Stat Predictions for the NFL's Top 10 Rookies
As we approach the 60-day mark in our countdown to the start of the NFL season, the roles of rookies are really starting to come into focus. Obviously, with training camps on the horizon, much can change, but for now things are fairly chalk as far as which rookies are going to be early-impact players.
Looking over this current class, we can see there will likely be some great stats, but it's safe to assume that these rookie records are safe:
- Passing Yards: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (2012): 4,374
- Passing Touchdowns: Peyton Manning (1998), Russell Wilson (2012): 26
- Rushing Yards: Eric Dickerson (1983): 1,808
- Receptions: Anquan Boldin (2003): 101
- Receiving Yards: Bill Groman (1960): 1,473
- Total Touchdowns: Gale Sayers (1965): 22
Even if we don't see any record-breaking performances, we can still enjoy some tremendous players. Let's predict how the top rookies from this draft class are going to perform in 2014.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings
It was nice to see the Minnesota Vikings recognize their need for a quarterback as well as the value in drafting Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the first round. A key reason this team finished 5-10-1 last year was because its offense was lacking consistent quarterback play. The Vikings' cumulative quarterback rating in 2013 was a woeful 76.0.
Bridgewater might not be adding a physical presence like Cam Newton or a weapon like Newton’s cannon arm, either. However, Bridgewater brings a poise and cerebral game that is nearly impossible to coach into a player. Expect Bridgewater to produce a very quiet, albeit efficient season.
The good news for Bridgewater is he has plenty of tools to work with. There are a number of quarterbacks who would be overjoyed with throwing to Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings, and handing off to Adrian Peterson.
Having said that, what can we expect from Bridgewater? Well, if we look at New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith as a guide, things look promising. Even with his growing pains and lack of effective skill players, Smith finished his rookie season with 3,046 yards. He had only a 66.5 rating, though, due in large part to 21 interceptions and only a 55.8 percent completion rate.
Looking at Bridgewater, he should be in a position to eclipse all those numbers with ease. There’s no better security blanket for a young quarterback than an elite running back. Minnesota’s depth is awful, but if the starters can stay healthy, look for Bridgewater to have an excellent season.
2014 Projections: 3,645 yards passing, 19 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 61.5 percent completion percentage for an 87.9 rating
Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns
There's no incoming rookie more polarizing than Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. For this exercise, let’s assume that all goes well at training camp, and Manziel is named the starter for the season opener.
The hope for the Browns is that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan can do for Manziel what he did for Robert Griffin III while with the Washington Redskins. While Manziel isn't quite the athlete RG3 is, he is every bit the passer. The key will be for Shanahan to keep Manziel reined in and healthy.
If Cleveland wasn’t going to be without wide receiver Josh Gordon for an indefinite amount of time, this prediction would be easier. Regardless, Manziel is playing in the AFC North, where points will be scored in waves. Manziel is going to be called upon to press the issue with his arm and his feet right from the start.
2014 Projections: 3,010 yards passing, 14 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 58.7 completion percentage for a 76.9 rating; 101 rushing attempts, 534 yards, six touchdowns
Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans are ushering in a new era with big changes all over the field. One significant area where Titans fans will need to adjust their eyes is at running back. Chris Johnson is out, and Bishop Sankey is in.
It was logical for the Titans to cut Johnson loose. Between his sporadic production and financial burden, it was best for both parties to move on. The question is, how effective of a replacement can Sankey be?
The answer is: extremely.
Sankey is a solid runner who proved to be very productive during his time at Washington. He is a running back who works off of momentum. The more touches he gets, the better he runs. The Titans coaches need to identify this and feed him the football.
The Titans hired former San Diego Chargers tight ends coach Jason Michael to be their offensive coordinator, and he brings with him no fear of pounding the rock. San Diego ran the ball 486 times in 2013, working out to just over 30 carries per game.
This is excellent news for Sankey, especially when we consider the competition around him. Veteran Shonn Greene might hawk some carries, but he is not going to carry the load over Sankey. Look for the former Huskies star to have a big season.
2014 Projections: 245 carries, 1,127 yards, six rushing touchdowns; 22 receptions, 156 yards receiving, two receiving touchdowns
Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
I want to begin by saying that Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill's talent as a football player doesn't absolve him from his previous off-field indiscretions.
Having said that, Hill is a talented running back who has found himself in a nearly ideal situation. Hill is likely to be in a running-back-by-committee situation where carries are shared between him and Giovani Bernard.
In 2013, Bernard (170 carries) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (220) split running duties. This year, I expect those numbers to be inverted, with Bernard easily topping 220 carries and Hill filling the Green-Ellis role with carries somewhere in that 170 range.
2014 Projections: 170 carries, 665 yards, eight rushing touchdowns; 16 receptions, 116 yards, one receiving touchdown
Tre Mason, RB, St. Louis Rams
Last season, Zac Stacy was a nice surprise for the St. Louis Rams. He finished the year with 250 carries and nearly 1,000 yards rushing. The addition of Tre Mason can only help the Rams offense. His breakaway speed should give the Rams another dimension, and any opportunity to make life easier for quarterback Sam Bradford is a good thing.
St. Louis used explosive wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in the run game to try to add some punch but with limited success. Mason on the roster gives them that without having to resort to novelty plays.
After Stacy, backups Benny Cunningham and Daryl Richardson totaled only 116 carries. The Rams struggled mightily to move the football, so look for a heavy dose of Stacy and Mason, especially on early downs. If Mason can get around 115 carries, it will take a ton of pressure off the rest of the Rams offense.
2014 Projections: 115 carries, 585 yards, four touchdowns; 11 receptions, 88 yards, one touchdown
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills
To understand how well wide receiver Sammy Watkins will do his rookie season, we need to take a look at the roster as a whole. The Buffalo Bills have a respectable three-headed receiving group with Watkins, Robert Woods and Mike Williams.
Once we sprinkle in running back C.J. Spiller, we can see how there's potential for the Bills offense to be explosive. That all depends, however, on whether quarterback EJ Manuel is ready to take the next step as a passer.
In 2013, wide receiver Steve Johnson was targeted 100 times. Johnson is gone, and as promising as Woods is, I look for Watkins to steal most of those targets in 2014. Watkins’ ability to turn a quick throw into a long run is going to quickly make him a favorite for Manuel.
If Watkins wasn’t competing for looks with Woods, Williams and Spiller, he could run away with the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Instead, he’s going to have a solid season laced with some incredible plays.
2014 Projections: 68 receptions, 1,006 yards and 11 touchdowns
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ranked dead last in passing yards in 2013. That was the impetus for spending a first-round pick on Texas A&M star Mike Evans. Evans is a massive target with shocking athletic ability.
Looking ahead to Evans in 2014, it’ll all come down to offensive philosophy. Head coach Lovie Smith is sure to try to pound the football. And let’s be honest, for all Smith has done in the NFL, building high-powered offenses hasn’t been a part of his resume.
During his tenure with Chicago, Smith has exactly one season where his offense was in the top 10 in scoring (No. 2 in 2006) and has never had an offense rank higher than No. 15. Perhaps the saving grace for Evans will be that Smith isn’t afraid to center a passing offense around one wide receiver. Brandon Marshall caught 118 balls in 2012.
Nevertheless, it might be best to temper our enthusiasm, especially when we consider that Evans is lining up opposite Vincent Jackson, who’s an exceptional wide receiver in his own right.
2014 Projections: 57 receptions, 906 yards, seven touchdowns
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is in the opposite situation of fellow rookie Mike Evans. Their physical types and skill sets are strikingly similar, but at least this year, Benjamin’s situation appears to be much more favorable.
Benjamin is in line to win a starting job, and he'll probably be the best wide receiver Carolina will trot out this season. He has a distinct advantage over other rookie wide receivers in terms of immediate success. Having Newton as his quarterback is a big bonus.
Newton might be the most physically gifted quarterback in the league. Pressure is on Newton to turn this team around, so if Benjamin can get up to speed, there will be plenty of targets coming his way.
In 2013, Newton targeted wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen 23 percent of the time each. That means nearly half of his pass attempts went to one of those two players. With Smith gone, Benjamin can slide into that role and excel if he’s ready to play.
Another factor working in Benjamin’s favor is that the Panthers have an effective, but not elite, run game. Head coach Ron Rivera ran the ball more than he threw it last year but look for that trend to reverse in 2014.
2014 Projections: 71 receptions, 1,050 yards, nine touchdowns
Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints
If there is one thing a New Orleans Saints wide receiver can count on, it's that there will be passes headed his way. Quarterback Drew Brees isn’t shy about slinging it around, and week to week one never knows which guy he’s going to focus on.
This is a blessing and a curse for former Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks. With Cooks' speed and explosion, he is a perfect fit for what the Saints like to do. Add in the losses of Lance Moore and Darren Sproles and things look even more promising.
The downside? For all his talent, Cooks might still be Brees’ third or fourth option in the passing game. Tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receivers Marques Colston and Kenny Stills will be out there to steal reps as they shape a supremely balanced passing offense.
Cooks’ best shot is to steal some of the nearly 150 targets that went toward running backs in 2013, as well as some of the 54 targets Moore saw. Even with that, Cooks is going to need to bide his time before he can be successful.
2014 Projections: 33 receptions, 485 yards, four touchdowns
Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron is the only tight end to work his way onto this list. This wasn’t a stellar draft class for tight ends, but Ebron was easily the best of the bunch. Ebron is also in an excellent position to succeed and do so early.
The Lions are starving for another receiving threat to line up with wide receiver Calvin Johnson. In 2013, Nos. 2 and 3 on the Lions' receptions chart were running backs. And it is clear from 94 targets that the Lions want to incorporate the tight end into the offense.
However, don’t get it twisted. Ebron is not going to be spending a lot of time tight on the line of scrimmage. The Lions are going to put Ebron in the slot, allow him to get a free release off the line of scrimmage and punish defenses with his size and speed.
2014 Projections: 65 receptions, 657 yards and 10 touchdowns
Thanks to ThePostGame.com (Yahoo Sports) for the rookie numbers.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com.