Looking Back: Observations on The Rookies


Before the draft happened in May, I and many others spent month after month putting time into watching, evaluating and projecting hundreds of different prospects. It is certainly a a great experience to look at how rookies have played thus far and reflect on my evaluation process. Here are some quick thoughts on rookie play.

It is pretty clear that

Sammy Watkins is legit

. There was some controversy when I, unlike many others, did not think Sammy Watkins was an elite wide receiver prospect. He was my third ranked wide receiver behind

Jordan Matthews


Odell Beckham Jr.

, all of whom were ranked rarely close together in the 20s on my board. At this point it seems I overthought Sammy Watkins as a prospect. He has otherworld physical gifts that include ludicrous speed, strength and soft hands. His lack of nuance that I had issues with in college may have been the offense he was in or me overthinking things. I still stand by that the price the Bills gave up for him was pretty crazy given their issues, but they certainly got a special player who will make an impact for them for years. Even with Watkins playing at a high level, it is not lose that…

Oct 19, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) catches the game tying touchdown during the second half against the Minnesota Vikings at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buffalo beats Minnesota 17 to 16. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

  • This receiver class is as advertised. Pretty much everyone leading up to the draft realized the special group of wide receivers coming out and those players are all showing up for their teams early. Odell Beckham has been outstanding as he has come back from injuries that kept him out to start the season. Jordan Matthews has made an impact as the Eagles slot receiver, offering a big target over the middle. Davante Adams is slowly becoming a bigger part of the explosive Packers offense. Kelvin Benjamin is the key cog in the Panthers passing game. The list goes on and on and on. There are teams wh0 are getting contributions from later round picks like the Ravens’ Michael Campanaro, The Cardinals’ John Brown and the Jaguars’ UDFA receiver, Allen Hurns. This list is insane and I am incredibly excited about all the young talent at wide receiver in the league right now. As for some of the quarterbacks…
  • Blake Bortles is playing like I thought he would…

    Bortles was a somewhat polarizing prospect late in draft season with many people projecting him to go as high as first overall. I scratched my head a bit because, despite great size and poise, everything else about Bortles, such as his mechanics and decision making, was pretty raw. I pegged him with a late second round grade but the Jaguars obviously felt much better about him in order to take him with the 3rd overall pick. After sitting a few games behind Chad Henne, Bortles finally got on the field and played. Like in college, Bortles had moments of brilliants that make you want to stand up out of your seat, and then he will make a boneheaded decision or throw a very inaccurate pass. Obviously these are struggles that you expect from a rookie, but he is showing a lot of the issues that made me give him such a relatively low grade. He absolutely has the ability to be a very good player in this league, and I think that he will, but it is crazy to think that he went third overall and

    Oct 12, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) is sacked by Tennessee Titans inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard (59) during the second half at LP Field. Titans won 16-14. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

  • Derek Carr is lighting it up as a second rounder. I was incredibly high on Carr during the process and the only person who liked him more than I did was probably the editor of this site, Pete Smith. Carr fell in the draft potentially due to some overblown narratives about his pocket presence and the fact that he lost to a big school in a bowl game or some insanity. Regardless, Carr has been an outstanding rookie for the Raiders. Yes, he has had his rookie moments, but he had exhibited poise, his big arm and good accuracy. He is playing like a high first round pick and doing wonders with a mostly dreadful roster around him. The Raiders have to be ecstatic about him. Speaking of the Raiders…
  • The Raiders class has been awesome

    . Remember, Derek Carr went in the second round and the Raiders got stud linebacker,

    Khalil Mack

    with their first round pick. Mack has been a one man wrecking machine for the Raiders, bringing heat off the edge and doing an outstanding job in the running game. He has been amazing, but the Raiders are also making dividends off of later round picks

    Justin Ellis

    , who will be stepping in as their starting nose tackle, and

    TJ Carrie,

    a rookie corner out of Ohio who has done a really good job when on the field. Oh, I forgot to mention their third round guard,

    Gabe Jackson

    , who famously silenced

    JJ Watt

    a few weeks ago. The Raiders may be 0-6 right now, but there is a ton of hope for the future with their rookie class.

    Oct 19, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) prepares to throw a pass against the Arizona Cardinals in the first quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 19, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack (52) encourages the crowd to cheer during a break in the action against the Arizona Cardinals in the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    The Browns are getting some early returns too.

    Even without one of their first round ice,

    Johnny Manziel,

    playing, the Browns are still getting outstanding contributions from their rookie class.

    Justin Gilbert

    has done a good job improving each week despite a bad start to the season,

    Joel Bitonio

    has been one of the best guards in the league,

    Christian Kirksey

    has made an impact when he has been on the field and

    Terrance West

    has run hard for the most part. The Browns are also getting big contributions from UDFAs

    Isaiah Crowell


    Ku’Waun Williams

    . The Browns have done an outstanding job bringing together young talent and the future certainly looks bright.

    Sep 14, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive end Billy Winn (90) and guard Joel Bitonio (75) celebrate after Billy Cundiff (not pictured) kicked the game winning field goal to defeat the New Orleans Saints 26-24 at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

  • I need to start taking injuries into account when evaluating these players. I often ignored injury history due to my general inability to predict a player’s health in the future based off of history, but it is quite obvious that it matters. Four players in my Top 10; Jadaveon ClowneyDominique EasleyLouis Nix and Jason Verrett all had injury issues while in college that I, for the most part, disregarded in my grades. Clowney barely has seen the field this season due to a week one injury, Easley still does not look fully recovered from an ACL surgery, Louis Nix is on IR and Jason Verrett, while he has been outstanding on the field, has been hampered by a shoulder injury all season. I want to just look at these guys from a film perspective, but it is clear I need to be more fastidious than that.
  • Offensive tackle play is about length and strength more than feet and quickness

    . This thought is a few years in the process but it is more clear to me than ever. After loving the likes of

    Jake Matthews


    Luke Joekel

    , and

    Matt Kalil

    for their quickness and intelligence, it is clear that can only due so much as all of them are struggling right now. While they are struggling, guys like

    Taylor Lewan


    Seantrel Henderson,

    Ju’Waun James


    DJ Fluker

    are all playing much better due to their superb arm length and functional lower and upper body strength. I did not like a lot of those guys as much as the first three I mentioned due to sloppy tech or lack of foot quickness, but it is clear that they possessed the basic fundamental tools to succeed as an NFL tackle. It has definitely changed my view on scouting tackles.

    Sep 28, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Tennessee Titans tackle Taylor Lewan (77) against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    We could be seeing the same things, but giving them different value

    . This is a huge part of the evaluation process both before and after these guys make it into the pros. Perceived strengths or flaws a player has are so hard to come to terms with with a big audience because different people give things different levels of value. “What does it matter if he drops this pass if he can catch this one.” “What does it matter if he can get pushed around in the run if he can make huge splash plays from time to time.” Splash plays really can throw things off base because some people think the offset a players flaws, and while I am not knocking that opinion, it is not my style. Guys like

    Kelvin Benjamin




    were maddeningly inconsistent college players and, in my view, are very similar in the pros. However, people, including teams, are willing to take the bad when there is good delivered in spurts and then they hope for development. I love to see consistency from players and prospects, but I could absolutely understand people valuing different aspects than I would.

    Sep 22, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) carries as New York Jets free safety Calvin Pryor (25) comes in for the stop during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

  • We know nothing. Obviously it is fun to observe players right now, but everything can change in an instant and that is the beauty of football. Everything is fluid. These were just some quick thoughts and believe me I have many more, but it is going to be fun to see this obviously very talented rookie class continue their play this year and beyond.