Biggest Takeaways from Every NFL Team's Rookie Class so Far
It's Thanksgiving, and among many wonderful things in life, I'm thankful for super-awesome rookie NFL players. Some come from nowhere, others from the top of the first round. And the beauty of their emergence is nothing's guaranteed in this league.
Nobody knew for sure what any of the 253 players selected in April's draft would do once the regular season got rolling. But now, as we enter the home stretch of the 2017 campaign, we finally have a half-decent feel for what each team's draft picks have brought and might continue to bring to the table.
Let's gauge the progress that's been made by draft classes in all 32 NFL camps by listing the biggest takeaways related to each group of first-year players.
Haason Reddick and Budda Baker haven't been saviors, but there are signs of life
The fate of the Arizona Cardinals' 2017 draft class was always going to be tied closely to the level of success experienced by the two defensive prospects they selected in the top 36, Temple linebacker Haason Reddick and Washington safety Budda Baker. And while neither can be called busts this early, Cards fans might have liked to have seen more from both through 10 games.
With veteran Markus Golden hurt, Reddick, who had 9.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss as a senior with the Owls, has been on the field for nearly 50 percent of Arizona's defensive snaps. But he has often looked lost, and he has just 1.5 sacks and 25 tackles to date.
Earlier this month, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians called the 23-year-old "a work-in-progress" as a pass-rusher, per Darren Urban of the team's official website.
Baker, an explosive reigning consensus All-American, played a limited role before finally having a chance to start against the Houston Texans in Week 11. And while the sample is small, he did impress in that affair, recording 12 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and a key third-down pass breakup. In the process, he earned a near-perfect grade from Pro Football Focus.
"I thought Budda played his tail off," Arians said, per Kyle Odegard of the team's official website. "Just from the sideline, making the plays he made. He's going to be a heck of a player."
Baker will likely start the remainder of the year in place of the injured Tyvon Branch. He's coming off a breakout game, and it's worth noting that all of Reddick's sacks have come in the last three weeks. If both can maintain their current momentum, this class could be viewed as an early success regardless of what happens with the other five guys the team drafted in April.
As expected, it's too early to judge Takkarist McKinley
The Atlanta Falcons weren't a typical Super Bowl team in 2016, and they didn't experience an offseason typical of a reigning Super Bowl participant. They're loaded with young talent on both sides of the ball, and their roster didn't suffer any major losses in the aftermath. As a result, their 2017 draft class was always going to require some time to prove its worth.
So it shouldn't surprise anybody that we've yet to see much from the six rookies they selected in April, including top pick Takkarist McKinley.
An Energizer Bunny pass-rusher, McKinley was one of the most buzzed-about prospects leading up to the draft, but the 22-year-old has yet to make his first NFL start. He has still managed to get onto the field 41 percent of the time, though, and he has three sacks, 12 tackles and a forced fumble on the year. That's enough to indicate that he's on track to become a strong regular starter in the near future.
But it's simply too early to judge a class that, according to PFF, played fewer combined snaps through 10 weeks than any other rookie class in the NFC.
Defensive-heavy class will need time
In a clear effort to build a fountain of youth for their aging defense, the Baltimore Ravens used their top four selections in April's draft on defensive players. But because so many of their big-money defensive veterans remain healthy and productive, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, linebacker Tyus Bowser, defensive end Chris Wormley and pass-rusher Tim Williams have all spent much more time on the sideline than the field.
As the first-round representative of that group, Humphrey's success (or lack of it) will likely make or break how we wind up viewing this class. And because he's played less than 40 percent of Baltimore's defensive snaps, it's too early to draw conclusions.
However, the Alabama product still has seven passes defended, and he recorded his first career interception Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. They're bringing him along slowly, but when he's out there, he already looks like he belongs.
There's a lot to be determined here, but there's also little reason to be concerned about Marlon Humphrey and Co.
Struggles from Nathan Peterman and Zay Jones cloud everything else
You're never going to bat 1.000 with a draft class, but the chasm separating the early successes and the early failures coming out of the Buffalo Bills' 2017 draft resembles the Springfield gorge.
On one hand, first-round cornerback Tre'Davious White has already delivered beyond expectations with 13 passes defended, a pick, two fumble recoveries, a touchdown and 41 tackles as an every-week starter, while second-round guard Dion Dawkins has done a formidable job as a versatile spot starter.
On the other hand, fifth-round quarterback Nathan Peterman threw five interceptions in the first half of his first career start last week, while second-round wide receiver Zay Jones has been a disappointment.
That reflects poorly on the class, because (a) quarterbacks and wide receivers are higher-profile players, (b) Jones was expected to deliver in a major role after they dumped/lost Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, and (c) they've already gone back to veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor after benching him in favor of Peterman for one week.
Peterman isn't ready, and that might never change. And among 78 players who have been targeted at least 50 times this season, only Jones has caught fewer than 40 percent of the passes thrown his way.
White looks as though he'll become a stud, and Dawkins has already exceeded expectations, but Peterman and Jones are bringing the entire 2017 Bills draft class down.
Could that still change? Of course, and to Jones' credit, he might be turning a corner based on improved performances in recent weeks. But he'll have to maintain that, and it remains a reality that Peterman might never pan out.
Both Swiss Army knives have disappointed
The Carolina Panthers sent a message regarding the direction of their offense when they used their first two 2017 draft picks on versatile rushing/receiving weapons Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, but both players have encountered issues early on.
McCaffrey leads all rookies with 57 receptions, but he's still been used primarily as a running back and is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry, which is the second-lowest qualified mark in the NFL. Samuel is out for the remainder of the year due to an ankle injury, but even before suffering said injury, he wasn't making a large impact.
Among players who have been targeted at least 20 times this season, Samuel is one of just four who have averaged fewer than 8.0 yards per catch (7.7) while also catching fewer than 60 percent of the passes thrown their way (57.7).
McCaffrey and Samuel have touched the ball 145 times this season, but they've generated more than 20 yards on just three of those touches. That lack of playmaking probably isn't what the Panthers and their fans had in mind when the team drafted both players in April, and it hurts even more considering the only other Carolina draftee who has made an impact is seventh-round placekicker Harrison Butker.
Trubisky, Cohen and Jackson have them on the right track
First-round pick Mitchell Trubisky hasn't been the best rookie quarterback in football this season, fourth-round selection Tarik Cohen hasn't been the best rookie running back in football this season, and fellow fourth-rounder Eddie Jackson probably hasn't been the best rookie safety in football this season. But when you consider that all three Chicago Bears rookies are playing significant roles and showing signs of progress, you begin to gain a sense of hope regarding the 2017 draft class and the team's future.
Trubisky hasn't been asked to do a whole lot, and he got off to a predictably shaky start while working with a barren supporting cast after limited time as a starter in college. But he's now coming off three solid performances in a four-game span, and he's turned the ball over just twice in that stretch after doing so three times in his first two career starts.
Cohen didn't enter the league with expectations coming out of something called North Carolina A&T, but he's averaged a solid 4.3 yards per carry while accumulating 33 catches for 264 yards as a complement to top dog Jordan Howard.
And Jackson has blown everyone away as an every-week starter. PFF graded him as the ninth-best rookie in the NFL through 11 weeks, and he earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in Week 7 after becoming the first player in NFL history to score two 75-plus-yard defensive touchdowns in the same game.
Second-round tight end Adam Shaheen hasn't been as productive as those three, but he entered the league raw coming out of Division II Ashland. And even Shaheen has come around of late, catching six passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in the last two weeks.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace deserves a round of applause.
Ross, Mixon and Willis could all go bust
OK, stop applauding. The Cincinnati Bengals don't deserve the same praise as the Bears.
Their top pick, famously speedy wide receiver John Ross, has yet to catch a pass despite being in the lineup for three games in what's been an injury-marred season. Their second-round pick, high-profile former Oklahoma back Joe Mixon, has been even less productive than McCaffrey as a runner while possessing way less ability as a receiver. And their third-rounder, former Kansas State pass-rusher Jordan Willis, has just one sack and 17 tackles under his belt.
Because he's been healthy, Mixon has less of an excuse than Ross. That 2.9 yards-per-attempt average ranks dead-last among qualified players, which is just silly considering the weapons the team has in the passing game. But Ross took another hit last week when he was called out by his coach for quitting on a route in a loss to the Tennessee Titans.
"For Andy [Dalton], against that coverage to throw him that football, he should understand how the quarterback feels about him," Marvin Lewis said, per Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "That he expects him to be where he needs to be. He let his teammates down. He let me down. He let Andy down."
None of it bodes well, even if fourth-round defensive end Carl Lawson has been a pleasant surprise with 5.5 sacks.
Their strategy is not working
The Cleveland Browns have become obsessed with collecting draft picks, essentially positing that the more picks they have the higher their chances are of landing elite players. It's not necessarily a bad approach, and the philosophy is sound. But it's possible the Browns are so much worse at drafting than most or all of their counterparts that even extra dice won't help them win the crapshoot that is the NFL draft.
In April, the Browns were able to draft four players in the top 52. And entering the home stretch of the season, all four have failed to become consistent assets.
Sure, the jury is still out on top pick Myles Garrett, who hasn't been himself due to a multitude of injuries (foot, then ankle, then a concussion) but has still managed to register four sacks and plenty of pressure in limited action.
But No. 25 overall selection Jabrill Peppers has yet to record a takeaway as an every-week starter at safety, phenom first-round tight end David Njoku has caught just 51.3 percent of the passes thrown his way for 211 total yards, and second-round quarterback DeShone Kizer is by far the lowest-rated qualified passer in the NFL.
Kizer has committed a league-high 18 turnovers in nine starts, losing all nine of them. And five of those turnovers have come in the last two weeks, so it's not as though he's been turning a corner. There's a good chance he isn't the long-term answer under center and that at least one or two of the players the Browns drafted ahead of him won't pan out either, making this another busted draft class for the NFL's most pathetic franchise.
Unlike last year, no standouts
The Dallas Cowboys and their fans were spoiled by last year's draft class, which included Offensive Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott, NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott and impressive sixth-round cornerback Anthony Brown. And that makes this year's batch of rookies feel particularly ineffective.
But comparisons aside, Dallas just hasn't gotten enough out of the nine players it drafted in April. And that starts at the top. First-round pick Taco Charlton has just one sack in a limited role, and second-round corner Chidobe Awuzie has just six tackles in four appearances.
The middle rounds actually give you some hope. Third-rounder Jourdan Lewis has done a solid job in a nickel corner role, fourth-rounder Ryan Switzer has performed well on kick returns, and sixth-round safety Xavier Woods has flashed playmaking ability on defense and special teams.
But that isn't enough to save this class, which needs more from the big guns.
Garett Bolles has a bright future, but that's not enough
The Denver Broncos have the opposite problem. Notwithstanding some hiccups, their top pick, former Utah offensive tackle Garett Bolles, has performed relatively well as a consistent starter on the blind side. But nobody else has been able to stand out.
Second-round defensive end DeMarcus Walker has barely seen the field, third-round receiver Carlos Henderson is on injured reserve due to a torn left thumb ligament, third-round corner Brendan Langley has only been useful on special teams, which has also been the case with fifth-round receiver/return man Isaiah McKenzie, and intriguing late-round picks Jake Butt and Chad Kelly have been on injured reserve all season.
A lot of these guys weren't expected to play large roles, but that none of them have emerged is not a great sign.
And it's not as though Bolles is going to the Pro Bowl. He's still been owned quite frequently by strong edge-rushers, and while his run blocking has been good, he takes too many penalties. He's been OK, which doesn't make up for the fact the rest of the class is in the Witness Protection Program.
Injuries are of course a factor, and these guys deserve more time. Right now, though, Denver's 2017 rookie class looks like a failure.
Jamal Agnew is a wild card, but he alone can't save this class
Detroit Lions rookie first-round linebacker Jarrad Davis has enjoyed some nice moments this year, but as the season has worn on, he's been exposed far too often. The Florida product misses far too many tackles, contributing to problems the Lions have endured when trying to stop the run, and he has looked lost more often than one would expect of a four-year SEC veteran.
Looking at the rest of the group, nobody else—including popular Day 2 picks Teez Tabor and Kenny Golladay—has made much of an impact, with one surprising exception. That's fifth-round corner Jamal Agnew, who has already scored on two punt returns and leads the league with a 16.8-yard average when returning punts.
Even if you removed the San Diego product's two punt return touchdowns, he'd still rank seventh in the NFL with a 10.4 yards-per-return average.
Agnew hasn't actually played any corner yet, but he's already made a larger impact than the vast majority of the 164 players selected ahead of him in the 2017 draft.
Still, somebody who plays on regular downs will have to step up in order for this class to be seen as a success.
Green Bay Packers
Injury to Aaron Jones complicates matters
The Green Bay Packers tried to address their issues in the defensive backfield by using their top two 2017 draft picks on big cornerback Kevin King and big, rangy safety Josh Jones, but neither youngster has made much of an impact.
Beyond that, a foot injury has prevented third-round defensive tackle Montravius Adams from contributing, and fourth-round linebacker Vince Biegel is only now being eased back from a foot injury of his own.
So Green Bay's rookie defensive class hasn't cut it, leaving the three running backs they drafted in the later rounds a shot to at least help fill a void on the other side of the ball. The problem is fourth-rounder Jamaal Williams has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry, sixth-rounder Devante Mays has fumbled twice on just three carries, and fifth-rounder Aaron Jones is out several weeks due to a left MCL sprain.
That's the real shame here, because Jones had a chance to carry the load for the Packers as well as general manager Ted Thompson's draft class. The Texas-El Paso product hit the 125-yard mark on the ground twice in a three-week span in October and was averaging 5.3 yards per attempt before going down.
Now, he could be out a while as Thompson hopes and prays that somebody else can emerge.
Season-ending injuries don't change the fact Watson and Foreman are the future
The Houston Texans were provided a glimpse into their future during the first half of the 2017 season. First-round rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson lit up the league with 19 touchdowns, an 8.3 yards-per-attempt average, a 103.0 passer rating and 38.4 rushing yards per game during the season's first seven outings, while third-round running back D'Onta Foreman picked up steam while averaging 4.2 yards per game during the first 10 games of the year.
Sadly for the Texans and their fans, that's all they'll get from both players in 2017. The injured reserve stole both of them, but Watson's performance alone was enough to ensure that this class was a winner for Texans general manager Rick Smith.
Throw in Foreman's solid 10-game run and a strong season to this point from second-round linebacker Zach Cunningham, and this looks like one of the top rookie classes in football.
Malik Hooker did enough
The Texans aren't the only AFC South team that saw enough from a now-injured first-round rookie early in the season to know they have something special on their hands. The division rival Indianapolis Colts got only six starts out of first-year safety Malik Hooker before he went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 7, but the former Ohio State stud intercepted three passes while showing off his range and speed during that stretch.
Hooker looks like a future All-Pro, which helps compensate for the fact second-round cornerback Quincy Wilson hasn't played since Week 2 and was apparently a healthy scratch for a good chunk of that inactive stretch.
Wilson's rookie season is probably a write-off, and they haven't gotten much from other draftees like third-round defensive end Tarell Basham, fourth-round back Marlon Mack, fourth-round defensive tackle Grover Stewart or fifth-round corner Nate Hairston.
In other words, Hooker had better pick up where he left off when he returns to action in 2018.
Dede Westbook is a wild card
There weren't any indications highly touted rookie running back Leonard Fournette would fail to deliver for the Jacksonville Jaguars, so it's no surprise the No. 4 overall pick out of LSU has come through with an AFC-high 92.5 rushing yards per game.
That was a no-brainer pick, though, and the Jags haven't gotten a lot else out of their rookies this season. Yeah, second-round offensive tackle Cam Robinson has started all 10 games on the blind side, but the Alabama product has a long way to go before he can even be considered an asset rather than a liability. And they've received next to nothing from middle-round front-seven defenders Dawuane Smoot and Blair Brown.
That's what makes these final six weeks so important for fourth-round wide receiver Dede Westbrook, who dazzled with 13 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason but then went down with a core muscle injury just prior to the start of the regular season.
The speedster from Oklahoma finally made his season debut Sunday, falling 165 yards short of his stated goal of 200 receiving yards in a victory over the Browns. Still, Westbrook's head coach was pleased with his maiden performance.
"The one thing I'm happy with is that it's not too big," Doug Marrone said, per John Reid of the Florida Times-Union. "In other words, Westbrook came in there and he made a big play down the sideline. He had the opportunity to make another play, but I'm happy with seeing that type of confidence. I liked his effort, I really did. I thought he did a nice job in the blocking aspect of it. He'll get better each time he's out there."
If that holds true, he and Fournette will give this rookie class a good look. But if Westbrook fails to get going, general manager David Caldwell could begin to take heat for this group.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kareem Hunt is a star
That's all you really need to know when looking at the Kansas City Chiefs' 2017 draft class, especially since Hunt is a third-round pick and it would be unfair to judge tablet-holding first-round quarterback Patrick Mahomes II while he marinates behind veteran starter Alex Smith.
Hunt's productivity has dropped off as the Chiefs have struggled in recent weeks, but the Toledo product still ranks second in football in terms of both rushing yards and yards from scrimmage, and his 5.0 yards-per-attempt average ranks second among 29 backs with at least 100 carries. He's got a huge future, and the Chiefs landed him after he was passed on 85 times. That's a draft win.
Of course, it'll help if Mahomes comes through eventually, or if somebody else from that draft class steps up. Because right now, only Hunt has made an impression.
Los Angeles Chargers
Benefit of the doubt until 2018
When the Los Angeles Chargers lost their top two 2017 draft picks, wide receiver Mike Williams and guard Forrest Lamp, to significant offseason injuries, we all knew we'd have to wait until 2018 to get a true feel for general manager Tom Telesco's draft performance. Williams was rusty when he finally debuted in mid-October and is now bothered by a knee injury, and Lamp is out for the year with a torn ACL, so it wouldn't seem fair to draw conclusions about either.
It's also easier to reserve judgement when you see good things from the healthy members of the class, such as third-round guard Dan Feeney and fifth-round cornerback Desmond King.
Feeney finally got a shot to start in place of the injured Matt Slauson in Week 8, and he responded by allowing zero pressures on 30 pass-blocking snaps in order to earn a spot on PFF's Team of the Week. And he's been just as effective since, but Feeney hasn't been the best rookie on the Bolts' roster because King has already emerged as one of the better slot corners in football.
Throw in that undrafted running back Austin Ekeler has averaged a stupendous 5.3 yards per carry while accumulating over 150 yards and multiple touchdowns as both a rusher and a receiver, and it's safe to say the peripheral guys in Telesco's 2017 class have kept the group afloat while they wait on Williams and Lamp.
Los Angeles Rams
Top three picks are playing roles on a contender
To be viewed as successful, a draft class doesn't necessarily need to contain superstars. Take the Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams didn't have a first-round pick in the 2017 draft (beginning to look like it was worth sacrificing that in order to land Jared Goff, but I digress), yet L.A. added three quality players on Day 2 who have contributed right away.
Their first selection, former South Alabama tight end Gerald Everett, has caught only nine passes while playing just 30 percent of the team's offensive snaps. That's fine, as he wasn't drafted to become a Pro Bowler right away anyway. But he's averaged a ridiculous 22.9 yards on those receptions.
And while Everett has flashed his big-play ability in small doses, third-round wide receiver Cooper Kupp has become one of Goff's most consistently productive weapons. The 24-year-old from Eastern Washington has caught multiple passes in all 10 games, compiling 481 yards and three touchdowns along the way.
But the real story might be third-round safety John Johnson III, who quickly flashed the versatility and ball skills you want to see in a new-age safety. The 21-year-old was promoted into a starting role one month into the season, and he hasn't looked back. In fact, PFF grades him as a top-10 rookie, league-wide.
Nobody in this class is in the running for Rookie of the Year, but steady if unspectacular starts from the top three are enough to indicate general manager Les Snead ran a strong draft, even if it lacked sex appeal.
Zero impact players, with an asterisk
All of these assessments should be viewed with an asterisk, simply because it's early and a lot could change.
In the case of the Miami Dolphins' rookie class, a lot can change with first-round defensive end Charles Harris, who has just one sack and 10 tackles despite playing more than half of Miami's defensive snaps. Same with third-round cornerback Cordrea Tankersley, who has started eight games but has yet to generate a takeaway.
But that asterisk also exists on behalf of injured second-round linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who was standing out in the offseason and was slated to start before suffering a torn ACL in the preseason.
There's still hope for Harris, Tankersley and middle-round picks Isaac Asiata, Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor, and McMillan should be in the conversation for a starting job next summer, but the reality remains that this class has yet to give us anything tangible to applaud.
Dalvin Cook is a centerpiece
This might not console Minnesota Vikings fans who are preoccupied with their team's 2017 Super Bowl aspirations, but rookie Vikings running back Dalvin Cook did enough in just four games early this season to indicate that he's the type of player you can build an offense around.
Cook's torn ACL means that won't be possible until next season, but before suffering that injury he picked up 444 yards from scrimmage in three-and-a-half games. He broke off four 25-plus-yard runs during that short stretch, and added three 10-plus-yard receptions.
Not shabby for a guy Vikes general manager Rick Spielman picked up in the second round.
Later that evening, Spielman drafted former Ohio State center Pat Elflein. And like Cook, Elflein also made an immediate impact as a Week 1 starter. Eleven weeks later, Elflein still hasn't missed a snap. He's gotten better as the season has progressed, helping a Vikings line that has surrendered just one sack since Week 4 and earning a spot on PFF's mid-season NFL All-Rookie Team.
Those two rookies make this draft class an early success, especially considering neither were taken in Round 1.
Now if they could just get something out of any of their other first-year players...
New England Patriots
Deatrich Wise Jr. gives hope to a class that barely exists
With all of the wheeling and dealing the New England Patriots did before and during the 2017 draft, it almost feels as though they decided to skip the draft itself.
They selected only four players, two of whom (third-round defensive end Derek Rivers and offensive tackle Tony Garcia, who was selected two spots later in the same round) have spent the year on injured reserve, and another of whom (sixth-round offensive tackle Conor McDermott) didn't make the roster.
That leaves just fourth-round defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr., who has naturally excelled under Bill Belichick and Co. The Arkansas product has done a good job getting after the passer, and he has three sacks to show for it despite not being an every-down guy.
Wise has been a bit more active than the team's only other real rookie contributor, undrafted Vanderbilt product Adam Butler, who has a sack and 15 tackles in nine appearances and six starts.
Those two are the only proof there is that the Patriots actually have a rookie class.
New Orleans Saints
This class could make history
Only once in NFL history have the league's Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year hailed from the same team, and that was way back in 1967, before the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. That's when the Lions drafted running back Mel Farr in Round 1 and defensive back Lem Barney in Round 2, and both went on to have award-winning seasons.
This year, the New Orleans Saints have a very real chance to become the first team since the merger to accomplish that feat. In fact, not only does it appear that Saints first-round cornerback Marshon Lattimore is a front-runner in the DROY race while third-round running back Alvin Kamara has emerged as the leader of the pack in the OROY race, but the team's other first-round pick, offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, has undoubtedly been the best first-year offensive lineman in the NFL this season.
But it doesn't stop there. Drafted after Lattimore and Ramczyk but before Kamara was a guy named Marcus Williams, who has recorded 40 tackles while starting all 10 of the Saints' games this season. Williams hasn't made headlines like Lattimore and Kamara, but he's become a key cog in that defensive backfield and might have a Pro Bowl-level ceiling.
If all four of those rooks continue down their current paths, this would be one of the most impressive draft classes in NFL history.
New York Giants
Those who have played have exceeded expectations
Because the 2017 New York Giants' season has been an unqualified disaster, it's hard to think of anything the team has done this year as being positive. But look a little closer at that mess in East Rutherford, and you'll find that general manager Jerry Reese might have actually put together a decent draft.
With seemingly the entire receiving corps hiding on injured reserve, first-round tight end Evan Engram has provided a silver lining with 41 catches, 452 yards and five touchdowns. That makes him one of the most productive first-year pass-catchers in the game. Engram is a matchup nightmare, and it's become clear his future is bright.
Ditto for second-round defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, who has immediately become an elite run defender as a starter next to the formidable Damon Harrison. PFF grades the Alabama product as the sixth-best rookie in football thus far.
And while we're still waiting on third-round quarterback Davis Webb, fourth-round running back Wayne Gallman gives this class a few extra points. The Clemson product has to work on his ball security but has still managed 278 scrimmage yards in seven games as a reserve.
Not bad for a middle-round pick, and not a bad draft for a team that has performed terribly.
New York Jets
Young safety duo is on the right track
Despite possessing a plethora of needs, the New York Jets boldly went safety-safety-receiver-receiver in the first four rounds of the 2017 draft.
The good news is the safeties—LSU product Jamal Adams and Florida product Marcus Maye—have performed well. The former has a pair of sacks and 47 tackles, while the latter has a pair of interceptions and 49 tackles. Maye has forced a fumble, Adams has recovered two, they have a combined five passes defended, and neither has missed a start.
The not-so-good news is the receivers—ArDarius Stewart from Alabama and Chad Hansen from California—have caught a combined eight passes for 69 yards, and nobody else in the team's 2017 draft class has made a major impact.
Still, it's too early to give up on Stewart and Hansen, sixth-round running back Elijah McGuire has at least shown positive signs, and the key is for Adams and Maye to continue down a path toward becoming a superstar safety duo.
If that happens, anything else the 2017 draft yields for the Jets will be gravy.
Dud class reflects a dud season
The Oakland Raiders haven't delivered on expectations this season, nor have their rookies. That doesn't mean everyone's a bust, but at the very least it looks as though we'll have to wait until next year to get a feel for top pick Gareon Conley (who has been on injured reserve since Week 4 due to lingering shin splints) or enticing second-round safety Obi Melifonwu (who spent the first eight weeks of the year on IR due to a knee injury).
Third-round defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes has been practically invisible, which is hard to do when you're 6'3", 305 pounds and you've participated in 49 percent of your team's defensive snaps. And nobody else from that rookie class has made any sort of impact.
Thus far, Reggie McKenzie's rookie draft class has been a dud, as was the case in 2016 and 2015.
Sidney Jones could make this class special
Prior to the season, it was tough to tell what kind of impact Philadelphia Eagles first-round pass-rusher Derek Barnett would make. The Eagles were already loaded with veteran talent up front, and Barnett wasn't likely to start.
He hasn't started, and he's been on the field for just 46 percent of Philly's defensive snaps, and yet the Tennessee product already has 4.5 sacks under his belt. Barnett has performed among the most effective 4-3 defensive ends in terms of pressuring the quarterback, and he's also played well against the run.
Meanwhile, third-round cornerback Rasul Douglas has been stellar in coverage when called upon (chipping in with two interceptions as well), fourth-round wide receiver Mack Hollins has caught 10 of the 11 passes thrown his way, and undrafted running back Corey Clement has made up for the absence of injured fourth-rounder Donnel Pumphrey by scoring six touchdowns in a change-of-pace role.
All that's missing? Second-round cornerback Sidney Jones, who continues to be sidelined by an Achilles injury. That secondary could use the help, and it's scary to think how tremendous this class could look with a healthy Jones.
Top two picks look like stars in the making
The Pittsburgh Steelers used their first two picks in the 2017 draft on flashy prospects, both of whom faced a lot of pressure heading into their rookie seasons. First-round pass-rusher T.J. Watt knew he'd have his work cut out for him trying to live up to his last name, while second-round wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster faced the challenge of trying to carve out a role on an experienced team despite being the youngest player in professional football.
What did they do?
Watt merely recorded two sacks, an interception and six tackles in his very first NFL game, while Smith-Schuster became the first player in modern NFL history to score five touchdowns before turning 21. He leads all rookie receivers with 568 yards, while Watt has increased his sack total to four despite dealing with a groin injury earlier in the year.
The Steelers are still waiting on third-round cornerback Cameron Sutton, who has been out all year with a hamstring injury. And because Le'Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger remain on their thrones, it's too early to get a read on middle-rounders James Conner and Josh Dobbs at running back and quarterback, respectively. But as long as Watt and Smith-Schuster continue down their current paths, the rest will be elementary.
San Francisco 49ers
Middle-round pass-catchers combine with Thomas and Foster to make John Lynch look good
Considering the state of their roster and the presence of a new regime, it's not surprising that, according to PFF, no team had a more active rookie class during the first 10 weeks of the 2017 season than the San Francisco 49ers.
New general manager John Lynch used two first-round picks on high-upside front-seven defenders Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster, both of whom have had nice moments early on. Injuries have been a factor for both, too, but Thomas shined when he was healthy and starting between Week 4 and Week 7, while Foster has 32 tackles in just four appearances.
Beyond that, third-round cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has already excelled as a starter, third-round quarterback C.J. Beathard has managed to hold on to a starting job despite growing pains, fifth-round pass-catchers George Kittle and Trent Taylor have been pleasant surprises, and undrafted free agent Matt Breida has 343 scrimmage yards as a strong complement to veteran starter Carlos Hyde in the backfield.
We're still waiting for Thomas and Foster to get healthy and acclimated together, and with fourth-round rookie back Joe Williams on injured reserve, there are still some mysteries surrounding this class. But overall, Lynch's first group of rookies is off to a superb start.
Injuries keep the jury out
The only player the Seattle Seahawks drafted in the top 50, former Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell, has yet to see the field after sustaining a concussion and facial fractures in an offseason ATV accident. And the last player they drafted, seventh-round Oklahoma State product Chris Carson, looked like a potential lead dog at running back before knee and ankle injuries sent him to injured reserve in Week 5.
Between those two you'll find a mixed bag. Second-rounder Ethan Pocic didn't see the field until Week 7 and has experienced typical growing pains since taking over the left guard spot. Third-round cornerback Shaquill Griffin has a solid 10 passes defended and 34 tackles, but he hasn't been consistent in coverage and is now dealing with a concussion himself.
They also drafted three guys in the third round, but we haven't seen much of Delano Hill or receiver Amara Darboh, and defensive tackle Nazair Jones hasn't done much in a reserve role.
Until we see McDowell and more of Pocic, Griffin, Carson and some of the other seven players they selected in what felt like a quantity-over-quality draft, we'll reserve judgement on this class.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No reason to doubt the big four
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used four picks on the first two days of the 2017 draft on players who looked like they could contribute right away. And while first-round tight end O.J. Howard, second-round safety Justin Evans, third-round wide receiver Chris Godwin and third-round linebacker Kendell Beckwith might not be superstars yet, all four have indeed contributed right away.
Howard has disappeared at times and has just 17 catches, but that's not unusual for a rookie tight end. And the Alabama product has made up for a lack of consistency with four touchdown grabs through 10 games. He's also pulled in an impressive 65.4 percent of the passes thrown his way, and his two strongest performances thus far have come in the last five weeks.
Despite hardly seeing the field in his first two games, Evans has 43 tackles, two interceptions and five passes defended and is now a regular, reliable starter.
Godwin has caught 62.5 percent of the passes thrown his way. The Penn State product's role has steadily increased as he's pulled in seven passes for 106 yards in the last two weeks.
And Beckwith has excelled from the get-go, compiling 51 tackles in 10 games and eight starts. His role has decreased now that Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David are both healthy, but he looks like a player who can play a key role for years to come.
That's all you can really ask for this early. Tampa Bay's 2017 campaign hasn't gone as well as expected, but those shortcomings have nothing to do with a rookie class that has been solid thus far.
Adoree' Jackson is compensating for Corey Davis' issues
If No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis becomes a bust, it'll naturally be almost impossible for us to view the 2017 Tennessee Titans' draft as a success. And Davis, who has yet to score a touchdown and has caught just 16 passes on 35 targets while fighting a balky hamstring throughout the year, is not off to a good start.
But there's still plenty of time for the former Western Michigan superstar to become something special at the NFL level. And at least the team's other first-round pick, cornerback/return specialist/occasional offensive cog Adoree' Jackson, has delivered.
The speedster out of USC already has 11 passes defended, two forced fumbles and 48 tackles on defense, along with five carries for 55 yards (including two 20-yard gains and a 13-yarder) on offense. Oh, and he's also averaging a stellar 9.9 yards per punt return.
Arguably most importantly, considering his position, Jackson allowed 8.05 yards per catch between Week 5 and Week 10, which, according to PFF, was the lowest mark among cornerbacks who were thrown at more than 20 times during that stretch.
Throw in decent starts for rookie third-round pass-catchers Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith, and this draft class is looking strong despite a rocky beginning to Davis' career.
Allen, Perine and Nicholson could all come through
The pride and joy of the Washington Redskins' 2017 draft class, first-round defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, looked the part before suffering a season-ending lisfranc sprain in his foot five weeks into his rookie campaign. There's no reason to believe the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year won't continue to turn into a star in 2018, though, and everything else is gravy.
Standing in that gravy are intriguing fourth-round picks Samaje Perine and Montae Nicholson, both of whom have flashed in limited action as rookies. With starting running back Robert Kelley hurt, Perine broke out with 23 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown against a sneaky-tough Saints defense in Week 11, while Nicholson has looked impressive as a role player and occasional starter at safety.
At the very least, both Perine and Nicholson have probably earned the chance to compete for starting jobs next offseason. Combined with Allen's pre-injury emergence, that's enough to make you feel good about a draft class that still hasn't gotten anything out of early-round defensive picks Ryan Anderson and Fabian Moreau.