s what the rookies told our NFL Nation reporters about their plans for those first touchdown footballs.
Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington Commanders
The plays: Dotson caught a leaping 7-yard pass in the back of the end zone and he grabbed the go-ahead 24-yard touchdown pass with 1:46 left in Washington’s 28-22 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1.
What he’s doing with the ball: The No. 16 pick in the draft had at least 50 family and friends in the stadium for his debut. But only two of them will leave with a game ball: his parents.
“They can do whatever they want with it,” Dotson said.
Dotson was just happy that he had the ball in his hands on the field. “It was definitely pretty cool,” he said. “I’ve just been working all my life for this moment and to do that in front of all my family and friends was a cool moment.”
Isiah Pacheco, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
The play: Pacheco scored on a 3-yard run with 7:39 to go in the fourth quarter in the Chiefs’ 44-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1.
What he’s doing with the ball: Pacheco, a seventh-round draft pick from Rutgers, said he would be giving the ball soon to his visiting parents to take back home to New Jersey for safekeeping. As for what he will eventually do with the ball, Pacheco said, “I’ll let it deflate on its own in due time and put it in a case for history.”
Zander Horvath, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
The play: Horvath caught a 1-yard pass from Justin Herbert with 9:34 to play in the first half of the Chargers’ 24-19 victory over the Raiders in Week 1.
What he’s going to do with the ball: After catching his first career touchdown pass in the season opener, the seventh-round pick, No. 260 (of 262) overall, was unsure what he should do with the ball.
“I didn’t know I could even keep it,” said Horvath, who scored nine touchdowns in four seasons at Purdue. “I’m just used to giving the ball back to the ref … so I was a little — didn’t know really what to do with it, but everyone was kind yelling at me as I was coming to the sideline to keep it, so the ball people from our team went and got it.”
Horvath is having the ball marked up and intends to put it in a glass display case in his home. Horvath may — or may not — need to save more space for future scores. In Week 2, the rookie caught another 1-yard pass from Herbert to put the Chargers up 10-0 in an eventual 27-24 loss to the Chiefs. As for what he did with his second touchdown ball? “I brought it the sideline and gave it to someone,” Horvath said, “but, I haven’t heard about it.”
Drake London, WR, Atlanta Falcons
The play: London caught a 4-yard slant from quarterback Marcus Mariota in the third quarter, part of an eight-catch, 86-yard day in his hometown of Los Angeles and his second career game. “It was kind of surreal; first time being in this stadium, and I’m playing in it, and I score,” London said. “So it was kind of a cool, homecoming type of feeling.”
What he’s doing with the ball: The No. 8 overall pick from USC said the ball was somewhere postgame and that a staffer was keeping an eye on it. The ball, London said, will be staying with him and will be put in a case. “Just a milestone in my career,” London said. “First one.”
Daniel Bellinger, TE, New York Giants
The play: Bellinger slipped behind the line of scrimmage and came across the formation unguarded for a 16-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Daniel Jones in a Week 1 19-16 win over the Panthers. It was the first reception of Bellinger’s career.
What he’s doing with the ball: To be determined. “I’m not sure yet, but I’m keeping it close to me tonight,” Bellinger said immediately after the game. The rookie tight end didn’t see the touchdown signal from any official on the play, so he tossed the ball away. He noticed it in his locker when he came back in after the game.
Jaylen Watson, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
The play: Watson returned an interception 99 yards with 10:29 to go in the fourth quarter for the go-ahead touchdown in the Chiefs’ 27-24 win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2.
What he’s doing with the ball: Watson, a seventh-round draft pick from Washington State, said his game-turning play was so unexpected he didn’t know what to do when he reached the end zone. But he had the presence of mind to keep the touchdown ball, which he said he would put in a case and display at home.
Breece Hall, RB, New York Jets
The play: Hall scored on a 10-yard reception from Joe Flacco with 11 seconds to go in the second quarter of the Jets’ comeback win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 2.
What he’s doing with the ball: “I gave it to our equipment staff and [they] told me they’re going to paint it and everything,” Hall said. “I’ll probably send it to my mom [in Wichita, Kansas] and she’s going to put it with all the other stuff. We have a real big sports room where we hang up all our trophies and awards and that kind of stuff. It’s going to be cool.”
Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets
The plays: Like Dotson in Week 1, Wilson snagged a pair of touchdown passes. He opened the scoring for New York with a 2-yard reception from Flacco, and he closed the scoring with a 15-yard reception from Flacco with 22 seconds to play that gave the Jets a 31-30 win over the Browns.
What he’s doing with the balls: “Eventually, they’ll be shelved up at the house [in New Jersey],” Wilson said after the game. “Right now, they’re just sitting. Nothing is done downstairs. I haven’t even been able to get a shower curtain put up in the house. … They’re just sitting on my dinner table. Eventually, downstairs is going to be my spot. I’ll have all my jerseys that I’ve been doing jersey swaps with, and I’ll have the footballs there as well, painted up — first touchdown and game-winning touchdown. It’ll be cool. Offseason is when I’ll figure all that out. Right now, it’s go there and sleep and come back to the facility.”
Jelani Woods, TE, Indianapolis Colts
The play: Woods caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to open the scoring in Week 3’s game against the Chiefs and caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to close the scoring in the Colts’ 20-17 upset in Week 3. They are his only receptions so far this season.
What he’s doing with the ball: “I think I might give it to my parents and let them [display] it because I have all my trophies back home [in Ellenwood, Georgia],” Woods said. “In our basement, we have pretty much all my awards from growing up.”
Romeo Doubs, WR, Green Bay Packers
The play: Doubs caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter of the Packers’ Week 3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
What he’s doing with the ball: The fourth-round pick said he was about to toss the ball to the referee in the end zone until someone said, “No, it’s your first touchdown.” He isn’t keeping it for himself, though.
“I plan to give it to my family because family is first,” Doubs said. “They got me to this point — my mother, my brother, my whole family. That’s my mom’s until her days are over with.”
NFL Nation reporters John Keim, Adam Teicher, Lindsey Thiry, Michael Rothstein, Jordan Raanan, Rich Cimini, Stephen Holder and Rob Demovsky contributed to this report.
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