Bleacher Report's Midseason NFL All-Rookie Team

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystOctober 29, 2014

Bleacher Report's Midseason NFL All-Rookie Team

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    As is the case every year in the National Football League, some rookies are making a big impact for their respective teams over the first half of the 2014 season.

    However, many of those rookies aren't who we thought they'd be.

    Just as they did before the season began, the National Lead and Division Lead Writers here at Bleacher Report have assembled to put together an "All-Rookie" team of sorts, highlighting the best of this year's newcomers.

    And as you'll soon see, the second incarnation of this squad and the first have more than a few differences.


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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Winner: Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders (15 votes)

    Granted, the "All-Rookie" quarterback spot comes with a caveat. The rookie quarterbacks who have started games in the NFL in 2014 have looked very much like—well, like rookie quarterbacks.

    That goes for Derek Carr of the Raiders too. Oakland's second-round pick in May's draft has yet to win a game, and the former Fresno State star has made his fair share of mistakes.

    However, Carr has had his moments as well, and after he threw for 328 yards in a Week 8 loss at Cleveland, Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano talked up the youngster while speaking with Jodie Valade of The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

    "The great thing about Derek Carr is he doesn't settle," Sparano said. "He'll go out there and learn from the film tomorrow. I thought the guy fought his tail off right to the very end of the ball game."

    Carr's 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns are hardly eye-popping numbers, but he has more scores than turnovers and a respectable passer rating of 82.

    In other words, it's not entirely Carr's fault the Raiders are 0-7. Not by a long shot.

    Preseason Winner: Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars (10 votes)

Running Back

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    Michael Zito/Associated Press

    Winners: Branden Oliver, San Diego Chargers (14 votes), Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings (12 votes)

    For the midseason All-Rookie running backs, it's been all about taking advantage of opportunities.

    Jerick McKinnon's came after Adrian Peterson was banished by the Minnesota Vikings. With Matt Asiata proving to be every bit the plodder most thought he was, the team turned to its third-round pick.

    McKinnon has responded with 392 rushing yards and a robust 5.2 yards per carry, drawing the praise of head coach Mike Zimmer, according to Brian Murphy of The St. Paul Pioneer-Press:

    Jerick looks like a pretty good back, doesn't he? I love the way he runs. He's got some great cut ability. But the thing I like most about him right now is his physicality when he runs. He's a smaller stature guy and is very strong. Doesn't run like a small guy, in my opinion, and he's got the juice to get in and out of cuts and make some things happen.

    Meanwhile, with the San Diego backfield ravaged by injuries, the Chargers were left no choice but to turn to Oliver, an undrafted free agent from the University of Buffalo.

    All the 5'7", 208-pounder did in his first significant action of the season was light up the New York Jets for 182 total yards, the most in a game by a Chargers back since 2007.

    As Mark Maske of The Washington Post reported, Oliver's agent, Derek Spearman, was surprised by how things turned out, but not by Oliver's success:

    I didn’t imagine it would happen this way, but it did … It couldn’t have happened to a better person. He’s mature enough to handle what’s about to happen in his life. He’s so humble about everything. I told him, ‘It’s about time we go pick out a suit.’ I think he has one. We’re working on these things. I asked him the difference between running the ball there and running the ball in the MAC and he said, ‘Better blockers.’

    Well, that makes one of us.

    Preseason Winners: Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers (14 votes); Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons (7 votes)

    Others receiving votes: Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns (3 votes), Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans (1 vote)

Tight End/H-Back

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Winners: Jace Amaro, New York Jets (15 votes), Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions (12 votes)

    This position isn't an easy call. It often takes rookie tight ends some time to adjust to the NFL, and this year's class is no exception.

    Take the leading vote-getter, for example. Jace Amaro of the New York Jets has shown flashes in making 32 catches for 285 yards and a touchdown, but the former Texas Tech standout has also struggled with drops.

    Amaro admitted to Brian Costello of the New York Post that he needs to improve in that regard:

    You get antsy. You get excited. I’m still young. I feel like I’ve made every single catch when a guy’s on me or it’s really contested or there’s a guy right there. I feel good about it and I feel like I’m doing a really good job this year.

    Ebron, meanwhile, has been even quieter. Fighting through drop issues of his own and a hamstring injury, Ebron has only 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown so far this year.

    Ebron confessed to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press that the regular-season grind in the NFL is much different from college.

    "I'd be done," Ebron said. "I played four preseason games (plus four regular-season games), that's eight games. I'd probably sat out two 'cause we were killing somebody. ... I'm ready for a bowl game next week. Sheesh. It ain't quite like that right now."

    Not quite, Eric. Only eight more games to go. Then the playoffs (hopefully).

    Better ice up, son.

    Preseason Winners: Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions (14 votes); Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8 votes)

    Others receiving votes: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3 votes)

Wide Receiver

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    Winners: Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills (15 votes), Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers (15 votes)

    If the last position was a difficult call, the wide receiver spot is gravy.

    Because Sammy Watkins and Kelvin Benjamin aren't playing like rookies.

    Both young wideouts are on pace to break the 1,000-yard barrier in their first NFL season. Both rank in the top 15 in the NFL in receiving yards. The duo has combined for 10 touchdown grabs.

    Most importantly, both have already emerged as the No. 1 receivers for their respective teams.

    With that said, as well as the pair has played, there were bumps in the road in Week 8. Watkins was caught from behind after prematurely showboating on a long catch against the New York Jets.

    As Mike Rodak of ESPN reports, it got Watkins an earful from head coach Doug Marrone:

    I said, 'There were people on that sideline' -- meaning his teammates -- 'that were upset. We're playing our butts off and we don't have time for stuff like that,' Those are the things we have to work on -- winning and growing up.

    Benjamin, on the other hand, sat out the first three offensive plays of the Carolina Panthers' loss to the Seattle Seahawks. According to Jonathan Jones of The Charlotte Observer, head coach Ron Rivera was sending a message to Benjamin that "you are accountable just like everybody else.”

    Growing pains aside though, there's no question that Benjamin and Watkins have been the cream of an exceedingly deep crop of wide receivers in 2014.

    Preseason Winners: Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints (13 votes); Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills (6 votes)

Offensive Tackle

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Winners: Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans (15 votes), Ja'Wuan James, Miami Dolphins (13 votes)

    Much like many of the positions on the All-Rookie squad, there hasn't really been a first-year tackle who has asserted himself as the top dog of 2014.

    In fact, highly drafted youngsters like Jake Matthews of the Atlanta Falcons have struggled mightily.

    Of course, Taylor Lewan of the Tennessee Titans hasn't been dog food either. The 11th overall pick out of Michigan, Lewan has allowed only a single sack so far this season, grading out at a very respectable 15th at his position at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    James hasn't graded as highly, but in many respects, the former Tennessee star's performance has been even more impressive.

    Thrown into the fire at right tackle from Day 1, James has more than held his own, impressing head coach Joe Philbin, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

    I think Ja’Wuan, the thing that’s really impressive is he’s never been flustered one minute since he’s been here. He’s picked up the system extremely well. He’s got a lot of room for improvement, but I certainly like what he’s doing.

    Not bad for a pick that raised more than a few eyebrows back in May.

    Preseason Winners: Jake Matthews, Atlanta Falcons (13 votes); Seantrel Henderson, Buffalo Bills (9 votes)

    Others receiving votes: Justin Britt, Seattle Seahawks (2 votes)

Offensive Guard

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    Winners: Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys (15 votes), Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns (14 votes)

    Offensive guards often spend their entire careers in relative obscurity. Ask 10 people who the NFL's best interior lineman is, and you're apt to get a lot of "um, well, uh."

    However, our panel didn't seem to have any trouble deciding on the two best rookie guards in the league over the season's first half.

    That may have something to do with the fact that both Zack Martin of the Cowboys (seventh) and Joel Bitonio if the Browns (fourth) rank among the top 10 at their position, according to Pro Football Focus.

    According to what team president Stephen Jones told Jim Corbett of USA Today, scout Walter Juliff had some high praise for Martin before the draft, praise that helped sway the team to draft the Notre Dame standout:

    Walter said, 'I'm going to make a statement that's going to make everybody drop because we've had a couple of Hall of Fame guards, especially Larry Allen. Zack Martin is the most high-level ready offensive lineman I've ever seen since I've been scouting here.'

    Martin's done nothing but live up to that praise, emerging as a key contributor on the NFL's best front five.

    In fact, a starting twosome of Martin and Bitonio (who has allowed no sacks and only a lone QB hit this year) would arguably be the best one-two punch in the NFL at guard.


    Preseason Winners: Greg Robinson, St. Louis Rams (12 votes); Xavier Su'a-Filo, Houston Texans (7 votes)

    Others receiving votes: Trai Turner, Carolina Panthers (1 vote)


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    USA TODAY Sports

    Center: Corey Linsley, Green Bay Packers (15 votes)

    When the Green Bay Packers drafted Ohio State's Corey Linsley in the fifth round back in May, he wasn't expected to make a big dent as a rookie.

    However, things rarely go as expected in the NFL.

    A training camp injury to starter J.C. Tretter thrust Linsley into the starting lineup, and as head coach Mike McCarthy told Mike Spofford of the team's website, Linsley really came through:

    If things keep going the way they’re going, I think we’ll look back on this start as one of most impressive situations that a young player has stepped up and performed in my time here, and we’ve had a lot of young guys step up.

    For his part, Linsley said he looks at each game as a season all its own:

    I looked at it like I’ve got a game to win and I’ve got to do my job. Anybody who looks at it as the season, as a 16-week stretch, doesn’t have a very good mindset. It’s a week by week thing. You can’t look ahead to the future, because you’re just going to kill yourself with anxiety.

    One thing's for sure. Given how Linsley's played, Tretter may well find himself out of a job once he returns from short-term injured reserve in Week 10.

    Preseason Winner: Weston Richburg, New York Giants (12 votes)

Defensive End

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Winner: Zach Kerr, Indianapolis Colts (10 votes), Kareem Martin, Arizona Cardinals (9 votes)

    Defensive end is one of the tougher calls for this year's All-Rookie team. Many of this year's highly-touted young pass-rushers either ended up on 3-4 defenses or landed in situations where regular playing time has proved hard to come by in 2014.

    In fact, were it not for injuries to starters Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, Kareem Martin of the Arizona Cardinals would be in the same boat.

    Martin's made the most of his playing time. Granted, his stats (seven tackles) are apt to cause more yawns than oohs and aahs, but he has been a capable and athletic edge-setter who helped stabilize an Arizona defense that continues to perform at an elite level despite being beset by injuries.

    Much the same can be said for Zach Kerr of the Colts. The 335-pound beefeater's nine tackles and two sacks aren't going to draw any comparisons to J.J. Watt, but the former Delaware standout has added a little punch to a reeling Colts defense after the loss of Robert Mathis. 

    Preseason Winners: Stephon Tuitt, Pittsburgh Steelers (9 votes); Kony Ealy, Carolina Panthers (8 votes)

    Others receiving votes: Kony Ealy, Carolina Panthers (8 votes), Dominique Easley, New England Patriots (3 votes)

Defensive Tackle

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Winners: Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams (15 votes), Will Sutton, Chicago Bears (11 votes)

    If there's a theme in this article, it's that many of the rookies from whom the most was expected in 2014 have yet to meet those expectations.

    Not so with St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. In fact, for a few weeks, Donald had the only sack that the entire team had tallied on the season.

    Donald has added another since, showing flashes of the dominance and burst that was on display with regularity at Pittsburgh.

    Donald told Luke Thompson of Fox Sports Midwest that he's starting to get a feel for the NFL. "Things are starting to slow down a lot more to me," Donald says. "Each week I've noticed that I feel a lot more comfortable to take some chances to do something to get in the backfield."

    Will Sutton of the Chicago Bears hasn't made the dent in the box score that Donald has to date, but both Sutton and fellow newcomer Ego Ferguson (who came in third and has quite possibly the best name ever given to a defensive tackle this side of Igor Tacklehard) have played capably in significant action for the Bears this season.

    Preseason Winners: Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams (15 votes); Dominique Easley, New England Patriots (9 votes)

    Others receiving votes: Ego Ferguson, Chicago Bears (3 votes), Justin Ellis, Oakland Raiders (1 vote)

Outside Linebacker

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Winners: Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders (15 votes), Anthony Barr, Minnesota Vikings (14 votes)

    Not a lot has gone right for the winless Oakland Raiders, but the 2014 NFL draft certainly appears to be paying dividends for the team.

    In addition to Carr, first-round pick Khalil Mack has also played well. Through seven games, Mack's 43 total tackles are tied for third on the team, and his 35 solos lead the club.

    After posting six stops against the Cleveland Browns in Week 8, quarterback Brian Hoyer told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle that Mack left an impression on his opponents.

    Mack “gained the respect of everybody on our team,” Hoyer said. “That guy is one of the best players we’ve gone against this year, and that’s a unanimous decision in that locker room.”

    While Mack was earning respect in Week 8, Anthony Barr of the Minnesota Vikings was scoring points and winning games. It was Barr's forced fumble and return for a score that provided the Vikings with a 19-13 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 8.

    According to Master Tesfatsion of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Barr was simply redeeming himself for an earlier mistake.

    “I gave one up on the other end minutes before that [game-winning touchdown],” Barr said. “So, I was happy I was able to make it up to those guys because I felt like I let them down a little bit.”

    With 54 tackles, a team-leading 43 solos and three sacks, I think the Vikings would say they're even.

    Preseason Winners: Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans (14 votes); Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders (13 votes)

    Others receiving votes: Telvin Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars (1 vote)

Inside Linebacker

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Winners: C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens (15 votes), Christian Kirksey, Cleveland Browns (8 votes)

    Both our All-Rookie inside linebackers hail from the AFC North, a division with a reputation for playing some hard-nosed football.

    Baltimore's C.J. Mosley, who was also this panel's choice as the midseason Rookie of the Year, has been a force for the Ravens, amassing 76 tackles (good for fourth in the NFL).

    The former Crimson Tide standout, who also has two interceptions and a forced fumble this year, credited his fast start in the NFL to his time in Tuscaloosa, via Mark Inabinett of

    It just helped me grow, not only as a football player but as a young man, too. Just the way coach Saban made us handle our business on and off the field, like getting to class, make sure our grades are right, make sure we're being places on time, especially being on the practice field. Everybody knows that coach Saban doesn't play about that. He just made me come in as a young 18-year-old and act like I've been there for four years all ready. So that's kind of how, when I got here, even though I'm a rookie, that's no excuse for me not to play to my potential and do great things for the defense.

    Great things indeed. No inside linebacker in the NFL has a higher grade at Pro Football Focus through seven games than Mosley.

    Christian Kirksey of the Cleveland Browns doesn't share those gaudy stats, but the youngster has also been platooning with Craig Robertson much of the year.

    With each passing week though, the snap count has leaned more and more in Kirksey's favor, and the rookie has a higher grade at PFF than such veteran stars as Curtis Lofton of the New Orleans Saints and James Laurinaitis of the St. Louis Rams.

    Preseason Winners: Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers (16 votes); C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens (10 votes)

    Others receiving votes: Preston Brown, Buffalo Bills (5 votes), Chris Borland, San Francisco 49ers (1 vote), Telvin Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars (1 vote)


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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Winners: Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears (15 votes), Jason Verrett, San Diego Chargers (12 votes)

    There probably isn't a harder position in the NFL for rookies to adjust to than cornerback. First-year players at the position are routinely and thoroughly abused by superstar wideouts and elite quarterbacks alike.

    Frankly, if a rookie corner so much as holds his own, that's something of an achievement.

    In some respects, Kyle Fuller of the Chicago Bears has done more than that. His grade of 37th at his position at PFF isn't awe-inspiring, but it certainly isn't awful either. Fuller has shown the same affinity for creating turnovers displayed by his predecessor Charles Tillman, intercepting three passes and forcing the same number of fumbles.

    If Fuller has at least tread water in coverage, Jason Verrett of the San Diego Chargers has shined. The former TCU Horned Frogs star ranks an eye-popping fourth at his position at PFF, including a ranking of eighth overall in coverage.

    Simply put, Verrett's 50 percent completion percentage against and 76.2 passer rating against so far this season are staggering numbers.

    Rookies just aren't supposed to be that good in coverage.

    Preseason Winners: Justin Gilbert, Cleveland Browns (8 votes); (tie)Jason Verrett, San Diego Chargers; Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears (7 votes each)


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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Winners: Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers (12 votes), Calvin Pryor, New York Jets (11 votes)

    Just like several other positions on this roster, our All-Rookie safeties have benefited as much from opportunity as they have from talent.

    Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of the Green Bay Packers has seen his role grow steadily as the season has progressed, with Clinton-Dix starting the last two games.

    Much has been written about Clinton-Dix's six missed tackles this year (pretty sure the number's higher than that), but he recently told Mark Inabinett of that he's growing as a player with every passing week:

    Being more aggressive, I think. Coming up and making tackles and just being more physical than I was in the first game. (Green Bay safeties coach Darren Perry) really emphasizes on being physical, physical, physical. If you look in his room on this board, that's the first three things you're going to see -- being physical, being physical being physical. That's just one thing I took under my wing and kind of ran with it. I just try to make impact plays and be aggressive when I can.

    Meanwhile, head coach Rex Ryan recently said that Calvin Pryor "hasn't had the impact necessarily that all of us had expected."

    However, in the opinion of Bleacher Report's Ryan McCrystal, the fault for Pryor's struggles lies more with the team than the player himself:

    By taking a young player and asking him to line up out of position, the Jets have taken away Pryor's strengths and highlighted his weaknesses in coverage. It has been a tough year for Pryor, but it's unrealistic to expect much more given the position the coaching staff continues to put him in on a weekly basis.

    It would appear our voters agree, given Pryor's inclusion on the All-Rookie team. After all, it's not a round peg's fault it won't fit in a square hole.

    Preseason Winners: Calvin Pryor, New York Jets (10 votes); Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers (9 votes)

    Others receiving votes: Deone Bucannon, Arizona Cardinals (7 votes)

Kick/Punt Returner

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Winner: Solomon Patton, WR, Arizona Cardinals (7 votes)

    Our final entrant on this year's list is unique in one very important (and sort of sad) way.

    You see, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Solomon Patton didn't start the year in the desert.

    Patton spent the first six games of the season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, averaging 23.1 yards a return. That ranks fifth in the NFL among players with 15 or more returns this year.

    Patton's reward for that production was a pink slip after the Buccaneers' bye, leading to the former Florida Gators standout landing on the Cardinals' practice squad.

    Preseason Winner: De'Anthony Thomas, Kansas City Chiefs (12 votes)

    Others receiving votes: Isaiah Burse, WR, Denver Broncos (4 votes), T.J. Carrie, CB, Oakland Raiders (3 votes), Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins (2 votes)