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The Rookies: Week 13

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

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 '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)
(20-86-1 rushing, 4-19-0 receiving AND 263-1,285-12 rushing, 28-322-1 receiving TOTAL)

Elliott is a top 2 RB and through 12 games has 1,285 yards and 12 TDs rushing, which would prorate to 1,713 yards and 16 TDs rushing over a full 16 game schedule, just off his recent white hot pace tracking to overtake Eric Dickerson's rookie season rushing records (1,808 rushing yards and 18 TDs, respectively - he also of course still holds the veteran single season rushing yardage record). It is is a testament to how great a season he is having that despite a historically good season for a rookie QB by teammate Dak Prescott (see immediately below), Elliott is running away with the Rookie of the Year Award.       

2) Dak Prescott, DAL, QB, 23, 4.37, Mississippi State (6'2", 225)
(12/18-139-1, 6-37-0 rushing AND 243/358-2,974-19 and 2 INTs, 47-217-5 rushing TOTAL)

Prescott is a top 5 QB and has now won 11 games in a row after the Cowboys opening week hiccup. His ridiculous 19/2 TD/INT ratio through 12 games projects to 25/3, which would eclipse the stellar 20/5 mark set by Robert Griffin III in his 2012 Rookie of the Year campaign, and likely representing the best TD/INT ratio for a first year signal caller since the merger. Dallas has four regular season games left (NYG, TB, DET and PHI, in order) and Prescott is gunning for Ben Roethlisberger's rookie record of 13 consecutive wins set over a decade ago in 2004, which would be the cherry on top of a brilliant, improbable, borderline miraculous season for the team, who may have appeared ready to hit the panic button after a week one loss which saw since "Wally Pipped" star QB Tony Romo go down with a lengthy rehab injury.

3) Michael Thomas, NO, WR, 23, 2.16, Ohio State (6'3", 215)
(9-108-2 AND 65-789-7 receiving TOTAL)

Thomas continues to surge up the leader board into top 10 for his position, WR1 territory. He had his best game of the season against the reeling, stumbling, bumbling, hapless Rams, and has multiple receiving TD efforts in two of his past four games. He appears to have overtaken super soph Brandin Cooks in the WR pecking order and hierarchy for the Saints. It doesn't hurt to have the most prolific passer in the NFL in Drew Brees spraying the ball all over the field like a fire hose. The mid-second round nephew of former star USC WR and #1 overall pick Keyshawn Johnson is on pace for about 95-1,148-10 over 16 games (though his pace is accelerating as the season progresses), shockingly better than the rookie year totals of 63-844-8 compiled by his vastly higher profile uncle. If Thomas can reach the difficult for a rookie WR to achieve double digit TD plateau/threshold, that will make just the third time (with Odell Beckham and Mike Evans from the historically great WR class of 2014) in nearly two decades since the best ever season for a rookie WR by Randy Moss in 1998, with 17 receiving scores.    

4) Jordan Howard, CHI, RB, 22, 5.11, Indiana (6'1" 220)
(18-84-0 rushing, 3-43-0 receiving AND 149-766-2 rushing, 22-242-1 receiving TOTAL)

Howard has an excellent shot to get to 1,000 rushing yards, health permitting. 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 ultimately make him special.

5) Tyreek Hill, KC, WR, 22, 5.26, West Alabama (5'10", 185)
(9-52-1 receiving, 1-3-1 rushing, 1 kick return TD AND 45-428-5 receiving, 11-68-1 rushing, 1 kick return TD TOTAL)

It is fair to say Hill is making the most of his opportunity after a very checkered past that included stints at a JUCO and two other colleges. The Georgia prep sprint prodigy exhibited borderline Olympic caliber speed as the Track and Field News "High School Athlete of the Year" in 2012, with times of 10.19 in the 100 m. and 20.14 in the 200 m. (within 1/100th of a second of tying the latter national record that had stood for over a quarter century). After being dismissed from Oklahoma State for a domestic violence conviction (his probation term extends for a few more years) and rehabilitating his image at West Alabama, similar to bank breaking NYG CB Janoris Jenkins matriculating from North Alabama by way of Florida, Hill blew the doors off of his school's pro day, with a blistering sub-4.3 40, 40"+ VJ and defender broken ankle-inducing 6.53 3-cone drill time. With top WR Jeremy Maclin injured, he has become the top WR option for the Chiefs (trailing only TE Travis Kelce in team receptions), has emerged as a low end WR2 and is knocking on the door of top 20 WR status. Last Sunday Hill was awarded AFC Offensive Player of the Week by becoming the first PLAYER (not just rookie) since Gale Sayers in over a half century to score a receiving, rushing and kick return TD in the same game.  

6) Hunter Henry, SD, TE, 22, 2.4, Arkansas (6'5" 250)
(2-20-1 AND 26-371-5 receiving TOTAL)

Henry only had 20 yards combined in his first two games and no scores in his first three games. In the four games from weeks three to six his receiving yardage ranged from a non-rookie-like (TE a notoriously difficult positional transition for first year pros) 61-83 yards, but has dipped to a far more modest range of 11-20 yards in the past four games. Scoring-wise, though, the 2015 Mackey Award winner given to the top collegiate TE in the nation impressively has all of his 5 TDs in the past seven games. Henry's numbers could surge in a year or two once future Hall of Fame TE Antonio Gates hangs up his cleats for good. 

7) Carson Wentz, PHI, QB, 24, 1.2, North Dakota State (6'5", 235)
(24/36-254-0 and 1 INT, 4-33-1 rushing AND 249/392-2,593-11 and 8 INTs, 32-81-1 rushing TOTAL)

Since an incendiary 3-0 start, Wentz is 2-6 in the next half season of games, and once promising playoff hopes a little over a month ago are fading quickly and looking increasingly remote. While the trade to move up to #2 overall may not be looking like as much of a slam dunk as before, and his long term projection is admittedly a bit murkier, multiple factors have conspired to the downward spiral. Starting RT Lane Johnson's 10 game suspension overlaps considerably with the time frame of Wentz's struggles, and his receiving weapons are sub-optimal and far from elite. He still has a coveted and prized constellation of traits for the QB position, including size, mobility, athleticism, arm talent, brains, leadership, maturity, work ethic, professionalism and competitiveness, seemingly loves the game and has the requisite desire to improve possessed by the great ones, so still projects to have a bright future for the same reasons he did before the season started (perhaps the brilliant start created unrealistic expectations which would be nearly impossible to fulfill?).

8) Jared Goff, LA, QB, 22, 1.1, Cal (6'4", 220)
(20/32-214-3 and 1 INT AND 37/63-348-3 and 1 INTs, 4-11-0 rushing TOTAL)

Goff not only had the first passing TD of his career, he had three in the first half alone. Unfortunately, the usually stingy defense of the Rams was eviscerated by the almost always dangerous and explosive at home Saints, and the wheels came off in the second half, where Goff looked more rookie-like and had a lost fumble and INT. Also not helping the cause was ultra-brittle/fragile (at replacement LT) Rodger Saffold exiting early with a hand injury, AFTER 2014 #2 overall pick (and looking increasingly like an epic, colossal bust) and usual starting LT Greg Robinson was not only benched but a healthy roster scratch. Since a hopeful 3-1 start the Rams are 1-6, and staring at 1-9 with back-to-back-to-back upcoming games against the Patriots, Falcons and Seahawks (all division leaders, with only ATL @ home), before concluding with two winnable home games against the one win 49ers, who LA already lost to in the opener, and disappointing 4-6-1 Cards. Anywhere from 4-5 wins is looking increasingly probable in what has become an abysmal, heinous, nightmarish return season, quickly deflating a lot of local fan excitement after a several decade absence from Southern California. A symptom of an on edge franchise and frayed nerves is the recent high profile spat between embattled, beleaguered HC Jeff Fisher (close to the most career losses in league history) and Rams legend/defector Eric Dickerson. If Fisher survives this prodigal debacle of a season, it will lend credence to the theory that in the case of a cataclysmic, large asteroid strike, ELE (Extinction Level Event), the only survivors will be a few insect species like roaches along with Fisher.    

9) Devontae Booker, DEN, RB, 24, 4.38, Utah (5'11", 210)
(24-79-0 rushing, 1-22-0 receiving AND 128-475-2 rushing, 18-141-0 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 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.   

10) Sterling Shepard, NYG, WR, 22, 2.9, Oklahoma (5'10", 195)
(1-22-0 rushing AND 44-476-5 receiving and 1-22-0 rushing TOTAL)

Shepard had a disappointing game last week against the Browns with no receptions for the first time all season. But before that, following a one month stretch without a score (after a TD in two of his first three games), he had a receiving TD in three consecutive games. Star WR Odell Beckham's linkage with Shepard is a double edged sword, in the sense that any benefits that accrue from the prized second round rookie virtually never seeing double coverage have frequently been tempered and muted by the fact that Beckham commands so many targets from Eli Manning. As he matures physically and technically, Beckham and Shepard figure to be an extremely dangerous one-two punch in the future.

Standing on the Verge

• Paxton Lynch, DEN
• Rob Kelley, WAS
• Kenneth Dixon, BAL
• Corey Coleman, CLE
• Malcolm Mitchell, NE

Quarterback

• Christian Hackenberg, NYJ
• Cody Kessler, CLE
• Connor Cook, OAK
• Cardale Jones, BUF
• Nate Sudfeld, WAS

Running Back

• Derrick Henry, TEN
• C.J. Prosise, SEA
• DeAndre Washington, OAK 
• Wendell Smallwood, PHI
• Richard Jalen, OAK
• Kenyan Drake, MIA
• Tyler Ervin, HOU
• Paul Perkins, NYG
• Jonathan Williams, BUF
• Alex Collins, SEA

Wide Receiver

• Tyler Boyd, CIN
• Will Fuller, HOU
• Josh Doctson, WAS
• Laquon Treadwell, MIN
• Braxton Miller, CLE
• Leonte Carroo, MIA
• Tajae Sharpe, TEN
• Chris Moore, BAL
• Ricardo Louis, CLE
• Pharoh Cooper, LA
• Demarcus Robinson, KC
• Jordan Payton, CLE
• Rashard Higgins, CLE
• Mike Thomas, LA
• Nelson Spruce, LA

Tight End

• Austin Hooper, ATL
• Tyler Higbee, LA
• Jerell Adams, NYG
• Nick Vannett, SEA
• Seth DeValve, CLE
• Temarrick Hemingway, LA
• David Morgan, MIN   

IR

• 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

Positional Breakdown

•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)   
(4 solo tackles, 2 assists AND 50 solo tackles, 22 assists, 4 FFs TOTAL)

Unlike with the case of Elliott ranking head and shoulders above his peers on offense above, Defensive Rookie of the Year should be a much closer and tightly contested race that could go down to the wire and involve upwards of half this list or more as viable candidates. Neal is a bone jarring, brutal, barbaric, Medieval hitter that leads all rookies in FFs. He has quickly become a defensive leader (and no doubt will eventually emerge as an overall team leader, his former coaches and teammates at Florida raved about his maturity and leadership).  

2) Deion Jones, ATL, LB, 22, 2.21, LSU (6'1", 230)
(3 solo tackles, 2 assists AND 51 solo tackles, 18 assists, 2 INTs, 1 TD TOTAL)

Jones has cooled off considerably from his earlier torrid pace, but remains high on the list by virtue of his position. Somewhat reminiscent of former NFC South "undersized" MLBs Jon Beason and Jonathan Vilma (both Miami alumni, 3 X Pro Bowlers but also injury prone late), but a lot faster. Jones is a freak with rare CB, elite skill position-type speed, and is faster than virtually all safeties. More importantly, he has flashed above average instincts, which bodes well for his development. In time, with physical maturation, HC Dan Quinn hopes he can become like MLB Bobby Wagner (his former charge as SEA DC, and soon to be another 3 X Pro Bowl MLB).  

3) Karl Joseph, OAK, S, 23, 1.14, West Virginia (5'10", 205)
(1 solo tackle, 2 assists AND 41 solo tackles, 15 assists, 1 INT TOTAL)

Joseph has been up and down, but has future Pro Bowl-type talent and skills. 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, with a handful in as many games), his complete, well rounded game including ruthless and intimidating striking ability in run support has been auspiciously compared variously to Brian Dawkins, Bob Sanders, Troy Polamalu and Earl Thomas. Joseph has deservedly rare top half of the first round pedigree for a safety.

4) DeForest Buckner, SF, DE, 22, 1.7, Oregon (6'7" 290)
(3 solo tackles, 1 assist AND 24 solo tackles, 25 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 DE, he is leading all defensive linemen with 25 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 high end production possible from this scheme/role.

5) Joey Bosa, SD, DE, 21, 1.3, Ohio State (6'5", 280)
(4 solo tackles, 3 assists, .5 sack AND 15 solo tackles, 7 assists, 4.5 sacks, 1 FF TOTAL)

Bosa has the best per game stats among the good looking DE class of 2016, which bodes extremely well for his future. He has also flashed why he could soon become one of the best at his position against the run in the business. Bosa understandably got off to a slow start given his contract difficulties with the Scrooge-like Chargers ownership and front office, but still has nearly a third of a season to make up for lost time and gain ground on the leading Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates above, now that he has more fully rounded into in-season game shape and conditioning and can begin to consistently wreak havoc and do some damage behind the LOS. 

6) Yannick Ngakoue, JAX, DE, 21, 3.6, Maryland (6'2" 255)
(1 solo tackle, 1 assist, 1 sack AND 15 solo tackles, 3 assists, 6 sacks, 3 FFs, 1 INT TOTAL)

Ngakou leads all rookies in sacks and is tied for second in FFs. Still a one dimensional (admittedly an important dimension) pass rusher, like nearly all young DL, he needs physical maturation and technical refinement to become more competent and effective against the run and a more complete overall defender.  

7) Noah Spence, TB, DE, 22, 2.8, Eastern Kentucky (6'2", 250)
(2 solo tackles, 3 assists, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF AND 13 solo tackles, 4 assists, 5.5 sacks, 3 FFs TOTAL)

Spence won two awards in recent days, Rookie of the Week for his 5 tackle, 1.5 sack and 1 FF performance against SEA, as well as Defensive Rookie of the Month in November. He has the second most sacks and is tied for second most FFs among rookies. Ohio State had quite the formidable set of bookend DEs with Bosa and Spence (before the latter got tossed out of school and ultimately the Big Ten Conference). Not a speed merchant like Von Miller, but has deceptive burst and outstanding power/leverage combined with some wiggle and bend. Likely would have been a first rounder if not for his character concerns and off field red flags (though he also ran a lumbering, plodding, pedestrian 40 time and reportedly had a hinky interview process). Potentially that rare commodity, a perennial double digit sack artist.   

8) 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 plummeted in the rankings here after missing all of November with a lingering knee injury, and has already been ruled out for Sunday against the Bucs. He can be viewed as the rookie defensive counterpart to fellow fifth rounders, RB Jordan Howard and WR Tyreek Hill (who have the lowest pedigree on the above list). 

9) Sheldon Rankins, NO, DT, 22, 1.12, Louisville (6'2", 305)
(2 solo tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF AND 5 solo tackles, 5 assists, 1 sack, 1 FF TOTAL)

Rankins has been as disruptive as advertised before going on designated to return IR in the preseason, and now has 2 sacks already in just four games back. Like fellow first rounders, LB Darron Lee of the Jets and S Keanu Neal of the Falcons, Rankins is also said to have exemplary maturity, leadership and professionalism (if they don't make it, it almost certainly won't be because they didn't put in the requisite time and work hard enough). Could emerge as a Geno Atkins in his prime-like, highly productive despite being "undersized" interior pass rusher.   

10) Leonard Floyd, CHI, LB, 24, 1.9, Georgia (6'6", 240)
(1 solo tackle, 1 assist AND 16 solo tackles, 9 assists, 5 sacks, 1 FF TOTAL)

Floyd has been erratic and inconsistent, flashing occasional moments of brilliance amidst generally more non-descript and undistinguished play, but his 2016 rookie season was probably already reckoned and accounted for as one in which he needed to gain badly needed bulk, mass and strength to better engage, defeat and shed bigger, stronger, more experienced and wilier veterans. Not a top 10 overall pick for nothing, he is one of the most explosive, pure, natural edge rushers from the class of 2016. Current Bears and former 49ers DC Vic 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).  

Standing on the Verge

• Kerry Hyder, DET
• De'Vondre Campbell, ATL
• Kevin Byard, TEN
• Miles Killebrew, DET
• Artie Burns, PIT

Defensive Tackle

• 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

Defensive End

• Robert Nkemdiche, ARI
• Adam Gotsis, DEN
• Carl Nassib, CLE
• Jonathan Bullard, CHI
• Shilique Calhoun, OAK
• Adolphus Washington, BUF
• Hassan Ridgeway, IND

Linebacker

• Darron Lee, NYJ
• Shaq Lawson, BUF
• Myles Jack, JAX
• Su'a Cravens, WAS
• 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
• Antonio Morrison, IND
• Blake Martinez, GB
• Kentrell Brothers, MIN
• Josh Forrest, LA

Cornerback

• Jalen Ramsey, JAX
• Vernon Hargreaves, TB
• Eli Apple, NYG
• William Jackson III, CIN
• Xavien Howard, MIA
• Mackensie Alexander, MIN
• Cyrus Jones, NE
• James Bradberry, CAR
• Kendall Fuller, WAS

Safety

• Vonn Bell, NO
• Sean Davis, PIT
• T.J. Green, IND
• Darian Thompson, NYG
• Deon Bush, CHI
• K.J. Dillon, HOU

IR

• Jaylon Smith, DAL
• Reggie Ragland, BUF
• Bronson Kaufusi, BAL
• Andrew Billings, CIN
• Will Redmond, SF
• Charles Tapper, DAL

Select Veteran Notes

Offense

Arizona - RB David Johnson became just the second RB in the common draft era to amass 100+ yards from scrimmage in his first eleven games of a season. Edgerrin James set the record in his first 13 games of the 2005 season for the Colts. The Cards play WAS, MIA, NO, SEA and LA in the remaing five games of the regular season schedule. Johnson can tie the record in two games and beat it in the next three (and after that already had 171 and 124 combined yards against the Seahawks and Rams, respectively).  

Carolina - The 2016 season has been a brutal Super Bowl Hangover campaign for the Panthers in general and QB Cam Newton specifically. RB Jonathan Stewart is coming off of a rare multiple score game.

Cleveland - WR Terrelle Pryor is improbably a top 10 WR (not just because he plays for the Browns, but due to the fact that the former collegiate QB and Big Ten Freshman of the Year is only his second season into a so far wildly successful positional conversion, a testament to his phenomenal athleticism - the Browns are also attemting this QB/WR positional transmutation and morphogenesis with eerily similar 2016 rookie Braxton Miller, who was also a highly recruited three year starting signal caller for Ohio State, including 2 X Conference MVP and Offensive Player of the Year). Reportedly one of the highest recruited gridiron/hoops athletes from PA in decades and one time #1 overall national football recruit to Ohio State, he was drafted by the Raiders in the third round of the 2011 supplemental draft, bounced around for a few years with the Seahawks, Chiefs and Bengals, before committing to WR full time with the Browns just last year. Entering his physical prime and athletic peak years (only 27), he should get nothing but better. 

New England - RB LeGarrette Blount (turns 30 on Monday) is a top 5 RB, largely on the strength of 12 rushing TDs through 12 games. That is already more than any RB scored in 2015, and if he sustains this pace and finishes with 16 rushing TDs, it would be the most since LeSean McCoy scored 17 rushing TDs a half decade ago in 2011. TE Rob Gronkowski's surgery for a bulging disc will almost certainly shelve him for the rest of the 2016 regular season schedule (and extending into virtually certain playoff action).  

Pittsburgh - RB Le'Veon Bell has been producing at a top 3 RB clip since serving his three game suspension, and has actually ratcheted up production of late, stringing together his best games of the season in the past three weeks. WR Antonio Brown continues to chug along as maybe the preeminent WR talent in the game today, and is setting himself up for a massive pay day.

San Diego - Along with good looking rookie TE Hunter Henry (see above), the Chargers are looking up in the skill position department with other young talents, as super soph RB Melvin Gordon continues to be a top 3-5 RB (the 2015, increasingly rare in recent drafts, mid-first round pedigree for a RB has broken out of his rookie funk and slump in a BIG way) and second year WR Tyrell "Corporation" Williams has also been a very pleasant surprise as a top 20 scorer at his position. 

Tampa Bay - QB Jameis Winston (near top 10 QB production) and WR Mike Evans (top two in scoring at HIS position) are becoming a feared battery. Evans particularly is an ascendant star enjoying a breakout third season, joining other NFL elite WRs Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham and A.J. Green. 

Tennessee - The top of the 2015 QB class looks to be in good hands with former #1 overall Winston and #2 overall QB Marcus Mariota (near top 5 QB numbers), which hopefully bodes well for the second year development at the top of the 2016 QB class - pedigree dopplegangers #1 overall Jared Goff and #2 overall Carson Wentz. RB DeMarco Murray is putting up top 3 RB production, and is looking much more like the league leading 2104 Cowboys iteration than the forgettable, lost 2015 Eagles version. 

Washington - QB Kirk Cousins is playing remarkably good football (top 5 production for his position) under the spotlight and pressure of a franchise contract and "prove it" basis. Soph sensation WR Jamison Crowder continues to exceed expectations. It appears the only thing that can hold back TE Jordan Reed is... Jordan Reed (specifically his health). Despite missing two games due to injury, he still finds himself near the top of the positional leader board. Jordan has the freakish feet quickness, agility, overall athleticism, body control, elusiveness, balance and RAC ability of a player 50+ lbs. lighter (for a 6'2", 245 lb. jumbo, super sized receiving weapon). He is the proverbial, almost unfair matchup for LBs due to his movement skills, but too big and strong for nearly all DBs.       

Scouting Profile

(from the 2016 Pre-Season TE Value Plays article)

Eric Ebron - While Ebron has generally been viewed as failing to play up to his immense potential, it is a rare TE that excels as a rookie, and his 2015 second season numbers were boosted from 25-248-1 to 47-537-5. A combo of the passing game void left by Calvin Johnson's departure and a maturing Mathew Stafford capable of better leveraging his athleticism could be the catalyst to a more prominent role in year three. Still just 23, Ebron has elite, blue chip pedigree for a TE (the first at his position to be drafted top 10 overall since Pro Bowler Vernon Davis in 2006). Ebron's nearly 1,000 yards for North Carolina in 2013 eclipsed the ACC record of Davis, and their eerily similar, mirror image FBS career 16+ yard reception averages are among the best ever for first round TEs.

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

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