NFL Rookie Report: Grading Every Team's Rookie Class Heading into Week 16

Wes StueveContributor IIIDecember 20, 2012

NFL Rookie Report: Grading Every Team's Rookie Class Heading into Week 16

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    Immediately after the 2012 NFL Draft concluded, many pundits began handing out their report cards for each team's respective draft class. It was too soon to do so then, and it still is now. But as we enter Week 16 of the NFL season, it is much more appropriate to judge them at this point.

    It will be years before we can properly analyze and grade each 2012 draft class. However, now we at least have some idea of how the players will perform in the NFL.

    Immediate contribution is a huge factor in the grades, but down-the-road potential is also heavily considered. There is no one factor in each team's grade.

    So while it is a bit foolish to try to stamp each team's 2012 draft class with a grade right now, it's much less foolish than it was in April—and it's still fun.

    So read on to see the grades for each NFL team's 2012 rookie class.

San Francisco 49ers

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    LaMichael James remains the only San Francisco rookie to contribute anything so far, and even his impact has been rather limited. Though James has shown flashes, he hasn't had enough opportunities to add anything great to the 49ers.

    James has mostly contributed as a return man, with only 76 yards on offense. In just two games, James made an impact, but he has yet to prove that he can do so consistently.

    Thus far, first-round pick A.J. Jenkins has contributed nothing, and none of the team's late-round picks besides James have stepped up either.

    Grade: F

Seattle Seahawks

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    Seattle seems to have hit the jackpot with its 2012 draft class.

    First, there is quarterback Russell Wilson. The third-round pick has blown away even the highest of expectations, gaining over 3,000 total yards and 24 touchdowns through 15 games. His 95.5 passer rating ranks eighth among quarterbacks with over 200 attempts.

    First-round pick Bruce Irvin has also played well, picking up eight sacks in limited playing time.

    In the second round, Seattle found another star in linebacker Bobby Wagner. Wagner is a legitimate Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, given his many impact plays—he has three interceptions—and overall ability.  

    The Seahawks already have obtained several starters out of this draft, and they are looking like potential stars.

    Grade: A+

St. Louis Rams

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    When the Rams traded out of the top 10, many thought that they may be losing their chance at adding a true impact player.

    Not so, it turns out. 

    The No. 14 overall pick, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, has 28 tackles and four sacks on the year, but his real value doesn't show up on the stat sheet. Brockers routinely manhandles offensive linemen, completely clogging up the run game.

    With its first second-round selection, the Rams added the oft-in-trouble cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who has stepped in opposite Cortland Finnegan without looking back. St. Louis also drafted wide receiver Chris Givens, who has played well, catching 37 passes for 606 yards.

    With additional draft picks coming courtesy of the Washington Redskins—as a result of the pre-draft trade last offseason that netted the 'Skins the No. 2 overall pick, which they used to select Robert Griffin III—the Rams have already added a plethora of talent and should be adding more in the years to come.

    Grade: A-

Arizona Cardinals

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    Several Arizona rookies have seen playing time this season, but the results haven't exactly been great.

    The Cardinals drafted Notre Dame wideout Michael Floyd with the No. 13 overall pick, so his 31 catches for 349 yards and one touchdown are somewhat disappointing. Many even labeled Floyd as "pro-ready," but he has not lived up to the hype so far.

    Offensive tackles Nate Potter and Bobby Massie have both started, as well, though they've been awful. Still, starting with poor results is better than not playing at all—maybe?

    Last but certainly not least, quarterback Ryan Lindley has started for the Cardinals. The results—a zero-to-six touchdown-to-interception ratio and 4.3 yards per attempt—aren't so impressive.

    Grade: D

Buffalo Bills

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    Many were surprised when the Bills drafted cornerback Stephon Gilmore with the No. 10 overall pick, but he's played well so far. Gilmore has forced four turnovers, and though he's been somewhat inconsistent in coverage, he has shown plenty of promise.

    If analysts were surprised by the Gilmore pick, they were in shock when Buffalo announced it would play second-round pick Cordy Glenn at left tackle. Glenn has done a great job, however, dominating with his size and athleticism.

    Linebacker Nigel Bradham has also started, though he hasn't made much of an impact. Wide receiver T.J. Graham has also played, even if his 268 yards leave something to be desired.

    Thus far, this draft hasn't contributed any legitimate stars, but it is contributing.

    Grade: B+

Miami Dolphins

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    The clear starting point with the Miami draft class is quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The No. 8 overall pick has started every game, with mostly positive results, throwing for 2,929 yards and 10 touchdowns.

    Second-round right tackle Jonathan Martin has also started all year, though he hasn't been quite as good. At times, Martin has struggled in both pass-protection and run-blocking.

    Defensive end Olivier Vernon hasn't shown much other than two blocked kicks. However, fourth-round running back Lamar Miller has impressed when given the chance, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

    If Tannehill pans out, this draft was a success.

    Grade: B

New England Patriots

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    Not surprisingly, the great majority of New England's rookie contributors have been on the defensive side of the ball.

    Defensive end Chandler Jones was an early favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, as he racked up six sacks in his first eight games, but he's cooled off a bit since suffering an ankle injury against the Colts in Week 11.

    Linebacker Dont'a Hightower has also contributed well throughout the year, picking up 51 tackles and three sacks.

    In the secondary, Tavon Wilson and Alfonzo Dennard have contributed. Wilson, a second-round pick, has 34 tackles and four interceptions. Dennard wasn't drafted until the seventh round, but he's already starting.

    On offense, the lone contributor is undrafted running back Brandon Bolden, who has 245 yards on 45 carries. 

    The Patriots have several players already adding value, and a couple of them look like potential stars.

    Grade: A-

New York Jets

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    After a 89-yard, two-touchdown Week 1 performance, many were praising rookie wideout Stephen Hill as a star in the making. Since then, however, Hill has added just 163 yards and one touchdown. 

    Defensively, linebacker DeMario Davis has played well, picking up 30 tackles on the year. First-round pick Quinton Coples has been inconsistent and not all that productive, with just four sacks to date.

    No other Jets rookies have stood out, and the class, as a whole, has been rather lackluster. There is still plenty of potential here, but it's not showing yet.

    Grade: D

Carolina Panthers

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    With 138 tackles, Luke Kuechly has clearly made an impact for the Panthers. He hasn't forced too many turnovers, but he's picked up tackles and has played well in coverage. The No. 9 overall pick just might walk away with the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.

    In the second round, Carolina added guard Amini Silatolu, who has played surprisingly well. Many considered Silatolu to be raw, but he's started every game and has been one of the team's better linemen.

    Fifth-round cornerback Josh Norman has also played quite a bit, starting all but two games. He's been inconsistent, though the small-school product has shown some promise.

    This class seems to have produced at least a couple of solid starters, and more remain possible.

    Grade: B

New Orleans Saints

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    Because New Orleans did not pick until the third round, it was at a disadvantage entering the draft, and thus far, only one of the Saints' 2012 draft picks has made an impact.

    That would be third-round pick, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.

    Hicks hasn't played a ton, but he's seen the field and he's demonstrated great physical ability. He has plenty of potential moving forward, though it remains to be seen whether he actually reaches it.

    It's hard to imagine any other Saints rookie amounting to much.

    Grade: F

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Buccaneers' 2012 draft class is loaded with stars.

    First, there's obviously Doug Martin. The running back has gained 1,647 total yards of offense and has scored 11 touchdowns. He's been the focal point and the basis of the Tampa Bay offense.

    On defense, the Buccaneers have a bona fide Defensive Rookie of the Year contender in linebacker Lavonte David. His 124 tackles and many impact plays have been huge for Tampa Bay's top-ranked run defense.

    Also in the first round, the Buccaneers added safety Mark Barron, who has started every game with positive results. His 79 tackles and one interception are far from mind-blowing, but his strong play goes beyond the stats.

    Tampa Bay added three players in the first two rounds who are already starting and have star potential moving forward. Nothing to complain about there.

    Grade: A+

Atlanta Falcons

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    The lone rookie contributor for Atlanta has been guard Peter Konz. The Falcons selected Konz in the second round—their first pick of the draft—and he's proved to be worth it thus far.

    Having started eight games, Konz has shown Atlanta plenty and has been performing well in every aspect of the game. He's been a much needed presence along the Falcons' interior offensive line.

    Unfortunately, no other rookie has stepped up to the plate, making this a rather unproductive class.

    Grade: D

Cincinnati Bengals

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    In the first round, Cincinnati selected cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and guard Kevin Zeitler. Kirkpatrick has hardly played while dealing with injuries, but Zeitler has impressed.

    The Wisconsin product has started every game, performing excellently in both the passing and running game. He's put together a Pro Bowl-worthy rookie campaign.

    Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was contributing quite nicely as well prior to suffering a season-ending injury, and another rookie wideout Marvin Jones has seen the field in his place. 

    On defense, defensive tackle Devon Still has played some, but the real value has come from linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The undrafted free agent starts at linebacker and is second on the team with 107 tackles.

    The Bengals already have several rookies seeing the field, though only one is playing at a truly high level, but more could in the future, though. 

    Grade: B

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Pittsburgh's rookie class has been decimated by injuries. 

    First-round pick David DeCastro finally returned from a preseason knee injury, starting his first game at guard in Week 15 with positive results. Third-round linebacker Sean Spence has missed the entire season with a torn ACL.

    Only second-round pick Mike Adams has really had a chance to play, starting much of the season at right tackle. Adams has been somewhat inconsistent, but he's had a solid year on the whole.

    It's way too soon to really judge this class because of how beat up it's been. Moving forward, though, there is plenty of upside.

    Grade: B

Cleveland Browns

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    No team has received more production from its rookie class than the Cleveland Browns.

    On offense alone, the Browns have three starters. It has another solid contributor on offense, as well as a starter and two more frequent contributors on defense.

    Quarterback Brandon Weeden needs to be more consistent, but he's shown plenty of upside and ability moving forward. Running back Trent Richardson's numbers aren't great, but he's battled injuries and still looks like a future star.

    Wide receiver Josh Gordon has perhaps been the biggest star, as he leads all rookies with 759 receiving yards. The 6'3", 225-pounder is full of upside. 

    Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has been superb in pass-protection, as well, while starting every game. On defense, James Michael-Johnson has picked up 36 tackles in the midst of injuries, and defensive tackles Billy Winn and John Hughes have played well also.

    This class has already given Cleveland several starters, and there is huge potential at several positions moving forward.

    Grade: A+

Baltimore Ravens

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    With its two second-round picks, Baltimore added two immediate contributors.

    Right tackle Kelechi Osemele has started every game in 2012 with decent results. He hasn't blown anyone away, but he hasn't stood out as a player in need of an upgrade either. Osemele has been solid.

    Courtney Upshaw has been somewhat less impressive, though he's played well against the run, racking up 57 tackles. Still, Upshaw's pass-rushing ability leaves something to be desired, as he has just 1.5 sacks on the year.

    No other Ravens rookie has really contributed at all. Moving forward, there are a couple potential solid players, but that's about it.

    Grade: C+

Dallas Cowboys

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    The Cowboys invested heavily in cornerback Morris Claiborne when they traded up to select him at No. 6 overall on draft day. Essentially, Dallas' entire draft class comes down to how well Claiborne plays.

    Thus far, he's been decent, going through some good times and some rough times. Overall, Claiborne has started every game, picking up 40 tackles and one interception.

    The only other Dallas rookie to contribute at all this season has been defensive end Tyrone Crawford. Crawford hasn't done a lot, but he has played and has potential moving forward.

    The way things look right now, this class will need Claiborne will need to be a star in order for this to be looked at as a good draft for Dallas. That is possible but not overly likely.

    Grade: C

Washington Redskins

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    This all comes down to one person. You know who it is.

    Robert Griffin III.

    If RG3 were playing poorly, this class would get an F, no questions about it. But, as you may have heard, Griffin isn't playing so badly. In fact, he's playing quite well.

    That is, if you call a 104.2 passer rating, 3,650 total yards and 24 touchdowns "playing well." He also has only thrown four interceptions.

    Griffin is taking the NFL by storm, and it doesn't really matter what his rookie teammates are doing; this is all about the No. 2 overall pick.

    Grade: A+

Philadelphia Eagles

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    The No. 12 overall pick, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, got off to a slow start but is putting together a solid rookie season. His 5.5 sacks ranks him fourth amongst all rookies.

    Perhaps the most notable Eagles rookie is Nick Foles, who has started at quarterback for the team for the past six weeks. Foles' stats aren't overly impressive—77.6 passer rating—but he's demonstrated some talent.

    Also contributing for the Eagles are linebacker Mychal Kendricks and cornerback/kick returner Brandon Boykin. Kendricks has started nearly every game at linebacker, picking up 68 tackles while playing excellently in coverage. Boykin has seen the field in passing situations and has 27 tackles on the year.

    In recent weeks, running back Bryce Brown has stood out as having tons of potential. The seventh-round pick has 528 yards on just 103 carries but has fumbled four times.

    There is a ton of upside with this class, and several players are already starting to meet their high ceilings. 

    Grade: B+

New York Giants

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    Despite entering the 2012 season as the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Giants have had several rookies contribute in 2012. First-round running back David Wilson is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and has displayed explosive ability on both offense and special teams.

    Wide receiver Rueben Randle hasn't been quite as productive as many had hoped, but he does have 197 receiving yards on the year. Cornerback Jayron Hosley has seen the field plenty, but with mixed results. He's been burnt a lot but has also made some big plays, forcing a fumble and picking off one pass.

    This draft still has some explosive ability, even if it hasn't come close to reaching it yet. Even in the later rounds, there are several developmental players who haven't made their ways onto the field yet.

    However, this grade is based off potential, not production, which is never good at this point. 

    Grade: C+

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Dontari Poe was widely considered to be a raw and developmental player, but he's started every game at nose tackle for the Chiefs, and he's played pretty well.

    At this point, Poe isn't showing a ton of flash—he has 32 tackles and no sacks on the year—but he's standing his ground. The big plays should come with time.

    Second-round guard Jeff Allen has started 11 games at left guard, though the results haven't been great. Allen has struggled frequently, and his play has been average-at-best. 

    No other Kansas City rookie has done anything to stand out. That may cost general manager Scott Pioli his job.

    Grade: C-

Oakland Raiders

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    Because of the ill-advised Carson Palmer trade, Oakland didn't draft until the end of the third round. That has understandably affected the impact of the team's rookie class.

    Fourth-round linebacker Miles Burris has been the team's best rookie, as he's third on the team in tackles, picking up 82 to date. Burris has started every game but one.

    Undrafted wide receiver Rod Streater has proved to be a steal, catching 33 passes for 491 yards. Fifth-round wideout Juron Criner has also played, picking up 151 receiving yards.

    There isn't a ton of potential or immediate contribution with this class. General manager Reggie McKenzie was seriously hindered by the picks available to him, but that doesn't give it a higher grade.

    Grade: D-

Denver Broncos

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    Thus far, this draft class hasn't added a whole lot to Denver's team.

    Second-round defensive end Derek Wolfe has started every game but has picked up just 36 tackles and four sacks. He's solid against the run, but that's about it.

    Running back Ronnie Hillman has played some for the Broncos, though the results haven't been great. On 75 carries, Hillman has just 279 rushing yards.

    Fifth-round linebacker Danny Trevathan has 32 tackles on the year, and Omar Bolden has seen the field as a backup cornerback and a return man.

    Moving forward, this draft may offer a few role players or even starters, but none of them will be anything special.

    Grade: C

San Diego Chargers

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    This draft class hasn't been particularly fruitful for the Chargers.

    No. 18 overall pick Melvin Ingram has added just 35 tackles and half a sack at defensive end. Many thought Ingram might compete for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, but he's come up well short of that mark.

    The only real rookie of value has been defensive end Kendall Reyes. Reyes has started just two games, but has put up up 20 tackles and two sacks, showing his solid potential.

    There are a few players with potential who haven't yet contributed, but beyond those stretches, it's hard to imagine this draft offering much for San Diego. It will almost certainly contribute to general manager A.J. Smith being fired.

    Grade: D

Minnesota Vikings

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    When the Vikings selected offensive tackle Matt Kalil with the No. 4 pick, they were expecting to immediately reap the benefits of a franchise left tackle. That's pretty much what has happened.

    Kalil still isn't great as a run-blocker, but his ability in pass-protection makes him incredibly valuable. As a blindside protector, Kalil is already one of the NFL's best.

    With 91 tackles, three interceptions and two touchdowns, first-round safety Harrison Smith is clearly adding a lot to Minnesota's defense. Smith is somewhat inconsistent, but he's made plays for the Vikings.

    Wide receiver Jarius Wright has 167 receiving yards. Cornerback Josh Robinson has started six games with mixed results. Kicker Blair Walsh has been fantastic, nailing each of his eight attempts from beyond 50 yards.

    This class has already added plenty to the Vikings and has helped them along to a surprising season. However, it could still add much more down the line.

    Grade: A-

Chicago Bears

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    First-round defensive end Shea McClellin's 2012 season has admittedly been hampered by injuries, but it's been a disappointing year nonetheless. Nearly everyone expected more than the 13 tackles and 2.5 sacks that he's picked up thus far.

    The same holds true for second-round wideout Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery has also struggled with injuries. His 256 receiving yards are still less than anticipated. 

    Unfortunately for the Bears, no other rookie has done anything at all. It's been a disappointing year for a team that could have used some rookie contributions in the middle of a playoff hunt.

    Both McClellin and Jeffery have potential moving forward, as do some later draft picks. This class is certainly off to a slow start, though.

    Grade: D+

Green Bay Packers

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    If you're looking for a significant Packers rookie, look no further than cornerback Casey Hayward.

    Hayward was a second-round pick, but the cornerback has performed better than nearly every rookie selected ahead of him. He's picked off six passes on the year while performing excellently in coverage. He rarely gets beat.

    Jerel Worthy has played well along the defensive line, racking up 2.5 sacks. Undrafted linebacker Dezman Moses has 26 tackles and three sacks. First-round pick Nick Perry also had two sacks prior to suffering a season-ending injury.

    For being such a good team, Green Bay has had plenty of rookies hit the field, but the Packers wouldn't be the same team without them.

    Grade: B+

Detroit Lions

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    Throughout the year, offensive tackle Riley Reiff has seen intermittent playing time, starting six games and playing in most of the others. He hasn't been great, but a rookie offensive tackle could play much worse.

    It's the Lions' other rookies who need to pick it up.

    Second-round wideout Ryan Broyles picked up 310 receiving yards prior to tearing his ACL. Cornerback Bill Bentley was seeing plenty of the playing time earlier in the year, but his poor play was reason enough for that to change.

    Other rookies have hit the field but haven't made any noticeable impact. It's been that type of year for Detroit.

    Grade: D-

Indianapolis Colts

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    Well, the Colts got Andrew Luck.

    Luck's stats aren't great, but his play has been superb. Indianapolis' poor offensive line and mediocre skill players have hindered his numbers, but anyone watching knows how good of a quarterback Luck has been.

    Luck is far from the Colts' only contributing rookie, though. Fifth-round running back Vick Ballard is leading the team with 667 rushing yards on 164 carries.

    Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener have both played plenty, adding 482 and 278 receiving yards, respectively. 

    Though the Colts' other rookies are showing some promise, this is all about Luck. If he's looking like a franchise quarterback, the grade is easy.

    Grade: A+

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Wide receiver Justin Blackmon got off to a terribly slow start, but the No. 5 overall pick has turned it on in recent weeks. He now stands with 51 receptions for 707 yards on the year. That is not bad, by any means.

    Unfortunately, it sort of goes downhill after Blackmon. Second-round defensive end Andre Branch has just 12 tackles and a single sack.

    The team's third-round pick was a punter. He has been an excellent punter—perhaps the NFL's best this season—but a punter nonetheless.

    The only other notable rookie for the team is undrafted guard Michael Brewster, who has started seven games with reasonable success. 

    This draft has thus far contributed one player of note, and even he hasn't been exceptional by any stretch of the imagination.

    Grade: D-

Houston Texans

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    Many were confused by the selection of linebacker Whitney Mercilus with the No. 28 overall pick, but no one is questioning the Texans now.

    Mercilus enters Week 16 with six sacks—good for second on the team—and two forced fumbles. He has started just three games.

    The other main rookie for Houston is guard Ben Jones. The fourth-round pick can play any interior offensive line position but has started eight games at right guard, albeit with mixed results.

    At wide receiver, Keshawn Martin has contributed. Though, in all honesty, he's contributed all over the place—returning kicks, running the ball and catching the ball. Wide receiver DeVier Posey has added a lackluster 65 yards.

    It would be unreasonable to expect much from rookies on a team as talented as Houston's. Still, though, rookies are playing and showing promise.

    Grade: B

Tennessee Titans

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    Wideout Kendall Wright has seen plenty of playing time all year, but his numbers are a little disappointing. He enters Week 16 with just 582 receiving yards on a much more impressive 62 receptions.

    Tennessee's second-round pick, linebacker Zach Brown, has been more of a pleasant surprise. Third on the team with 80 tackles, Brown has made many impact plays, including 4.5 sacks. 

    Defensive tackle Mike Martin has 34 tackles and two sacks in limited playing time, and cornerback Coty Sensabaugh has hit the field.

    Even project tight end Taylor Thompson has seen playing time, showing that he may not be as far away as many feared. He has just three catches but offers freakish potential down the line.

    Tennessee's roster is kind of like its rookie class. It's not great by any means, but it doesn't have many weaknesses and has upside down the line.

    Grade: B