NFL Rookie Report: Grading Every Rookie Class Heading into Week 17

Wes StueveContributor IIIDecember 27, 2012

NFL Rookie Report: Grading Every Rookie Class Heading into Week 17

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    With all but one week of the 2012 NFL season in the books, we can almost grade each team's rookie class. 

    The 2012 NFL draft's infusion of talent was a huge contributor to one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory. Across the NFL, rookie classes are carrying teams to victory, while other teams fall due to a lack of rookie play.

    A good draft class can bring a team to the top. A bad one can set it back years. Many fall in between. Where does your team stand?

    It's still far too early to place a final grade on a single rookie class, but it's no longer ridiculous to try. 

San Francisco 49ers

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    LaMichael James is the lone San Francisco rookie to have contributed anything, and he hasn't exactly been a key player for the 49ers. His 384 kick return yards mark his biggest success.

    The 49ers are a good, deep team, so it's not reasonable to expect much from their rookies. This complete absence of anything significant, though, is unacceptable.

    Grade: F

Seattle Seahawks

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    The Seahawks have probably had the best rookie class of any team in the NFL.

    For starters, there is Russell Wilson. The third-round quarterback has a 98 quarterback rating, 3,291 total yards and 28 total touchdowns. His play led the Seahawks to the playoffs.

    The class doesn't stop there, though. Second-round linebacker Bobby Wagner is a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate with 130 tackles and three interceptions on the year. No. 15 overall pick Bruce Irvin leads all rookies with eight sacks.

    Several of Seattle's most irreplaceable players came from the 2012 draft. That's a pretty good sign of a successful class.

    Grade: A+

St. Louis Rams

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    St. Louis traded back in the 2012 draft, surrendering Robert Griffin III in exchange for an abundance of draft picks. The team made good use of those picks, too.

    Defensive tackle Michael Brockers has been a force against the run and has four sacks on the year. The real star, though, is Janoris Jenkins, who has three pick-sixes on the year.

    Wide receiver Chris Givens has also played, well picking up 40 catches and 644 yards. 

    The Rams aren't yet a good team because of this class, but that could change in a year or two.

    Grade: A-

Arizona Cardinals

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    The No. 13 overall pick, Michael Floyd entered the 2012 season with high expectations, and he's failed to meet them.

    Thus far, Floyd has just 37 catches for 397 yards, though the dismal quarterback play certainly hasn't helped his production.

    Also contributing for the Cardinals are tackles Bobby Massie and Nate Potter, who have started at tackle. But as any NFL fan knows, Arizona's offensive line isn't so good. Neither is Massie or Potter.

    Grade: D

Houston Texans

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    Houston's talented roster naturally limits the contributions of its rookies. However, a couple rooks still managed to break through and play for the Texans.

    The selection of Whitney Mercilus in the first round confused many analysts—Houston's pass rush was just fine—but no one is arguing with the pick now. Mercilus has six sacks and two forced fumbles in limited playing time.

    Interior lineman Ben Jones started much of the season at right guard, though the results weren't great. Still, Jones was transitioning from center, and he managed to hit the field.

    Wide receivers Keshawn Martin and DeVier Posey saw limited playing time, as well, combining for under 200 receiving yards.

    Grade: B

Indianapolis Colts

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    Everyone knows this class is all about Andrew Luck. If Luck develops into an elite quarterback, this was a successful draft class. Anything else is a bonus.

    The early indications are positive. Luck's stats aren't great—he has thrown for 4,000 yards, though—but he is the focal point of Indianapolis' offense. He has performed remarkably, given the talent—or lack thereof—around him.

    In addition to Luck, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen are playing. Allen has 43 receptions for 500 yards, while Fleener lags behind with 25 receptions for 280 yards.

    Wideout T.Y. Hilton had a fantastic season, as well, catching 46 passes for 750 yards. Running back Vick Ballard played decently.

    Grade: A

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    After getting off to a disappointing start, Justin Blackmon rebounded and actually had a decent season. He leads all rookies with 786 receiving yards. 

    Blackmon's success doesn't make up for the rest of the class, however. Second-round defensive end Andre Branch has just 12 tackles and a single sack on the season.

    In the third round the Jaguars drafted a punter in Bryan Anger. Though Anger has been excellent, he still isn't worth the selection. 

    Grade: D

Tennessee Titans

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    With 62 receptions for 586 yards, Kendall Wright has had a decent, if unspectacular, season. The real value for the Jaguars came in Zach Brown. 

    Brown hasn't started all year, but he has 89 tackles and 4.5 sacks on the year. He's made an impact all over the field, flashing disruptive ability. 

    Defensive rookies Mike Martin and Coty Sensabugh both saw the field, failing to make significant impacts. Tight end Taylor Thompson played some and retains his incredible upside moving forward.

    Grade: B

New York Giants

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    New York drafted several talented players in April, but none has made a huge impact for the team. 

    First-round running back David Wilson has demonstrated explosive ability, gaining 283 yards on 56 carries, but a lack of opportunity has hindered his total impact. Wilson has proved valuable as a return man.

    When the Giants drafted Rueben Randle, many thought he would immediately step in as the team's No. 3 wide receiver, but he's caught just 15 passes for 240 yards on the year. Cornerback Jayron Hosley has played with mixed results.

    This draft still has plenty of potential, even if it isn't showing on the field just yet.

    Grade: C+

Dallas Cowboys

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    With the No. 6 overall pick, Dallas selected Morris Claiborne. However, the team also surrendered a second-round pick to acquire him.

    Clearly, the Cowboys were banking on a big rookie year from Claiborne. They didn't get it. Claiborne didn't play poorly, overall, but his one interception is a sign of what was a rather lackluster season.

    The only other rookie contributor for Dallas was defensive end Tyrone Crawford, who has 18 tackles. Crawford does have some upside moving forward, though.

    Grade: C-

Washington Redskins

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    If all the Redskins got from this draft was a star quarterback in Robert Griffin III, they would be happy. They seem to be getting more than that, however.

    The lone rookie elected to the Pro Bowl, Griffin has put up a 104.1 passer rating, 3,852 total yards and 26 total touchdowns. His play catapulted the Redskins into the playoffs. 

    Griffin wasn't Washington's only rookie star, though. Alfred Morris has an incredible 1,413 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He was a sixth-round pick.

    Grade: A+

Philadelphia Eagles

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    In an otherwise disappointing season, Philadelphia has seen several rookies contribute. 

    No. 12 overall pick Fletcher Cox got off to a slow start at defensive tackle, but he now ranks fourth among rookies with 5.5 sacks. Second-round linebacker Mychal Kendricks has 75 tackles on the year.

    In the third round, the Eagles selected quarterback Nick Foles, who ended up starting several games with better-than-expected results. Fourth-round cornerback Brandon Boykin has seen playing time. Recently, running back Bryce Brown has gained national exposure, rushing for 546 yards on 107 carries. 

    No Eagle rookie has been incredible, but several have shown potential moving forward.

    Grade: B+

Denver Broncos

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    Denver's had a terrific season, but its rookie class is not the reason for it.

    The Broncos traded out of the first round, using their first pick to select defensive end Derek Wolfe 36th overall. Despite starting all year, Wolfe has just 38 tackles and five sacks.

    In the third round, Denver selected running back Ronnie HIllman, who has rushed for an unspectacular 314 yards on 81 carries. Fifth-round linebacker Danny Trevathan has 33 tackles on the year.

    This class could produce a couple solid starters down the line, but that's about the most it will do.

    Grade: C

Kansas City Chiefs

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    With the No. 11 pick, the Chiefs drafted the raw Dontari Poe. Despite this reputation, Poe has started every game at nose tackle with positive results.

    Poe has just 36 tackles and no sacks, but his efforts have shown in other ways. The only other rookie really contributing for Kansas City is second-round guard Jeff Allen. He's started most of the season but has struggled at times.

    This draft class doesn't seem to have much upside beyond its first two players, and no one else is contributing yet. 

    Quite the farewell class for general manager Scott Pioli.

    Grade: D+

Oakland Raiders

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    Thanks to Carson Palmer and Terrelle Pryor, the Raiders didn't pick until the end of the third round, which severely handicapped new general manager Reggie McKenzie. Despite this, Oakland did find a couple contributors in the draft.

    Fourth-round pick Miles Burris has started nearly every game at linebacker and is third on the team with 89 tackles. Next in line for the Raiders is undrafted wideout Rod Streeter, who has 35 receptions for 507 yards on the year.

    Fifth-round wide receiver Juron Criner has also played some, catching 16 passes for 151 yards.

    Not surprisingly, there hasn't been a great impact from this class, but it's better than many teams would have done with the picks available.

    Grade: D

San Diego Chargers

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    As A.J. Smith finishes what will likely be his last season in San Diego, the Chargers' rookies are failing to do much of anything. 

    No. 18 overall pick Melvin Ingram has just a single sack on the year, falling well short of the high expectations set for him. Only Kendall Reyes salvages an otherwise useless class.

    Reyes, a second-round defensive end, has 5.5 sacks on the year, rotating in as a backup. He's shown potential moving forward and is already one of San Diego's better defensive players.

    Grade: D

Minnesota Vikings

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    With the No. 4 overall pick, Minnesota selected Matt Kalil to protect Christian Ponder's blind side, and it's worked out, thus far. Kalil stepped in and has played at an above-average level from day one.

    Later in the first round, the Vikings picked safety Harrison Smith, who has 98 tackles, three interceptions and two touchdowns on the year. Like the stats suggest, he's played quite well.

    Cornerback Josh Robinson started several games, though the results weren't great. Kicker Blair Walsh, on the other hand, has been fantastic, making all nine tries from beyond 50 yards.

    Grade: A-

Green Bay Packers

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    First-round pick Nick Perry missed most of the year with an injury, but the Packers still saw several rookies contribute.

    Cornerback Casey Hayward has been a star, intercepting six passes and generally playing shutdown coverage. He looks like a fixture in Green Bay's defense for years to come.

    Defensive lineman Jerel Worthy has played well, picking up 2.5 sacks in limited action. Despite going undrafted, linebacker Dezman Moses has seen significant playing time, picking up four sacks. 

    Grade: A-

Chicago Bears

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    Injuries have hindered No. 19 overall pick Shea McClellin's impact, and he has just 13 tackles and 2.5 sacks on the year. 

    Second-rounder Alshon Jeffery has also struggled with injuries, limiting him to catching 20 passes for 291 yards. He's shown promise at times but needs to improve his route-running in order to harness his natural talent.

    Unfortunately, no other rookie has stepped up for the Bears. Hopefully for Chicago, the injuries don't continue down the line, or this class could prove unfruitful. 

    Grade: D

Detroit Lions

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    Detroit finally addressed its offensive line in the first round when it selected Riley Reiff. The 24-year-old has seen consistent playing time but has rarely started. Thus far, he's been average, showing hope for improved play in the future.

    Earlier in the year, cornerback Bill Bentley was playing quite a bit, but poor results led to him seeing the field less as the season wore down. Wide receiver Ryan Broyles was playing prior to tearing his ACL.

    Though a few different rookies have played, none has made an overly positive impact. There is much room for improvement here.

    Grade: D

New England Patriots

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    New England focused on defense in the 2012 draft, and it's worked out fairly well, with several rookies contributing. 

    Defensive end Chandler Jones got off to a hot start, recording six sacks in just eight games, but he hasn't picked up another since. Injuries have been a factor, though.

    The Patriots also selected linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the first round, and he's picked up 57 tackles and four sacks to date. In the secondary, both Tavon Wilson and Alfonzo Dennard are contributing. Wilson, a second-round pick, has 38 tackles and four interceptions, while the undrafted Dennard is already starting. 

    Several rookie Patriots are already starting on defense, though the unit still has plenty of room for improvement.

    Grade: B+

New York Jets

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    The Jets drafted upside with their first two picks, first targeting defensive end Quinton Coples with the No. 16 pick. Coples has been somewhat inconsistent, but his recent hot streak leaves him with a respectable 5.5 sacks on the season.

    In the second round, New York chose the freakishly athletic Stephen Hill, whose production has been negatively impacted by injuries and Mark Sanchez, but he still has 252 yards and three touchdowns.

    Linebacker DeMario Davis has shown upside, racking up 32 tackles in limited action.

    This draft's immediate contribution lacks something, but its upside could more than make up for it.

    Grade: C

Buffalo Bills

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    Buffalo surprised many analysts with its 2012 draft, starting by taking cornerback Stephon Gilmore with the No. 10 pick. Gilmore has actually played reasonably well, and he has the athleticism to develop into a star.

    In the second round, the Bills took who many considered to be a guard in Cordy Glenn and played him at left tackle. Surprisingly, Glenn's massive size has translated well, and he's been a solid fixture along the offensive line.

    Nigel Bradham hasn't made much of an impact, despite the occasional start at linebacker. He has 46 tackles on the year. Third-round wideout T.J. Graham has also played, though he has just 317 receiving yards.

    Grade: B+

Miami Dolphins

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    Many criticized the Dolphins for their "reach" of Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 overall pick. Tannehill was considered raw, but his early production is inspiring much reason for optimism. 

    Like Tannehill, second-round right tackle Jonathan Martin has started all year. Martin's results haven't been quite as impressive, though he hasn't played horribly.

    Fourth-rounder Lamar Miller hasn't had many chances, but he's impressed, gaining 237 yards on only 46 carries. 

    If Tannehill pans out, this draft looks great. If he doesn't, there will always be the black cloud of a bust hanging over it.

    Grade: B+

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    It's tough to find a draft class with more potential stars than Tampa Bay's.

    First, with the No. 7 pick, the Buccaneers selected safety Mark Barron, whose impact goes beyond the stats. Barron's 87 tackles aren't unimpressive, though.

    The most famous rookie Buccaneer is running back Doug Martin, who was also picked in the first round. Martin has 1,762 yards from scrimmage and 11 total tackles on the year.

    Still not done, Tampa Bay took linebacker Lavonte David in the second round. A legitimate Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, David has 133 tackles, a sack and an interception on the year. 

    The Buccaneers aren't yet a good team, but this draft class brought them a lot closer.

    Grade: A+

Carolina Panthers

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    No. 9 overall pick Luke Kuechly is leading the NFL in tackles, so he's clearly lived up to his billing as an NFL-ready linebacker. Kuechly got off to a slow start at outside linebacker but has dominated since moving inside.

    Second-round guard Amini Silatolu showed potential throughout the season, starting every game prior to Week 17, when he was placed on injured reserve. Though raw, Silatolu's early play gives plenty of reason for optimism.

    In the fifth round, the Panthers added cornerback Josh Norman, who has seen a surprising amount of playing time. The results haven't always been great, but he's played decently.

    Grade: B

New Orleans Saints

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    As a result of Bountygate penalties and the Mark Ingram trade, the Saints didn't have much in the way of draft picks. They didn't pick until the third round, when they selected defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.

    A raw but talented player, Hicks has seen some playing time, picking up 20 tackles throughout the season. This isn't mind-blowing by any means, but Hicks' size and athleticism leaves him with plenty of potential.

    Hicks was unfortunately the only rookie to add much to the Saints 2012 season. They certainly could have used a few more rookies helping out, given the year's end result.

    Grade: D-

Atlanta Falcons

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    Only one rookie has hit the field consistently for the Falcons, and that is guard Peter Konz. 

    A college center, Konz has switched to right guard for Atlanta, where he has played reasonably well. However, Konz isn't overly powerful and can struggle at the point of attack. His play was somewhat inconsistent throughout his eight starts.

    The Falcons obviously have an excellent team, but the lack of another contributor is disappointing. Atlanta isn't so good that it can afford that in multiple years.

    Grade: D-

Cleveland Browns

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    No other team has had the sheer volume of rookie contributors that Cleveland has.

    Starting with the No. 4 pick, the Browns selected running back Trent Richardson, who has gained 1,317 yards from scrimmage while scoring 12 touchdowns. Later in the first, Cleveland drafted quarterback Brandon Weeden, who started the team's first 15 games with decent results.

    The Browns weren't done there, though. Second-round right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has started every game, playing brilliantly in pass-protection. Defensive tackles John Hughes and Billy Winn have contributed, while James Michael-Johnson has started at linebacker.

    Then, let's not forget Josh Gordon, who Cleveland took in the second round of the supplemental draft. Gordon is second among rookies with 766 receiving yards and has massive potential moving forward.

    Grade: A+

Cincinnati Bengals

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    With two first-round picks, Cincinnati was hoping for huge rookie contributions. That hasn't quite been the case, though a few rookie Bengals have played well.

    First-round right guard Kevin Zeitler has been excellent, starting every game and playing at a near-Pro-Bowl level. Fellow first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick struggled with injuries all year.

    Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was beginning to flash, catching four touchdown passes prior to suffering a season-ending injury. Third-round defensive tackle Devon Still has rotated in, picking up 14 tackles.

    Undrafted linebacker Vontaze Burfict has proven a steal, as the starting linebacker is second on the team with 109 tackles.

    Grade: B

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Because of a knee injury, David DeCastro didn't play until week 14, when he started at right guard for the Bengals. DeCastro hasn't stepped in and immediately played lights out, though. He especially struggled against Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins—but who doesn't?

    Second-round tackle Mike Adams has started much of the year at right tackle, where he's been somewhat inconsistent but overall played well. There's clearly room for improvement, and Adams could develop into a dominant player.

    This class has been hugely affected by injuries, so it's hard to judge too much yet. In the future, there is plenty of potential, though.

    Grade: B-

Baltimore Ravens

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    After trading out of the first round, Baltimore ended up with two second-round picks, both of whom have contributed. 

    Linebacker Courtney Upshaw hasn't started like many hoped he would, largely due to his pass-rushing struggles. He has just 1.5 sacks on the year, though he does have 60 tackles.

    Right tackle Kelechi Osemele has started every game with positive results. His run-blocking has been superb, and his pass-blocking is at least average. 

    Third-round running back has mainly spelled off Ray Rice all year, but he's played well, picking up 443 yards on 86 carries. 

    After the draft, Baltimore picked up kicker Justin Tucker, who has been excellent, nailing 29 of 31 kicks. 

    Grade: B-