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 Jared Goff, Kenneth Dixon and Laquon Treadwell that are destined to have 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 2016 season.
Rookie of the Year - Offense (past 25 years)
•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
•2015 - Todd Gurley, STL, RB
•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 '16 has three first round QB prospects (including the #1 and #2 overall picks) and also includes a late fourth round gem and potential future star, a RB class featuring one of the top prospects at his position in the past decade taken #4 overall but not a particularly exceptional group beyond him, a good looking WR class that makes up in depth what it lacks in elite star power and a middling TE group that could nonetheless offer as many as three or more solid starters in future seasons.
Rookie of the Year - Offense (2016)
Player, Team, Position, Age ('16), Pedigree, College, Height/Weight
1) Ezekiel Elliott, DAL, RB, 21, 1.4, Ohio State (6'0", 225)
(21-114-2 rushing, 2-95-1 receiving AND 198-1,005-9 rushing, 18-250-1 receiving TOTAL)
Elliot continues to put up historic numbers, and while it may have been premature to make sweeping generalizations earlier, with more than half the season behind him, it is safe to say he is having one of the greatest rookie seasons for a RB in league history. Obviously fellow rookie Dak Prescott is helping his bid for Rookie of the Year with his ten year veteran-like play, but the converse is reciprocally true. Elliott is the youngest rookie in the offensive top 10 and only one that is 21 (as is the current #1 on defense Keanu Neal, joined by two DEs, #7 Joey Bosa and #9 Yannick Ngakoue).
2) Dak Prescott, DAL, QB, 23, 4.37, Mississippi State (6'2", 225)
(22/32-319-2 AND 187/280-2,339-9 and 2 INTs, 31-125-4 rushing TOTAL)
Prescott is having the best rookie QB debut in the W-L column since Ben Roethlisberger (and that campaign turned out well and ended up pretty good). He is backing that up with historically good numbers for a first year signal caller (14/2 TD/INT ratio through nine games). The time table for the transition from Tony Romo to Prescott has accelerated to IMMEDIATELY!
3) Jordan Howard, CHI, RB, 22, 5.11, Indiana (6'1" 220)
(15-100-0 rushing AND 114-605-2 rushing, 18-177-1 receiving TOTAL)
Howard has a good shot to get to 1,000 rushing yards, health permitting. Rushing TDs are destined for a serious uptick. Howard has quickly relegated brief starting RB Jeremy Langford to a situational role and even afterthought. Very hard to knock off his pins, great lower body strength, contact balance and tackle breaking power, also nifty feet and deceptive elusiveness for a 220+ lb. back, but it is his vision and instincts that could ultimnately make him special.
4) Michael Thomas, NO, WR, 23, 2.16, Ohio State (6'3", 215)
(5-68-0 AND 56-681-5 receiving TOTAL)
Thomas continues to move up to a mid/high end WR2, and could make a push for WR1 status. He is currently the only rookie WR projected to reach 1,000+ receiving yards (Sterling Shepard and Will Fuller have fallen off the pace after showing initial promise in the first month). He is filling the Marques Colston role as well as expected, if not exceeding expectations.
5) Carson Wentz, PHI, QB, 24, 1.2, North Dakota State (6'5", 235)
(25/36-231-0 and 0 INT, 4-10-0 rushing AND 202/311-2,121-9 and 5 INTs, 27-46-0 rushing TOTAL)
Wentz is 2-4 in the past month and a half, but still sports a winning record of 5-4 by virtue of his blistering 3-0 start. In fairness, all the losses have been close road games: by margins of 1 (24-23 @ DET), 7 (27-20 @ WAS), 6 in OT (29-23 @ DAL) and 5 (28-23 @ NYG). The Eagles close out the season against the Giants and Cowboys. After losing four of the previous five games, Wentz got off the mat last week with a 24-15 home win against ATL. He is piloting a top 10 offense (25.1 PPG), albeit nearly bottom five in passing (235.7 YPG). Wentz's next opponent is SEA, and Sunday's opposing QB Russell Wilson praised him. "He's athletic, he can make all the throws, he's a smart guy, he's competitive. I have a lot of respect for him," Wilson added. "He's a great football player. You guys have a good one in him."
6) Devontae Booker, DEN, RB, 24, 4.38, Utah (5'11", 210)
(24-76-0 rushing, 2-12-0 receiving AND 104-396-2 rushing, 17-119-0 receiving TOTAL)
Booker was taken with the very next pick after Dak Prescott (also the two oldest on the offensive list at 24, Leonard Floyd is the only defensive counterpart), impressive production from a couple of late fourth round picks. He should have made the list sooner. If Booker had began the season as starter and avoided injury (not a given, the incumbent starter already being shelved for the season created his opportunity), based on his production since C.J. Anderson went on IR, he likely would have been close to on track for a 1,000 rushing yard projection. He is elusive in the open field and has deceptive power. Booker also has excellent hands and is capable of doing a lot more damage in that department if given the opportunity.
7) Hunter Henry, SD, TE, 22, 2.4, Arkansas (6'5" 250)
(2-11-1 AND 24-351-4 receiving TOTAL)
Not a seam bursting speed merchant, freakish physical specimen or athletic prodigy, he "just" has a very solid, well rounded overall game, is a polished route runner, seems to have a knack for finding the soft spots in zone coverage and consistently gets open. The 2015 Mackey Award winner for the top FBS TE couldn't have asked for better mentors than TE Antonio Gates and QB in Philip Rivers. Rookie TEs aren't supposed to do well, but Henry could be the rare exception.
8) Sterling Shepard, NYG, WR, 22, 2.9, Oklahoma (5'10", 195)
(5-42-1 AND 39-426-4 receiving TOTAL)
Shepard has been as good as advertised in the early going. His highly advanced, pro-ready skill set have seemingly made his transition to the pros as effortless and seamless as his mature beyond his years, technically refined route running. Like fellow top 10 WR Michael Thomas (and unlike Will Fuller), Shepard is the beneficiary of a talented veteran QB.
9) Will Fuller, HOU, WR, 22, 1.21, Notre Dame (6'0", 180)
(DNP AND 25-372-2 receiving, 1 punt return TD TOTAL)
Fuller DNP week 10 due to a leg injury and is listed as a game time decision wekk 11. Even prior to that, he had been increasingly dragged down by an often ineffective and embattled Brock Osweiler at QB. Earlier in the season he became just the fourth rookie WR in the past decade and a half to have a receiving and punt return TD in the same game (joining Tavon Austin, T.Y. Hilton and Dez Bryant). Will never be Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas over the middle and in traffic, but has a deceptively well rounded game, better hands than advertised, and benefits from reduced coverage playing across from DeAndre Hopkins.
10) Jared Goff, LA, QB, 22, 1.1, Cal (6'4", 215)
(First start/snaps of the season Sunday against MIA)
The anxiously awaited debut for Los Angeles, and first regular season evidence of whether or not the Rams got a franchise QB in exchange for the king's ransom they gave up for the Titans #1 overall pick (moving up higher for a #1 overall QB in the process than any other team since the merger and common draft era - the Eagles and Oilers moved up further to get to #1 overall for WR Irving Fryar and RB Earl Campbell, respectively). The Rams are 4-5 and their best asset is the #10 scoring defense (19.2 PPG, but averaging 13 PPG in the past three games against the Panthers sandwiched between the two New York teams, but having only a 1-2 record to show for it - the league worst offense has failed to exceed 10 points, scoring a meager, paltry total of 29 points in that time frame). Los Angeles in is dire need of a boost in overall offensive talent translated to increased scoring, which HC Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead are confident and hopeful Goff can provide. The former Cal star had a career 56/1 red zone TD/INT ratio, and has vastly superior natural arm talent than former starter/place holder Case Keenum.
Standing on the Verge
• C.J. Prosise, SEA
• Tyreek Hill, KC
• Jerell Adams, NYG
• Paxton Lynch, DEN
• Christian Hackenberg, NYJ
• Cody Kessler, CLE
• Connor Cook, OAK
• Cardale Jones, BUF
• Nate Sudfeld, WAS
• Derrick Henry, TEN
• DeAndre Washington, OAK
• Wendell Smallwood, PHI
• Kenneth Dixon, BAL
• Kenyan Drake, MIA
• Tyler Ervin, HOU
• Paul Perkins, NYG
• Jonathan Williams, BUF
• Alex Collins, SEA
• Corey Coleman, CLE
• Tyler Boyd, CIN
• Josh Doctson, WAS
• Laquon Treadwell, MIN
• Braxton Miller, CLE
• Leonte Carroo, MIA
• Tajae Sharpe, TEN
• Chris Moore, BAL
• Malcolm Mitchell, NE
• Ricardo Louis, CLE
• Pharoh Cooper, LA
• Demarcus Robinson, KC
• Jordan Payton, CLE
• Rashard Higgins, CLE
• Mike Thomas, LA
• Nelson Spruce, LA
• Austin Hooper, ATL
• Tyler Higbee, LA
• Nick Vannett, SEA
• Seth DeValve, CLE
• Temarrick Hemingway, LA
• David Morgan, MIN
• Jacoby Brisset, NE
Defensive Rookie of the Year (past 25 years)
•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
•2015 - Marcus Peters, KC, CB
•DT - 4 (Two in the past half decade plus, 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 plus since 2000)
•CB - 3 (Peters first in over a decade and a half since Charles Woodson in 1998)
•S - 0 (Over 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 decade plus, plus two in a row before 2015, 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 Marcus Peters the first DB to win in more than a decade and a half since Charles Woodson. The defensive class of '16 features a potentially strong LB position group (which will be bolstered further if Cowboys second rounder Jaylon Smith can return from a serious knee injury including nerve damage by 2017), DE took a blow as usual with many top prospects converted to LB, such as Leonard Floyd, Shaq Lawson, teammate Kevin Dodd and Emanuel Ogbah. DT lost top 3-technique pass rusher Sheldon Rankins due to a broken leg, CB is strong in numbers and Jaylen Ramsey might be one of the top defensive players in the class at any position, and safety looks weak overall for several years in a row, though mid-first round picks Karl Joseph and Keanu Neal are gifted athletes and could be very productive once they inexorably are elevated to starting gigs.
Defensive Rookie of the Year (2016)
Player, Team, Position, Age ('16), Pedigree, College, Height/Weight
1) Keanu Neal, ATL, S, 21, 1.17, Florida (6'1", 210)
(9 solo tackles, 1 FF AND 46 solo tackles, 20 assists, 4 FFs TOTAL)
Neal is a barbaric, medieval hitter and playmaker, his 4 FFs are tied for first with LBs Bruce Irvin and Vic Beasley, and he is just outside the top 5 among safeties in solo tackles (46). Quickly becoming a leader of the Atlanta secondary and defense and eventually the team overall. A foundational, cornerstone-type player.
2) Deion Jones, ATL, LB, 22, 2.21, LSU (6'1", 230)
(9 solo tackles, 2 assists AND 48 solo tackles, 16 assists, 2 INTs, 1 TD TOTAL)
Jones continues to play at a top 5-10 level after an earlier ankle injury. As noted previously, at the rate the Falcons are scoring, opposing offenses could be playing from behind a lot, which is right in the wheelhouse of Jones, as he has the coverage skills of a safety (already has two INTs in about a half season of starts, including a pick six week three against Drew Brees and the Saints). Just as the Cowboys have a stranglehold on the top two spots in the Offensive Rookie of the Year rankings, Atlanta is a parallel case on defense.
3) Jatavis Brown, SD, LB, 22, 5.36, Akron (5'11", 220)
(DNP AND 43 solo tackles, 11 assists, 3 sacks, 2 FF TOTAL)
Brown was looking like a prohibitive favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year about a month ago, but has missed a few games with a knee injury (check for his week 11 status). Though in a previous installment of The Rookies, his undersized physical stature for an ILB was specifically questioned - "It awaits to be seen if he can hold up on the inside, where his safety-like size makes him maybe the smallest starting ILB in the league." Brown could be viewed as the rookie defensive counterpart to fellow fifth rounder, RB Jordan Howard (who has the lowest pedigree on the above list).
4) DeForest Buckner, SF, DE, 22, 1.7, Oregon (6'7" 290)
(3 solo tackles, 1 sack AND 19 solo tackles, 22 assists, 3 sacks TOTAL)
Like TE, DE is typically a very difficult position to be statistically productive from as a rookie, but Buckner is proving to be the exception. Playing within the schematic constraints for a 3-4 DL, he is leading all defensive linemen with 22 assists. On the bonus plan, Buckner also has 3 sacks. The former Oregon star is reminiscent of Arizona star and fellow "Too Tall" Jones-like 3-4 DL Calais Campbell. Former 49er 3-4 DE Justin Smith is another example of the kind of production possible from this scheme/role.
5) Leonard Floyd, CHI, LB, 24, 1.9, Georgia (6'6", 240)
(3 solo tackles, 2 assists, 1.5 sacks AND 15 solo tackles, 8 assists, 5 sacks, 1 FF TOTAL)
Floyd has been on a torrid, incendiary pace, with at least one sack in his past three games and 4.5 in that span. One of the most explosive edge rushers from the class of 2016, current Bears and former 49ers DC Vig Fangio noted athletic similarities with Aldon Smith at the time of the draft (who before imploding due to maturity and off-field issues, broke Reggie White's first 30 game sack record, and was on a Hall of Fame-type career arc and trajectory).
6) Karl Joseph, OAK, S, 23, 1.14, West Virginia (5'10", 205)
(1 PD AND 31 solo tackles, 12 assists, 1 INT TOTAL)
Joseph has been an ultra-productive tackler since being inserted into the lineup. In addition to exceptional coverage ability and ball skills for a safety (at the time he went down last year he was among the national leaders in INTs), his ruthless and intimidating striking ability in run support has been compared variously to Brian Dawkins, Bob Sanders, Troy Polamalu and Earl Thomas. Joseph has rare pedigree for a safety and oozes unmistakable star potential.
7) Joey Bosa, SD, DE, 21, 1.3, Ohio State (6'5", 280)
(1 assist AND 11 solo tackles, 4 assists, 4 sacks, 1 FF TOTAL)
Bosa's drop in the standings reflects that coming off a bye, he hasn't had a sack in a month, and just one assist for the second game in a row. His momentum has slowed considerably since having two multiple sack games in his first three starts. Long term, he is arguably the most talented and natural run defender at his position in the draft, and has massive upside as a potential blue chip, elite pass rusher. Could have the size, athleticism, talent, skill set and complete, all around game for a big man to eventually be a poor man's J.J. Watt.
8) Vonn Bell, NO, S, 22, 2.30, Ohio State (5'11, 210)
(2 solo tackles, 5 assists AND 38 solo tackles, 13 assists, .5 sack, 1 FF TOTAL)
Bell has been surging up the safety standings despite being part of a three headed monster at safety with Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd, and makes his first appearance on the Defensive Rookie of the Year rankings. Definitely the heir apparent to Byrd, and with the athletically gifted Vaccaro, could comprise one of the top safety tandems in the league in a few years.
9) Yannick Ngakoue, JAX, DE, 21, 3.6, Maryland (6'2" 255)
(1 solo tackle AND 13 solo tackles, 2 assists, 4 sacks, 3 FFs, 1 INT TOTAL)
After a stretch earlier in the season with a sack in four consecutive games (and FF in three straight), Ngakoue's production has continued to dwindle in recent weeks and he has tumbled down the rankings accordingly.
10) Noah Spence, TB, DE, 22, Eastern Kentucky (6'2", 250)
(2 solo tackles, 1 sack AND 8 solo tackles, 4 sacks, 2 FFs TOTAL)
Spence has a sack in three of his past four games, and was a DE bookend with Bosa at Ohio State before being first suspended from the team, than after a second drug-related incident, kicked out of the Big Ten. He needs to become a better run defender to earn increased snaps and be more than a situational pass rusher. A blue chip, elite talent, he fell to the second round not just over character concerns (also reportedly interviewed poorly) and off field concerns, but a slow 40 time at the Combine. The 6 X Pro Bowl OLB Terrell Suggs is a textbook example of the dangers of scouts overweighting the importance of track speed in shorts running in a straight line (as former Ravens DC Rex Ryan prophetically noted, paraphrasing - if pass rushers had to run 40 yards on a regular basis he would have been more concerned).
Standing on the Verge
• Darron Lee, NYJ
• Su'a Cravens, WAS
• Kenny Clark, GB
• Vernon Butler, CAR
• Chris Jones, KC
• Austin Johnson, TEN
• Jihad Ward, OAK
• A'Shawn Robinson, DET
• Jarran Reed, SEA
• Maliek Collins, DAL
• Javon Hargrave, PIT
• Sheldon Day, JAX
• Robert Nkemdiche, ARI
• Adam Gotsis, DEN
• Carl Nassib, CLE
• Jonathan Bullard, CHI
• Shilique Calhoun, OAK
• Adolphus Washington, BUF
• Hassan Ridgeway, IND
• Shaq Lawson, BUF
• Myles Jack, JAX
• Emmanuel Ogbah, CLE
• Kevin Dodd, TEN
• Kamalei Correa, BAL
• Jordan Jenkins, NYJ
• Nick Vigil, CIN
• Kyler Fackrell, GB
• Joe Schobert, CLE
• Joshua Perry, SD
• B.J. Goodson, NYG
• De'Vondre Campbell, ATL
• Antonio Morrison, IND
• Blake Martinez, GB
• Kentrell Brothers, MIN
• Josh Forrest, LA
• Jalen Ramsey, JAX
• Vernon Hargreaves, TB
• Eli Apple, NYG
• William Jackson III, CIN
• Artie Burns, PIT
• Xavien Howard, MIA
• Mackensie Alexander, MIN
• Cyrus Jones, NE
• James Bradberry, CAR
• Kendall Fuller, WAS
• Sean Davis, PIT
• T.J. Green, IND
• Kevin Byard, TEN
• Darian Thompson, NYG
• Miles Killebrew, DET
• Deon Bush, CHI
• K.J. Dillon, HOU
• Jaylon Smith, DAL
• Reggie Ragland, BUF
• Sheldon Rankins, NO
• Bronson Kaufusi, BAL
• Andrew Billings, CIN
• Will Redmond, SF
• Charles Tapper, DAL
Select Veteran Notes
Atlanta - Suddenly surging 2015 top 10 overall pick Vic Beasley is coming off a two sack game, after another two sack game week 7 and a 3.5 sack game week 5, and is officially enjoying a breakout season. The Falcons have some talented, up and coming young defenders in their back seven, including of course rookies Keanu Neal at SS and Deion Jones at MLB.
Carolina - MLB Luke Kuechly has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise abysmal Super Bowl hangover season, but is in the concussion protocol following the Thursday game against NO. This is an ominous development given that he missed a month after the 2015 season opener with lingering concussion symptoms.
New York Giants - S Landon Collins has an INT in four consecutive games (5 INTs while adding a sack and TD in the big play department during that span), and is pacing for 100+ solo tackles. The former Alabama All-American and first pick in day two of the 2015 draft had a good rookie season in the top 20 range, but is enjoying a breakout soph campaign, easily the biggest story at DB in IDP leagues, and one of the biggest at any position so far this season (with LB Zach Brown and DEs Leonard Williams and Danielle Hunter). Safeties with the athletic versatility to combine coverage ability, ball skills AND hit like an electric axe handle (see Bob Sanders, Troy Polamalu, Brian Dawkins, Ronnie Lott, Kenny Easley and rookie Karl Joseph) are extremely rare.
Oakland - After a slow start with just one sack in his first five games, DE/LB Khalil Mack has been on a tear, with six sacks in the past month (and four in the last two weeks). He exhibited a similar pattern last year, with "just" four sack in the first eight games, finishing with a smoking 11 sacks during the second half remainder of the regular season. The former top 5 overall pick in the 2014 draft and 2015 breakout star has Hall of Fame type physical ability, athleticism and talent (only defensive player in league history to make All-Pro at two different positions - in his case, LB and DE), and could just be scratching the proverbial surface of his immense potential and coming into his own at the relatively young age of 25. Mack is a legit threat to break Michael Strahan's season sack record (22.5 - set a decade and a half ago) at some point in his still ascendant career.
Tampa Bay - MLB Kwon Alexander is proving his rookie season was no fluke with a Pro Bowl worthy anti-soph slump effort, but multi-pro Bowl WLB Lavonte David has inexplicably fallen off a cliff and is suffering through a nightmarish, career worst season statistically.
Washington - OLB Preston Smith had a monster game Sunday against the Vikings, including 2 sacks and a game sealing INT. He flashed a lot of potential in his 2015 rookie season, but had gotten off to a nondescript, uneventful soph campaign before his week 10 outburst. An indirect factor Smith has going for him is the imprimatur (seal of approval) of highly respected former 49er and Seahawk personnel exec Scot McCloughan.
(from the 2016 Pre-Season QB Value Plays article)
Jameis Winston - Winston was just the third NFL rookie QB ever to throw for 4,000 yards, with Cam Newton (2011) and Andrew Luck (2012), and is the only signal caller to do so under 22 years of age in NFL history. His 22/15 TD/INT ratio also stacks up favorably with the rookie campaigns of Newton (20/17) and Luck (23/18), which bodes well and represents a promising start to his pro career, extending an ascendant arc and trajectory to his resume. Winston had 6 rushing TDs in 2015 and has dropped close to 20 lbs. in order to play at or under 230 lbs. in year two of his meteoric development. The Bucs figure to be in a lot of NFC South shootouts with QBs Newton, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, and have the ammo to compete with RB Doug Martin and WR Mike Evans.
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