Ranking the Top 15 Rookies from Wild-Card Weekend

Wes StueveContributor IIIApril 4, 2016

Ranking the Top 15 Rookies from Wild-Card Weekend

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    With the first week of the playoffs in the books, it's time for some analysis. And in this case, analysis of the top rookies from Wild-Card Weekend.

    It's no secret that several of the playoff teams have seen rookies make crucial contributions toward their success. Seattle has Russell Wilson, Indianapolis has Andrew Luck, Washington has Robert Griffin III and so on.

    We know what these rookies did to get their teams to the playoffs, but just how did they perform when it became all-or-nothing?

    The rookies on this list simply had the best performances of their fellow first-years. It didn't matter whether their team won or lost. It was all about how they played.

    Just which rookies produced the best performances in the first week of the playoffs?

15. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Luck's numbers weren't great by any means, though he did throw for 288 yards. However, it's not fair to blame Luck for his statistical struggles, given how much the entire offense relies on him. Luck is the focal point of the team, unlike his fellow rookie quarterbacks.

    Luck didn't produce any touchdowns and had two turnovers against Baltimore. On the whole, his performance could have been much better, but he was still the Colts' offensive leader and the primary reason they scored nine points. 

14. Kelechi Osemele, LG, Baltimore Ravens

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    With Jah Reid hurt, Kelechi Osemele started his first game at left guard after starting all year at right tackle. And, not surprisingly, Osemele played well.

    With the massive lineman at guard, the Ravens rushed for an impressive 172 yards. Osemele also helped keep Joe Flacco free of pressure, and the quarterback was sacked just once.

13. Vontaze Burfict, OLB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Vontaze Burfict finished the game with six total tackles and didn't do anything extra in coverage. However, Burfict was again solid against the run, though Arian Foster's numbers suggest otherwise.

    Burfict has had better games this year, but he was solid against Houston. The undrafted linebacker continues to exceed expectations. 

12. Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis Colts

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    Indianapolis' starting tight end, Dwayne Allen emerged as a legitimate target for Luck as the season progressed. This was no different in the Colts' loss to Baltimore.

    Allen's four catches for 51 yards are far from earth-shattering, but they are solid nonetheless. A tight end putting up those type of numbers while blocking well is a valuable player for any team. 

11. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

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    This wasn't one of Wilson's best games, but the rookie quarterback did all he needed to as Seattle defeated the Redskins. Wilson completed 15 of his 26 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 67 yards. He didn't turn the ball over.

    The Seahawks saw Marshawn Lynch put up yet another huge game, so Wilson didn't have to carry the team. He simply needed to move the ball and avoid mistakes, which he did. 

10. Kevin Zeitler, RG, Cincinnati Bengals

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    All year, Kevin Zeitler played at a high level, earning some Pro Bowl consideration. Cincinnati struggled against Houston, but Zeitler continued to play well.

    The Bengals had just 80 rushing yards, but they rarely tried running the ball and averaged five yards per carry. Once again, Zeitler was a huge part of the team's success here.

9. Dezman Moses, OLB, Green Bay Packers

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    It wasn't so much Dezman Moses' defensive efforts that put him on the list as much as it was his special-teams contributions. Moses recovered a mishandled punt courtesy of Minnesota's Marcus Sherels.

    Moses did still contribute on defense, though, starting the game and picking up four tackles. A missed tackle on Joe Webb looms in the minds of Packers fans, though.

    Or it would if, you know, the Packers had lost.

8. Bruce Irvin, DE, Seattle Seahawks

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    Bruce Irvin's contributions here were much as they were all season long.

    A sack.

    Irvin remains a one-dimensional player, but his one dimension—rushing the passer—happens to be pretty valuable. Irvin's lone tackle in the game was a sack, but sacks are always pretty positive plays for a defense.

7. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts

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    Despite catching eight passes, T.Y. Hilton finished the game with just 66 yards. The yards are nothing extra, but eight catches always helps the offense.

    Hilton was Indianapolis' second-most productive wideout behind Reggie Wayne. His speed helped open up underneath plays for the Colts, and he remained a constant threat. 

    Hilton's explosive ability gave the Ravens something to fear, though it never did create a big play.

6. Vick Ballard, RB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Vick Ballard wasn't so great to push the Colts over Baltimore, but he did put together a solid performance. His 91 rushing yards didn't result in any points, though he certainly provided Indianapolis with a push.

    Without Ballard, the Colts' unproductive offense would have been even worse. That's hard to imagine, but it's certainly true.

5. Bobby Wagner, MLB, Seattle Seahawks

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    A Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, Bobby Wagner has been terrific all season. This didn't change against Washington, when he racked up another nine tackles.

    Wagner's speed allows him to play all over the field, and he continually makes plays in coverage. His presence has had an underrated impact for the Seattle defense this year, and he certainly helped limit both Griffin and Alfred Morris to moderate production.

4. Harrison Smith, FS, Minnesota Vikings

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    Harrison Smith didn't make any huge plays in coverage for the Vikings, but he did finish the game with eight tackles, an impressive number for a free safety. Smith was frequently flowing to the ball and containing big plays.

    Though Green Bay still scored 24 points, the game likely would have gone much worse if not for Smith's efforts. The Packers' run game in particular would have been more productive. 

3. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins

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    With Griffin clearly struggling, Morris was still surprisingly effective as he rushed for 80 yards on 16 carries. Morris was the only thing keeping Washington's offense moving, as Griffin threw for just 84 yards.

    Washington went up against a top run defense, and Morris still produced. Griffin got credit for the touchdowns, but make no mistake, it was Morris who led this offense.

2. Casey Hayward, CB, Green Bay Packers

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    It's no surprise that Casey Hayward played well with Webb playing quarterback for the Vikings, but Hayward's play is still impressive. Hayward played shutdown coverage throughout the game.

    Minnesota's passing game struggled largely because of Webb's struggles, but give the Green Bay secondary credit for playing well. Above all, though, recognize Hayward for continuing to play at an incredible level. 

1. Bernard Pierce, RB, Baltimore Ravens

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    Baltimore dominated on the ground like it sometimes does, but this time it wasn't because of star running back Ray Rice.

    It was rookie Bernard Pierce.

    Rice still ran for 70 yards, sure, but it was Pierce who ran for 103 on just 13 carries. Indianapolis had no answer for Pierce, and he broke a long run early in the game.

    This was a one-sided game, and Pierce directly contributed to that fact.