The NFL regular season has come to a close and with it ends many fantastic seasons by rookies. This class played as advertised, with a number of fantastic players, specifically at the wide receiver position. It truly was a great year for rookies, but here are the best first year players at each position…
2nd Overall Prospect, 1st Quarterback, 1st Round Grade
While the other rookie quarterbacks flashed throughout the year, none progressed each game like Bridgewater did throughout the season. His poise and intelligence were clear from the beginning and he improved as a passer as the year went on. He was able to overcome incredibly underwhelming play by his supporting cast, specifically his offensive line, to look like the best rookie quarterback by far. The Vikings got a great pick when they selected Bridgewater wight the 32nd pick in the draft, and he looks to be the future of that franchise.
Nov 30, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) looks on during the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Panthers 31-13. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Second Team: Derek Carr (Oakland Raiders)
213th Overall Prospect, 12th Running Back, 6th Round Grade
No doubt I was skeptical of the Bengals taking Jeremy Hill in the second round given several on and off the field concerns, but he certainly proved himself as a talented NFL running back. His power and drive as a runner helped him notch over a thousand rushing yards in his rookie season. He was fantastic picking up tough yards and had his fair share of big runs. He was a huge part of the Bengals offensive success and they have to be happy with his pairing with Gio Bernard going forward.
Nov 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) runs against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Bengals defeated the Saints 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
72nd Overall Prospect, 3rd Running Back, 2nd Round Grade
Sankey’s statistical season may be a bit underwhelming, but it is very important to look beyond the numbers. Due to poor run blocking and teams constantly stacking the box, Sankey was forced to create a lot of yards for himself. He did a good job throughout the season getting yards after contact and making players miss in space. He also made solid contributions in the passing game. His lack of use was very curious, but hopefully the Titans can use him more going into next season.
Second Team: Branden Oliver (San Diego Chargers), Jerick McKinnon (Minnesota Vikings)
Odell Beckham Jr.
New York Giants
21st Overall Prospect, 2nd Wide Receiver, 1st Round Grade
Despite missing time to start the season, Beckham went on a tear as soon as he started playing. He went through the last eight games of the season playing like one of the best wide receivers in the entire league. His route running, hands, speed, quickness and incredibly dominant play at the catch point made him a threat in every facet of the wide receiver position. In retrospect, him making it out of the top ten in the draft was a miracle for the Giants.
Nov 23, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) makes a one handed catch for a touchdown in second quarter as he is defended by Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr (39) at Metlife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/NJ Advance Media for NJ.com via USA TODAY Sports
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
30th Overall Prospect, 4th Wide Receiver, 1st Round Grade
There was some warranted concern with Mike Evans and how quickly his playing style would translate to the NFL. As it so happens, it will translate very quickly. His ability to go up and get the ball in any kind of situation was a huge factor in his immediate success and the concerns about his separating at the NFL level were quickly dispelled. He was fantastic this season and the fact that he was productive with Mike Glennon and Josh McCown throwing him the ball bodes well for him. It should be exciting if and when the Bucs pair him with a talented rookie quarterback next year.
Nov 16, 2014; Landover, MD, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) catches a touchdown pass ahead of Washington Redskins inside linebacker Perry Riley (56) in the fourth quarter at FedEx Field. The Buccaneers won 27-7. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Second Team: Jordan Matthews (Philadelphia Eagles), Jarvis Landry (Miami Dolphins)
145th Overall Prospect, 10th Tight End, 4th Round Grade
The rookie tight ends this year were incredibly disappointing as a whole, but there were some bright spots along the way. Gilmore, while not being a huge factor in the passing game, contributed a lot as a blocker for the Ravens and he did a a very good job throughout the season. Hopefully, he and the rest of this class’ tight ends get to be more involved next season.
Second Team: Jace Amaro (New York Jets)
43rd Overall Prospect, 6th Tackle, 2nd Round Grade
Despite not getting a ton of playing time due to injuries, Lewan showed out when given the opportunity. His size and athletic ability were evident in his mean run blocking and his being able to hold in pass protection. I am looking forward to seeing him play a full season next year. He should be very good.
105th Overall Prospect, 14th Tackle, 3rd Round Grade
An up and down season for the first round pick, James had a lot of good moments that the Dolphins should be excited about. He had games where he looked strong as a run blocker and in the passing game, doing a good job of keeping Ryan Tannehill clean. James had plenty of rough games as well, especially when he moved to left tack partway through the season, but he still displayed enough to be excited about going forward.
Second Team: Jake Matthews (Atlanta Falcons), Cornelius Lucas (Detroit Lions)
31st Player, 6th Offensive Lineman, 1st Round Grade
The Cowboys had one of their best seasons in recent memory and it was in big part to their offensive line play. Martin was a huge player along their line, doing a fantastic job as a pass blocker the entire season. He was one of the few offensive lineman to play more than a thousand snaps all season without allowing a sack (Per Pro Football Focus). To go with his pass protection, Martin was also a big part of the Cowboys’ productive rushing offense. Many people were skeptical with this pick when it happened, but Martin is going to be a very good player for a long time in Dallas.
Nov 2, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys tackle Jermey Parnell (78) and guard Zack Martin (70) and quarterback Brandon Weeden (3) in game action against the Arizona Cardinalsat AT&T Stadium. Arizona beat Dallas 28-17. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
12th Overall Player, 3rd Offensive Lineman, 1st Round Grade
Joel Bitonio finished the season as one of the best offensive linemen in the league. He was fantastic in pass protection all year and displayed the most dominant run blocking I saw from anyone throughout the entire season. He was a huge part of the early offensive success in Cleveland and he will be a big part of that team for a very long time.
Second Team: Brandon Linder (Jacksonville Jaguars), Gabe Jackson (Oakland Raiders)
Green Bay Packers
Linsley had an outstanding season in Green Bay this year, and it is not over yet. He was good in pass protection during the season and showed rare strength for a center in the run game. He was a complete player from the beginning and the Packers have to be pleased with the young cornerstone alone their line.
Second Team: Bryan Stork (New England Patriots)
Interior Defensive Line
St. Louis Rams
46th Overall Prospect, 7th IDL, 2nd Round Grade
If anything is abundantly clear, it is that I wildly underrated Aaron Donald during the draft process. His burst at the line and astounding use of leverage was immediately impacting football games and it lasted throughout the year. He finished the season as arguably the top Three Technique in the entire league. He was dominant rushing the passer and stopping the run. He is going to be a great player in St. Louis.
Nov 9, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Rams 31-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
92nd Overall Prospect, 10th IDL, 3rd Round Grade
Despite not getting meaning playing time until late in the season, Jernigan made his presence felt very quickly. He displayed strong play as a pass rusher as soon as he stepped onto the filed and contributed as a run stopper as well. There were significant concerns about his technique and his motor heading into the season, but he seemed to have that all fixed by the time he got more playing time.
Second Team: Zach Kerr (Indianapolis Colts), Justin Ellis (Oakland Raiders)
5th Overall Prospect, 2nd Linebacker, 1st Round Grade
Khalil Mack was the best player on his team from day one and he quickly established himself as one of the best defenders in the league as the season went on. He was as good a run defender as there is in the NFL and he was an impacting pass rusher almost immediately. The numbers were not all there for him due to teams game planning around him, but the disruption was very much evident. He is an incredibly exciting player and I am looking forward to seeing how he builds on a dominant rookie season.
Dec 7, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack (52) celebrates behind San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) after a Raiders sack against the 49ers during the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
San Fransisco 49ers
75th Overall Player, 6th Edge defender, 2nd Round Grade
With Aldon Smith missing a big chunk of last season, the 49ers called upon Lynch to step in and man the edge of their defense. Lynch responded in a big way, creating pressure off the edge from day one. His quickness and length were big assets in his success and his development going forward is exciting. Seeing Smith andLynch across from each other next season will be quite the spectacle.
Second Team: Jonathan Newsome (Colts), Trent Murphy (Washington)
3rd Overall Player, 1st Linebacker, 1st Round Grade
Mosley made his presence felt from day one in the middle of Baltimore’s defense. He made an impact in the running game, was able to make plays in the passing game, and even had some splash plays as a blitzer. His on field IQ made him at home immediately and his ability to play in all facets of the game made him an every down weapon for Baltimore’s defense.
Oct 26, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tight end Ryan Hewitt (89) makes a catch and is brought down by Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (57) during the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
94th Overall Player, 9th Linebacker, 3rd Round Grade
While many projected Barr as an edge defender, I thought his skill set was more conducive to playing off the ball in space. Though I underrated how quickly he would pick up the more nuanced parts of the position, he excelled playing outside linebacker in Mike Zimmer‘s 4-3 defense. His first step and ability to function in space was a sight to behold. He attacked the line of scrimmage with great aggression, looked very fluid and competent in coverage. Zimmer lined him up all over the place and used his first step to create pressure on blitzes and it worked very well. Barr is a weapon on defense, and he should be a mainstay in Minnesota for a long time.
Oct 26, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr (55) breaks the tackle of Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) for a 27-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown to win the game as the Vikings beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19-13 in overtime at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers
76th Overall Prospect, 7th Edge Player, 2nd Round Grade
Due to injuries at the inside linebacker position, Borland was thrust into a starting role in the middle of the season. As soon as he stepped in, he made a significant impact. His run defense was terrifyingly good and he held his own in coverage. It should be interesting to see what happens with the 49ers defense with a new coach coming in along with Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis returning, but hopefully Borland is somewhere in the plans.
Second Team: Telvin Smith (Jacksonville Jaguars), Preston Brown (Buffalo Bills), Avery Williamson (Tennessee Titans)
Despite spending two drat picks on cornerbacks, it was the Browns’ undrafted free agent K’Wuan Williams who shined as their best rookie corner. Williams was a very solid cover corner out of the slot, using great quickness and instincts to make an impact there. Not only was he playing solid coverage, but he did a good job coming up to attack the run and make tackles. Finding Williams was fantastic for Cleveland and they have a ton of young, athletic defensive backs on the roster now.
San Diego Chargers
10th Overall Player, 1st Corner, 1st round pick.
Unfortunately for Verrett and all that love seeing him play, he got knocked out of the season rather early with an injury. However, his injury should not take away from the fact that he was playing at an incredibly high level of football before he went down. Not only was he arguably the best rookie, but he was one of the best corners in the league. His coverage skills translated from day one and he was locking guys down like a veteran player. He is physical, has no issues tackling in space and coming up against the run. We can all only hope Verrett stays healthy throughout his career, because he has a very bright future.
Oct 12, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett (22) intercepts a pass intended for Oakland Raiders receiver Brice Butler (12) in the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Chargers defeated the Raiders 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Second Team: EJ Gaines (St. Louis Rams), Bené Benwikere (Carolina Panthers)
Ha Ha Clinton Dix
Green Bay Packers
9th Overall Player, 1st Safety, 1st Round Grade
Clinton Dix had an up and down season, but overall he was a very solid player for the Packers. He was able to move around the secondary and make a positive impact wherever he was playing. He showed ability to play the run, cove over the top and work underneath or in man coverage. He is a very versatile safety and he flashed throughout this year. If he is able to build on his weaknesses, he could be quite a payer in Green Bay.
180th Overall Player, 19th Overall Safety, 6th Round Grade
One of the biggest surprises for me was the strong play of Tre Boston once he was called upon in Carolina. Carolina liked to move him around a bit, but he made his biggest impact at free safety. His range and recognition ability over the top made him a very important player for that secondary and he was also a big player coming up against the run. Boston was always a very good athlete, but he has developed incredibly well in Carolina into a football player. I look forward to watching more of him in the playoffs.
Dec 28, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Carolina Panthers free safety Tre Boston (33) returns an interception for a touchdown past Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) during the second half at the Georgia Dome. The Panthers defeated the Falcons 34-3. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Second Team: Deone Bucannon (Arizona Cardinals), Calvin Pryor (New York Jets)
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Joel Bitonio (Cleveland Browns)
Bitonio finishes the season as one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL. His athletic ability, nasty run blocking and strength in pass protection make him a complete player and Cleveland has to be thrilled with him.
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
Runner Up: Odell Beckham Jr. (New York Giants)
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Khalil Mack (Oakland Raiders)
A strong case can be made that Mack is not only the best rookie defender, but that he was one of the top defensive players in the league last season. His elite run defense and the disruption he caused in the passing game made him an absolute monster to play against. He is in for a long and disruptive career.
November 20, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) is pressured by Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack (52) during the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Runner Up: Aaron Donald (St. Louis Rams)