NFL Rookie Report: Grading Every Rookie Class Heading into Week 15

Matt Stein@MatthewJSteinCorrespondent IIDecember 13, 2012

NFL Rookie Report: Grading Every Rookie Class Heading into Week 15

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    With the 2012 NFL regular season only three weeks from being completed, we've got a pretty good feel for just how good every rookie class has been this year.

    While it is still way too early to consider players a bust after only 14 weeks, there have certainly been plenty of disappointing rookies this season. However, guys like Robert Griffin III, Casey Hayward and Doug Martin have proved that not all rookies aren't living up to expectations.

    Today, we bring you our NFL rookie report card, where we'll grade each team's rookie class heading into Week 15.

Arizona Cardinals: D

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Bobby Massie, OT

    Had we been grading the Arizona Cardinals' rookie class early in the season, it would have had a much lower grade than a "D." However, with the improvement of Bobby Massie at offensive tackle in the second half of the season, the Cardinals' grade is starting to move in the right direction.

    The biggest problem is that no other rookie is making much of an impact aside from Massie. Michael Floyd has only notched 28 receptions for 312 yards and a touchdown in limited time this season.

    Of course, it doesn't help to have Ryan Lindley and John Skelton throwing you the ball, but the Cardinals certainly expected more production from their first-round pick.

    Speaking of Lindley, he looks like the definition of a long-term project right now. In four games, he didn't throw a single touchdown pass, completed less than 50 percent of his passes and had seven total turnovers. I know he was thrown into a difficult situation, but those numbers are just terrible.

    Nothing is going right in Arizona at the moment, and that includes the 2012 rookie class.

Atlanta Falcons: D-

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Peter Konz, OG

    The Atlanta Falcons didn't have much to work with in the 2012 NFL draft thanks to trading for Julio Jones in 2011, so they weren't expecting much from their rookie class this season.

    However, I don't think anyone expected this group of rookies to have this little of an impact. The only rookie of note has been Peter Konz, who has been a decent starting guard for the team.

    There is still some potential for this class to make an impact in the upcoming years, especially with Bradie Ewing coming back and the development of Jonathan Massaquoi. Unfortunately, the group has been a major disappointment so far.

Baltimore Ravens: B

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Kelechi Osemele, OT

    On paper, it appeared as if the Baltimore Ravens had one of the best drafts in the league. But while the team's rookie class has been good, it hasn't been as dominant as many expected it to be before the start of the season.

    Second-round pick Courtney Upshaw has played decently so far this season, but he is far from the dominant and polished player many pegged him as coming out of the draft. He only has 52 total tackles and 1.5 sacks on the season.

    As far the best pick the Ravens made, that honor goes to Kelechi Osemele as of right now. He's started every game of the season at right tackle and has played well in both the run and passing game.

    The Ravens have even gotten production from undrafted free agent Justin Tucker, who continues to provide steady play at kicker.

    All in all, Baltimore has to be pleased with how its young players have played this season.

Buffalo Bills: C+

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Cordy Glenn, OT

    Only three of the Buffalo Bills' rookies have gotten a good chunk of playing time this season. Those three are cornerback Stephon Gilmore, outside linebacker Nigel Bradham and offensive tackle Cordy Glenn.

    Of those three, only Glenn has been able to have a real impact on a consistent basis. Both Bradham and Gilmore have been mediocre at best—especially Gilmore, who has had difficulty making plays in the secondary.

    The only other rookie to really seem like a potential starter down the road is wide receiver T.J. Graham. While he's only averaging two receptions a game, Graham is averaging nearly 20 yards per reception and has shown the ability to make plays once the ball is in his hands.

Carolina Panthers: B

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Luke Kuechly, ILB

    Heading into the 2012 season, the Carolina Panthers' biggest needs were on the defensive side of the ball. That's how they attacked the 2012 NFL draft, and it has paid off in a big way this season.

    Luke Kuechly leads the NFL in total tackles with 131 and has added one sack and an interception during his rookie season. He's one of the favorites to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

    It's not just Kuechly contributing on defense for the Panthers, though. Fellow rookies Josh Norman and Frank Alexander have been able to put together solid rookie campaigns as well.

    On the offensive side of the ball, it appears as if Carolina completely missed on Amini Silatolu, whom the team drafted in the second round. Silatolu has struggled throughout the entire season and grades out as one of the worst guards in the league by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    Even with Silatolu playing poorly, though, the Panthers rookie class still grades out high thanks to the play of Kuechly, Norman and Alexander.

Chicago Bears: C-

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Alshon Jeffery, WR

    Despite only playing in seven games this season due to a knee injury, Alshon Jeffery has still had the biggest impact of any rookie on the Chicago Bears' roster. Jay Cutler must be very thankful to have another receiver to throw to that isn't named Brandon Marshall.

    Jeffrey has recorded 19 receptions, 256 yards and three touchdowns so far this season. Those numbers aren't outstanding, but they are much better than anything any other rookie has done this season for the Bears.

    While Evan Rodriguez has started to come on as of late, he still isn't making much of an impact from the fullback position. The same is true for Shea McClellin, the Bears' first-round pick, who's only recorded 13 tackles and 2.5 sacks this season.

    Hopefully, Jeffery's return can breathe some life into this rookie class over the last three weeks of the season.

Cincinnati Bengals: B+

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Kevin Zeitler, OG

    The Cincinnati Bengals had a load of draft picks to work with this season, and as the season progresses, it looks like a more and more successful draft.

    It all starts with Kevin Zeitler, who's been playing like a seasoned veteran all year long. Right now, he looks like an absolute steal as the 27th overall pick of the draft.

    Beyond Zeitler, the Bengals have gotten solid contributions from a number of other rookies. Both Mohamed Sanu and Vontaze Burfict have turned into consistent producers at their positions, and even Devon Still is starting to see some time along the defensive line.

    The biggest disappointment so far has been Dre Kirkpatrick's inability to make an impact. He struggled with injuries early in the season and hasn't made any impact at all on defense.

    Nonetheless, the strong play of Zeitler, Sanu and Burfict has made the Bengals' group of rookies one of the best in the NFL. As Kirkpatrick, Still and other developmental picks get used to the game, Cincinnati could end up with a number of great players from this rookie class.

Cleveland Browns: A

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Trent Richardson, RB

    There is a lot to be excited about if you're the Cleveland Browns. For starters, they're currently on a three-game winning streak as they look to finish this season strong.

    On top of that, their rookies have been quite exceptional this season. It all starts with Trent Richardson who, despite dealing with injuries, has looked like an elite player at his position.

    While Brandon Weeden has certainly had an up-and-down season, he has come on much stronger over the past few weeks. He continues to build a relationship with fellow rookies Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin.

    On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns made some great picks in the later rounds with James-Michael Johnson and Billy Winn. Both have been solid contributors on defense and should have bigger roles heading into next season.

    The Browns have an extremely young team, but they definitely have the pieces in place to be competitive within the next few seasons.

Dallas Cowboys: C

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Morris Claiborne, CB

    Not only has Morris Claiborne made the biggest impact of any rookie on the Dallas Cowboys roster, but he's the only rookie to really have an impact this season.

    It hasn't always been a positive impact (he's given up four touchdowns and a 112.4 quarterback rating), but he's shown flashes of being a true shutdown cornerback. The skills are definitely there, but the focus and execution still need some work.

    The only other real rookie to even see much of the field this season has been wide receiver Cole Beasley. He put on quite the show during the preseason and is now finally getting a chance in the regular season. However, he hasn't been as stellar since getting some playing time, as he's only registered 13 receptions and 114 receiving yards.

    The rest of the Cowboys' rookie class hasn't made an impact at all, which is why the group receives such an average grade on the season.

Denver Broncos: C-

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Derek Wolfe, DT

    Thanks to the play of Peyton Manning and Von Miller, the Denver Broncos haven't needed much production from their rookie class this season.

    The only rookie to do much of anything this season is Derek Wolfe, who is currently starting along the defensive line. He's played well this season, especially against the run.

    After Wolfe, the only other rookie of note is running back Ronnie Hillman. He was expected to contribute this season and maybe even take over the majority of the workload in the backfield. However, he's struggle to get on the field, even with the amount of injuries the Broncos have at running back.

    As long as Manning and Miller continue to play at such a high level, Denver won't be overly concerned about the lack of production from its rookies.

Detroit Lions: D+

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Jonte Green, CB

    Had Ryan Broyles not gotten injured recently, the Detroit Lions would have probably gotten a higher grade on their rookie class. Unfortunately, though, Broyles is injured, and no other rookie has had a major positive impact this season.

    While Riley Reiff has started some games along the offensive line, his erratic play has caused him to be in and out of the lineup quite regularly.

    The biggest surprise this year has been Jonte Green, who has also had the biggest impact for the team. He's played relatively well for being a late-round pick.

    Few teams have been as disappointing this season as Detroit, and its rookie class hasn't made the future look any better.

Green Bay Packers: B+

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Casey Hayward, CB

    While Nick Perry was a disappointment before he got injured, the rest of the Green Bay Packers' rookie class has been quite good this season.

    It all starts with Casey Hayward, who has become a dynamic playmaker in the secondary for the team. He's done a fantastic job in coverage and has recorded five interceptions this season. According to Pro Football Focus, he's also held quarterbacks to a league-low 30.1 quarterback rating (subscription required) when the ball is thrown his way.

    However, Hayward isn't the only reason the Packers earn such a high grade for their rookies. Along the defensive line, Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels have been looking better with each week that passes. In fact, Daniels' fumble recovery for a touchdown last week turned the momentum in Green Bay's favor.

    Even undrafted free agent Don Barclay has looked good the past two weeks at right tackle. He's brought some stability in the run game to a unit that has struggled all year long.

    With so many rookies impacting the 2012 season for Green Bay, Ted Thompson once again proved why he is one of the best GMs in the league.

Houston Texans: C

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Whitney Mercilus, OLB

    There hasn't been anything too special about the rookie class that the Houston Texans brought in this year.

    They've got a handful of rotational players, but none seem poised for stardom.

    Ben Jones, Keshawn Martin, Jared Crick and Whitney Mercilus have all seen their fair share of playing time through the first 14 weeks. Unfortunately, none of them have been quite as dynamic as expected, but injuries on both sides of the ball have forced them to see more playing time.

    With Houston looking poised to make a deep playoff run, it will need its rookies to really step up the level of their play.

Indianapolis Colts: A+

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Andrew Luck, QB

    Had the Indianapolis Colts only drafted Andrew Luck this year, they would have still had an extremely high grade heading into Week 15.

    However, not only does Indianapolis have Luck leading the team, but it has gotten incredible production from a number of other rookies as well. Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen have played extremely well at the tight end position. T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill have teamed with Reggie Wayne to give even more firepower to the Colts offense.

    On top of all these weapons, Indianapolis has also found a gem in running back Vick Ballard. With Donald Brown struggling with injuries this season, Ballard has stepped in beautifully to give the Colts some balance on offense.

    All in all, this is looking like one of the best rookie classes in the league.

Jacksonville Jaguars: C

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Bryan Anger, P

    When your most impactful rookie is a punter, you're probably having a difficult season.

    While the Jacksonville Jaguars were mocked when they took Bryan Anger in the third round, he has been very, very good this season.

    Both Andre Branch and Justin Blackmon looked like complete busts during the first half of the season. However, they've both improved their play in recent weeks—especially Blackmon, who has looked great since Chad Henne took over at quarterback.

    It has been a long and difficult season for Jacksonville, but if Blackmon and Branch can continue to develop, they could be two special players.

Kansas City Chiefs: C

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Dontari Poe, DT

    Nothing has gone right for the Kansas City Chiefs this year. They're one of the worst teams in the league, and their rookies haven't done much to help.

    The only rookie to really play a key role at all this season has been Dontari Poe. After looking like a major project in the preseason, Poe has played his way to a starting position. He hasn't been great, but he has been able to make some plays against the run and get pressure on the quarterback.

    With Kansas City in complete rebuilding mode, look for more rookies to get a chance to see some playing time in the final weeks of the season

Miami Dolphins: B

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Ryan Tannehill, QB

    The only reason that the Miami Dolphins receive this high of a grade is because of Ryan Tannehill. While he has certainly had his struggles, he's absolutely looked like a future franchise quarterback for the Dolphins.

    Unfortunately, outside of Tannehill, the Dolphins haven't had much production at all from their rookies. Jonathan Martin and Lamar Miller were expected to contribute this year, but neither has done much good at all. Martin has been dominated at right tackle, while Miller can't even figure out how to get on the field.

    This entire class will depend on the development of Tannehill in the future. If he struggles to reach his potential, the 2012 NFL draft could be a complete bust for the Dolphins.

Minnesota Vikings: B+

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Matt Kalil, OT

    One of the best decisions in the 2012 NFL draft was the Minnesota Vikings' decision to draft Matt Kalil.

    He's not only been the best rookie offensive lineman in the league, but he has already established himself as one of the premier players at his position. He's only allowed one sack this season and two quarterback hits.

    While Kalil has been fantastic, the Vikings also did a great job at picking up some instant-impact players besides their left tackle. Guys like Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson and Blair Walsh have played great football this year.

    The Vikings have pleasantly surprised this year, and the great play from their rookies is a big reason why.

New England Patriots: A-

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Chandler Jones, DE

    As long as Bill Belichick is involved in drafting for the New England Patriots, it is almost guaranteed they'll do well in the draft.

    This year was no different, as the Patriots found a number of players who have contributed right away.

    Chandler Jones is the premier player, as he looks like a top defensive end when he isn't dealing with injuries.

    What really makes this class so good, however, is the mid- to late-round picks that Belichick nailed. Both Tavon Wilson and Alfonzo Dennard have been thrown into starting positions, and both have played admirably for New England.

    The Patriots look like the team to beat in the AFC heading into Week 15. And while they'd certainly be good without their contributing rookies, they wouldn't be nearly as dominant.

New Orleans Saints: D

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Akiem Hicks, DT

    It was a rough offseason for the New Orleans Saints, and that included the 2012 NFL draft. 

    The team only had five draft picks this year, and Akiem Hicks is the only one that has seen a good amount of playing time. But while he has been decent as a backup defensive tackle, his play would have to be absolutely incredible to salvage this rookie class.

    Since that hasn't happened, the Saints head into Week 15 with a terrible grade for their rookies.

New York Giants: B-

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: David Wilson, RB

    It didn't look like the Giants would get much production from their rookie class this year. Other than Rueben Randle, Markus Kuhn and David Wilson, no other rookie has seen much playing time.

    While Randle has had his good moments, he's also had difficulty staying on the field on a consistent basis. In fact, had Wilson not completely exploded against the New Orleans Saints last week, the Giants would have a much lower overall grade for their rookie class.

    With Ahmad Bradshaw dealing with some knee issues and questionable for Sunday's game, we could see quite a bit of Wilson in Week 15. If he plays as well as he did in Week 14, the Giants could get a boost in the grade for their rookie class.

New York Jets: C-

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Demario Davis, ILB

    Everything is a complete and utter mess with the New York Jets right now, yet they somehow still have a chance at making the playoffs this year. Unfortunately, that isn't because of the stellar play of their rookie class.

    Quinton Coples, the Jets' first-round pick, has seen his playing time take a major hit over the past few weeks. While he certainly has the potential to be an elite defensive end, his production has yet to even come close to his potential.

    Wide receiver Stephen Hill is the same exact way: a ton of potential, but little production.

    It is almost humorous that Davis has made the biggest impact on this team, as he has had his difficulties with making plays on defense.

    While the rookie class has been bad for the Jets, it hasn't been nearly as bad as everything else going on with the team.

Oakland Raiders: D+

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Rod Streater, WR

    The Oakland Raiders would have had a failing grade heading into Week 15 had they not picked up Rod Streater as an undrafted free agent. He's been an extremely pleasant surprise as a rookie, even with his struggles with dropped passes.

    Other than Streater, though, the only rookie to make even the slightest impact this year is outside linebacker Miles Burris. He currently has the third-most tackles on the team with 79 total tackles and has also recorded a sack.

    This season has to be considered a failure for the Raiders, and the lack of production from their rookie class has to be a little worrisome.

Philadelphia Eagles: A

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Bryce Brown, RB

    While other struggling teams haven't gotten much production from their rookies, the Philadelphia Eagles have been the complete opposite. In fact, the only bright spot for Philadelphia this season has been the play of its rookies.

    Quarterback Nick Foles is coming off his best game of the season in Week 14. If he continues to play like he did last Sunday, it will be hard for Philadelphia to ever put Michael Vick back in the starting lineup.

    And with LeSean McCoy missing the past few weeks, Bryce Brown has stepped in and played extremely well. In the past three weeks, Brown has averaged nearly 120 rushing yards a game and has added four touchdowns.

    On defense, both Fletcher Cox and Brandon Boykin have played stellar football this season. They both look like they'll be starting at their respective positions for years to come.

    If this group of players continue to develop, the Eagles should be able to forget about this season and have great success in 2013.

Pittsburgh Steelers: D-

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Chris Rainey, RB

    It almost isn't fair to give the Pittsburgh Steelers a grade on their rookie class simply because of the amount of injuries they've suffered.

    The biggest injury, of course, was to offensive guard David DeCastro. He tore his ACL before the regular season began, so no one was able to see if he was the dominant guard everyone pegged him as.

    There have really only been two rookies to see the field for Pittsburgh: Mike Adams and Chris Rainey. Rainey has been used quite a bit as a kick returner and is averaging 26.1 yards per return. Adams, on the other hand, has been quietly improving in recent weeks and could become the most impactful rookie before the season ends.

San Diego Chargers: D-

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Kendall Reyes, DT

    Only two rookies have even had an opportunity to make plays for the San Diego Chargers, and neither has been very good this season.

    Chargers first-round pick Melvin Ingram was expected to line up all over the field and get pressure on the quarterback. He's failed miserably at that so far, recording only 0.5 sacks through 14 weeks.

    Kendall Reyes is the other rookie to see the field, but he has only been slightly better than Ingram. Overall, the Chargers have failed to get any significant contributions from their rookie class this season.

San Francisco 49ers: F

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: LaMichael James, RB

    Until last week, neither of the San Francisco 49ers' top two picks had even seen the field on offense. However, LaMichael James had eight carries and a reception in Week 14, so he gets the nod as the impact rookie over A.J. Jenkins.

    While San Francisco may eventually get production from its 2012 rookie class, it hasn't gotten any this season. If James can see more action the remainder of the season, the team could improve its overall grade, but only slightly.

Seattle Seahawks: A+

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Russell Wilson, QB

    The Seattle Seahawks have a chance to have the Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year on their roster.

    On offense, Russell Wilson has simply been brilliant this season. He hasn't gotten the same amount of hype as Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, but he has been just as good as either of those two rookies.

    On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Bobby Wagner has been quite the player for the Seahawks. He leads the team with 109 total tackles to go along with two sacks. 

    It's not just those two players, though. With Bruce Irvin quickly becoming a top pass-rusher and Robert Turbin providing steady play behind Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks have a handful of truly talented rookies on their roster.

St. Louis Rams: A-

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Janoris Jenkins, CB

    This may seem like a little high of a grade for the St. Louis Rams' rookie class, but I really love what some of these players have been able to do this season.

    It starts with Janoris Jenkins, who looks like the best cornerback in this year's rookie class. He's started from day one and has shown the ability to shut down receivers and make plays in the secondary. He has three interceptions on the season and three defensive touchdowns.

    Another rookie who has played extremely well this season is wide receiver Chris Givens. He currently leads the team in receiving yards with 584 and is a legitimate deep threat for quarterback Sam Bradford.

    After these two, rookies like Michael Brockers, Brian Quick and Greg Zuerlein have also contributed in a big way this season. This is one of the better rookie classes in the NFL, and it should only continue to get better.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Doug Martin, RB

    Much like the Seattle Seahawks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a legitimate Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates on the roster in linebacker Lavonte David and running back Doug Martin.

    Everyone expected first-round pick Mark Barron to lead this defense, and while he's been good, he hasn't been nearly as good as David. The rookie linebacker out of Nebraska has made plays all over the field and currently has 117 total tackles, one sack and one interception on the season.

    On offense, Martin has been a truly special player for Tampa Bay this season. He has 1,234 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He's also proved to be a capable receiver out of the backfield with his 35 receptions and 378 receiving yards.

    With Barron, David and Martin leading the way, Tampa Bay has an extremely bright future.

Tennessee Titans: C

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Kendall Wright, WR

    None of the Tennessee Titans rookies have been dominant this season, but a handful have been solid contributors in their first season.

    Kendall Wright has easily been the best of the bunch and has quickly become a top target for Jake Locker. He leads the team with 59 receptions and four touchdowns, and his 555 receiving yards are good for second best. 

    Other than Wright, the only two rookies to get much playing time this season are on the defensive side of the ball. Both Zach Brown and Mike Martin have played in every game this season, and they've combined to record 4.5 sacks this season.

    The Titans have struggled mightily this season, and their mediocre draft class hasn't done much to help.

Washington Redskins: A+

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    Biggest Impact Rookie: Robert Griffin III, QB

    While the Washington Redskins paid quite the price in traded draft picks to draft Griffin, it has been absolutely worth it. With the way Robert Griffin III has been playing this year, Dan Snyder would have likely given up his first-born child to draft the quarterback out of Baylor.

    Griffin has been the most dynamic and polarizing quarterback in the league this season. In fact, he has played so well that the Redskins have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs this year.

    It isn't just Griffin who has been playing well for Washington this season. Running back Alfred Morris has been the best rookie at his position and is looking like the draft pick with the most value this year.

    With these two players leading the way, the Redskins have plenty to be excited about for the remainder of the season.