Kyle Long, Jordan Mills and the Chicago Bears' rookie class is off to an impressive start.
The acclimation process for this year’s NFL rookie class is well underway, as the NFL preseason is now halfway complete. As the regular season draws near, all 32 NFL teams are making determinations about which players will be able to help their teams as significant contributors this season.
Which NFL rookie classes have been the most impressive through the first two weeks of this preseason? Assessed by a letter grade, let’s take a quick look at how each team’s rookie class has fared thus far.
Teams will be graded primarily on the success of their rookies drafted in the first three rounds, though the performances of Day 3 draft picks and undrafted free agents were also considered, especially in the case of undrafted rookies who have stood out for their teams early.
NFL teams are listed in alphabetical order.
Author’s Disclaimer: There are many NFL teams whose preseason games I have not yet seen this year. I have relied upon other trusted sources (who are credited throughout the slideshow) for more information on the performances of rookies throughout the league, while drawing from my analysis for the rookies whose games I have watched.
Pro Football Focus is one source frequently referenced throughout the slideshow. A subscription is required for its premium statistics, from which grades and snap counts are referenced throughout this article.
Tyrann Mathieu is making an immediate impression in the Arizona Cardinals' secondary.
The Arizona Cardinals look like they could get an immediate boost at the free safety position from their rookie class. Third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu has already started a game at free safety and has become an immediate playmaker in the Cardinals secondary.
He leads the Cardinals with 11 tackles this preseason and has a positive grade of plus-1.5 through two games by Pro Football Focus (subscription required). ESPN’s Adam Schefter (per Rotoworld’s Evan Silva) said last week that Mathieu looks to be “one of the steals of the draft.”
Another free safety has also made an impression in Arizona this preseason.
Tony Jefferson went surprisingly undrafted, but he may already be making teams regret the decision not to draft him. Through two weeks of the preseason, Jefferson has already made two interceptions and four pass defenses. He has PFF’s highest rating of any safety through two preseason games (plus-5.8).
The Cardinals needed reinforcements for their secondary this offseason. While they added a number of veterans at cornerback, it appears they could get some immediate contributions at safety from their rookies.
No. 7 overall pick Jonathan Cooper is also in line to start immediately for the Cardinals this season. He has not been great thus far, according to PFF, with an overall rating of minus-1.3. While this is slightly disappointing for a player expected to be one of this rookie class’ immediate-impact players, he has plenty of time to improve, and the Cardinals’ grade is boosted by their surprisingly strong contributors in the secondary.
Paul Worrilow has played well for the Atlanta Falcons thus far this preseason.
The Atlanta Falcons went all in on upgrading the cornerback position in this year’s draft, using their only two picks in the top three rounds on cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Trufant, a first-round pick, is expected to start at cornerback opposite veteran Asante Samuel, and Alford, a second-rounder, is making an immediate impression for the Falcons this preseason.
Trufant struggled in the Falcons’ preseason opener versus the Cincinnati Bengals. He received a grade of minus-2.7 by Pro Football Focus for his coverage lapses in that game, and he was memorably trucked by tight end Jermaine Gresham early in that game.
Alford is currently fourth on the Falcons’ cornerback depth chart, but he showed the potential to be an immediate playmaker versus the Bengals. He was active as a run defender and physical in pass coverage. He tipped a pass away from a receiver in the end zone.
The Falcons will be hoping Trufant can overcome some early growing pains, but Alford making immediate strides will give the team good competition at the position.
Additionally, the Falcons have seen one undrafted rookie emerge on their defense in inside linebacker Paul Worrilow. Worrilow stood out to me with his performance against the Bengals and has been very active throughout this preseason. He leads the NFL with 18 tackles through two preseason games and has graded out as PFF’s second-best inside linebacker thus far (4.4).
Arthur Brown is filling big shoes for the Baltimore Ravens.
The Baltimore Ravens’ first three picks from the 2013 NFL draft are all competing for starting spots on the defense.
The Ravens have been giving these three rookies—first-round pick strong safety Matt Elam, second-round pick inside linebacker Arthur Brown and third-round pick defensive tackle Brandon Williams—plenty of snaps this preseason. They have responded well. Pro Football Focus has graded Elam at 2.0 overall in 75 snaps, Brown at 0.3 overall in 60 snaps and Williams at 2.0 overall in 87 snaps.
While none of those players have started yet this preseason, they are all making a push to unseat the players ahead of them on the depth chart. CBS Sports’ Rob Rang believed both Elam and Brown made big impressions versus the Atlanta Falcons in the Ravens’ second preseason game.
In total, Elam, Brown, Williams and fourth-round pick linebacker John Simon combined for 16 tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss against the Falcons, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun.
EJ Manuel was having a strong preseason before suffering a knee injury.
As the only first-round quarterback in the 2013 draft, EJ Manuel of the Buffalo Bills has received as much attention as any rookie in the NFL this preseason. He has done a good job living up to the hype in his first two preseason games, completing 26 of 33 passing attempts for 199 yards and two touchdowns.
Manuel has had some issues with ball placement and has thrown mostly short passes, but his high completion percentage, ability to extend plays and composure in the pocket have been impressive.
Unfortunately for Manuel, his preseason ended early due to a minor knee procedure. But he has been impressive enough to start this season when he is fully healthy.
Aside from Manuel, a number of other Bills rookies have made impressive early impressions.
Second-round pick wide receiver Robert Woods has looked great thus far this preseason, getting open consistently while also showing ability as a punt returner, including a 34-yard return versus the Vikings on Friday. Third-round pick wide receiver Marquise Goodwin immediately backed up his “Flash” nickname with a 107-yard punt return touchdown versus the Colts in the team’s preseason opener.
Sixth-round pick kicker Dustin Hopkins has had a very solid preseason thus far, making all four of his field goals. He appears to have won the team’s kicker competition, as the Bills released longtime kicker Rian Lindell on Monday.
Star Lotulelei is a key player for the Carolina Panthers this season.
Like the Atlanta Falcons, the Carolina Panthers went all in on one position at the top of the 2013 NFL draft.
They selected two defensive tackles, Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, who are both expected to play large roles immediately in the Panthers defense.
According to Pro Football Focus, Short has been the more impressive of the rookies thus far, carrying a 2.5 overall grade through two preseason games. He has come off the bench at the 3-technique position, but he has more total snaps (56) than Lotulelei (45), who is starting but has a minus-1.5 overall grade thus far.
Lotulelei was one of the most highly rated rookies in the 2013 NFL draft, so he will be expected to improve quickly and be an impact player this season.
The Panthers have not had as much rookie standout play in the preseason as some other teams, but if Lotulelei and Short can develop into a formidable duo at defensive tackle, the team’s 2013 draft class will be a success.
The Chicago Bears' draft picks were immediately questioned by draft analysts. But so far, those draft picks are making positive impressions this preseason.
First-round pick Kyle Long has overtaken James Brown as the Bears’ starting right guard, and he has stood out this preseason. Through the first two weeks of the preseason, Kyle Long has an overall grade of 8.0 from Pro Football Focus, which is 4.4 points better than any other guard in the NFL has accumulated.
Long was considered to be a developmental project as a prospect, but he is coming along much more quickly than expected.
Second-round pick Jonathan Bostic, meanwhile, is already showing the potential to be the playmaker the Bears need to replace Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker.
In the preseason opener versus the Carolina Panthers, Bostic had a 51-yard interception return touchdown. In Week 2 versus the San Diego Chargers, Bostic made a highlight-reel hit on Chargers wide receiver Mike Willie that Bears defensive end Corey Wootton called “Lance Briggs-esque,” according to David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
Long and Bostic are making an immediate impression this preseason. Long is already in the starting lineup, and Haugh said Bostic “needs to be.”
They haven’t been the only rookies making an impact for the Bears this preseason, either.
Fifth-round pick Jordan Mills started at right tackle versus the Chargers and finished the game with a 1.6 overall rating from PFF, which could help him secure the starting job going forward. Seventh-round pick wide receiver Marquess Wilson flashed playmaking ability in the preseason opener, highlighted by a 58-yard reception.
Tyler Eifert could be a key player for the Bengals this season.
With a number of highly touted talents, the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2013 draft class has been one of the league’s most-hyped rookie classes throughout the NFL offseason.
They have yet to make a huge impact this preseason, however.
Tight end Tyler Eifert is expected to be a key weapon in the Bengals’ offense this year, but he has been very quiet with just three catches for 32 yards in the first two preseason games.
Running back Giovani Bernard has been more productive (17 carries for 65 yards and two touchdowns, four receptions for 38 yards), and certainly showed some speed and quickness in the Bengals’ preseason opener versus the Atlanta Falcons. That said, his preseason grade by Pro Football Focus is only plus-0.3 due to a poor pass-blocking grade (minus-1.1).
Strong safety Shawn Williams has been productive as a run defender, racking up a team-leading 12 tackles through two games. But he has struggled in pass coverage as expected, with a minus-2.8 grade in that area from PFF.
Defensive end Margus Hunt flashed playmaking ability on the second-team defense in the Bengals’ preseason opener, but he struggled mightily to a minus-3.4 overall grade in the Bengals’ second preseason game versus the Titans, according to PFF.
Those four players, who were all selected in the first three rounds of the draft, could all develop into impact players quickly for the Bengals. The team will be looking for each of them to step up their play in lacking areas in the final two weeks of the preseason.
Barkevious Mingo started well before suffering a bruised lung.
Injuries have taken a toll early on the Cleveland Browns’ rookie class.
First-round pick Barkevious Mingo stood out in the team’s preseason opener versus the St. Louis Rams. He generated consistent pressure as a pass-rusher with his explosiveness off the line of scrimmage and his hand play. He also showed he could contribute on special teams, using his speed to make a tackle on a kickoff return while also setting up a key block in Travis Benjamin’s 91-yard punt return in that game.
Unfortunately for Mingo, he suffered a bruised lung on a special teams play against the Detroit Lions, which is likely to keep him out the rest of the preseason.
Meanwhile, third-round pick cornerback Leon McFadden has yet to play for the Browns in either of their first two preseason games.
The Browns have had to rely heavily on one of their rookie draft picks, seventh-round pick Garrett Gilkey, to step in early this preseason. He played with the first-team offense versus the Lions at right guard with both Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston out due to injury, but his overall rating for the game was a very poor minus-3.7 by Pro Football Focus.
No team was panned more heavily for their draft selections this April than the Dallas Cowboys, who made questionable picks in the first two rounds with center Travis Frederick and tight end Gavin Escobar.
Frederick has been okay through the Cowboys’ first three preseason games, with a minus-0.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. He had an up-and-down performance versus the Miami Dolphins in the Hall of Fame Game, which is unlikely to quell doubts about his value as a first-round pick, but he could at least be a much-needed upgrade at the center position.
Escobar has caught six passes for 35 yards and a touchdown, showing that he could be an immediate weapon in the short and intermediate passing offense this season.
His run-blocking, however, needs work. He has struggled mightily in that capacity through the first three games, according to PFF, with a grade of minus-6.3 in run-blocking.
For the rest of the Cowboys’ rookies, there have also been ups and downs.
With only one reception in three games, third-round pick wide receiver Terrance Williams has yet to make much impact. With a minus-1.9 overall grade from PFF, fellow third-round pick safety J.J. Wilcox has also been shaky.
Fourth-round pick cornerback B.W. Webb was in the “Stock Down” of ESPN Dallas’ Calvin Watkins’ postgame report for the Cowboys’ second preseason game versus the Raiders, with Watkins saying Webb “looked lost” in coverage.
One rookie who has been an early standout, however, is outside linebacker DeVonte Holloman. A converted safety, Holloman looks like a playmaker who can contribute immediately in pass coverage. He made a name for himself with a 75-yard interception return in the Hall of Fame Game. He already has two interceptions and four total pass defenses this preseason.
Montee Ball has had a disappointing start to his preseason.
The Denver Broncos’ rookie class has been a disappointment this preseason.
First-round pick defensive tackle Sylvester Williams has played 41 snaps in two games, according to Pro Football Focus, but has yet to be credited with a stop.
Second-round pick Montee Ball came into the preseason with high expectations, but he's only managed 37 yards on 11 carries through two games. He has also struggled in pass protection and “will need to improve significantly in the passing game” to see consistent playing time, according to CBS Sports’ Rob Rang.
Another rookie who came into the preseason with high expectations was fifth-round pick defensive end Quanterus Smith, at least as a pass-rusher. But he has not shown much in that area thus far. He does have one quarterback hurry, according to PFF, but he has an overall negative grade of minus-0.1 in pass-rushing.
Somewhat surprisingly, the bright spot of the rookie class for the Broncos thus far has been third-round pick cornerback Kayvon Webster. Webster has led the team with 75 snaps at cornerback, according to PFF, and has a 2.3 overall rating for his solid play in both pass coverage and run defense. He has recorded seven tackles, one interception and two total pass defenses through two games.
Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, the No. 5 overall pick in this year’s draft, made one of the most memorable plays of the preseason. He intercepted a Mark Sanchez pass at the line of scrimmage and returned it for a 14-yard touchdown in the Detroit Lions’ preseason opener versus the New York Jets.
According to Kyle Meinke of MLive.com, Ansah was even better in the second game versus the Cleveland Browns.
“It's easy to see the flashy plays,” Meinke wrote. “But dig a little deeper, and the Lions will leap out of their chairs to say he was better in the second game even without the impact play.”
Ansah has made an immediate impression, and so have a number of other Lions rookies.
Third-round pick Larry Warford, a potential starter at right guard, has graded out as a plus-2.4 overall over 88 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Fourth-round pick Devin Taylor had a strip sack versus the Jets and has posted a plus-3.7 grade from PFF thus far.
Fifth-round pick punter Sam Martin is also off to a solid start as a rookie. He has averaged 42.6 net yards with only three of his seven punts having been returned, all the while averaging an impressive 5.3 seconds of hang time per punt, according to PFF.
Micah Hyde is making an early impression for the Packers.
Unfortunately for the Green Bay Packers, first-round pick defensive end Datone Jones only played one snap this preseason prior to suffering an ankle injury, which hurts their overall grade on the report card.
Some of the rookies who have been able to play, however, have shown promise this preseason.
Eddie Lacy has only received eight carries, but he's gained an average of five yards per carry.
His rookie running back counterpart, Johnathan Franklin, has struggled. The fourth-round pick has only gained 23 yards on nine carries thus far. Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote that Franklin “can’t get out of neutral,” and an anonymous NFL personnel man told McGinn that Franklin is "not a real impressive guy."
There may not be any Packers rookie facing greater pressure than left tackle David Bakhtiari, who is expected to start immediately in place of injured veteran Bryan Bulaga. Most importantly, he has been solid in pass protection with a plus-1.7 grade in that area from Pro Football Focus, although he did allow a sack versus the St. Louis Rams.
The standout rookie for the Packers thus far, however, has been fifth-round pick cornerback Micah Hyde.
Filling in for Casey Hayward as the slot cornerback versus the Rams, Hyde showed playmaking ability as he racked up a sack, two tackles for loss and two pass breakups, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. He could make an immediate impact as the Packers’ dime defensive back.
There was no shortage of hype building up to the preseason surrounding the Houston Texans’ top two rookie draft picks, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and free safety D.J. Swearinger.
During their most recent preseason game versus the Miami Dolphins, however, they were mostly in the news due to big hits.
With six receptions for 74 yards and a 34-yard touchdown, Hopkins has shown that he can be a secondary playmaker to Andre Johnson in the Texans offense. Unfortunately, he could miss the Texans’ next preseason game due to a concussion suffered versus the Dolphins.
Swearinger, on the other hand, has been in the news for his controversial, legal but low hit to the knee of Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller, which ended Keller’s season and possibly more due to three torn knee ligaments and a dislocated kneecap.
That said, it was another example of Swearinger making a play this preseason. He has six tackles and two pass defenses thus far.
Bjoern Werner struggled in his game at outside linebacker.
First-round pick Bjoern Werner is expected to make an immediate impact on the Indianapolis Colts' defense this season at outside linebacker, at least as a pass-rusher.
But after missing the Colts’ preseason opener, he struggled against the New York Giants and received a minus-2.6 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, including a minus-1.2 pass-rush grade.
It hasn’t been a good start overall for Colts draft picks this preseason. Third-round pick Hugh Thornton and fourth-round pick Khaled Holmes, both offensive linemen, have not played yet this preseason.
The most productive rookie draft pick has been seventh-round pick running back Kerwynn Williams, who has gained 189 total yards on 26 touches as a rusher, receiver, kickoff returner and punt returner.
Luke Joeckel is currently battling an injury.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are relying as heavily on their rookie class to contribute as any team in the NFL, but they have had to deal with some injuries to that class early in the preseason.
Left tackle Luke Joeckel has been set back by a hip flexor injury that kept him out of the Jaguars’ second preseason game against the New York Jets. He played well in the Jaguars’ first preseason contest versus the Miami Dolphins, according to Pro Football Focus, finishing the game with a plus-1.3 overall rating.
The team’s second-round pick, strong safety John Cyprien, missed the team’s first preseason game with a hamstring injury. He returned to play against the New York Jets but struggled mightily, according to PFF, finishing the game with an overall grade of minus-3.5.
Third-round pick Dwayne Gratz, who is also expected to start in the Jaguars secondary, is off to a better start than Cyprien. The cornerback has one interception and two pass defenses through the first two games and an overall rating of plus-0.9 by PFF.
Two later-round rookies who have made an early impact are offensive weapon Denard Robinson and free safety Josh Evans. Robinson leads the Jaguars this preseason with 20 rushing attempts and 61 rushing yards, while Evans leads the team with 11 tackles.
Overall, however, the Jaguars will be looking for their rookies to get healthy and make a bigger impact.
Eric Fisher has struggled in his first two preseason games.
Kansas City Chiefs right tackle Eric Fisher didn’t look like a No. 1 overall pick when the Chiefs played the San Francisco 49ers on Friday night. According to Pro Football Focus, Fisher was beaten for a sack and three hurries by the 49ers. He also struggled in run-blocking, leaving him with a very poor grade of minus-4.5 for the game.
With a minus-4.8 overall grade for the preseason, Fisher currently ranks among PFF’s bottom five of all offensive tackles who have played this preseason.
While one bad preseason game against arguably the NFL’s best defense should not be a major cause for concern, it was certainly not the start the Chiefs had hoped for with their prime investment in the 2013 draft.
Things haven’t been much better for the rest of the Chiefs' rookies thus far.
Running back Knile Davis, a third-round pick, is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Tight end Travis Kelce, considered to be one of the best receiving tight ends in the rookie class, has only one catch for 17 yards. Quarterback Tyler Bray, an undrafted rookie, has completed only 46.7 percent of his passes.
The Chiefs need a spark from their rookie class. But their rookies must play better than they have this preseason for that to happen.
Dion Jordan has not played much this preseason.
The top picks from the Miami Dolphins’ 2013 draft class have all been beset by either injury or poor play thus far in this year’s preseason.
Defensive end Dion Jordan has huge potential and showed some impressive flashes during the Hall of Fame Game versus the Dallas Cowboys, but he has only played in 21 snaps this preseason, including none versus the Houston Texans. Apparently still recovering after offseason shoulder surgery, Jordan’s raw game is not going to get much better if he cannot get on the field.
Injuries have also been a problem for cornerback Jamar Taylor, who finally got on the field for 14 snaps versus the Texans on Saturday, according to Pro Football Focus.
Fellow rookie cornerback Will Davis, meanwhile, lost some of his momentum from training camp versus the Texans, according to ESPN’s James Walker. He was beaten for a 38-yard receiving touchdown, according to Walker, and he “needs to work on being more consistent.”
Dallas Thomas has had a tumultuous preseason thus far. Lining up as the second-team left tackle in the Hall of Fame Game, Thomas looked horrible in pass protection and allowed Cowboys pass-rusher George Selvie to have a big night. His overall PFF grade for the preseason is at minus-4.4.
The most impressive rookie performances have come from less heralded young players.
Fifth-round pick Caleb Sturgis has made all three of his field-goal attempts this preseason. He appears to have won the team’s place-kicking job following the release of Dan Carpenter. Undrafted rookie Chad Bumphis has looked good as a wide receiver, leading the team with seven receptions for 111 yards through the team’s first three preseason games.
Cordarrelle Patterson is making an immediate impression for the Vikings.
The Minnesota Vikings made a big splash in the 2013 NFL draft by selecting three first-round picks.
So far, those first-round picks are off to strong starts.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd has been coming off the bench, but his plus-4.9 overall rating through two games makes him Pro Football Focus’ third-best defensive tackle this preseason.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes created a turnover versus the Buffalo Bills. Showing his press-coverage ability, he was able to lock in Marquise Goodwin on a seven-yard comeback, then tip a pass into the air to create an interception.
Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is also looking like a playmaker early on. He leads the Vikings with six receptions for 73 yards thus far this preseason, and he also has a 50-yard kickoff return.
Another player who stood out versus the Bills on Friday was punter Jeff Locke. The fifth-round pick averaged 48.9 yards per punt in that contest while pinning three of his punts inside the six-yard line.
The New England Patriots have had solid performances from their early-round picks this preseason.
Their grade is bolstered by the emergence of two undrafted pass-catchers, wideout Kenbrell Thompkins and tight end Zach Sudfeld, who have both played well enough to become potential Week 1 starters.
Second-round pick outside linebacker Jamie Collins has looked like a difference-maker in both pass-rush and coverage situations, and second-round wideout Aaron Dobson has shown some ability as a downfield threat. He has four catches for 65 yards after two games.
Third-rounder Logan Ryan is also off to a strong start this preseason at cornerback. He has been very good with a high number of snaps. He leads the team with nine tackles and four pass defenses, and he made a perfect break on a pass versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a pick-six.
The draft picks may be overshadowed thus far, however, by the emerging undrafted players.
This is especially true for Sudfeld. He has made some big plays, including an outstanding catch off an end-zone tip for a 22-yard touchdown versus the Buccaneers. He looks likely to be the team’s starting tight end until Rob Gronkowski returns from injury.
Thompkins has also shown the ability to run routes and get open in the Patriots’ intermediate passing offense. He has not made any big plays this preseason, but he appears to be establishing some rhythm with Tom Brady.
Kenny Vaccaro has been an immediate playmaker for the Saints defense.
The New Orleans Saints needed to find some immediate playmakers for their defense, and thus far this preseason, it appears they have.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro, who is working as the team’s third safety, has been very active with 12 tackles and a pass defense through two preseason contests. According to Jeff Duncan of the Times-Picayune, Vaccaro was “all over the field” last Friday versus the Oakland Raiders.
He hasn’t been the only standout among the Saints’ defensive rookies.
Undrafted free agent Glenn Foster has three sacks through two games and has an overall Pro Football Focus rating of plus-7.5, the best of any 3-4 defensive end in the league. With a plus-1.5 rating, third-rounder John Jenkins has also had positive production at nose tackle.
Rookies have also made an immediate impression on the offensive side of the ball.
Undrafted running back Khiry Robinson out of Division II West Texas A&M is making a case for a roster spot with 102 rushing yards on 22 carries. Wide receiver Kenny Stills, who is competing to be the team’s No. 3 receiver, has five catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. Third-round pick Terron Armstead, who is considered the team’s left tackle of the future, has graded out as PFF’s fourth-best pass-blocking tackle this preseason.
Damontre Moore had a great game versus the Steelers.
The New York Giants haven’t seen much action yet from offensive tackle Justin Pugh, as the team's first-round pick missed the preseason opener versus the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a concussion.
Third-round pick Damontre Moore also sat out a game due to a shoulder injury, but he was fantastic versus the Steelers. Moore brought strong pressure against a shaky Steelers offensive line and was also stout against the run, making an outstanding play early in the game with a leaping punt block.
By all accounts, Ryan Nassib has been a disappointment. The fourth-round pick out of Syracuse has looked uncomfortable in the pocket and has been sacked more times (four) than he has completed passes (three) through two games. Expected to challenge David Carr for the No. 2 quarterback role, he seems more likely to be the third man on the depth chart as a rookie.
Geno Smith's preseason has been set back by an ankle injury.
The New York Jets’ preseason is off to a rough start for their two most-hyped rookies, quarterback Geno Smith and cornerback Dee Milliner.
Smith had a solid showing in the Jets’ preseason opener versus the Detroit Lions, completing six of seven passes for 47 yards. But he suffered an ankle injury in that game, keeping him out on Saturday versus the Jacksonville Jaguars.
If Smith is going to win the starting QB job, he'll need to get healthy to make a late push at Mark Sanchez.
Milliner, meanwhile, had his play criticized following the Jaguars game, not only by outside observers but also from members of his own team. According to NFL.com, both Antonio Cromartie and head coach Rex Ryan were disappointed with his play.
"For him it's a learning experience," Cromartie said. "We expect more from him than we saw tonight."
"I didn't like the way we competed and challenged on the outside -- not so much Cromartie, but from Dee,” Ryan said. "When we call on him, I want him to get up there. Let's go. Let's play.”
While the Jets are expecting Milliner to play better and Smith to get healthy, rookie defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson has been a bright spot. The No. 13 overall pick already has nine tackles this preseason starting at right defensive end and a plus-5.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.
The Oakland Raiders need immediate contributions from their rookie class, but we haven’t seen much yet of their top draft picks.
Cornerback D.J. Hayden and offensive tackle Menelik Watson, the team's first- and second-round picks, respectively, have yet to play this preseason as they recover from separate injuries. Fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson, meanwhile, has fallen to fourth on the team’s QB depth chart and has only six pass attempts this preseason.
Yet there have been some bright spots for the Raiders this preseason.
Wide receiver Brice Butler, the team's selection in Round 7, leads the team with five receptions for 108 yards, including a fully extended 30-yard touchdown catch and a 40-yard catch and run in the team’s preseason opener versus the Dallas Cowboys.
His quarterback on the touchdown catch was undrafted rookie Matt McGloin, who has played well enough to potentially push Wilson out of a job altogether.
Jake Knott has been a pleasant surprise for the Eagles.
A number of Philadelphia Eagles rookies have already made a strong impression this preseason.
No. 4 overall pick Lane Johnson became an immediate starter at right tackle and gave up a sack against the Carolina Panthers, but he still has an overall grade of plus-0.5 from Pro Football Focus for his play through two games.
Second-round pick tight end Zach Ertz has shown some decent playmaking ability, with 46 yards on five receptions thus far.
The most impressive rookies thus far, however, have been on defense.
Third-round pick Bennie Logan has been a difference-maker on the defensive line with seven tackles, a half-sack and a pass deflection, giving him an overall PFF grade of plus-3.7. Undrafted outside linebacker Jake Knott out of Iowa State has impressed Chip Kelly and has shown playmaking range early on, and with six tackles, a half-sack and a pass deflection, he has a PFF grade of plus-4.0.
One rookie who has struggled is quarterback Matt Barkley. He struggled with lacking arm strength and inconsistent accuracy in the team’s preseason opener versus the New England Patriots, and he's completed only 19 of 36 passing attempts for 175 yards.
Jarvis Jones has already been a playmaker for the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense.
While outside linebacker Jarvis Jones has struggled to get to the quarterback in the Steelers’ first two games, the No. 17 overall pick has already made some big plays with both a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
For second-round pick Le’Veon Bell, it has been a rocky start to the running back's young career. He missed the first game due to a knee injury then left the second preseason game after one series and is likely to be out at least a month into the season with a foot injury.
Wideout Markus Wheaton has flashed his potential, showing his speed and playmaking ability with a number of plays, including a 45-yard reception on Monday night versus the Washington Redskins.
That said, he has been inconsistent thus far. He made a poor decision late versus the Redskins when he reversed a reception well behind the line of scrimmage trying to find a lane, only to end up with no gain on the play.
Some of the team's other rookies have made solid impressions. Inside linebacker Vince Williams has shown physicality in the middle and has five tackles through two games. Strong safety Shamarko Thomas has been an active playmaker with 10 tackles. And with five receptions for 37 yards, Justin Brown has already shown the ability to make some tough catches.
D.J. Fluker should start at right tackle for the Chargers this year.
The San Diego Chargers need to be better at the offensive tackle position this year. That effort relies heavily upon the emergence of No. 11 overall pick D.J. Fluker.
According to Bleacher Report’s Chris Hansen and the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, Fluker has struggled in pass protection this preseason but has been strong as a run-blocker. He can be an immediate asset to the Chargers’ rushing offense, but Phillip Rivers and the Bolts must be able to rely on him in the pass game as well.
The Chargers’ other early-round rookies haven’t done much to stand out this preseason.
Inside linebacker Manti Te’o, who is slated to start, missed the Chargers’ game versus the Bears due to a foot sprain. Keenan Allen has made four receptions for 40 yards, but he's also lost a fumble and failed to stand out even in a WR group battered by injuries.
One rookie who has outperformed expectations is undrafted nose tackle Kwame Geathers out of Georgia. His plus-4.0 rating from Pro Football Focus ranks fifth among all defensive tackles in the NFL this preseason.
Eric Reid has performed well on the field for the San Francisco 49ers.
The San Francisco 49ers have seen decent production from their rookies this preseason.
First-round pick free safety Eric Reid made an immediate impression in the team’s preseason opener with six tackles. He told the San Jose Mercury News that he felt “comfortable.” He actually graded out better with a plus-1.1 rating from Pro Football Focus for his second preseason game versus the Kansas City Chiefs, so he's becoming increasingly comfortable.
Tight end Vance McDonald had a productive debut versus the Denver Broncos, catching four passes for 66 yards. The second-round pick did not play against the Chiefs.
Third-round pick outside linebacker Corey Lemonier has made an immediate impression as a pass-rusher. With one sack and four hurries in only 20 pass-rush snaps thus far this preseason, Lemonier leads all 3-4 outside linebacker in pass-rush productivity, according to PFF.
Second-round pick defensive end Tank Carradine and the team’s two fourth-round picks, running back Marcus Lattimore and wide receiver Quinton Patton, have yet to play this preseason. The 49ers have gotten some promising play out of two late-rounds picks, however.
Sixth-round pick linebacker Nick Moody has been very active and leads the team with 15 tackles.
Quarterback B.J. Daniels, who was a surprising seventh-round draft selection this year, is actually making a solid case for not only a roster spot but potentially the No. 2 spot on the quarterback depth chart.
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh announced that Daniels will get even practice reps with Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien in the backup quarterback competition. Daniels has had a very solid preseason thus far: six completions on nine attempts, 72 yards, one touchdown.
Christine Michael has gotten his share of carries this preseason.
The Seattle Seahawks’ two best rookies this preseason have arguably been a pair of undrafted players.
With 2.5 sacks, outside linebacker Benson Mayowa has made an immediate push for a roster spot. Meanwhile, offensive lineman Alvin Bailey has been working at left tackle and been excellent—Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller said Bailey was one of the most impressive offensive linemen of the preseason’s first week, when the Seahawks played the San Diego Chargers.
The Seahawks also drafted two running backs this year, and both of them have made an immediate impression this preseason. Both have 16 carries, with second-round pick Christine Michael gaining 89 yards and sixth-round pick Spencer Ware gaining 86.
The Seahawks did not make any picks in the top 60 spots of the 2013 NFL draft, but they could get some immediate production from some unheralded players.
Tavon Austin has yet to make a big impact this preseason.
Expectations are high for the rookie season of No. 8 overall pick Tavon Austin, but he is going to have to step up his play from where he has been this preseason.
He has only played 26 snaps and has an overall grade of minus-2.1 from Pro Football Focus, while his only offensive production has been 28 yards on four receptions.
The Rams’ second first-round pick, inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, has also struggled. He has a minus-4.1 overall grade from PFF, created mostly from a minus-3.6 grade in pass coverage.
Notably, Ogletree was beaten on a two-yard out route by Cleveland Browns running back Dion Lewis in the end zone to give up a touchdown in the Rams’ preseason opener. PFF also credited Ogletree with two missed tackles versus the Green Bay Packers.
It hasn’t been much better for the rest of the Rams' rookies thus far either.
Third-round pick T.J. McDonald, who is being called upon to start immediately at safety, has a minus-1.9 grade from PFF. Fourth-round pick offensive lineman Barrett Jones has a minus-2.7 grade, while fifth-round pick Zac Stacy has only received seven carries for 23 yards.
Johnthan Banks is looking like an immediate starter at cornerback.
After trading for cornerback Darrelle Revis and using their third-round pick on a developmental quarterback in Mike Glennon, the rookies whom the Buccaneers are expecting to step up immediately are cornerback Johnthan Banks and defensive tackle Akeem Spence.
Both of them are off to a good start this preseason.
Banks has been steady this preseason. He looks to be well on his way to earning a starting role opposite Revis. Banks has seven tackles and a pass deflection already, while he has only given up 0.28 yards per cover snap thus far, according to Pro Football Focus.
Spence also appears to be ready to start at nose tackle. He has an overall rating of plus-3.5 from PFF through his first two preseason games and performed very well against the New England Patriots in the team’s second preseason game. Notably, he did a great job sniffing out a screen pass to Patriots running back Shane Vereen and catching him for a tackle for loss.
Another rookie to make an immediate impression this preseason has been sixth-round pick Mike James, who could be in the line for the team’s No. 2 running back job. He has run the ball well this preseason, leading the team with 96 yards on 21 attempts while also having four receptions for 18 yards.
Titans guard Chance Warmack improved from one game to the next.
No. 10 overall pick Chance Warmack, who is expected to be a star for the Tennessee Titans at right guard, did not get off to a great start in his preseason debut versus the Washington Redskins, at least in the eyes of MMQB’s Peter King. King tweeted that Warmack had a “frightening” first NFL series in which he was driven back badly on a run play and later beaten for a sack.
Warmack received a grade of minus-2.2 for the Titans’ preseason opener from Pro Football Focus, but he bounced back for a plus-3.2 grade in 36 snaps versus the Cincinnati Bengals. PFF’s Pete Damilatis called it a “nice bounce back game” for Warmack.
While Warmack is progressing, the Titans are likely still looking for more from some of their other rookies.
Second-round pick wide receiver Justin Hunter has only caught two passes for 14 yards this preseason. Third-round pick cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, meanwhile, has graded out as the NFL’s fourth-worst cornerback by PFF this preseason with an overall grade of minus-3.9.
Bacarri Rambo is in line to start immediately for the Redskins.
The Washington Redskins have two rookie starters in their secondary between second-round pick cornerback David Amerson and sixth-round pick free safety Baccari Rambo. As should be expected of rookie starters, both players have had their ups and downs during the preseason thus far.
While Amerson had an impressive grade of plus-3.5 for the Redskins’ preseason opener from Pro Football Focus, he had a number of missed assignments on Monday night versus the Pittsburgh Steelers that allowed long completions late in the first quarter.
Rambo’s most notable play of the preseason came when he was beaten on a double move in the open field by Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson en route to a 59-yard touchdown run. While he has an overall grade of minus-1.9 for the preseason, he did play better versus the Steelers, including a hit in the backfield that forced a fumble.
Injuries have set back some of the Redskins’ other rookies. Third-round pick tight end Jordan Reed missed the Redskins’ preseason opener due to a foot injury and only caught one pass for four yards versus the Steelers.
Fourth-round pick safety Phillip Thomas was lost for the season to a Lisfranc foot injury, while fifth-round pick running back Chris Thompson only played four snaps in his debut versus the Steelers before suffering a shoulder injury (he also fumbled on the play).
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.