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The Rookies: Week 3

An indepth look at this year's crop of rookies

The annual influx of each succeeding wave of rookies will always be one of the most appealing dimensions of fantasy football, they are the life blood of dynasty leagues, a mystery to unravel and code to crack for redraft purposes, identifying the right ones before they breakout can confer huge advantages and they keep the hobby unceasingly renewed, reinvigorated and ever fresh.

This expands and brings to the forefront a sub-section of the Ear to the Ground column that ran for the past decade (and replaces it). It also inverts the previous order, with some material formerly covered first under the Team Reports section found later in abbreviated form in the section now called Select Veteran Notes. It will still conclude with a scouting profile (including coverage of both rookies and veterans).

While dynasty is the general purview of this column, the Rookie of the Year awards for Offense and Defense are by definition focused on the current season. What may be a seeming contradiction is resolved by the fact that rookies that excel and gain traction early tend to be on good footing towards a fast tracked, accelerated development for dynasty purposes (and of course players like Karlos Williams and Jeremy Langford that could see their value surge beyond 2015 will also be tracked closely and receive coverage). The initial rankings reflect the accumulation and weight of the respective prospect's scouting grades culminating in their first action as rookies, opportunity and expected role, as well as some historically-informed/driven heuristics and positional constraint observations highlighted below (on both offense and defense). As we get further into the season, actual production will increasingly be weighted more strongly, and rookie prospects will move up or down accordingly. In addition to tracking stats on a running basis, the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year lists will be accompanied by ongoing updated individual commentary as development, progress and material changes in their respective opportunities and roles warrant it. This column will appear every other week during the 2015 season.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - OFFENSE (PAST 25 YEARS)

  • 1990 - Emmitt Smith, DAL, RB
  • 1991 - Leonard Russell, NE, RB
  • 1992 - Carl Pickens, CIN, WR
  • 1993 - Jerome Bettis, LA, RB
  • 1994 - Marshall Faulk, IND, RB
  • 1995 - Curtis Martin, NE, RB
  • 1996 - Eddie George, HOU, RB
  • 1997 - Warrick Dunn, TB, RB
  • 1998 - Randy Moss, MIN, WR
  • 1999 - Edgerrin James, IND, RB
  • 2000 - Mike Anderson, DEN, RB
  • 2001 - Anthony Thomas, CHI, RB
  • 2002 - Clinton Portis, DEN, RB
  • 2003 - Anquan Boldin, ARI, WR
  • 2004 - Ben Roethlisberger, PIT, QB
  • 2005 - Cadillac Williams, TB, RB
  • 2006 - Vince Young, TEN, QB
  • 2007 - Adrian Peterson, MIN, RB
  • 2008 - Matt Ryan, ATL, QB
  • 2009 - Percy Harvin, MIN, WR
  • 2010 - Sam Bradford, STL, QB
  • 2011 - Cam Newton, CAR, QB
  • 2012 - Robert Griffin III, WAS, QB
  • 2013 - Eddie Lacy, GB, RB
  • 2014 - Odell Beckham, NYG, WR

Positional Breakdown

  • QB - 6 (all in the last 10 years, signaling a trend of recently increased preparedness from the college level, trust, usage and/or desperation with quicker front office and coaching staff hiring and firing cycles, as well as the fact that there just are never enough good veteran QBs at any given time to cover all 32 teams - also, the same contemporary rule changes favoring offense in general and the passing game specifically, benefit not only vets, but the most talented, prepared, hard working and smartest rookies)
  • RB - 14 (11 in the first 15 years, just 3 in the 10 since)
  • WR - 5 (both rarer and more evenly distributed, in approximately half decade intervals)
  • TE - 0 (enough said)

As seen from above, RBs dominated the Rookie of the Year award on offense in the first 15 years of the last quarter century, and largely QBs in the last decade. The skill position class of '15 has two touted QB prospects (taken #1 and #2 overall) but is weak after, a RB class strong at the top (TWO first rounders, and top half of the first round, following a two year absence) along with a lot of day two and three options, similar to WR (three taken in the top half of the first round) and a generally weak TE class overall (though the top two prospects have starter potential). After a season with a historically good WR class, while Amari Cooper has stood out among the class of '15, the RB position group has jumped out the most collectively in the early going, with Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota flashing big time skills along with typical rookie struggles at the most difficult position on the field. Even more so than usual, TE is an afterthought this year.

Rookie of the Year - Offense (2015)

Player, Team, Position, Age, Pedigree, College, Height/Weight

1) Marcus Mariota, TEN, QB, 21, 1.2, Oregon (6'4", 222)
(21/37-257-2 and 0 INTs, 3-6 rushing AND 34/53-466-6 and 0 INTs, 5-25 rushing TOTAL)

Mariota had a game for the ages, and is the only rookie QB in NFL history with 4 TDs in the first half of his first start. As great as he looked in his sparkling debut, he was far more ordinary in his second start. Owners need to buckle up for the inevitable roller coaster ride that is the lot of an NFL rookie QB, even one as gifted as the former Oregon Heismann winner. Mariota has some talent to work with among his receiving weapons, including lead WR Kendall Wright, underrated TE Delanie Walker and high second round pick Dorial Green-Beckham. He has a promising combination of exceptional football smarts, athleticism and leadership for his position. Because he ran somewhat of a funky and off the beaten path scheme in college (i.e. - single read with a lot of read option run plays), there were legitimate questions about his initial ability to get up to speed in a conventional pro passing attack, and pilot an NFL star ship. He answered some with his stellar, brilliant first game, but after stumbling and coming back to Earth in his follow up, others remain. The battle for supremacy as the top field general from the class of 2015 with first overall pick and former Heismann winner Jameis Winston should go down to the wire, and the top two picks will be inextricably linked throughout their careers. Through two games, Mariota is on an improbable, historically unsustainable TD pace (6 TDs in two games = 48 TDs over a complete 16 games schedule), but has a realistic chance to gun down the rookie record of 26 TD passes, shared by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson.

2) Amari Cooper, OAK, WR, 21, 1.4, Alabama (6'1", 210)
(7-109-1 receiving AND 12-156-1 TOTAL)

Cooper went through the draft process touted as the most refined route runner and pro ready WR prospect, and has been as good as advertised. While not the biggest, strongest, fastest or most athletic receiver, he has virtually identical triangle numbers and explosiveness measureables to Sammy Watkins, also selected fourth overall, the most highly touted prospect and rarified pedigree from the historic WR class of 2014 (they are both 6'1", 210 lbs., within .01 or a hundredth of a second in the 40 and an inch in the vertical jump - Watkins with a 4.43 and 34" VJ, Cooper 4.42 and 33". But Cooper is far more experienced, polished and sophisticated in the positional nuances of receiver craft, in not tipping off his route, setting up DBs, creating separation, with a more diverse route tree. He already looks like easily the most talented WR from Alabama since Julio Jones (Cooper was actually taken earlier), who is emerging as one of the top WRs in the league, an apex predator within the NFL and fantasy football food chain and ecosystem. Cooper will be able to grow with second year QB Derek Carr, and his development facilitated by a talented WR2 across from him in former SF top 10 overall pick, Michael Crabtree (who looks like he has regained some burst and explosion after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon a few years ago). In the future, fellow rookie Clive Walford, a third rounder, also has the talent to create matchup problems and put pressure on secondaries, he broke records at TE U Miami, creating more space for the dynamic Cooper. His smooth, effortless gait and natural receiving skills are reminiscent of Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne.

3) Todd Gurley, STL, RB, 21, 1.10, Georgia (6'1", 222)
(DNP but now off the injury report)

Gurley has not played yet, after rehabbing a 2014 torn ACL injury at Georgia suffered less than a year ago, but is clearly close to returning (possibly as soon as this week), so this ranking is more about how special and rare a prospect he represents, and the virtually unanimous high esteem with which he is held in by the scouting community. His combo of size, strength, contact balance, quickness, elusiveness, breakaway speed, vision and instincts are unsurpassed in this class, one in which offered TWO, not only first round picks, but top half of the first round, after a two year drought not solely the result of the positional devaluation cliche. Gurley has been called the most talented prospect at his position since Adrian Peterson, and in terms of physical stature, elite athleticism (former junior level world class hurdler who competed internationally) and skill set, he is a mashup of Peterson and Marshawn Lynch - natural hands are also part of his diverse repertoire and overall game, he can be a dangerous weapon catching the ball out the backfield. He is a super blue chip talent with the ability to run around, between, through and away from defenders at all three levels, score from anywhere on the field and has a cathedral-like ceiling, serial All-Pro upside if he fulfills his formidable potential.

If not for the ill-timed knee injury, several personnel observers and commentators such as Jon Gruden stated unreservedly and without hesitation that Gurley was one of the top two or three overall prospects in the entire draft at any position. He instantly becomes the most talented skill position player on the Rams, and will be Jeff Fisher's Eddie George/Chris Johnson centaur, the centerpiece and focal point of his preferred physical, punishing, smashmouth, Neanderthal-friendly (meant affectionately) run-centric offensive scheme, which complements the dangerous defense he has built with the Rams, thanks to front office partner, GM Les Snead's wheeler dealer tendencies and trade acumen, notably the blockbuster, historic RG3 bounty. Their OL is one of the youngest in the league, but has potential (especially run blocking, the last two drafts have clearly emphasized that criteria and checked those boxes), with 2014 second overall pick Greg Robinson at LT, a right side comprised of vet and rookie second rounders Rodger Saffold at RG and behemoth Rob Havenstein at RT, respectively, as well as fellow rookie and former OT, third rounder Jamon Brown at LG. Both rookies had a lot of starting experience in college, and can hopefully acclimate quickly to the vastly superior athleticism, greater speed and technical skill at the next level.

4) Jameis Winston, TB, QB, 21, 1.1, Florida State (6'4", 230)
(14/21-207-1 and 0 INTs, 6-23-1 rushing AND 30/54-417-3 and 2 INTs, 12-41-1 rushing TOTAL)

Winston flipped the script with Mariota in his first two weeks, struggling, and typically for a rookie, looking outmatched and in over his head in a week one loss, but much more confident, assured and competent, and able to unleash his natural passing skills in a week two road win over the divisional nemesis Saints. Despite a checkered off-field record, after reportedly one of the most thorough background checks in franchise and league history, the Bucs organization and brain trust concluded he had the "right stuff" to lead them collectively into the future. There were rumblings prior to the draft that, knucklehead associations aside, Winston had a Peyton Manning-like chalk board presence, football intellect and sophisticated pro passing game conception, which should dramatically ease his transition to the NFL. He threw in a much more pro ready scheme at Florida State, compared to fellow Heismann winner Mariota. Some scouts thought he got a little chunky and flabby on the post-collegiate banquet circuit (evoking painful memories in some of Byron Leftwich, who coincidentally also had somewhat of an elongated delivery), but he has nice feet, and that intangible aptitude which is a complex constellation of traits and attributes we think of as pocket awareness and instincts, enabling him to sense pressure, move around in the pocket, avoid sacks, keep his eyes down field and fire targeted missile strikes at all three levels from a variety of launch platforms. Nobody ever mistook Dan Marino for Randall Cunningham, but he had that bullfighter like physical courage and ability to quickly, gracefully and economically maeuver in tight quarters to get passes off in traffic and through pocket congestion that made him maybe the greatest pure passer in the history of the game. Winston also flashes pro passing game skills with his advanced, mature, highly developed ability to survey the whole field, process information quickly and throw receivers open with anticipation, among the most coveted in the NFL QB scouting hierarchy. He has the arm strength (if not quite an Elway/Stafford-like rail gun or plasma rifle), touch and accuracy to make every throw. He also benefits by inheriting some outstanding receiving weapons, including one of the best young WRs in the game in 6'5" Mike Evans (prolific scorer from the historic class of 2014, second only to Randy Moss in league history for rookie receiving TDs). Even in the twilight of his career, 6'5" Vincent Jackson's towering stature and deceptive speed and athleticism for his height make him another dangerous weapon and matchup problem for secondaries. With up and coming 6'6" TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Winston is in the position of playing point guard and distributing the ball to a patented John Wooden fast break. While Mariota has gotten off to a faster start, it is very early days in the Rookie of the Year race, and Winston could easily surpass him. There is nothing to prevent both of them from having long and distinguished NFL careers.

5) Melvin Gordon, SD, RB, 22, 1.15, Wisconsin (6'1", 215)
(16-88-0 rushing, 1-10-0 receiving AND 30-139-0 rushing, 4-26-0 receiving TOTAL)

Gordon, with Gurley as noted above, not only helped end a two year drought in the first round for the RB position group, but was viewed as a special enough prospect to warrant SD trading up a surgical two places to select the former Wisconsin star in the top half of the first round. He has been compared by some scouts to Jamaal Charles (though he doesn't quite have that kind of warp speed, unexpectedly failing to crack 4.5 in the 40 at the Combine, he has outstanding burst and phenomenal short area accceleration). Gordon set school rushing yardage records for a program known for their run game (at least in college, if not always translating to pro success), put an exclamation point on his career with an Outback Bowl record 251 rushing yards and finished second only to Barry Sanders in FBS history with 2,587 rushing yards. His career 7.79 Y/C average currently tops the FBS record books, 184.8 YPG is in the top 10 and the most since LaDainian Tomlinson of TCU averaged 196.2 in 2000 and he is also the fastest RB to 2,000 yards ever, eclipsing Penn State RB Larry Johnson's previous mark of 251 carries by DD (241). Gordon is close to a prototypical and ideal blend of quickness and elusiveness for his size (not as thick or powerful a lower body as Gurley, but a lanky while rugged, well put together 215 lbs. at 6'1"), and is a magician navigating tight quarter mazes to break into the open field, where he is always a threat to take it to the house - one of three runners in FBS history, also including Sanders, to score 30+ TDs while rushing for 2,000+ yards. It is unclear when he will have the opportunity to be a three down back, as Danny Woodhead is one of the best receiving backs in the business, with Darren Sproles, but Gordon is the kind of weapon capable of massive damage even within the framework of that restriction and limitation. Gurley and Gordon have the talent, resume, pedigree, opportunity and upside to quickly emerge as among the top young RBs in the league, as Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin and Sammy Watkins emerged as among the top young WRs in the game at THEIR respective position, with the historic 2014 class. Like first and second overall selections Winston and Mariota at QB, though for different reasons, their NFL fates and fortunes could be viewed as interlinked and intertwined, as together they broke the two year dry spell of RB-less first rounds.

6) Ameer Abdullah, DET, RB, 22, 2.22, Nebraska (5'9", 205)
(6-9-0 rushing, 1-9-0 receiving AND 13-59-1 rushing, 5-53-0 receiving TOTAL)

Abdullah may be the most athletic and elusive RB from the class of '15. While he didn't exactly leave contrails and scorch marks on the turf with a 4.55 40 m. at his Combine, he practically broke the SPARQ "meter", with 42.5" vertical and 10'10" broad jumps, and 24 bench press reps is impressive for his height/weight profile. Football isn't a game played in straight lines in track shorts, and when Abdullah is starting, stopping, restarting and cutting, defenders are in HIS world. Former Eagle Brian Westbrook had a similar physical stature, and though ostensibly "slow" in a 40 m. context, had outstanding feet, quicks and elusiveness, and in his prime was one of the more challenging take downs among RBs for initial defenders. The first time Abdullah touched the ball in his debut against the Chargers, his feint/misdirection juke on Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle was so devastating that he completely whiffed on the tackle attempt, leading to a TD, and possibly conjuring up images of former Lions great, Barry Sanders. While the Lions backfield may appear crowded with Joique Bell and Theo Riddick and there were concerns he might be brought along slowly, Abdullah is clearly the most talented RB on the roster and technically started the second game (though game script conspired to minimize his usage). He is also an electric receiver out of the backfield, and can do a lot of additional damage with TOUCHES in the passing game, even when not receiving a lot of CARRIES in the run game, such as in San Diego. The Lions are in danger of starting with an 0-3 record, and need to a better job of getting the ball in the hands of their most dangerous playmaker from the backfield more often, in an attempt to salvage the season, and prevent it from being over already when it has barely started.

7) David Johnson, ARI, RB, 23, 3.22, Northern Iowa (6'1", 225)
(5-42-1 rushing, 1-3-0 receiving AND 5-42-1 rushing, 2-58-1 receiving TOTAL)

Johnson is the first player in NFL history to score three different ways (rushing, receiving and kickoff return) the first five times he touched the ball in his career. He demonstrated elite athleticism at the Combine with a 41.5" VJ, and was the consensus top receiving back in the draft. If not for Johnson's lower level of competition, he might have gone higher than the third round. Some scouts have compared him to Matt Forte, for his combo of size, effortless running style and pass catching ability out of the backfield. HC Bruce Arians stated Johnson will play an increasingly bigger role inthe RBBC going forward. Don't be fooled by the lesser competition and sleeper status, he has big time, multi-talented skills and the look of a future star. The Cardinals have been acing their third round picks in the draft recently (also FS Tyrann Mathieu and WR John Brown since 2013, in the Steve Keim/Bruce Arians era). It helps that the Cardinals have talent around him, starting with a rejuvenated, revitalized Carson Palmer.

8) T.J. Yeldon, JAX, RB, 21, 2.4, Alabama (6'1", 226)
(25-70-0 rushing, 3-13-0 receiving AND 37-121-0 rushing, 6-29-0 receiving TOTAL)

Yeldon isn't spectacular at any one trait, but has good size, functional speed and the three down skill set needed to handle short yardage and goal line carries, block competently in pass protection and present a threat catching the ball out of the backfield. Despite not having any exceptional, singular element to his game (such as the scorching long speed of Jamaal Charles, blunt force trauma power of former Alabama teammate Eddie Lacy, bullet-time elusiveness of LeSean McCoy and vacuum cleaner-like hands of Matt Forte among the top backs), he can be productive doing a lot of things well. One situational aspect Yeldon has going for him is outstanding opportunity, among the best for a RB from the entire 2015 RB class. A long time cliche is that fantasy success = talent + opportunity, and insofar as the latter is concerned, he's your guy (could approach 300 carries and the league leaders in that department). While Yeldon's pedestrian 3.3 Y/C average in the early going won't have his owners doing back flips and uncorking the champagne just yet, if 2014 top three overall QB Blake Bortles and second round WR Allen Robinson continue to improve, that will be a boon to his development, and lead to a correspondingly inexorable uptick in production. Some great RBs have begun their career with a sub-4.0 Y/C average as rookies (including LaDainian Tomlinson, for instance).

9) Matt Jones, WAS, RB, 22, 3.31, Florida (6'2", 230)
(19-123-2 rushing, 3-23-0 receiving AND 25-151-2 rushing, 3-23-0 receiving TOTAL)

Jones was compared to Marshawn Lynch by Washington GM and former SEA (and SF) personnel exec Scott McCloughan, and you could see why in week 2, after Jones stomped the Rams touted defense, fresh off of containing Lynch and the Seahawks in a high profile OT victory opening week, like a bunch of drunk tourists in way over their heads at the annual running of the bulls at Pamplona. He didn't test particularly well at the Combine (DE/LB-like 4.61 40 and 31.5" vertical jump), or flash the kind of speed in evidence when he turned the corner against St. Louis for the first of 2 TDs, en route to 123 rushing yards. Typically, so called "build up"" speed is sub-optimal and not exactly a compliment when used by scouts, but once he gets up to top speed, Jones has some serious wheels and his combo of size and power at full speed is a handful for DBs to put on the ground. He runs angry and with a lot of intensity, like his hair is on fire. After modest usage in his debut, Jones split carries with Alfred Morris week 2 and started over him in the Thursday night loss to the divisional rival Giants. He did fumble for the second time in as many games, costing him his third TD in two weeks, so maybe needs to pay more attention to ball security. Washington entered the game #1 in the NFL in rushing, and after drafting human pile driver Brandon Scherff fifth overall, and wanting to protect limited and flawed starting QB Kirk Cousins, it is clear they want to build their identity around a tough, hard-nosed, nasty run game, mercilessly pounding harder than a hangover from cheap booze.

10) Tevin Coleman, ATL, RB, 22, 3.9, Indiana (6'1", 210)
(9-32-1 rushing AND 29-112-1 rushing TOTAL)

Coleman is the subject of the scouting profile section below.

Honorable Mention

  • Karlos Williams, BUF
  • Dorial Green-Beckham, TEN

Standing on the Verge
 

Quarterback

  • Garrett Grayson, NO
  • Sean Mannion, STL
  • Bryce Petty, NYJ 
  • Brett Hundley, GB

Running Back

  • Duke Johnson, CLE
  • Jeremy Langford, CHI
  • Javorious Allen, BAL
  • Mike Davis, SF
  • David Cobb, TEN
  • Jay Ajayi, MIA
  • Cameron Artis-Payne, CAR

Wide Receiver

  • DeVante Parker, MIA
  • Nelson Algohor, PHI 
  • Kevin White, CHI
  • Breshad Perriman, BAL
  • Phillip Dorsett, SEA
  • Tyler Lockett, SEA
  • Devin Smith, NYJ
  • Devin Funchess
  • Jaelen Strong, BAL
  • Chris Conley, KC
  • Sammie Coates, PIT
  • Ty Montgomery, GB
  • Jamison Crowder, WAS
  • Justin Hardy, ATL
  • Vince Mayle, CLE
  • DeAndre Smelter, SF
  • Rashad Greene, JAX
  • Stefon Diggs, MIN

Tight End

  • Maxx Williams, BAL
  • Clive Walford, OAK
  • Tyler Kroft, CIN
  • Blake Bell, SF
  • MyCole Pruitt, MIN
  • Jesse James, PIT

Injured Reserve

  • Jeff Heuerman
  • Rashad Greene (designated to return)

Defensive Rookie of the Year (past 25 years)

  • 1990 - Mark Carrier, CHI, S
  • 1991 - Mike Croel, DEN, LB
  • 1992 - Dale Carter, KC, CB 
  • 1993 - Dana Stubblefield, SF, DT
  • 1994 - Tim Bowens, MIA, DT
  • 1995 - Hugh Douglas, NYJ, DE
  • 1996 - Simeon Rice, ARI, DE
  • 1997 - Peter Boulware, BAL, LB
  • 1998 - Charles Woodson, OAK, CB
  • 1999 - Jevon Kearse, TEN, DE
  • 2000 - Brian Urlacher, CHI, LB
  • 2001 - Kendrell Bell, PIT, LB
  • 2002 - Julius Peppers, CAR, DE
  • 2003 - Terrell Suggs, BAL, LB
  • 2004 - Jonathan Vilma, NYJ, LB
  • 2005 - Shawne Merriman, SD, LB
  • 2006 - DeMeco Ryans, HOU, LB
  • 2007 - Patrick Willis, SF, LB
  • 2008 - Jerod Mayo, NE, LB
  • 2009 - Brian Cushing, HOU, LB
  • 2010 - Ndamukong Suh, DET, DT
  • 2011 - Von Miller, DEN, LB
  • 2012 - Luke Kuechly, CAR, LB
  • 2013 - Sheldon Richardson, NYJ, DE
  • 2014 - Aaron Donald, STL, DT

Positional Breakdown

  • DT - 4 (Two in the past half decade, after about a decade and a half interval)
  • DE - 5 (Richardson the first one in over a decade)
  • LB - 13 (11 in the decade and a half since 2000)
  • CB - 2 (None in over a decade and a half since Charles Woodson in 1998)
  • S - 1 (A quarter century since Mark Carrier in 1990)

Once again, as seen from above, LB has dominated the Defensive Rookie of the Year award (unsurprising, it is a cliché that it is the most instinctive and RB-like position on defense), especially in the last nearly decade and a half. DL has been more rare (heavily dependent on physical maturation and technical development), though there were six in the first nearly decade and a half, plus the last two in a row, with a mini-comeback for the position. The secondary has been rarer still (it is generally harder to make the number of splash plays or be as active in sheer volume from the boundary or back end of the defense, compared to the more centrally situated LB), with only one in the nearly quarter century since Mark Carrier, and Charles Woodson was over a decade and a half ago. The defensive class of '15 may not feature as strong a LB position group as we have seen in recent years, DE took a blow with the training camp ACL tear of third overall pick Dante Fowler (though there are still several other promising top 10 overall picks), DT has several starting caliber prospects (but none with the dominant upside of last year's Defensive Rookie of the Year, Aaron Donald), S might be the weakest class on either side of the ball, and CB has unexpectedly presented an early favorite.

Defensive Rookie of the Year (2015)

Player, Team, Position, Age, Pedigree, College, Height/Weight

1) Marcus Peters, KC, CB, 22, 1.18, Washington (6'0", 200)
(5 solo tackles, 1 INT and 1 TD AND 10 solo tackles, 2 assists, 2 INTs and 1 TD TOTAL)

Peters got the rep of a hothead and loose cannon by getting kicked off the Washington squad, but some scouts familiar with his family vouched for him and said he was not a bad guy. The rest of the league's loss was Andy Reid's gain. Peters has lit up the box score, and been making plays all over the field. Rookies are typically tested early until they play well enough to discourage opposing QBs. As a cautionary tale, Chicago's 2014 first round pick Kyle Fuller was taken at a similar juncture in the draft and got off to a similarly blistering hot start, but is already looking like a bust one year later. Time will tell if fate is as fickle with the career of Peters, or if he can sustain and build on his early success, unlike Fuller. Peters has a complete game, and can run, hit in run support, cover and has ball skills. He also has good football genes (Marshawn Lynch's cousin).

2) Vic Beasley, ATL, DE, 22, 1.8, Clemson (6'3", 245)
(3 solo tackles, 2 assists, 1 sack and 1 FF AND 4 solo tackles, 4 assists, 1 sack and 1 FF TOTAL)

Beasley was one of the stars of the Combine, with a 4.53 40, 41" vertical and 10'1" broad jumps, with 35 bench press reps. For perspective, those are similar explosiveness numbers to the fourth overall selected RB, Ameer Abdullah, he is actually faster despite weighing 40 lbs. more, and that is just one hundredth of a second off of the second and third overall selected RBs, Melvin Gordon and T.J. Yeldon, who weigh 30 lbs. and 20 lbs. less than him, respectively. Beasley is a bad man. First time HC Dan Quinn knows a thing or two about scheming pressure packages and pass rushes, as former Seattle DC. Off to a 2-0 start, with WR Julio Jones in the early going pacing for what would be an NFL record 2,200 receiving yards, the rookie DE could have plenty of occassions to play downhill with a lead, pin his ears back and get after the QB. There were some questions leading up to the draft if Beasley would have enough sand or ballast at 245 lbs. for a DE to avoid being a liability in the run game, and so forth, that has been answered with a resounding yes (he is similar size to 6 X Pro Bowler Robert Mathis).

3) Henry Anderson, IND, DE, 22, 3.29, Stanford (6'6", 300)
(3 solo tackles, 2 assists and 1 sack AND 11 solo tackles, 3 assists and 1 sack TOTAL)

Anderson is a man mountain with rare movement skills, and one of the few bright spots in an otherwise abysmal start to the 2015 season for the Colts. He was a college teammate of 2014 FBS sack leader and Washington second round LB Trent Murphy. With Andrew Luck and the Colts uncharacteristically playing so poorly on offense, Anderson has been on the field a lot in the first two games, but that trend could even out later in the season. Meanwhile, he is making hay while he can. He may never be a prolific sack artist (and the Colts defensive scheme generally doesn't ask their 3-4 DEs to be), but could rack up some serious tackle numbers from his DE position.

4) Hau'oli Kikaha, NO, LB, 23, 2.12, Washington (6'3", 245)
(4 solo tackles, 3 assists, 1 sack and 1 FF AND 8 solo tackles, 4 assists, 1 sacks and 2 FFs TOTAL)

Kikaha didn't have the notoriety of some of the top pass rushing prospects in the draft, but he was the most productive sack artist in the FBS during the 2014 season. His python-like slipperiness is somewhat reminiscent of former Steeler/Seahawk Pro Bowler Chad Brown, and he has a wide array of moves and a sophisticated ability to string them together. Kikaha's checkered medical file is a bit scary, as he has two torn ACLs, but it is a testament to his skills that the Saints coveted his upside enough to take on that risk in the second round. He was a former teammate at Washington of first round NT and CB selections Danny Shelton of the Browns and Marcus Peters of the Chiefs, and is one of two rookie starting LBs for the Saints, along with first rounder Stephone Anthony. A significant boost to an anemic pass rush in recent years is a must in the NFC South, which has some outstanding young signal callers, in Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston, which includes a #3 and two #1 overall picks in the draft, among the highest collective divisional QB pedigree in the NFL (along with the AFC South and West). The Saints hope Kikaha can help stop the bleeding on defense, after giving up yards and points last year like bead necklaces on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras.

5) Leonard Williams, NYJ, DE, 21, 1.6, USC (6'5", 300)
(1 solo tackle, 3 assists AND 2 solo tackles and 7 assists TOTAL)

Williams was commonly viewed as one of the top overall talents in his class, so it came as a surprise when he fell to the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft, to a team that didn't necessarily have a strong need at the DE position, with Pro Bowlers Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson (also 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year), but snapped him up on a best player available basis. Wilkerson is in a contract year, so selecting Williams also made sense on that level, as well as a later unexpected one when it was announced Sheldon Richardson had received a four game suspension under the substance abuse guidelines, which by definition indicates multiple previous failures. Williams has the versatility to play DE/DT in a 4-3 alignment like he did as a USC All-American, or DE in a 3-4 front like the Jets employ. He may never be a prolific pass rusher, but has the tools to be extremely disruptive at the next level, collapsing the pocket and blowing up run plays behind the LOS with rare quickness for a big man, great functional strength, mature beyond his years technical skill and the instincts to find the ball carrier. A key to the high level of success enjoyed by reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald, emerging as one of the best in the league at any position, is in part because he is almost always the first lineman moving on either side of the ball. Williams has the reflexes of a cat (a 300 lb. cat).

6) Stephone Anthony, NO, LB, 23, 1.31, Clemson (6'2", 245)
(3 solo tackles and 4 assists AND 6 solo tackles and 5 assists total)

Anthony represented the best intersection of size and athleticism among the top inside linebacker prospects from the class of 2015 (among three from the second round, Eric Kendricks of MIN and Denzel Perryman of SD aren't as tall or big, and the hulking Benardrick McKinney of HOU doesn't have feet or movement skills as nifty - one reason Anthony was one of just two non-pass rushing 3-4 OLBs in the first round, with Shaq Thompson of CAR), he has sideline-to-sideline range and hits like an electric axe handle on arrival. A 4.56 40 and 37" vertical jump at the Combine were excellent speed and explosiveness measureables at 242 lbs. Given his impressive resume and production, the main question for scouts was whether Anthony can play well enough in coverage to be a three down LB? The Saints think so and are operating under that assumption. As noted above, he is one of two starting rookie LBs for New Orleans, along with Kikaha. Anthony should get plenty of opportunity given how much the Saints have been struggling on both sides of the ball.

7) Kwon Alexander, TB, LB, 21, 4.25, LSU (6'1", 227)
(4 solo tackles and 4 assists AND 7 solo tackles and 6 assists)

Alexander was a relatively unheralded day three player who has risen to prominence and had his IDP relevance surge after beating out free agent former Cowboy Bruce Carter in the preseason to be a three down MLB in Lovie Smith's Tampa Bay cover two-inspired scheme, next to All-Pro WLB Lavonte David. A high football IQ enabled him to catch on to the scheme very quickly, and unleash his active, aggressive playing style. Alexander is also a fiery leader and intense competitor, and could have a bright future with the Bucs, as he helps try to turn the fortunes around of a franchise that finished with the worst record in the league in 2014 from the defensive side of the ball, while prized first overall pick Jameis Winston does from his side of the ball.

8) Jordan Hicks, PHI, LB, 23, 3.20, Texas (6'2" 240)
(7 solo tackles, 1 sack and 1 FF AND same TOTAL)

Hicks was one of the most highly recruited prep LBs in the nation, but didn't fulfill his massive potential at Texas due to chronic injuries. Philadelphia HC Chip Kelly drafted him on day two, after already swapping Pro Bowl RB LeSean McCoy for his former Oregon LB Kiko Alonso and extending former Defensive Rookie of the Year, multiple Pro Bowler and defensive leader ILB DeMeco Ryans through 2016, despite suffering a second ruptured Achilles tendon last season. The ILB position was looking very crowded when ILB Mychal Kendricks also signed an extension (4 years for $29 million, $16 million guaranteed). After both Kendricks and Alonso were injured (the latter with a partial ACL tear that could require season-ending surgery), Hicks was pressed into action and acquitted himself well by making plays all over the field and filling up the box score, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lackluster, underwhelming loss in a key divisional tilt with the rival Cowboys. With Alonso's season in question and Kendricks officially ruled out as the Eagles look to get off the winless mat and avoid an 0-3 start in a difficult matchup against the Jets, the rookie will have the opportunity to show that last Sunday wasn't a fluke. If Alonso is done for the year, it will be his second missed season in a row, and Ryans will be 32 in 2016, so Kendricks and Hicks could be the future on the inside for Philly. Hicks has nice size, deceptive athleticism and advanced coverage skills for a young LB, which will facilitate his transition to the next level.

9) Danny Shelton, CLE, DT, 22, 1.12, Washington (6'2" 340)
(2 solo tackles and 2 assists AND 3 solo tackles and 3 assists TOTAL)

Shelton has shocking agility for such a mammoth-sized human being. What really stood out at Washington (where he was a teammate in college of early 2015 Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates, CB Marcus Peters and LB Hau'oli Kikaha, as noted above), were his unusual stamina and endurance to play a lot of snaps for a big man, as well as his surreal ability to be so productive with those snaps and make a lot of plays in the run game. He may not put up tangible stats as massive as his gargantuan stature (Commisioner Roger Goodel was dwarfed by him and looked about the size of a ventriloquist dummy after being lifted off the floor in an exuberant draft day celebration - luckily his corpse didn't crumple to the ground post-Kodiak bear hug after having the life squeezed out of him), but he swallows double teams like Joey "Jaws" Chestnut and Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi do Nathan's Hot Dogs, enabling his teammates to make plays. Football is the consumate TEAM sport, and in the every down Gangs of New York-style rumbles and legally sanctioned combat/martial art that characterizes warfare along the LOS, Shelton is a great choice to have on your side.

10) Landon Collins, NYG, S, 21, 2.1, Alabama (6'0" 220)
(6 solo tackles AND 8 solo tackles and 2 assists TOTAL)

Collins was the consensus top safety from the class of '15, but that is kind of like having the coolest taped glasses and pocket protector at an accountants convention, in this down year for the position. He has intimidating WLB-size as an in the box, run support safety, but some scouts are concerned that he could be exposed in coverage. It remains to be seen if the Giants find it necessary to scheme around any deficiencies in that department, but Collins did flash a competent pass defense play in the win over Washington Thursday night. Conceptually and technically, he was well schooled by former NFL HC and hands on DB specialist Nick Saban at Alabama. With a dearth of dominant front seven defenders (especially since an unfortunate July Fourth fireworks maiming of All-Pro DE Jason Pierre-Paul), he could be the beneficiary of what John Norton calls a target rich environment.

Honorable Mention

  • Shaq Thompson
  • Ron Darby

Standing on the Verge
 

Defensive Tackle

  • Malcom Brown, NE
  • Eddie Goldman, CHI
  • Jordan Phillips, MIA
  • Carl Davis, BAL

Defensive End

  • Randy Gregory, DAL
  • Mario Edwards, Jr., OAK
  • Arik Armstead, SF
  • Frank Clark, SEA
  • Owa Odighizuwa, NYG
  • Dannielle Hunter, MIN

Linebacker

  • Eric Kendricks
  • Benardrick McKinney
  • Bud Dupree
  • Shane Ray
  • Preston Smith
  • Denzel Perryman
  • Nate Orchard
  • Markus Golden
  • Eli Harold
  • Lorenzo Mauldin
  • Paul Dawson
  • Ramik Wilson
  • Kyle Emanuel

Cornerback

  • Tre Waynes
  • Kevin Johnson
  • Byron Jones
  • Damarious Randall
  • Jalen Collins
  • Eric Rowe
  • Ronald Darby
  • Senquez Golson
  • Quinten Rollins
  • P.J. Williams

Safety

  • Jaquiski Tartt 
  • Jordan Richards

Injured Reserve

  • Dante Fowler

SELECT VETERAN NOTES

Buffalo - WRs Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin have both enjoyed modest success in the first two games of new HC Rex Ryan's conservative regime. They are breaking in first time starter Tyrod Taylor, and could have upside if the training wheels come off, and the athletic and talented duo are unleashed more as the season progresses. Watkins draws the most attention in game plans and coverage, so Harvin benefits more from his presence than vice verce.

Cincinnati - Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard may be the top RB tandem in the league. Hill was the most productive rusher in the league in the second half of his stellar 2014 rookie season, after beating out Bernard. Following a 2 TD opener, Hill was benched in the second half week 2 against SD after coughing the ball up twice, and Bernard made the most of the opportunity, with the second 100+ rushing yard game of his career. In the wake of the victory and promising 2-0 start, HC Marvin Lewis and OC Hue Jackson stated Hill was fine, and they were moving on from the game and putting it behind them. The roles of Hill and Bernard should remain status quo if the second year starter employs better ball security. The Bengals could be very dangerous if both RBs play up to their full potential, and can beat opposing defenses multiple ways, as circumstances and opportunity dictates. Hill should continue to have an edge in carries, with Bernard having the advantage in receptions - he is averaging nearly a half dozen per game in his last five games, dating back to last season (including the obligatory immediate bounce from the playoffs), which would project to 90+ over a full schedule. Hill is a rugged, 237 lbs. and better built to withstand the pounding of a workhorse, between the tackles RB. Maintaining the current division of labor by emphasizing Bernard in the passing game, will help preserve him for a long season and hopeful breakthrough with a playoff win in 2015.

Dallas - WR Terrance Williams is positioned to be the primary receiver in the wake of Dez Bryant's broken foot, though that takes on a different meaning after QB Tony Romo broke his clavicle for the second time, and misses the next approximately two months, barring a setback. He did connect with replacement signal caller Brandon Weedon on a long TD strike against the grounded Eagles. Williams led the nation with 1,832 receiving yards in 2012 at Baylor, the year former teammate Robert Griffin III won NFL Rookie of the Year, after winning the Heisman Trophy the previous season. He has the talent to partly step out of the eclipse-like shadow cast by Bryant, arguably one of the the top young WRs in the game (with Julio Jones and Antonio Brown).

Detroit - After an inexorable slow start for a rookie TE (25-248-1), Eric Ebron is beginning to flash the formidable athleticism and talent that made him the first TE with top 10 overall pedigree since Vernon Davis was selected sixth overall in 2006. Along with a healthy Calvin Johnson, they are marginalizing 2014 breakout WR, Golden Tate. Ebron through two games is at 9-96-2, which would project over 16 games to 72-768-16. Likely the TD number is unsustainable, but it is hard to not be excited by the arc and trajectory of his early soph campaign, following such a nondescript debut, and seeing glimmerings of fulfilling his massive potential. After a disappointing 0-2 start caused in part by a defensive implosion, the Lions could be playing from behind and in catchup mode a lot, conducive to boosted receiving production for Ebron (and Johnson), if battered and bruised QB Matthew Stafford can avoid becoming a human pinata and manage to stay in one piece this season.

Jacksonville - WR Allen Robinson erupted for a career game (6-155-2), with nearly as many yards as his two previous highs COMBINED, and matching the TD total for his entire rookie season. Hurt a lot last year, that made him even more overshadowed by the historic 2014 WR class. Robinson has nice length and size at a well put together 6'3", and though he ran a DE/LB-like 4.6 40, he showed elite explosiveness with 39" vertical and 10'11" broad jumps. Lacking elite speed it was a surprise to see him breeze past the Miami secondary, but he is like a RB in the open field, with dangerous RAC skills.

Minnesota - TE Kyle Rudolph and WR Charles Johnson are going in opposite directions. Rudolph is overcoming several seasons in a row lost to chronic injury, and looking as healthy as he has in years, after an off-season regimen that emphasized stretching and flexibility. The last time he was physically right in his 2012 soph season, he was an elite red zone weapon with 9 TDs (more than his other three seasons combined). Rudolph has TE1 potential in OC Norv Turner's positional star making scheme. Johnson has not taken the next step after flashing promise last year, and so far has been a disappointment.

Oakland - WR Michael Crabtree is flashing some of the burst and explosion that made him the tenth overall pick in the 2009 draft, second among WRs only to the horrifically overdrafted Darrius Heyward-Bey (by the late Al Davis, speed to him was like cheese to Shemp of the Three Stooges), and ahead of Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt, which looked like a sensational positional class before they were all struck down by varying degrees of injury. He had a 9-111-1 box score, and should enjoy a steady diet of single coverage opposite brilliant rookie Amari Cooper. Crabtree had 9 and 10 reception games in 2014 (only played the last five games in 2013 due to a ruptured Achilles tendon), but that was the most receiving yards since 172 in the last regular season game of the 2012 season (the year they lost in the Super Bowl). In the last five games of the 2012 season, he had 35-538-4, which would have prorated to 112-1,722-13. He just turned 28, far from decrepit for a WR, and may still have significant upside.

San Diego - WR Stevie Johnson was coming off three consecutive 1,000 receiving yard seasons with the Bills a few years ago, but his production was stunted in the conservative (dysfunctional?) 49er passing game. Like fellow former 49er and AFC West free agent Crabtree, his fantasy and dynasty value could be unlocked and unleashed in more favorable circumstances and surroundings, and he has an even better QB in Philip Rivers to help make him relevant again after a several year hiatus.

SCOUTING PROFILE

(from the 2015 Pre-Season RB Value Plays article)

Tevin Coleman will miss a week or two with a rib injury, but looked like he was in the process of rapidly taking over the lead role in a RBBC.

Coleman represents a tantalizing confluence of opportunity, the ability of Atlanta’s first rate passing game to keep defenses on their heels, new OC Kyle Shanahan’s potent ZBS (zone blocking scheme) run game and home run speed. His 7.12 career Y/C average was second only to Melvin Gordon among FBS running backs, and his 15 rushing TDs in 2014 AVERAGED an improbable, double take-inducing 40+ yards. Coleman has limitations as a somewhat linear vector weapon, but if he gets a crease, doesn’t need phone booth quicks with his open field, angle-destroying jets. Devonta Freeman could get first crack at the starting gig, but Coleman has the superior explosiveness, big play potential and talent to command carries in a RBBC right away, and seize a feature back role sooner than later.

Thanks for reading The Rookies, all questions and comments invited - magaw@footballguys.com

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