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The Rookies: Week 15

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 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 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) Todd Gurley, STL, RB, 21, 1.10, Georgia (6'1", 222)
(21-48-1 rushing, 2-31-0 receiving AND 210-1,023-9 rushing, 20-181-0 receiving TOTAL)

After setting NFL rookie rushing records in his first month of being a starter (ranging from 128-159 rushing yards), followed by a productive 89 rushing yard game in his fifth start, Gurley had just 171 rushing yards in the next month, before getting back on track last Sunday with a 16-140-2 effort againt the reeling Lions. The Rams general offensive implosion due to mass OL attrition and typically grotesque QB play contributed to sub-par numbers in five of the next seven games after his start like a white hot chainsaw through balsa wood, with a 3.8 yards or under average per rush (and a 2.6 yards or under average per rush in three of his last five games). Starting QB Case Keenum played much better Thursday night against the Bucs, in the Rams only prime time matchup of the 2015 season, in what may be the last home game played by the Rams in St. Louis. New OC and play caller Rob Boras may have provided a much needed spark, and is 2-0 since replacing the fired Frank Cignetti (after a season crushing five straight losses following a hopeful and promising 4-3 start). Gurley became just the third Rams rookie RB to crack the 1,000 rushing yard threshold in the victory over TB (joining Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson and Jerome Bettis), in a battle royale between the top two Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates. Depite the seasonal ups and downs and supporting cast, surrounding talent (or lack thereof) issues, he is tied for the league lead with 9 rushing TDs. Like DT Aaron Donald on defense, Gurley is already one of the best players in the league at his respective position, and is a cornerstone player the franchise can build around for many years (health permitting). If the Rams can shore up the OL and get even some semblance of competent QB play in 2016, he can be far more consistent and has the immense, drool-inducing talent to take his production to another level.

2) Jameis Winston, TB, QB, 21, 1.1, Florida State (6'4", 230)
(29/50-363-2 and 1 INT, 2-5-0 rushing AND 268/459-3,422-20 and 12 INTs, 47-189-5 rushing TOTAL)

Winston was Offensive Rookie of the Month in November, on the strength of passing for 96/169-1,179-7 and 3 INTs in five games (plus 2 TDs rushing), with a route over PHI and a come from behind victory leading TB to a 3-2 record in that time frame. After consecutive losses to the Saints and Rams in the span of a few days, playoff hopes are looking far more remote than they were just a week ago. Winston has set or tied multiple league records for rookie QBs (and for TB QBs period), becoming the youngest in NFL history to reach the 3,000 passing yard plateau, and with a shot to become just the third rookie ever to surpass 4,000 passing yards, after just Andrew Luck and Cam Newton. That seemingly bodes very well - both fellow former first overall picks have become franchise-type QBs. Winston also had a 5 passing TD game outburst earlier in the season. His 20 passing TDs are top 15 among NFL QBs, and his 5 rushing TDs are second only to prohibitive MVP favorite Newton's 7 rusing TDs. Winston's 3,422 passing yards are currently eighth overall (with one extra game played relative to most of his peers, due to the Thursday night contest). The Offensive Rookie of the Year race is neck-and-neck between Gurley and the top two overall rookie QBs.

3) Marcus Mariota, TEN, QB, 21, 1.2, Oregon (6'4", 222)
(21/39-274-0 and 1 INTs, 3-3-0 rushing AND 227/364-2,786-19 and 10 INTs, 34-252-2 rushing TOTAL)

Mariota has had a few NFL firsts in a stellar debut campaign. While overcoming a 21-10 lead in a come from behind victory over the Saints last month, he became the first rookie QB in league history with two games of 4 passing TDs and 0 INTs. In the hard fought 42-39 win over the Jaguars in week 13, Mariota became the first QB ever (not just rookie, period) with 250+ yards and 3 TDs passing, with 100+ yards rushing. Mariota has been one of the few bright spots with TE Delanie Walker in an otherwise abysmal 3-10 season that has already seen a worst case, in-season HC maximal demotion. Many of his individual passing metrics are actually superior to Winston, but rightly or wrongly, QBs are judged by the fate of their team as a whole, and in that respect, second overall pick Mariota suffers in the comparison with first overall pick Winston (the sixth such instance since the merger of QBs being taken with the top two picks).

4) Amari Cooper, OAK, WR, 21, 1.4, Alabama (6'1", 210)
(Nada AND 28-386-2 receiving, 1-2-0 rushing TOTAL)

Cooper was held without a reception for the first time all season in the win over Denver (though he was limited to just one 4 yard catch three weeks earlier in Detroit). After 3 receiving TDs in his first six games, he has only 1 in his last seven games. Cooper also had 50 receptions and 732 yards though the first nine games, and just 12-188 receiving in the past month, so he has been fading in the second half of the season ("rookie wall"?). Cooper is said to be playing through a foot injury, but is listed as probable against GB on Sunday. When "on" and at his best earlier in the year, Cooper did look like an emerging star and legitimately one of the best route technicians and overall young WRs in the league.

5) T.J. Yeldon, JAX, RB, 21, 2.4, Alabama (6'1", 226)
(11-62-0 rushing, 1-1-0 receiving AND 182-740-2 rushing, 36-279-1 receiving TOTAL)

Between Eddie Lacy and recent Heismann winner Derrick Henry, Yeldon never had to carry the load at Alabama, but has generally done a good job withstanding the rigors of the position at the next level, and chronic beatings and punishment that is the hard lot of an NFL RB. QB Blake Bortles, RB Yeldon and WR Allen Robinson could comprise a promising new iteration of next-gen NFL "triplets".

6) David Johnson, ARI, RB, 23, 3.22, Northern Iowa (6'1", 225)
(19-92-0 rushing, 5-31-0 receiving AND 76-330-4 rushing, 26-293-4 receiving TOTAL)

Johnson's explosiveness, multi-faceted skill set and complete, well rounded game have enabled him to be a consistent scoring threat (projecting for 11+ TDs), and seemingly destined to emerge as one of the most dangerous backs in the league. He recently joined Gale Sayers as the only rookies in league history with 4 rushing AND receiving TDs, as well as a kickoff return TD, last accomplished about a half century ago.

7) Karlos Williams, BUF, RB, 22, 5.18, Florida State (6'1", 230)
(DNP AND 66-376-5 rushing, 6-72-2 receiving TOTAL)

Williams is listed as questionable this week against WAS with a lingering shoulder injury. If unable to suit up, he will have missed a half dozen of the first 14 games, three earlier with a concussion, and the last three due to the most recent shoulder injury. When healthy pre-concussion, he was on a big time roll, improbably tying an NFL rookie record with a TD in his first six consecutive games played, despite backing up starter LeSean McCoy.

8) Jeremy Langford, CHI, RB, 24, 4.7, Michigan State (6'0", 210)
(11-37-0 rushing, 3-27-0 receiving AND 113-394-6 rushing, 21-268-1 receiving TOTAL)

Langford was largely overlooked in fantasy drafts, as a lowly fourth round rookie coming from a collegiate conference in which Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah and Tevin Coleman went in the first, second and third rounds, respectively. A late bloomer, his two year 40 TD total destroyed the previous MSU record by 10 (set by PIT star Le'Veon Bell). Langford's streak of multiple TDs in his last 7 games led the FBS in 2014, and his 15 straight regular season conference 100+ yard rushing games represented the longest streak in decades. He was the fastest RB at the Combine with a 4.42 40, and can block and catch as a former DB and WR (only having played RB two seasons, with potentially significant upside once he learns positional nuances). Fellow fourth round RB (class of '14) Ka'Deem Carey wasn't drafted by the prior regime, and new HC John Fox has zero ties to him. An earlier injury to incumbent starter Matt Forte cracked the door open for Langford, and he may have broken it down with a two game outburst weeks 9-10 against the Chargers (70+ yards both rushing/receiving and 1 rushing TD) and Rams (70+ yards rushing, 100+ yards receiving and a TD each). Forte is in a contract year and turns 31 in 2016 (this isn't a detonator, you don't need a schematic).

9) Melvin Gordon, SD, RB, 22, 1.15, Wisonsin (6'1", 215)
(14-35-0 rushing, 1-6-0 receiving AND 169-600-0 rushing, 32-186-0 receiving TOTAL)

Gordon's 6 fumbles are second in the NFL (though he is in good company - serial All-Pro Adrian Peterson holds the dubious distinction of #1 in a stat category nobody wants to lead), and he remains scoreless in an overall underwhelming season. On the plus side of the ledger, he is in the top 5 in broken tackles. San Diego is 30th in the league in rushing yards (ahead of only DET and MIA), and dead last with an anemic 3.4 average per rush. The Chargers have been decimated with OL injuries, and the team's 3-10 record (tied with CLE and TEN for league's worst) is a reflection of the general offensive undertow that has dragged their 2015 season under.

10) Duke Johnson, CLE, RB, 22, 3.13, Miami (5'9", 205)
(13-78-0 rushing, 3-18-0 receiving AND 88-296-0 rushing, 49-446-2 receiving TOTAL)

As noted earlier in the season, Johnson overcame a slow start to the season after the trade of 2014 third rounder Terrance West to the Titans alleviated some backfield congestion. He has similar size to fellow gifted pass catching RBs Brian Westbrook and Giovani Bernard. Johnson set rushing records at Miami (a.k.a. RB U, with Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee, etc.). The former all-time Hurricane great could be poised to take on a bigger role going forward, at the expense of gifted but underachieving Isaiah Crowell (his supreme physical tools and rushing talent arguably exceeded by his uninspired approach, lack of minimal professionalism and NFL-caliber preparation).

Standing on the Verge

• Dorial Green-Beckham, TEN
• DeVante Parker, MIA
• Clive Walford, OAK

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

Running Back
• Ameer Abdullah, DET
• Tevin Coleman, ATL
• Matt Jones, WAS
• Javorious Allen, BAL
• Mike Davis, SF
• David Cobb, TEN
• Jay Ajayi, MIA
• Cameron Artis-Payne, CAR

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

Tight End
• Maxx Williams, BAL
• Tyler Kroft, CIN
• Blake Bell, SF
• MyCole Pruitt, MIN
• Jesse James, PIT

IR
Jeff Heuerman
Breshad Perriman
Thomas Rawls

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)
(3 solo tackles, 2 assists AND 49 solo tackles, 6 assists, 5 INTs, 1 TD TOTAL)

Peters had another big tackle game with 6 solos plus an INT and FF two weeks ago against the Raiders, so he has remained atop the CB (and DB) scoring leaders with his multi-talented skill set and complete game. The longer he continues to score prolifically and consistently, the more he will look like those rare exceptions at CB, such as Antoine Winfield, seemingly immune from productivity slumps. Peters is among the league leaders in INTs and PD, while also tied top 5 in solo tackles among CBs.

2) Stephone Anthony, NO, LB, 23, 1.31, Clemson (6'2", 245)
(2 solo tackles, 1 assist AND 58 solo tackles, 37 assists, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF TOTAL)

Anthony was the first true ILB/MLB drafted, embodying the best confluence of *SIZE*, athleticism and talent at his respective position in the class of '15 (if not at the apex of the food chain when it comes to instinctiveness, arguaby the KEY trait or attribute most closely associated with long term LB success, where Kendricks, second rounder Denzel Perryman of San Diego and third rounder Paul Dawson of Cincinnati graded higher). He has surged up the LB board after a sluggish start, and has looked more comfortable and played faster once getting acclimated to the NFL. Anthony has LB1 pedigree, athleticism, opportunity and upside.

3) Ron Darby, BUF, CB, 21, 2.18, Florida State (5'11", 195)
(4 solo tackles AND 57 solo tackles, 7 assists, 2 INTs TOTAL)

Darby is exemplifying the rookie CB rule while being an outstanding two way DB against the run and pass. His 57 solo tackles are one off the pace of league lead at his position, and 21 PD are tied for first.

4) Eric Kendricks, MIN, LB, 23, 2.13, UCLA (6'0", 230)
(6 solo tackles, 2 assists AND 55 solo tackles, 15 assists, 4 sack TOTAL)

Kendricks, somewhat like rookie RB Duke Johnson on offense above, benefited from an in-season trade (former starting MLB Gerald Hodges to SF, in his case). Given that he didn't start until about a month into the season and missed games weeks 9-10 against the Rams and Raiders, he could have even more prolific stats, and be an even stronger Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. He is among the league leaders for LBs that aren't 3-4 outside pass rushers in sacks, and may be more talented and productive than his older brother and fellow UCLA Bruin alumni Mychal. Health could be the only obstacle between Kendricks and greatness. On that note, the fact that Eric is somewhat undersized for MLB coupled with Mychal's already voluminously checkered medical file his short time in Philadelphia does give some pause in guesstimating durability/longevity probability clouds based on physical (and in Mychal's case) genetic precedents.

5) Kwon Alexander, TB, LB, 21, 4.25, LSU (6'1", 227)
(Suspended AND 59 solo tackles, 34 assists, 3 sacks, 2 INTs and 2 FFs TOTAL)

Alexander would be higher on the list, but began serving his four game suspension last week, concluding his rookie rookie REGULAR season. He would be available for the playoffs if the Bucs advance, a prospect looking increasingly bleak after losing to the Rams on Thursday night. Alexander has been a big play machine, and represents the defensive counterpart to Karlos Williams on offense, as a very pleasant surprise representing the lowest pedigree (fourth round) among the top 10 on defense.

6) Landon Collins, NYG, S, 21, 2.1, Alabama (6'0", 215)
(5 solo tackles, 2 assist, 1 FF AND 65 solo tackles, 21 assists, 1 INT and 1 FF TOTAL)

Collins was easily the consensus top prospect from the 2015 safety class (though that may be tantamount to the most Kubrick-like Michael Bay film), and he hasn't disappointed. He is among the top 10 in the league in tackles at his repective position, and with close to WLB size roaming the deep patrol, he has perhaps been better than advertised in coverage. Collins has succeeded at every level, and was both a USA Today All-American as a highly recruited, coveted blue chip prep (add track star to his high school resume, clocking a scorching personal best time of 10.28 in the 100 m.) and a unanimous All-American at Alabama. Like Jacksonville SS Jonathan Cyprien two years before (from the 2013 draft), the fellow initial overall day two pick may always carry a chip on his shoulder for not being drafted in the first round. Incidentally, Mark Carrier drops off the above boilerplate historical Defensive Rookie of the Year list in 2016, as the last safety to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, a quarter of a century ago.

7) Mario Edwards, Jr., OAK, DE, 21, 2.3, Florida State (6'3" 280)
(5 solo tackles, 1 FF AND 33 solo tackles, 8 assists, 2 sacks, 3 FFs TOTAL)

The former USA Today Defensive Player of the Year was a five-star recruit, but was encumbered with the rep of having an inconsistent motor, effort, hustle and sense of urgency, but has been the most productive rookie DE. He is part of a good looking 2015 draft class for the Raiders (with fourth overall pick and Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Amari Cooper, as well as third round TE Clive Walford, who broke receiving records at TE U Miami), and in fact, an exceptional two consecutive drafts (2014 fifth overall pick and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Khalil Mack, as well as starting QB Derek Carr) to give credit where it is due to the phenomomenal recent job turned in by Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie and the rest of the front office and scouting department. The arrow is decidedly pointed up on the storied (per the Autumn Wind narrated by "Voice Of God" John Facenda for NFL Films) franchise's future, personnel-wise, with or without a second jaunt down the El Camino Real, to the City of Angels.

8) Leonard Williams, NYJ, DE, 21, 1.6, USC (6'5", 300)
(1 solo tackle, 1 sack AND 21 solo tackles, 26 assists and 2.5 sacks TOTAL)

After a slow start, he is flashing tantalizing glimpses of why some scouts (like the NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah) graded him as arguably the top overall talent from the class of '15, on either side of the ball. He may never be a DD sack producer (especially playing 3-4 DE), but has the physical talent, athletic ability and skill set for a big man to be extremely disruptive behind the LOS, and a force against the run. He could be primed for a greatly expanded role as soon as 2016 contingent on whether or not the Jets intend to retain DE Muhammad Wilkerson with what would undoubtedly take a blockbuster contract extension.

9) Hau'oli Kikaha, NO, LB, 23, 2.12, Washington (6'3", 245)
(1 solo tackles AND 31 solo tackles, 18 assists, 4 sacks, 3 FFs TOTAL)

Kikaha isn't particularly big, strong or fast, but all he did prior to a mid-season ankle injury was continue to make plays, just like he did in college, when he led the FBS in sacks in 2014. He is a technician that gives maximal effort and extends his opportunity to make a play on every snap. Kikaha was on fire in the first half of his rookie campaign, with all 4 sacks and 3 FFs coming in the first month and a half of the season, but his big play production has fallen off a cliff since suffering an ankle injury in a week 8 game against the Giants. Despite that, his combined seven big plays are tied for the most among rookies with the suspended MLB Kwon Alexander of TB. Most 3-4 OLB pass rush specialists don't offer a lot in run support (and conversely, most 4-3 OLBs more adept in run support don't bring much to the table as pass rushers), but he was projecting for approximately 60+ solo tackles pre-injury.

10) Malcom Brown, NE, DT, 21, 1.32, Texas (6'3", 300)
(2 solo tackles AND 23 solo tackles, 12 assists and 3 sacks)

While not in the same class as recent Defensive Rookie of the Year winners from the DT position, Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, he has played very well for the Patriots, perhaps even exceeding expectations as the critically important replacement for long time New England interior DL institution Vince Wilfork. On the bonus plan, an unexpectedly frisky pass rusher for a behemoth.

Standing on the Verge

• Denzel Perryman, SD
• Damarious Randall, GB
• Jaquiski Tartt, SF

Defensive Tackle
• Eddie Goldman, CHI
• Danny Shelton, CLE
• Jordan Phillips, MIA
• Carl Davis, BAL

Defensive End
• Vic Beasley, ATL
• Frank Clark, SEA
• Randy Gregory, DAL
• Arik Armstead, SF
• Owa Odighizuwa, NYG
• Dannielle Hunter, MIN

Linebacker
• Benardrick McKinney, HOU
• Shaq Thomson, CAR
• Preston Smith, WAS
• Bud Dupree, PIT
• Shane Ray, DEN
• Nate Orchard, CLE
• Markus Golden, ARI
• Eli Harold, SF
• Lorenzo Mauldin, NYJ
• Paul Dawson, CIN
• Ramik Wilson, KC
• Kyle Emanuel, SD
• Jake Ryan, GB

Cornerback
• Tre Waynes, MIN
• Kevin Johnson, HOU
• Byron Jones, DAL
• Jalen Collins, ATL
• Eric Rowe, PHI
• Quinten Rollins, GB
• P.J. Williams, NO

Safety
• Jordan Richards, NE

IR
• Dante Fowler, JAX
• Senquez Golson, PIT
• Jordan Hicks, PHI
• Henry Anderson, PHI

Select Veteran Notes

Offense

Cleveland - QB Johnny Manziel has overcome some habitually boneheaded character and trust issues to be RE-named the starting QB. It would have been a shame if his immaturity and misplaced lingering collegiate sense of entitlement had prevented the Browns from better exploring his potential viability as a long term answer at a position which the Browns have catastrophically failed to develop since their rebooted expansion/inception, with close to two dozen starters in the past decade and a half.

Denver - QB Brock Osweiler is increasingly looking like the answer to the question, what will the post-Peyton Manning QB landscape bring for the Broncos? He is a former hoops star with surprising feet, agility and athleticism given his extremely rare 6'7" length for the position (former Seattle bust Dan McGwire the only other starter in league history measured at 6'7"+, though 6'6" Joe Flacco is nearly as tall and has enjoyed a lot of success prior to the disastrous 2015 season for the Ravens).

NY Jets - Brandon Marshall became the first WR in NFL history to amass 1,000+ receiving yards with four different teams.

Oakland - WR Michael Crabtree recently signed a four year extension worth $35 million ($19 million guaranteed). He is on track for nearly 90 receptions, 1,000+ yards and DD TDs, and the prodigal son didn't need to travel far to resurrect his career across the bay from San Francisco.

St. Louis - WRB (WR/RB hybrid multi-positional designation and abbreviation portmanteau) Tavon Austin became the first NFL player in a half century with 4 rushing TDs, 5 receiving TDs and a punt return TD in the same season, since Gale Sayers. HC Jeff Fisher noted last week that Stedman Bailey, while miraculously surviving two shots to the head, is likely done playing in the NFL. Fisher is one loss from a tie for third most in NFL history (taking him 21 years what took Shula 33 seasons), and 10 losses from the most ever. He fired rookie OC Frank Cignetti and replaced him with TE positional coach Rob Boras (winning both games against the Lions and Bucs since).

Defense

Arizona - FS Tyrann Mathieu and SS Deone Bucannon are both among the IDP scoring leaders at safety. Along with All-Pro caliber CB Patrick Peterson, the Cards have easily the best secondary in the NFL, very possibly Super Bowl worthy (a track they appeared to be on in 2014, before starting QB Carson Palmer went down with a torn ACL injury). Mathieu is having the kind of breakout, spectacular, indisputably revelatory-type of star making season that should merit him wide recognition and serious consideration as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He has been a massive difference maker for one of the best defense's in the NFL.

Carolina - DT Kawann Short doesn't get the publicity and isn't nearly as high profile as MVP candidate Cam Newton and Defensive Player of the Year caliber MLB Luke Kuechly, but is playing at an extremely high level, arguably comparable to Aaron Donald (and higher than Ndamokung Suh, Geno Atkins and Gerald McCoy).

Dallas - DE Demarcus Lawrence got off to a slow start, with only 1 sack in the first half of the season, but now has 6 sacks in as many games in the second half of the season (with three games left in the regular season).

Kansas City - LB Dee Ford seriously availed himself of the opportunity afforded by Justin Houston's balky knee, exploding for 3 sacks against the hapless, fetal position-like Chargers.

NY Jets - DE Muhammad Wilkerson's timing has been impeccable, with an All-Pro caliber season in a contract year, fourth and tied-fifth among DEs in sacks (12) and solo tackles (34), respectively.

Oakland - Khalil Mack has been as hot as any player in football on either side of the ball. After 3 sacks through the first six games, he has 11 in the last seven, including 9 in the past three games (!!!), a great SEASON for all but a handful of elite players. He also has 22 solo tackles in the past month, which would project to nearly 90 over a full season if he could sustain that torrid pace. Mack is an ascendant talent seemingly growing in leaps and bounds from game to game, and is emerging as one of the leading candidates for Defensive Player of the Year.

St. Louis - SS Mark Barron is riding his WLB deployment as replacement for injured Alec Ogletree to a potential top 5 finish among safeties. CB Trumaine Johnson leads all CBs with 6 INTs (including two games in a row, and 4 INTs in his last seven games), and is third among DBs. Barron, Johnson and fellow starting CB Janoris Jenkins couldn't have had better timing in contract seasons, as all have been extremely productive and are around top 5-10 in IDP scoring at their respective positions.

Scouting Profile

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

Jonathan Stewart - Stewart finally had a breakout, with 486 rushing yards in the final five game home stretch of the regular season (counting the two playoff games, 679 rushing in the last seven game span - prorated over an improbable full schedule = 1,552 rushing yards). Long time backfield duty splitter DeAngelo Williams has been subtracted from the roster, with Stewart now primed to step out of the long shadow cast by his ex-running mate (only 28 starts in seven seasons). He missed three games last year, but before the 17 DNPs combined in 2012-2013, he played a full 16 game schedule in three of his first four seasons in the league, with only two missed games total during that time. Stewart finished strong and looked as healthy as he has in years, is a physical specimen and athletic phenom when right, and could be ready to deliver on his greatly anticipated potential.

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

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