Midseason Report Card Grades for Every 1st-Round NFL Rookie

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterOctober 29, 2012

Midseason Report Card Grades for Every 1st-Round NFL Rookie

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    How do you feel about your rookies? How do they look after eight weeks?

    Going back through the picks from Round 1, which players are playing above expectations, which have yet to really make an impact, and which players are already looking like busts?

    Each pick from the 2012 NFL draft's first round gets a grade at the midseason point. Who comes out on top?

1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck

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    Grade: A

    Andrew Luck has been everything the Indianapolis Colts hoped for. And maybe a little more.

    While RGIII makes the highlight reels, Luck is simply winning football games with his uncanny poise and efficiency. After a rough start to the season in Week 1, Luck has settled down and is showing why he was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

    Luck may not make the Pro Bowl or win the Rookie of the Year award, but the fact that the Colts are over .500 at this point is largely due to their first-year quarterback.

2. Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III

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    Grade: A

    Robert Griffin III is having a Rookie of the Year season. When the Washington Redskins traded up for the rights to select the quarterback, there were questions about if he would ultimately be worth the two first-round picks they gave up to secure him. Early indications are that Griffin has been worth it.

    There have been ups and downs, but Griffin has been an exciting, energizing presence for the Washington offense. While the Redskins grow around him, Griffin is providing the spark the team needed to realize its potential. Throw in rookie running back Alfred Morris and Washington has one of the most promising backfields in the NFL.

3. Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson

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    Grade: B+

    If it weren't for a few nagging injuries, running back Trent Richardson would carry a solid A grade.

    When in the game, Richardson has been electric. His burst, strength and vision are all at an elite level. It's easy to see that if Richardson can stay healthy, he's in line to be one of the best running backs in the league. The talent is there.

4. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil

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    Grade: B-

    The only thing keeping Matt Kalil from an A is his run-blocking performance so far this season.

    The No. 4 overall pick has been very good in pass protection, allowing just one sack, but his run-blocking leaves something to be desired. While he continues to develop all aspects of his game, there's no doubt that Kalil is the left tackle of the present and the future for the Vikings.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Blackmon

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    Grade: F

    The Jacksonville Jaguars traded up to No. 5 to land wide receiver Justin Blackmon, hoping he would be the game-changing talent to open up the offense with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. Instead, Blackmon has been uninspiring.

    Blackmon has had plenty of opportunities, but through the first eight weeks he's shown little fire and has been a disappointing route-runner—something he was supposed to excel at early on.

    There's no other way to put it: Blackmon has been a failure.

6. Dallas Cowboys: Morris Claiborne

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    Grade: B+

    The Dallas Cowboys needed to remake their defense this offseason, and a trade up in the first round to land LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne was the final step. Claiborne has repaid them with solid play early on.

    As with any rookie, there have been highs and lows this season, but Claiborne has flashed a very high potential. Look back to his Week 7 play against the Carolina Panthers and you see a young cornerback with the size and quickness to effect great change from the edge of the defense.

    Claiborne isn't there yet, but we're seeing the makings of a great NFL cornerback in his first eight weeks.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mark Barron

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    Grade: C-

    It's expected that rookies will improve over the course of the season, and that's what Mark Barron has done. 

    The Buccaneers made Barron part of their retooling on defense, aiming for a tougher, more physical style of play. The strong safety has brought that to the run defense, but his coverage skills are still raw.

    Barron hasn't provided the impact expected of a top-10 pick, but the potential is definitely there for him to become an all-around safety.

8. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill

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    Grade: A-

    Ryan Tannehill has been every bit the franchise quarterback the Miami Dolphins saw when they made him the No. 8 overall pick in the draft. 

    Tannehill's play through eight weeks is one of the bigger surprises in the league, and most definitely from the 2012 draft class. The fact that Miami sits at 4-3 at midseason is remarkable, and much of that comes from Tannehill's solid play.

9. Carolina Panthers: Luke Kuechly

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    Grade: C

    Depending on what you look at, Luke Kuechly is either a stud or a dud. It's interesting that both may be correct.

    Kuechly is ranked as the No. 40 4-3 outside linebacker by Pro Football Focus, but others call him a stud. Since moving inside to middle linebacker, Kuechly has been playing better, but recording double-digit sacks isn't as impressive when you look at where on the field he's making those tackles.

    Kuechly has been improving, and he's admittedly playing with little talent in front of him at defensive tackle, but let's hold off on crowning him until he starts making tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage.

10. Buffalo Bills: Stephon Gilmore

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    Grade: C-

    The good and bad with Stephon Gilmore through eight weeks:

    Good: He's allowing only 53.8 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed.

    Bad: He's allowing a passer rating of 110.

    Gilmore is still learning, and the Bills have decided to let him learn on the job. But with that comes inconsistency. Gilmore has the tools, but thus far he's struggling.

11. Kansas City Chiefs: Dontari Poe

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    Grade: F

    The selection of Dontari Poe with the No. 11 overall pick is in the running for the worst selection of the 2012 draft. 

    Through eight weeks, Poe has played in just 60 percent of Kansas City's defensive plays, and in those snaps he has yet to make an impact. Poe has zero sacks and just seven tackles to show for his high first-round selection.

    If Scott Pioli fails to survive the Chiefs' 2012 season, the selection of Poe may very well be used as one justification for firing him.

12. Philadelphia Eagles: Fletcher Cox

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    Grade: C+

    Fletcher Cox hasn't been bad, but he hasn't been great either. Somewhere in between lies the value of the No. 12 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

    Cox has been a solid rotational defensive tackle, but he's logged just one sack and only one start through the first eight weeks. The Eagles have good talent on the defensive line, so it's not a massive surprise that Cox isn't starting, but more was expected of him.

13. Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd

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    Grade: F

    Michael Floyd has barely seen the field for the Arizona Cardinals—he's participated in just 38.4 percent of the team's plays—and even when he's on the field, Floyd hasn't been an impact player.

    The 13th overall selection, he was supposed to be a viable target opposite Larry Fitzgerald. Those who claim that head coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn't play rookie wideouts should see the team's losing streak as evidence that Floyd is needed.

14. St. Louis Rams: Michael Brockers

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    Grade: C-

    Michael Brockers is a good example of a player who has one skill set and is working to develop others. 

    In Brockers' case, his ability to step up in the run game has been impressive. The rookie DT has been stout on first and second down, providing a bit of beef in the middle of an athletic defense. 

    Where Brockers hasn't helped much yet is as a pass-rusher. He wasn't asked to do this much at LSU, but he needs to start producing as much on third down as he does on first and second.

15. Seattle Seahawks: Bruce Irvin

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    Grade: B-

    Fans will remember Bruce Irvin's big performance against the Green Bay Packers, but what else has he done? Quite a bit.

    Irvin had a brilliant Monday Night Football debut against the Packers in Week 3, and doubled down with another two-sack performance against the Carolina Panthers in Week 5. Much like Michael Brockers, Irvin is a one-skill player who is doing well in limited reps.

    If asked to be an every-down player and work against the run, something Irvin has done just 44 times all season, we'd be talking about a player who is struggling to adapt to the game. While Irvin has been a very good pass-rusher, his grade is based on total play, not just situational statistics.

16. New York Jets: Quinton Coples

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    Grade: B-

    The middle of the 2012 draft's first round was loaded with defensive linemen. Quinton Coples, like many of his peers, has been good in spots, bad in others.

    The biggest complaint with Coples' play this year has been his lack of reps. The No. 16 pick hasn't been able to beat out Mike Devito on the depth chart, and as part of a three-man rotation on the line he's played in just 53.5 percent of the Jets' snaps. Not quite what you'd like from a first-round pick.

    Coples' actual play has been solid. He's playing well as a pass-rusher from the 3-4 defensive end role and also stepping up against the run. Coples' talent isn't questioned, but the knock on him pre-draft was his drive and motivation. How well he plays down the stretch will depend on those two things.

17. Cincinnati Bengals: Dre Kirkpatrick

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    Grade: INC

    The Cincinnati Bengals planned to line Dre Kirkpatrick up in a secondary featuring Leon Hall, Nate Clements and Adam Jones. Instead, Kirkpatrick has been on the sidelines all season recovering from a knee injury.

18. San Diego Chargers: Melvin Ingram

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    Grade: C-

    When Melvin Ingram is on the field, he's impressive. The trouble is that he has not been on the field much. 

    Through eight weeks, Ingram is playing just 36.5 percent of the time on the NFL's No. 21 ranked pass defense. The Chargers haven't exactly dominated when getting to the quarterback this year, and their first-rounder has yet to make an impact in that department.

    More was expected of Ingram, and more is definitely needed.

19. Chicago Bears: Shea McClellin

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    Grade: C+

    Like other defenders drafted in the middle of the first round, Shea McClellin is doing most of his damage as a rotational defender. 

    McClellin has been a nice addition to the Chicago defense at left defensive end, and you can see that he's starting to "get it" more and more with each passing week. As he transitions and develops, McClellin will need to see more reps, but the early impression is that his move to the NFL will be a good one.

20. Tennessee Titans: Kendall Wright

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    Grade: C

    Surprised to see Kendall Wright's grade through eight weeks? Don't be.

    While the Tennessee Titans wideout has been the most impactful receiver of any 2012 draftee, there are still issues here. Like the fact that Wright is tied for the third-most drops in the NFL after eight games.

    He's been good, but don't let the highlight fool you. Wright has much growing and learning to do.

21. New England Patriots: Chandler Jones

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    Grade: A

    Chandler Jones is an early favorite for the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and the New England Patriots couldn't be happier with his production.

    Jones was an instant starter for the Patriots, and he delivered from Week 1 on their investment. With six sacks, Jones leads the AFC East front-runners in that category and has added three forced fumbles. With his ability to get to the quarterback, and his impressive run-defending skills, Jones is clearly a game-changer for Bill Belichick's team.

22. Cleveland Browns: Brandon Weeden

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    Grade: B-

    When Brandon Weeden was drafted by the Cleveland Browns 22nd overall, I didn't like the pick. When Weeden struggled out of the gate, I didn't like the pick. Eight weeks in, I'm warming up to the pick.

    The fact is that Weeden, already 29 years old, has a shortened NFL window. On that basis alone, his selection was questionable. The only way to save face was for Weeden to hit the NFL running and develop faster than expected. 

    Eight weeks in, Weeden is doing better than expected. He's transitioning well in some regards, while other areas (outside accuracy, looking off the safety) are still trailing. Will he be a long-term starter? I'm still doubtful, but his play at least gives the Browns a chance in 2012.

    That said, Pro Football Focus still ranks Weeden as the second-worst starter in the league

23. Detroit Lions: Riley Reiff

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    Grade: INC

    Depending on who you ask, not much was expected of Riley Reiff during the 2012 season. That's good, because the Detroit Lions are definitely waiting to see what they have in their first-rounder.

    Reiff has seen the field as a sixth offensive lineman, coming in on jumbo sets and working mostly as an extra blocker in run situations. Judging from the 54 snaps he's partaken in, Reiff looks good. But that sample size is so small that we have yet to really get a feel for what he can and can't do.

    Reiff remains a wait-and-see pick at this point.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers: David DeCastro

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    Grade: INC

    A preseason injury shut David DeCastro down for the first half of the season, which is unfortunate for both player and team. The Pittsburgh Steelers had a steal (terrible pun, right?) in DeCastro, and hoped he would help solidify a young offensive line. 

    DeCastro has been put on ice and will most likely be back for the 2013 season, though there is a chance he plays at some point after November 12, when he's free to come off the injury report.

25. New England Patriots: Dont'a Hightower

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    Grade: A

    As good as Chandler Jones has been at defensive end, Dont'a Hightower has been just as impactful at outside linebacker.

    The Alabama product has been good from the get-go, showing up in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans with five tackles and three quarterback hurries. He hasn't looked back since, posting 21 tackles and two sacks on the year.

    Hightower and Jones have both been impressive early on, and like his new teammate, Hightower deserves an A.

26. Houston Texans: Whitney Mercilus

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    Grade: C

    The Houston Texans are one of the best teams in the NFL, and with that comes a balanced roster loaded with playmakers. So when the Texans drafted Whitney Mercilus, many were confused. Others proclaimed it was to stash him for the 2013 season.

    It's been a bit of both.

    Mercilus has rarely played this year, but he has been impactful when on the field. The Texans have moved him around often, even lining up at nose tackle, in order to get the most athletes on the field.

    The rare glimpses have been promising, but this is still a pick I question. 

27. Cincinnati Bengals: Kevin Zeitler

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    Grade: A

    The Cincinnati Bengals haven't found greatness yet from their first selection in the 2012 NFL draft, but they have struck gold with their second pick.

    Kevin Zeitler has been one of the few bright spots for the Bengals' interior offensive line this season. His ability to play balanced, power football from the right guard position has been a breath of fresh air for fans who suffered through the Bobbie Williams era. 

    Zeitler has allowed just one sack on the year—in Week 1 against Baltimore—and has been equally impressive in the run game. The Bengals have a star on their hands in young Mr. Zeitler.

28. Green Bay Packers: Nick Perry

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    Grade: C+

    When the Green Bay Packers drafted Nick Perry out of USC, they drafted a pass-rusher with limited experience against the run and in coverage. Unfortunately, Green Bay has needed Perry to do both this season.

    Sadly for Perry, fans only remember his poor Week 1 performance against San Francisco, where he was forced into coverage and looked lost. Since then, he's been solid, turning in two sacks before being injured in Week 6. 

    Perry is a work in progress, but he's been solid so far.

29. Minnesota Vikings: Harrison Smith

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    Grade: A

    When the Minnesota Vikings traded back into the first round to grab Harrison Smith, you knew immediately that the team had a playmaker. 

    Smith is a perfect fit for Leslie Frazier's defense, and it's showed early on in the season. Smith has become a solid enforcer at strong safety, allowing guys like Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield room to gamble more at cornerback. 

    Smith's coverage has been as good as expected, and he's also adding an element of toughness to a secondary that too often was on the receiving end of beatings last year.

30. San Francisco 49ers: A.J. Jenkins

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    Grade: INC

    How do you grade a wide receiver who has yet to see the active roster on game day?

    A.J. Jenkins is stuck behind Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams on the depth chart, and barring injury he won't be seeing the field anytime soon. San Francisco is essentially redshirting Jenkins, and for that reason he's receiving an incomplete from us.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Martin

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    Grade: A

    Doug Martin has been a welcome addition to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense. In fact, he's been so good that there are rumors his backup, LeGarrette Blount, may be traded

    Martin has improved each week, and in Week 8's win over the Minnesota Vikings he was untouchable. The comparisons to Ray Rice are almost too easy to make, but that's the role and upside Martin has. As long as the Buccaneers keep handing him the ball, good things will happen.

32. New York Giants: David Wilson

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    Grade: D+

    David Wilson's role in the New York Giants backfield virtually ended when he fumbled in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys. Since that game, Wilson has carried the ball just 13 times, as Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown have taken over the running back duties.

    Wilson has been a good kick returner, but the Giants didn't use their first-round pick on a return man. With Wilson in Tom Coughlin's doghouse, this looks like a rare Jerry Reese miss on draft day.