Bleacher Report's 2014 NFL All-Rookie Team

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 30, 2014

Bleacher Report's 2014 NFL All-Rookie Team

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    2014 is drawing to a close, and with the year's end came the end of another regular season in the NFL.

    It was a season that saw many first-year players make big contributions. Whether it was young offensive stars such as Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill or rookie defenders such as linebacker C.J. Mosley of the Baltimore Ravens, several newcomers were a big part of the reason their teams made the playoffs.

    And don't even get me started on the wide receivers.

    So, as we prepare to celebrate the end of 2014 and the dawn of 2015, the National Lead and Division Lead Writers here at Bleacher Report gathered to do some celebrating of their own.

    This time, of the best of this year's rookie crop in the NFL.

Quarterback

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Winner: Teddy Bridgewater (14 votes)

    After Robert Griffin and Andrew Luck took the NFL by storm in 2012, fans became spoiled where rookie quarterbacks are concerned. Too much was expected of young signal-callers right out of the gate.

    Since then, rookie quarterbacks have played a lot like, well, rookies.

    However, while this year's crop at quarterback may have had its struggles, AFC South Lead Writer Rivers McCown points out that Teddy Bridgewater of the Minnesota Vikings showed more than a little potential as well:

    Despite college play that clearly warranted a high NFL draft pick, Bridgewater tumbled all the way to the bottom of the first round, to the point where any team could have had him. For a while, it actually looked like the criticism of him was justified—and I think doubts about his ability to throw an NFL-caliber deep ball are just, if perhaps overaired.

    Over the last six weeks of the season, though, Bridgewater stepped it up. He clearly improved throughout the course of the season as he got more familiar with offensive coordinator Norv Turner's offensive system, and the instincts that he flashed all over his college tape made regular appearances in the pros.

    He'd really suck if we created an NFL Pro Day league though, so there's that, anonymous football scouts.

    Bridgewater threw for nearly 3,000 yards, tossed more touchdowns than interceptions and was a very respectable 6-6 as the Vikings starter in 2014.

    Add it all up, and you have the leader of our All-Rookie squad on the offensive side of the ball.

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

    Midseason Winner: Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders (15 votes)

    Others receiving votes: Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders (1 vote)

Running Back

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Winners: Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals (15 votes); Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams (10 votes)

    The most surprising thing about this year's All-Rookie running backs isn't who was selected—it's how long it took those players to emerge as the top option for their respective teams.

    Jeremy Hill of the Cincinnati Bengals, for instance, didn't carry the ball more than 15 times in a game until Week 9. In that first game as the lead back, however, Hill gave a glimpse of what he was capable of, gashing the Jacksonville Jaguars for 154 yards on the ground.

    It was the first of five 100-yard games for Hill, including three in a row to close out the regular season. By year's end, the former LSU star had topped 1,100 yards on the ground, just short of Corey Dillon's franchise rookie rushing record.

    Tre Mason of the St. Louis Rams didn't enjoy the statistical success that Hill did, but with over 900 total yards for the season, Mason impressed Bleacher Report's Cian Fahey:

    At just 21 years of age, there's no reason to think Mason can't one day turn into one of the best backs in the NFL, even though he's not quite there just yet. He will still need to improve his pass blocking and versatility as a receiver, but right now that's not a big issue for the Rams.

    It wasn't a big issue for our voters either, who slotted Mason alongside Hill in the Bleacher Report All-Rookie backfield.

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

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

    Others receiving votes: Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns (5 votes)

Tight End/H-Back

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Winners: Jace Amaro, New York Jets (15 votes); Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12 votes)

    The All-Rookie vote at tight end was a bit tricky, in that there weren't any first-year players at the position who made a huge dent in 2014.

    With that said, Jace Amaro of the New York Jets was a unanimous selection, adding a Bleacher Report All-Rookie nod to the one he received from Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated:

    Not much has gone right with the Jets' passing offense this year, but in Amaro, the team looks to have a weapon at the tight end position with great potential. The second-round pick's highlight game this season was his 10-catch, 68-yard game against the Broncos on Oct. 12 -- since then, injuries and the general malaise surrounding the team's quarterback position have conspired to limit his opportunities.

    Amaro is joined by Austin Seferian-Jenkins of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who managed 21 catches for 221 yards and two scores in nine games before a back injury cut his season short.

    Those are hardly eye-popping numbers, but "ASJ" showed flashes of the sort of athleticism that's all the rage at the tight end spot nowadays.

    Combined with rookie receiver Mike Evans, the Buccaneers have some solid young targets in the passing game.

    Now, if they could only get someone to throw those young receivers the ball.

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

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

    Others receiving votes: Crockett Gillmore, Baltimore Ravens (2 votes); Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions (1 vote)

Wide Receiver

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Winners: Odell Beckham, New York Giants (15 votes); Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (15 votes)

    The biggest problem with picking the All-Rookie wide receivers in 2014?

    We can only pick two.

    2014 was an unprecedented season for first-year wide receivers. Sammy Watkins in Buffalo. Jarvis Landry with the Miami Dolphins. Kelvin Benjamin in Carolina. Even John Brown in Arizona.

    The list goes on and on and on—rookie wideout after rookie wideout who came up big for his team this season.

    However, it's Evans and Beckham who were the unanimous selections of our panelists, and it isn't hard to see why.

    Both topped 1,000 receiving yards as rookies. Both scored double-digit touchdowns.

    In fact, despite not playing over the first month of the season, Beckham had one of the best rookie years by a wide receiver in NFL history.

    Mike Rosenstein of NJ.com has the tale of the tape for Beckham's incredible campaign. A few of his points:

    • Beckham concluded his extraordinary rookie season with 12 catches for 185 yards and the touchdown. It was his second 12-catch game of the season. He is the first rookie in NFL history and the first Giants player with two 12-catch games in a season.

    • Beckham is also the first NFL rookie with four consecutive games with at least 130 receiving yards and a touchdown. He was also the first rookie with three.

    • Beckham joined Hall of Famer Michael Irvin as the only players in NFL history with at least 90 receiving yards in nine consecutive games. Irvin accomplished the feat in 1995.

    And those are only three of the 10 things Rosenstein chose to highlight. 

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

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

Offensive Tackle

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Winners: Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans (15 votes); Justin Britt, Seattle Seahawks (13 votes)

    It can be difficult for rookie tackles to make the jump to the NFL, especially on the left side. There are new blocking schemes to learn and a whole different class of pass-rushers to contend with.

    However, in a season where not much went right for the Tennessee Titans, AFC South Lead Writer Rivers McCown pointed to Taylor Lewan's play as a rare bright spot:

    Lewan had a fairly productive rookie season, though you would have liked it to be longer.

    A high-ankle sprain forced Lewan to the sidelines after Week 11; he probably shouldn't have tried to play in that game either, as it was his worst game of the season. So, we are rewarding Lewan's solid play from Weeks 6-11. It wasn't superstar-level production or anything, but Lewan showed that he's well on the way to being a building block for the Titans as they head into their rebuilding phase.

    And it's a good thing, too, because there aren't many Titans you can say that about right now.

    Lewan is flanked on our All-Rookie O-line by Justin Britt of the Seahawks. Granted, Britt finished the season ranked outside the top 70 tackles at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), allowing five sacks. However, Britt also received a positive grade in run blocking (a big deal in Seattle) and played over 1,000 snaps for the defending Super Bowl champions.

    Britt may have had his struggles, but he drew the praise of head coach Pete Carroll back in November, according to Terez Paylor of The Kansas City Star:

    He’s been a great kid, he’s studied like crazy, he’s taken the responsibly to heart, he’s fit in beautifully with our guys and he’s played really good football. He’s just getting started, he’s going to continue to improve and get better and better and better. So we are really pleased with him and fortunate to have him.

    Like I said, it's not an easy jump.

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

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

    Others receiving votes: Ja'Wuan James, Miami Dolphins (2 votes)

Offensive Guard

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

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

    This may have been the easiest vote in this whole deal, because where interior line play from rookies is concerned in 2014, there's Martin, Bitonio and then a huge drop-off.

    In fact, Martin and Bitonio weren't just exceptional among rookies. They played at a Pro Bowl level this season, with Bitonio cracking the top five and Martin the top 10 among guards at PFF.

    Combined, the duo allowed all of one sack this year.

    Bitonio's performance in 2014 drew raves from offensive tackle Joe Thomas, who knows a thing or two about playing well up front in the NFL.

    Thomas said, via Tom Reed of The Northeast Ohio Media Group:

    I think he's far exceeded expectations everyone had for him. The job he's done fitting in with this offensive line is tremendous. He's a pro, he's a smart guy and he takes it seriously.

    Meanwhile, Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times believes Martin was the top offensive rookie overall in 2014:

    Pro Football Focus has graded him out as the top player on Dallas' offense, and he's the only offensive rookie in the Pro Bowl. He has been pivotal to the success of Murray and Romo. Martin isn't as glamorous as the Bucs' Mike Evans and the rest of the loaded receiver class, but he's deserving.

    Martin's chances of beating out Beckham for that award aren't especially good, but this duo would combine to form arguably the best one-two punch in the NFL at their position.

    After one year in the league.

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

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

Center

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

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

    Much like our All-Rookie guards, Corey Linsley's 2014 season doesn't just stack up well when compared to other rookie linemen.

    It compares favorably to the vast majority of centers in the NFL, veterans and youngsters alike.

    Linsley played over 1,000 snaps as a rookie for the Packers, allowing only one sack and two quarterback hits. He finished the year ranked sixth at the position, according to Pro Football Focus.

    It was a performance that drew praise from Vic Ketchman of Packers.com:

    There’s no denying Corey Linsley’s impact on the Packers this season. He’s more than picked up the slack, he’s played at a level you would expect of an established, veteran starting center. Linsley has done for the Packers at center what David Bakhtiari did for the Packers at left tackle last year. It’s truly remarkable what the Packers have gotten out of their last two draft classes.

    It also didn't escape the notice of Bleacher Report's NFL National Lead Writer Mike Tanier:

    Corey Linsley was not supposed to start for the Packers. The team groomed second-year prospect J.C. Tretter throughout the offseason to snap the ball to Aaron Rodgers. When Tretter suffered an injury late in training camp, Green Bay turned to its fifth-round pick from Ohio State, a collegiate starter overlooked by much of the NFL because of his short arms and unspectacular measurables.

    Linsley had not even taken snaps with the first-team offense as of mid-August. Suddenly, he was just days away from facing the unstoppable Seahawks defense.

    Linsley turned in a solid game in the season opener against Seattle; the Packers' line troubles in that game were elsewhere. He built upon that performance each week until it was easy to forget that the man in the middle of the Packers offensive line was a rookie.

    They aren't getting any argument here.

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

    Midseason Winner: Corey Linsley, Green Bay Packers (15 votes)

Defensive End

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Winners: Timmy Jernigan, Baltimore Ravens (15 votes); DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys (6 votes)

    Just like with the tight ends, the rookie defensive ends are a hard group to pick two "winners" from. Simply put, there just weren't many first-year ends who played big roles in 2014. In fact, only one (Stephon Tuitt of the Pittsburgh Steelers) played more than 400 snaps.

    The lack of any standouts up front inspired NFL National Lead Writer Mike Tanier to look outside the box:

    I know Aaron Lynch is an outside linebacker. Take a look at this year’s crop of defensive ends: underwhelming, isn’t it? Lynch is essentially a pure pass rusher, so re-classifying him allows me to reward one of the many versatile outside linebackers who played a big role this season, instead of combing through the defensive end speadsheets in search of someone who un-impresses the least.

    NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon joined the positional rebellion. "Lynch has to get the nod as an edge-rusher and there are a lot of good rookie LBs but few good rookie defensive ends," Gagnon wrote. "Lynch and Jernigan are the only guys who deserve it."

    Well, Timmy Jernigan of the Ravens made the cut (unanimously) after tallying four sacks in just over 300 snaps, but Lynch was beaten out by DeMarcus Lawrence of the Cowboys, despite the fact that Lawrence played in only seven games and failed to record a sack this year.

    Don't look at me—I just count 'em, folks.

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

    Midseason Winners: Zach Kerr, Indianapolis Colts (10 votes); Kareem Martin, Arizona Cardinals (9 votes)

    Others receiving votes: Aaron Lynch, San Francisco 49ers (4 votes), Kony Ealy, Carolina Panthers (4 votes), Zach Kerr, Indianapolis Colts (1 vote)

Defensive Tackle

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Winners: Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams (15 votes); Justin Ellis, Oakland Raiders (8 votes)

    There may not have been any impact rookie ends in 2014, but the same certainly can't be said about St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

    In fact, after racking up 47 tackles and nine sacks, Donald earned the honor of being Pro Football Focus' top-ranked player at his position overall in 2014.

    The performance earned Donald a trip to the Pro Bowl, and while the youngster told ESPN's Nick Wagoner he was "amazed" by the honor, teammate James Laurinaitis wasn't:

    I think from day one since he got here everyone was impressed. I remember [Brian] Schottenheimer saying after the first week of OTAs this kid could be defensive rookie of the year. You just kind of saw it week by week as he got more comfortable and just put in there more and more and trusted more and more and he just continued to make plays and splash plays, tackles for loss, sacks, but as a D tackle, he’s very disruptive. I love the way he goes about his business. He’s very quiet, takes pride in what he does. He did all that in college. It’s why he won a lot of awards. He’s doing the same thing up here, which is good to see.

    Of course, big things were expected of Donald. Not so with Justin Ellis, who the Oakland Raiders selected in the fourth round of May's draft.

    However, a combination of injuries and poor play from a disastrous free-agent crop led to Ellis playing over 600 snaps as a rookie. His 21 tackles aren't especially impressive, nor is his PFF grade (53rd among DTs), but Ellis proved to be a steady lane-clogger, leaving the Raiders with one less hole to fill in 2015.

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

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

    Others receiving votes: Zach Kerr, Indianapolis Colts (4 votes); Ego Ferguson, Chicago Bears (3 votes)

Outside Linebacker

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Winners: Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders (15 votes); Anthony Barr, Minnesota Vikings (12 votes)

    You may want to sit down for a moment, because I'm about to shock you.

    The Oakland Raiders got a first-round pick right.

    See, told you that you should have sat down. Now you have a bump on your bucket. Better ice up, son.

    The Raiders took a bit of a gamble when they selected Khalil Mack fifth overall back in May. Sure, Mack was coming off a phenomenal 2013 campaign, but it was one big year at a MAC school.

    However, one year after Mack Macked the MAC (what, too much?) he picked up right where he left off in the NFL.

    Were there bumps in the road? Yes. But Mack's 75 tackles and four sacks weren't chump change by any stretch either.

    Mack and Donald are considered the front-runners for this year's Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but Mack told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group that he has little use for individual accolades.

    "You want to win games," Mack said. "That's always the main focus. The record is not what we wanted, but the good thing is the chance to come back and do better next year."

    Opposite Mack there was a bit of dissent. NFL National Lead Writer Mike Tanier was one of three voters who selected Buffalo's Preston Brown, who was a surprisingly important piece of one of the NFL's top defenses in 2014:

    I moved Aaron Lynch to defensive end to get Brown onto my team, and I almost went with Anthony Barr instead. Barr is great, but Brown gives my rookie team a wise-beyond-his-years coverage linebacker instead of another pass rusher. Brown will be the next DeAndre Levy in Jim Schwartz’s system, assuming Schwartz is not lured away from Buffalo (or fired in a regime change).

    Tanier's point is valid (they usually are), but if you're awarding individual performance rather than "building" a team (to each their own, after all), then Anthony Barr's 70 stops, four sacks and two forced fumbles in just 12 games for the Vikings are hard to overlook.

    Frankly, much like the wide receivers, this is a position where the most difficult part of voting is the fact we only get two.

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

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

    Others receiving votes: Preston Brown, Buffalo Bills (3 votes)

Inside Linebacker

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Winners: C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens (15 votes); Chris Borland, San Francisco 49ers (15 votes)

    The inside linebacker spots on the All-Rookie team are absolute no-brainers, a pair of Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates in their own right.

    One, Baltimore's C.J. Mosley, was a first-round pick and starter from Day 1. Mosley's 133 tackles as a rookie ranked eighth in the NFL. The former Alabama star ranked ninth among inside linebackers at Pro Football Focus and second against the run.

    Of course, both those rankings were behind Chris Borland of the San Francisco 49ers, who spent the first part of the season holding down the bench with his butt.

    However, once Patrick Willis was lost for the season to a toe injury, Borland made up for lost time in a hurry.

    Over a six-week stretch from Week 9 to Week 14, Borland tallied a jaw-dropping 86 tackles. No linebacker in the NFL was stouter against the run in 2014, per PFF.

    The explosion got Borland an All-Rookie nod from SI's Doug Farrar:

    When the 49ers lost Patrick Willis for the season to a toe injury in November, and failed to get NaVorro Bowman back from the knee injury he suffered in the 2013 NFC Championship Game, the 49ers had to rely on Borland to pick up the slack. The rookie from Wisconsin did so admirably, amassing 107 tackles, a sack and two interceptions before his own season was cut short in mid-December with an ankle injury. More than a tackle magnet in the middle of the field, the third-round pick proved to be a very aware player who seemed to anticipate what was happening around him before it happened.

    The $64 question now is what the 49ers will do with Borland, Bowman and Willis in 2015.

    It's going to be an interesting offseason in the Bay Area.

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

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

Cornerback

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Winners: E.J. Gaines, St. Louis Rams (13 votes); Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears (8 votes)

    There isn't a harder position on the defensive side of the ball to acclimate to in the NFL than cornerback. More often than not, the rookie we expect to make a big impact struggles, while someone comes from nowhere to impress.

    As AFC South Lead Writer Rivers McCown wrote, such was the case with E.J. Gaines of the St. Louis Rams in 2014:

    There came a time in this selection process where you had to decide what to award. Gaines' big calling card was not that he was spectacular—though he was pretty steady; it was that he was on the field much more often than any other rookie cornerback. Only four rookie cornerbacks made it to 500 snaps, and Gaines was the only one to top 950.

    It's clear to me that, among others, Jason Verrett, Bene Benwikere, and K'Waun Williams showed more in their rookie seasons. It's clear to me that Kyle Fuller and Bradley Roby are superior prospects. But we aren't judging players on how good they will be, but how good they were. In this case, for a Rams team that has desperately needed help at cornerback for multiple seasons, they finally got it from Gaines.

    It was one of the other young corners McCown mentioned who was the panel's other pick.

    Kyle Fuller was thrust into the spotlight, forced into the starting lineup for the Bears after Charles Tillman was lost for the season. Like many rookie corners, Fuller struggled in coverage (only Corey White of the New Orleans Saints had a lower PFF grade in pass coverage), but much like Tillman, Fuller showed a knack for big plays, intercepting four passes and forcing three fumbles.

    The former should improve with time. The latter you can't teach.

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

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

    Others receiving votes: Justin Gilbert, Cleveland Browns (3 votes), Bene Benwikere, Carolina Panthers (3 votes), T.J. Carrie, Oakland Raiders (2 votes), Bradley Roby, Denver Broncos (1 vote), Jason Verrett, San Diego Chargers (1 vote)

Safety

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Winners: Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers (13 votes); Calvin Pryor, New York Jets (10 votes)

    At first glance, Calvin Pryor of the New York Jets appears an odd choice for the All-Rookie team. The Jets' first-round pick in May's draft managed only 60 tackles on the season and was in and out of the lineup all year.

    However, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News thinks Pryor's struggles in 2014 had very little to do with the player himself:

    Some fans and critics have already labeled Pryor, the 18th pick in the 2014 draft, a disappointment, which is ridiculous given this season’s circumstances. The Jets’ porous cornerback situation (hey, thanks, John Idzik) has had a ripple effect that affected Pryor’s production.

    Rex Ryan was forced to play Pryor, a bone-crunching hitter at Louisville, farther away from the line of scrimmage to better protect the deep part of the field. The learning curve playing in the deep post has been significant.

    'I know people are saying he’s not what we expected him to be, but I’ll have a chip on my shoulder,' Pryor said. 'I’m going to control what I can control and play my balls off. For the people who don’t believe in me . . . I’ll prove them wrong.'

    Our other All-Rookie safety was much more successful in 2014, quite possibly because he didn't play for a dumpster fire of a team.

    In fact, Tim Froberg of the Appleton Post-Crescent made a point of comparing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of the Green Bay Packers to Pryor after the pair were taken only a few picks apart back in May:

    Clinton-Dix has been Green Bay's most productive first-round pick since Bryan Bulaga in 2011 and looks like a better safety than the New York Jets' Calvin Pryor, a thumper taken three picks ahead of him in last year's opening round.

    Say what you will about these selections, but this much is true—in this setup, Pryor could play closer to the line of scrimmage where he belongs, with Clinton-Dix roaming the back end.

    It would work.

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

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

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

Kick/Punt Returner

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Winner: De'Anthony Thomas, Kansas City Chiefs (9 votes)

    This could have been a chance to right a wrong, to kill two birds with one stone. As NFL National Lead Writer Mike Tanier reported, the All-Rookie return slot could have gone to one of the young wideouts left out by the insane depth at that position in 2014:

    I was tempted to go with De’Anthony Thomas because Landry has a fumbling problem. But I always like to pretend that my All-Rookie team would have to take the field and play a few games. So I want my returner to be the most useful slot receiver (or nickel corner in some seasons) possible. Landry just missed the cut at wide receiver, and with Beckham and Evans making acrobatic sideline grabs for my team, someone has to catch nine-yarders over the middle!

    Damn you, Tanier, and your penchant for making sense!

    However, it's not like Thomas, the panel's pick for the final slot on the All-Rookie team, was a scrub. Pro Football Focus ranked the youngster fourth among return men this season.

    Among punt returners with more than 30 returns in 2014, only Darren Sproles of the Philadelphia Eagles averaged more yardage per attempt that Thomas' 11.9 yards.

    Throw in an 81-yard touchdown on a punt return and a 78-yard kick return, and you have the special teams star who rounds out this year's Bleacher Report All-Rookie team.

    A team that would be a nine-point favorite to beat Tampa Bay. And Jacksonville. And Oakland. And Cleveland. And...

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

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

    Others receiving votes: Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins (6 votes)

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