NFL1000: Rookie Review from Week 15

Doug Farrar@@BR_DougFarrar NFL Lead ScoutDecember 23, 2016

NFL1000: Rookie Review from Week 15

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    When the Falcons selected safety Keanu Neal with the 17th pick in the 2016 NFL draft, the hope was that he would serve the same role in Atlanta’s defense that Kam Chancellor did in Seattle when Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was the defensive coordinator there.

    So far, mission accomplished.

    Neal, who's played at a high level all season, is our top-ranked rookie for Week 15 after his stellar game against the San Francisco 49ers.

    Neal allowed five catches on nine targets for 68 yards and patrolled the short and intermediate area of the defense with authority, limiting his receivers to 17 yards after the catch and adding eight tackles. Between Neal and linebackers Deion Jones (ranked 15th overall among rookies this week) and De'Vondre Campbell (ranked 48th), there's no doubt that the Falcons have the beginnings of the kind of defense that could eventually match their explosive offense and put them in contention for years.

    It's no surprise that the Falcons are getting younger and better on defense—we've been tracking their exploits all season—but recent upticks from rookies on the Indianapolis Colts roster have to be encouraging for fans of a team whose general manager, Ryan Grigson, has had more than his share of whiffs in the draft. Indianapolis has four rookies in this week's Top 50.

    Center Ryan Kelly has become a crucial force on the inconsistent offensive line, safety T.J. Green has improved in underneath coverage (now, about that tackling...), right tackle Le'Raven Clark hasn't allowed a sack in 74 snaps this season and looked solid in his first NFL start against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, and linebacker Antonio Morrison had a career-high three stops in his first NFL start against the Vikings. It's a step forward for a team that must do something to support the rare talents of Andrew Luck with roster balance.

    Another team on the rise with young talent is the Tennessee Titans, who are competing with the Colts for the AFC South title one year after finishing 3-13. General manager Jon Robinson had the benefit of high draft slots over the past couple of years, but one still has to get things done with one's draft picks—and he is doing just that.

    Fifth-round cornerback LeShaun Sims allowed just one catch for four yards on five targets against the Kansas City Chiefs last week, right tackle Jack Conklin (ranked fifth this week) has been this year's best rookie offensive lineman, and running back Derrick Henry (ranked 18th) gained 58 yards and scored two touchdowns in Tennessee's impressive win.

    Robinson also has the Rams' first- and third-round picks in the 2017 draft as a result of the trade that netted Los Angeles the first overall pick in 2016, and he's proved that he understands what to do with draft capital.

    It was a great week for many of the NFL's first-year players. Here's how we saw their performances.

    Advanced stats provided by Pro Football Focus. Cornerback stats charted by B/R scouts.

Biggest Movers Heading into Week 16

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    How do you quantify the effect of the low-drafted or undrafted star? How do you chart the progress of those rookies who are struggling to make their way regardless of their draft position? With the weekly NFL1000 Rookie Review, we'll look to do both of those things while keeping track of the highly touted stars of the 2016 draft. Part of that process is to align players with their draft positions relative to their on-field performance. 

    It's what NFL teams do, and it's what we'll do.

    Our Week 15 Rookie Review reveals a number of players who have taken major steps forward in their professional development. 

       

    1. LeShaun Sims, CB, Tennessee Titans

    2016 Draft Position: 157 (fifth round, 20th pick)

    Rank Last Week: NR

    Rank This Week: 3

    What Happened: It's taken the fifth-rounder from Southern Utah a while to get serious reps in Tennessee's defense, but against the Chiefs last week Sims showed that he belongs in the big time. As Jason McCourty's replacement, he allowed one catch for four yards on five targets and picked off Alex Smith.

        

    2. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

    2016 Draft Position: 5 (first round, fifth pick)

    Rank Last Week: 82

    Rank This Week: 6

    What Happened: It's been an up-and-down season for the Florida State star, but Ramsey had perhaps his best career game against the Texans as Houston's quarterback situation imploded. Ramsey took on DeAndre Hopkins all day, allowing just three catches on 12 targets while adding four pass breakups and an interception.

        

    3. Drew Kaser, P, San Diego Chargers

    2016 Draft Position: 179 (sixth round, fourth pick)

    Rank Last Week: 117

    Rank This Week: 7

    What Happened: Kaser had been struggling with inconsistency in recent weeks, but he was outstanding against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. He improved his hang time considerably, booming five punts for a 54.8-yard gross and a 48.6 net average. That got the rookie our highest ranking overall at his position.

        

    4. Andrew Adams, FS, New York Giants

    2016 Draft Position: UDFA

    Rank Last Week: 83

    Rank This Week: 14

    What Happened: The rich get richer, as Big Blue's secondary takes step after step to becoming the best in the NFL. Cornerback Eli Apple has shown a lot of progress of late, but don't sleep on Adams, the undrafted rookie from Connecticut who's taken a ton of snaps this season (676 to date) and allowed two catches for 11 yards against the Detroit Lions' high-flying offense.

        

    5. Brennan Scarlett, 3-4 OLB, Houston Texans

    2016 Draft Position: UDFA

    Rank Last Week: NR

    Rank This Week: 22

    What Happened: The Texans were without Whitney Mercilus and John Simon for their game against the Jaguars, but they did have the undrafted Scarlett, who was activated off injured reserve and looked great against the run opposite Jadeveon Clowney. Scarlett amassed two tackles and two stops and gave Houston's coaching staff the impression that he's ready to help provide depth along the defensive line.

Top 50 Rookies Overall from Week 15

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Our Week 15 Top 50 rookie rankings are based on game-tape evaluation. We can now see how they shake out against preseason grades and expectations. Here's how things stand this week.

        

    Top 50 Rankings
    RankPlayerPos.TeamPickNFL1000 ScoreLWMoving
    1Keanu NealSSATL17819
    2Ezekiel ElliottRBDAL47910
    3LeShaun SimsCBTEN1577633
    4Jordan HowardRBCHI1507616
    5Jack ConklinRTTEN87612
    6Jalen RamseyCBJAX576NR
    7Drew KaserPSD17976NR
    8Ronnie StanleyLTBAL6756
    9Ryan KellyCIND187513
    10Jatavis BrownILBSD17575NR
    11Taylor DeckerLTDET167511
    12Dak PrescottQBDAL13574NR
    13Eli AppleCBNYG1074NR
    14Andrew AdamsFSNYGUDFA73NR
    15Deion JonesILBATL52731
    16Sean DavisSSPIT5873NR
    17Wil LutzKNOUDFA7318
    18Derrick HenryRBTEN457226
    19Dwayne WashingtonRBDET2367231
    20Joey Bosa3-4 DESD37247
    21DeAndre WashingtonRBOAKUDFA72NR
    22Brennan Scarlett3-4 OLBHOUUDFA71NR
    23T.J. GreenFSIND5771NR
    24Le'Raven ClarkRTIND8271NR
    25DeForest Buckner3-4 DESF77120
    26Paul PerkinsRBNYG1497143
    27Roberto AguayoKTB597119
    28Michael ThomasWRNO4770NR
    29Cody WhitehairCCHI567017
    30Antonio MorrisonILBIND12570NR
    31Deon BushSSCHI1247045
    32Jalen RichardRBOAKUDFA7024
    33Artie BurnsCBPIT2570NR
    34Joe HaegOGIND15569NR
    35Noah Spence4-3 DETB39697
    36Sterling ShepardWRNYG406930
    37Kenneth DixonRBBAL134698
    38Justin SimmonsFSDEN9869NR
    39Will ParksSSDEN21969NR
    40Robby AndersonWRNYJUDFA6944
    41Robert KelleyRBWASUDFA6922
    42Joshua GarnettOGSF286836
    43Shaq Lawson3-4 OLBBUF1968NR
    44Isaac SeumaloRTPHI796825
    45Nick VigilILBCIN8768NR
    46Kenyan DrakeRBMIA7368NR
    47Michael PierceDTBALUDFA67NR
    48De'Vondre Campbell4-3 OLBATL11567NR
    49Romeo Okwara4-3 DENYGUDFA67NR
    50Dean Lowry3-4 DEGB1376728

Quarterbacks

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Frustration with the Philadelphia Eagles' Carson Wentz has continued to grow since his fast start to the season.

    Wentz hasn't changed much, but he's been asked to do more from the pocket while throwing the ball downfield. His flaws were exposed immediately against the Baltimore Ravens.

    Wentz planted his feet and stared down a receiver as pressure came before reacting poorly to that pressure so the ball went straight to a linebacker. He had another bad interception on an underthrown ball targeting Eric Weddle's receiver, but it was erased by a penalty away from the play.

    Wentz regularly overthrew passes and the final drive of the game was carried by pass interference penalties. His penchant for planting his feet and staring down his receivers is a major concern. 

    The Rams' Jared Goff did a lot of good against the Seattle Seahawks last Thursday. The problem was all that good was negated by woeful accuracy.

    Goff had a slight underthrow on a potential touchdown early and followed that by missing receivers wildly throughout. His worst miss came when he had a tight end wide open in the end zone, wasn't under pressure and was only 10 yards away.

    Goff's feet were a disaster, which led to the ball being thrown behind and into the ground as his teammate made a fruitless dive backward.

    Dak Prescott gave the Dallas Cowboys more reasons to be excited on Sunday night than he had over the past month. Prescott was more aggressive and more accurate pushing the ball downfield, especially later in the game, but he also showed off the same limitations when behind the down-and-distance for much of the game.

    The Cowboys know the talent and ability are there, but they need Prescott to show it more consistently when put in difficult situations.

        

    Grading Scale

    • Acc: Accuracy (Graded out of 25)
    • Arm: Arm Strength (Graded out of 25)
    • Press: Pressure/Run Threat (Graded out of 20) (Pressure weighted at 15, run threat at 5)
    • Dec: Decision-Making (Graded out of 20)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

         

    Rookie QB Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamAccArmPressDecPosOvrLWTrend
    1Dak PrescottDAL1619151410742
    2Jared GoffLA917131310623
    3Carson WentzPHI1117111010591

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

        

    Notable Performances

    Dak Prescott

    Week 15 stats: 32-of-36, 279 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions; 4 carries, 20 rushing yards, 1 TD

    As the Cowboys put more and more on Prescott's plate, he continues to display an impressive understanding of the complexities of his position. Prescott has the potential to be among the NFL's better deep passers and is better under pressure than many anticipated. 

        

    Carson Wentz

    Week 15 stats: 22-of-42, 170 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception; 4 carries, 8 rushing yards, 1 TD

    Wentz's regression has been just as puzzling as Prescott's ascent has been impressive. There was a time early in the season when it seemed that the two rookies were head-to-head in a developmental sense. But Wentz's relative inexperience and lack of reps against stronger collegiate defenses may be coming home to roost. Once opponents started to figure out head coach Doug Pederson's simple passing game plan, Wentz was forced to make things happen on his own and diagnose more complex concepts. To date, he's appeared unprepared to do so.

Running Backs

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Ezekiel Elliott was dominant against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night.

    He ran by, around and through defenders all game. His explosive downhill quickness and power on contact are special attributes. If the Cowboys are going to make a run in the playoffs, they will need Elliott to duplicate performances like his on Sunday night. 

    The Bears' Jordan Howard has separated himself as the second-best rookie running back in 2016. He was excellent down the stretch in a tight game against the Green Bay Packers, running hard and making plays. His play speed is great, and his ability to break tackles is impressive for a young player. He is easily the biggest bright spot on a bad Chicago team.

    Tennessee's Derrick Henry had one of his most productive games of the season, helping to spell DeMarco Murray while averaging over six yards a carry. He looks much more comfortable in the offense and should help contribute as the Titans make a playoff push.

    Both Raiders rookies were very good against the Chargers, with DeAndre Washington making his return from a knee injury. Washington proved Sunday that he has a role in this offense and should continue to get carries between the tackles. He is a solid inside runner for a smaller back, while Jalen Richard excels in the passing game. Both players should expect to see touches in the playoffs.

    Fullbacks: Andy Janovich is on injured reserve, which has negatively affected the Broncos' running game. The Chargers fell behind early and never could get a consistent run game to make sure Derek Watt got enough offensive snaps to be evaluated.

        

    Grading Scale

    • In: Inside Running (Graded out of 25)
    • Out: Outside Running (Graded out of 25)
    • Rec: Receiving (Graded out of 20)
    • Blk: Blocking (Graded out of 20)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

        

    Rookie RB Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamInOutRecBlkPosOvrLWTrend
    1Ezekiel ElliottDAL211916176792
    2Jordan HowardCHI191817166763
    3Derrick HenryTEN181715166726
    4Dwayne WashingtonDET181616166728
    5DeAndre WashingtonOAK18161616672NR
    6Paul PerkinsNYG1816161567110
    7Jalen RichardOAK171616156705
    8Kenneth DixonBAL171615156691
    9Robert KelleyWAS171416166694
    10Kenyan DrakeMIA16151516668NR
    11Byron MarshallPHI16141515666NR
    12Josh FergusonIND15141515665NR
    13Jonathan WilliamsBUF15141515665NR
    14Alex CollinsSEA151415146649
    15Devontae BookerDEN1513151466311

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Wendell Smallwood—injury
    • C.J. Prosise—injury
    • Andy Janovich—injury
    • Derek Watt—insufficient snaps

        

    Notable Performances

    Ezekiel Elliott

    Week 15 stats: 23 carries, 159 yards, 1 TD; 3 receptions, 29 yards

    Elliott had his most dominant game in weeks. He ran right through Tampa defenders all game, breaking tackles and running hard downhill. He made guys miss and even leaped over a defender. He's just a dynamic player.

        

    Jordan Howard

    Week 15 stats: 17 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD; 4 receptions, 23 yards

    He was excellent against the Packers, especially in the second half. He ran hard between the tackles and broke tackles most of the game. He was also productive in the passing game.

        

    Derrick Henry

    Week 15 stats: 9 carries, 58 yards, 2 TDs

    He had his most productive game in a long time. He was explosive, breaking big runs and lowering his shoulder on contact. He displayed the feet against the Chiefs that helped him become a high draft pick.

Wide Receivers

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    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    Michael Thomas continues his fantastic rookie season for the New Orleans Saints after missing the previous week with an injury. Thomas caught a touchdown on a beautiful fade route as he tracked the ball perfectly and made the adjustment.

    Like Thomas, the Giants' Sterling Shepard caught a touchdown on a corner route in the end zone. The ball was underthrown, but Shepard came back to the ball and reeled it in for the first score of the game. 

    The Rams' Mike Thomas is starting to see more playing time with the first-team offense, but he dropped a sure touchdown on a gorgeous ball from Goff. Thomas beat his man but got nothing to show for it. Thomas will get more looks in the final two games because of his ability to separate down the field. 

    Robby Anderson had another big game for the New York Jets, catching four passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Tyreek Hill electrified the Arrowhead crowd early with a long touchdown run, when he lined up as a running back and took an inside handoff from quarterback Alex Smith. As a receiver this week, Hill struggled a bit and had a few drops.

        

    Grading Scale

    • Route: Route Running (Graded out of 25)
    • Hands: Hands (Graded out of 25)
    • YAC: Yards After Catch (Graded out of 20)
    • Blk: Blocking (Graded out of 20)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

        

    Rookie WR Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamRouteHandsYACBlkPosOvrLWTrend
    1Michael ThomasNO18181312970NR
    2Sterling ShepardNYG181615119692
    3Robby AndersonNYJ181713129694
    4Will Fuller VHOU171811129676
    5Pharoh CooperLA161613109649
    6Tyler BoydCIN161511129633
    7Malcolm MitchellNE161511129635
    8Chester RogersIND1616111196311
    9Wendall WilliamsHOU16151112963NR
    10Cody CoreCIN1615111296313
    11Corey ColemanCLE151511129628
    12Tajae SharpeTEN1515111196114
    13Mike ThomasLA171411109617
    14Tyreek HillKC161311119601
    15Charone PeakeNYJ1514111196012
    16Leonte CarrooMIA14141112960NR
    17Rashard HigginsCLE1414111195915

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Laquon Treadwell—injury
    • Braxton Miller—injury
    • Kalif Raymond—inactive
    • Alex Erickson—insufficient snaps
    • Johnny Holton—insufficient snaps
    • Demarcus Robinson—insufficient snaps
    • Chris Moore—insufficient snaps
    • Ricardo Louis—insufficient snaps
    • Jakeem Grant—insufficient snaps

        

    Notable Performances

    Michael Thomas

    Week 15 stats: 7 receptions, 52 yards, 1 TD

    Thomas has become Drew Brees' go-to target in the red zone. Thomas is proving to be a fantastic fit in the Saints offense.

        

    Sterling Shepard

    Week 15 stats: 4 receptions, 56 yards, 1 TD

    Outside of the touchdown, Shepard had a beautiful catch-and-run down the sideline where he tiptoed the line for 23 yards.

        

    Mike Thomas

    Week 15 stats: 1 reception, 6 yards

    Thomas got behind the Seahawks defense but dropped an easy touchdown that would've put the Rams ahead early.

        

    Robby Anderson

    Week 15 stats: 4 receptions, 80 yards, 1 TD

    Anderson continued his recent run of success, catching four passes on Saturday night, including a well-executed post route for a 40-yard score. On the route, he was able to get inside leverage against a defender by using a stutter step at the top of his vertical stem.

Tight Ends

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    It was a quiet day for rookie tight ends in the NFC.

    The Falcons' Austin Hooper was the only player to make any noise this week as he caught his only target of the game, a nine-yard fade route for a score. Hooper is a good athlete who knows how to track the ball in the air. He used his athleticism and height in the end zone for the score.

    Giants rookie Jerell Adams caught three passes for 18 yards and made a nice play after the catch against the Lions. The Giants appear to be grooming him to be their future full-time starter at tight end.

    In the AFC, the Chargers' Hunter Henry caught his seventh touchdown of the year against the Raiders. In addition to his work in the passing game, Henry continues to develop as a blocker.

    With C.J. Fiedorowicz injured, Stephen Anderson saw more snaps for the Texans this week and had one catch for seven yards. 

        

    Grading Scale

    • Route: Route Running (Graded out of 20)
    • Hands: Hands (Graded out of 25)
    • YAC: Yards After Catch (Graded out of 20)
    • Blk: Blocking (Graded out of 25)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

        

    Rookie TE Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamRouteHandsYACBlkPosOvrLWTrend
    1Hunter HenrySD141611196661
    2Jerell AdamsNYG131615166667
    3Austin HooperATL141711176653
    4Stephen AndersonHOU121411166595
    5Seth DeValveCLE11141117659NR
    6Alex EllisJAX111411166582
    7Nick VannettSEA111210176564

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Thomas Duarte—inactive
    • Temarrick Hemingway—insufficient snaps

        

    Notable Performances

    Austin Hooper

    Week 15 stats: 1 reception, 9 yards, 1 TD

    Hooper caught a fade route for a score in a blowout win against the 49ers.

        

    Jerell Adams

    Week 15 stats: 3 receptions, 18 yards

    Adams was quiet against Detroit but made a nice play in the open field to gain 11 yards.

        

    Hunter Henry

    Week 15 stats: 3 receptions, 37 yards, 1 TD

    Henry is making a name for himself as a player who simply catches touchdowns. The rookie caught his seventh on the season against the Raiders.

Offensive Tackles

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Taylor Decker of the Lions notched his 14th straight start, this one coming against a tough Giants defense. Decker was steady in his performance and never did waver from his technique.

    The Ravens' Ronnie Stanley started his seventh consecutive game since returning from injury and was stout against the Eagles. Stanley showed competitive toughness and physicality finishing in pass protection and in the running game. 

    Jack Conklin notched his 14th start as a pro, and for the second consecutive week it wasn't easy against the Chiefs. He matched up against Justin Houston and Dee Ford most of the contest, and Tennessee made sure Conklin had help. In the running game, Conklin was solid.

    The Seahawks' George Fant started against Los Angeles, his eighth straight. Fant continues to show weekly improvement but was outmatched against the pass rush of the Rams. Fant has a lot of work to do to build his pass-protection skill set.

    Le'Raven Clark of Indianapolis got his first career start. Clark showed flashes of what he can be, just as he did during his career at Texas Tech. As it was then and as it is now, consistency is a major issue for the rookie.

    Philadelphia's Halapoulivaati Vaitai was inactive with a knee injury.

        

    Grading Scale

    • OT: Left or Right Tackle Designation
    • Pass: Pass Protection (Graded out of 25)
    • Run: Run Blocking (Graded out of 25)
    • Power: Power (Graded out of 20)
    • Agl: Agility (Graded out of 20)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

        

    Rookie OT Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamOTPassRunPowerAglPosOvrLWTrend
    1Jack ConklinTENRT182116147763
    2Ronnie StanleyBALLT181815168751
    3Taylor DeckerDETLT181815168752
    4Le'Raven ClarkINDRT18171415771NR
    5Isaac SeumaloPHIRT16171414768NR
    6George FantSEALT141613148654
    7Brandon ShellNYJRT15161413765NR

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Halapoulivaati Vaitai—injury

      

    Notable Performances

    Brandon Shell

    Week 15 stats: 79 snaps, no sacks, hits or hurries allowed

    The Jets have started four different right tackles in 2016. In Week 15, Shell was the man for the job. Shell had his struggles against the Miami Dolphins' explosive defenses and at times was no match for Cameron Wake, but he held up decently overall in his 79 snaps.

        

    Isaac Seumalo

    Week 15 stats: 87 snaps, no sacks or hits allowed, 3 hurries allowed

    Seumalo started his first game at right tackle for the Eagles; he had started at right guard the week before. Due to injuries to fellow rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai and veteran Allen Barbreand factoring in the suspension of Lane Johnson, who is set to return in Week 16the Eagles were not in an ideal situation playing the rookie interior offensive lineman on the edge.

Offensive Guards

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    It was largely a down week for the rookie guards, with nobody scoring over a 70 overall. Half of the group came in below 66.

    Between tough matchups and lingering injuries, this is one of the worst performances we have had this year from what has been a pretty solid group. 

        

    Grading Scale

    • Pass: Pass Protection (Graded out of 25)
    • Run: Run Blocking (Graded out of 25)
    • Power: Power (Graded out of 20)
    • Agl: Agility (Graded out of 20)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

           

    Rookie OG Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamPassRunPowerAglPosOvrLWTrend
    1Joe HaegIND171514167698
    2Joshua GarnettSF151617137683
    3Joe ThuneyNE111715167667
    4Laremy TunsilMIA151215167655
    5Spencer DrangoCLE121415147624
    6Germain IfediSEA131315137616

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Vadal Alexander—inactive

        

    Notable Performances

    Joe Thuney

    While Thuney struggled in pass protection, he thrived in the quick-hitting run game deployed by Dion Lewis and the New England Patriots. His athletic ability is a natural fit for that type of running game.

        

    Laremy Tunsil

    It seems like Tunsil is still nursing an injury, as he struggled to hold blocks in the run game for the Dolphins against the Jets front.

        

    Spencer Drango

    The last few weeks have exposed Drango's struggles in pass protection. He has two more games to prove he deserves a shot going forward, and with the Cleveland Browns' injured guards likely returning next year, this may be his best shot at putting good tape out there.

Centers

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    Al Pereira/Getty Images

    In this week's edition of which rookie center held up best, we were faced with three options. This week, Alabama alum Ryan Kelly took the crown by the largest margin we have seen in a few weeks. 

        

    Grading Scale

    • Pass: Pass Protection (Graded out of 25)
    • Run: Run Blocking (Graded out of 25)
    • Power: Power (Graded out of 20)
    • Agl: Agility (Graded out of 20)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

           

    Rookie C Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamPassRunPowerAglPosOvrLWTrend
    1Ryan KellyIND171817176751
    2Cody WhitehairCHI171515176702
    3Graham GlasgowDET171113156623

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

        

    Notable Performances

    Ryan Kelly

    It was a dominant performance on the ground for the Colts (161 rushing yards), and Kelly helped lead the way for Frank Gore and Robert Turbin.

        

    Cody Whitehair

    Whitehair doesn't win with power, as he struggled to consistently clear the A-gap in a physical, cold-weather game against a divisional rival.

3-4 Defensive Ends

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    There couldn't be a bigger difference between the rookie classes at 3-4 and 4-3 defensive ends.

    On this side, the class is deep with pass-rushers and run defenders, guys who are some of the best at their position already and can win inside and outside. The 4-3 guys are coming along, but there's only a couple to write home about.

    If your team needs an immediate impact on the defensive line, the play of the 2016 rookie class suggests the draft may be your way to go. We have a handful of stars from this class. 

        

    Grading Scale

    • Snap: Snap Explosion (Graded out of 15)
    • Rush: Pass Rush (Graded out of 25)
    • Run: Run Defense (Graded out of 30)
    • Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 20)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

        

    Rookie 3-4 DE Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamSnapRushRunTklPosOvrLWTrend
    1Joey BosaSD141720147725
    2DeForest BucknerSF111721157711
    3Dean LowryGB101620147672
    4Emmanuel OgbahCLE131618137674
    5Chris JonesKC121519147673
    6Ronald BlairSF101619147667
    7Robert NkemdicheARI11151814765NR
    8Jonathan BullardCHI101618147656
    9Adolphus WashingtonBUF111219137629
    10Carl NassibCLE111316137608

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

        

    Notable Performances

    Joey Bosa

    Week 15 stats: 4 tackles, 1 sack

    The Chargers' Bosa had a strong day against the run to go with a handful of QB pressures and a coverage sack to pad the stats. It was his usual impact in a great rookie season.

        

    Emmanuel Ogbah

    Week 15 stats: 1 tackle, 1 sack

    Ogbah has been turning it up lately, and his sack against Buffalo was a nice display as he played the run fake well, used his length and then turned the corner with a rip move. I don't like when Cleveland kicks him inside as a 5-technique, but when he's a strong-side DE, Ogbah looks like a gem for a team that needs talent.

    DeForest Buckner

    Week 15 stats: 4 tackles

    Buckner may not always show up on the stat sheet for his contributions, but he has made an impact in every game that he's suited up for the 49ers. With little to no help, Buckner is one of the few players with starting talent who play on a squad allowing 424.9 yards per game and 176.3 rushing yards per game, both the most in the NFL. He executed his job against Atlanta, which is why the ball didn't go to him often, but seldom does that mean much statistically when you're surrounded by low-level freelancers on the defensive side of the ball.

4-3 Defensive Ends

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Noah Spence is a rotational pass-rusher with the Buccaneers, while Romero Okwara subs in as a full-time player for the Giants in Jason Pierre-Paul's absence. Yannick Ngakoue of Jacksonville is the team's No. 1 defensive end this year.

    Anthony Zettel of Detroit and Morgan Fox of Los Angeles continue to struggle to post entire games of consistent play, but the fact that they're getting on the field is still a significant nod to their talent relative to some other rookies in the league. 

        

    Grading Scale

    • Rush: Pass Rush (Graded out of 25)
    • Run: Run Defense (Graded out of 25)
    • Snap: Snap Explosion (Graded out of 20)
    • Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 20)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

        

    Rookie 4-3 DE Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamRushRunSnapTklPosOvrLWTrend
    1Noah SpenceTB201215148691
    2Romeo OkwaraNYG19131314867NR
    3Yannick NgakoueJAX201214128662
    4Anthony ZettelDET19121213864NR
    5Morgan FoxLA17131313864NR

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

        

    Notable Performances

    Noah Spence

    Week 15 stats: 1 quarterback hurry, no tackles

    Spence has shown a lot throughout his rookie season, but he got an education against Dallas' peerless offensive line. Spence was relatively stonewalled for his least impactful game in a long time. 

Defensive Tackles

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The Ravens' Michael Pierce takes the top spot this week with a dominant showing against the run. Though it didn't show up in the box score as the Eagles used mostly outside runs to accumulate 169 rushing yards, center Jason Kelce had no answer for Pierce's overwhelming power on running plays.

    Hassan Ridgeway took advantage of a weak Vikings offensive line. He was key in the Colts' ability to shut down Minnesota's rushing attack. 

           

    Grading Scale

    • Snap: Snap Explosion (Graded out of 25)
    • Rush: Pass Rush (Graded out of 25)
    • Run: Run Defense (Graded out of 25)
    • Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 15)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

        

    Rookie DT Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamSnapRushRunTklPosOvrLWTrend
    1Michael PierceBAL151221127679
    2Hassan RidgewayIND161616117663
    3Maliek CollinsDAL161516117651
    4Jarran ReedSEA151418117655
    5Javon HargravePIT16141711765NR
    6Sheldon RankinsNO161516107648
    7Vernon ButlerCAR151317117632
    8Kenny ClarkGB161415117637
    9D.J. ReaderHOU15141710763NR
    10Sheldon DayJAX1613151176210
    11Darius LathamOAK15141511762NR
    12Vincent ValentineNE14131610760NR
    13David OnyemataNO1513141075911
    14Austin JohnsonTEN131315107586
    15Destiny VaeaoPHI1312141075613
    16Jihad WardOAK1312131075514
    17A'Shawn RobinsonDET1312121075412

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

        

    Notable Performances

    Michael Pierce

    Week 15 stats: 2 tackles

    Pierce's dominant season as a run defender continued against the Eagles. His size (6'0", 339 pounds) and strength at the point of attack were overwhelming for Kelce. Pierce will never be a great pass-rusher, but his work against the run has been tremendous this season.

3-4 Outside Linebackers

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    Week 15 wasn't the best showing for rookie 3-4 outside linebackers. Brennan Scarlett was an unexpected bright spot for the Texans, but the rest of the class—including Shaq Lawson, Matt Judon and Leonard Floyd—were mostly shut down.

    Floyd, the superstar of this group, struggled in his battle with Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari. Scarlett, who was just activated from injured reserve, had disruptive moments while filling in for Whitney Mercilus and John Simon. 

         

    Grading Scale

    • Rush: Pass Rush (Graded out of 25)
    • Run: Run Defense (Graded out of 25)
    • Cvg: Coverage (Graded out of 15)
    • Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 25)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

          

    Rookie 3-4 OLB Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamRushRunCvgTklPosOvrLWTrend
    1Brennan ScarlettHOU2214918871NR
    2Shaq LawsonBUF22119188685
    3Matt JudonBAL18129178642
    4Chris LandrumSD18139168643
    5Leonard FloydCHI181010168621
    6Aaron WallaceTEN18109168614
    7Joe SchobertCLE1711916861NR

          

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Kyler Fackrell—insufficient snaps
    • Curt Maggitt—insufficient snaps
    • Dadi Nicolas—insufficient snaps
    • Kevin Dodd—insufficient snaps

          

    Notable Performances

    Brennan Scarlett

    Week 15 Stats: 4 tackles

    Activated off injured reserve Thursday, Scarlett found himself playing a big role during the Texans' win over the Jaguars. Without Mercilus and Simon, Houston had to lean on the undrafted free agent from Stanford to play opposite Jadeveon Clowney. Scarlett held up just fine, registering four tackles—including a pair of impressive run tackles—and drawing a holding penalty as a pass-rusher.

4-3 Outside Linebackers

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    This week's rookie 4-3 outside linebacker report is about as vanilla as could be. Atlanta's De'Vondre Campbell played as well as he has for most of the year—until he was injured during Sunday's game, that is. The Jets' Jordan Jenkins had an on-par performance, and Jacksonville's Myles Jack had another solid game in which he proved he could play assignment football.

    Darron Lee had the most notable week. Throughout the year, Lee has been wildly inconsistent for the Jets, having games that range from quite good to horrid. This week was closer to the former. Lee held his own in coverage, which is where he normally struggles, and had one of his best performances as a run defender.

    It was the type of game that should be expected from Lee every week. He's a good player who warranted his draft position at 20th overall. Hopefully, Lee can build on these types of performances next year. 

          

    Grading Scale

    • Cvg: Coverage (Graded out of 25)
    • Run: Run Defense (Graded out of 25)
    • Rush: Pass Rush (Graded out of 15)
    • Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 25)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

         

    Rookie 4-3 OLB Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamCvgRunRushTklPosOvrLWTrend
    1De'Vondre CampbellATL17197186673
    2Darron LeeNYJ16197196674
    3Jordan JenkinsNYJ16189186672
    4Myles JackJAX15177176621
    5Cory LittletonLA14167176605

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Jaylon Smith—injury
    • Josh Forrest—injury

    Notable Performances

    De'Vondre Campbell

    Week 15 Stats: 1 tackle

    Campbell's stat line is lacking because he suffered a concussion. Prior to the injury, though, Campbell was having an impressive day in run defense and had a great effort on a reverse, a play that had been getting the best of him.

             

    Darron Lee

    Week 15 Stats: 4 tackles

    Lee's play in the run game was encouraging. He trusted what he saw and fired out of his stance. He may just be scratching the surface.

         

    Jordan Jenkins

    Week 15 Stats: 5 tackles, 1 sack

    Few players are as consistent as Jenkins. Week in and week out, he does his job in the run game and makes one or two plays elsewhere. This week, that extra play was a sack.

         

    Myles Jack

    Week 15 Stats: 1 tackle

    Jack still is not making major impact plays, but now he's preventing the offense from creating some of its own. Hopefully, Jack becomes a more dynamic player next season.

         

    Cory Littleton

    Week 15 Stats: 1 tackle

    Littleton isn't fit as a starting NFL linebacker. That said, he is doing a fine job as a backup. It's encouraging that he is not entirely imploding.

Inside Linebackers

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Deion Jones continued his strong push toward the Defensive Rookie of the Year award as the Atlanta Falcons beat the San Francisco 49ers, 41-13, at home. Atlanta often tasked Jones with serving as the backside run defender versus Chip Kelly's zone-read concepts. He had no trouble containing Colin Kaepernick and showed speed and instincts to make an impact on frontside runs as well.

    Jones has come on strong lately and, with two more games to make his case, should garner plenty of attention in Rookie of the Year discussions. Regardless of the voting, the Falcons have found a legitimate leader. 

    Antonio Morrison played the entire game Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings and showed he may be something for the Indianapolis Colts to build around. When Morrison trusts his instincts, he's fast to fill gaps at the line of scrimmage and brings power upon contact. He doesn't have as many live snaps as the other top rookies and doesn't show solid mental processing skills yet, but he flashes more than enough athleticism to be coached into a starting role.

    Top honors this week go to Jatavis Brown of the San Diego Chargers. After missing a few weeks due to injury, Brown has gained back the lion's share of snaps, and he didn’t disappoint against a difficult Raiders offense. We wrote about Brown earlier in the year, and he looks back to form.

          

    Grading Scale

    • Pass: Pass Defense (Graded out of 25)
    • Run: Run Defense (Graded out of 35)
    • Rush: Pass Rush (Graded out of 15)
    • Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 15)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

          

    Rookie ILB Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamPassRunRushTklPosOvrLWTrend
    1Jatavis BrownSD202810116753
    2Deion JonesATL20279116731
    3Antonio MorrisonIND162810106704
    4Nick VigilCIN1825910668NR
    5Elandon RobertsNE1726810667NR
    6Nick KwiatkoskiCHI17221096642
    7Blake MartinezGB1721910663NR

          

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Su'a Cravens—injury
    • Josh Forrest—insufficient snaps
    • Cory James—insufficient snaps
    • Tyler Matakevich—insufficient snaps
    • Joshua Perry—insufficient snaps

           

    Notable Performances

    Nick Vigil

    Week 15 Stats: 3 tackles

    Nick Vigil played a handful of snaps Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers and, although he won't be saving the Bengals this season, he's worth looking at moving into 2017. He offers plenty of speed and athleticism.

            

    Elandon Roberts

    Week 15 Stats: 11 snaps, 0 tackles

    Elandon Roberts hasn't seen much playing time lately despite what many assumed would be a busy end to the season. Once the Patriots traded Jamie Collins to the Browns, it seemed as though Roberts would be the new defensive diamond for coach Bill Belichick. Alas, the rookie struggled once given a full playing load and will have to earn more snaps with better on-field production. In the meantime, the Patriots have found other linebackers to be successful with.

         

    Deion Jones

    Week 15 Stats: 8 tackles, 1 forced fumble

    Jones just keeps playing well and added another strong performance Sunday. Keep an eye on him in the playoffs as Atlanta faces more formidable opponents. Jones' play could dictate the success of the Atlanta defense in January.

Cornerbacks

16 of 19

    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    The variance for cornerbacks is high, but that tends to be the case especially for rookies. On a week-to-week basis, no rookie cornerback has found solid ground yet, but there are encouraging signs from a handful of players to varying degrees. With two weeks remaining in the regular season, we may see more consistency from the top crop. 

    Four of the top-six grades were first-round picks, which is a dramatic change from the previous week. The AFC South owned the top two spots as Tennessee Titans rookie LeShaun Sims and Jacksonville Jaguars budding star Jalen Ramsey shared the highest grade. NFC first-round picks Eli Apple and Vernon Hargreaves also graded as average or better, as Apple continues to improve and Hargreaves has held steady.

    Jalen Ramsey might've had his best game as a pro while shadowing DeAndre Hopkins for most of the day. As a perimeter cornerback, Ramsey gave up three catches on 12 targets, including four pass breakups and an interception. He was outstanding.

    The Browns have gotten more than they ever could've hoped for from Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Sunday might have been the first time in over a month he looked out of his depth. Not that he was bad, but he had bad matchups. Sammy Watkins will make most corners look bad, and he had too much nuance in his routes for Boddy-Calhoun to hang with him.

         

    Grading Scale

    • Cvg: Coverage (Graded out of 30)
    • React: Reaction/Recovery (Graded out of 30)
    • Slot: Slot (Graded out of 20)
    • Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 10)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

          

    Rookie CB Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamCvgReactSlotTklPosOvrLWTrend
    1LeShaun SimsTEN22231669762
    2Jalen RamseyJAX22241569768
    3Eli AppleNYG222018597412
    4Xavien HowardMIA2021165971NR
    5Artie BurnsPIT192116597011
    6Daryl WorleyCAR181717696718
    7Vernon HargreavesTB17171669656
    8Tavon YoungBAL16181559637
    9James BradberryCAR161815596316
    10Briean Boddy-CalhounCLE17161559623
    11Jalen MillsPHI171516596215
    12Anthony BrownDAL15161659615
    13Javien ElliottTB14141559579
    14Cre'von LeBlancCHI14131469561
    15Rashard RobinsonSF151314595610
    16Juston BurrisNYJ14131459554
    17Brandon WilliamsARI141314595520
    18Mike JordanLA121413695414
    19Brian PooleATL1214136954NR

        

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Kendall Fuller—insufficient snaps
    • Deiondre' Hall—insufficient snaps
    • Mackensie Alexander—insufficient snaps

    Notable Performances

    Eli Apple

    In terms of process, no rookie cornerback has made more consistent strides from the start of the season until now than Eli Apple of the New York Giants. Apple allowed four of seven targets to be completed, but zero targets came via blown coverages, and on two of those completions he was in excellent position to disrupt the catch. He's mastering press coverage and becoming a dangerous asset.

Free Safeties

17 of 19

    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    The Colts' T.J. Green did a good job maintaining discipline this week. He sat in his zone coverages and read underneath throws well, breaking on them quickly and making good tackles. On a 3rd-and-short in the first quarter, Green was the first to react to a throw to Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph in the flat, quickly breaking on it and making a tackle to prevent the first down and force a punt.

    Later, he read a curl route from Cordarrelle Patterson, breaking on it from a deeper zone and making the tackle as soon as the ball arrived to erase any possibility of yards after the catch from a receiver who is dangerous with the ball in his hands. 

    Green wasn't without his faults, however. In the fourth quarter, he drew a tough man-coverage assignment against Rudolph. Green attempted to jam him at the line of scrimmage but missed as Rudolph ran past up the seam. To his credit, Green did a solid job recovering to contest the throw, but the ball was excellently placed, and Green gave up a first down to Rudolph.

    A few plays later, Green was sent on a blitz and got caught unaware of his surroundings. While he was rushing to get to the quarterback, the ball was thrown to the flat on a screen behind him and he failed to get back outside to it.

    New Orleans' Vonn Bell struggled mightily in coverage against the Cardinals. He was at fault on two of Carson Palmer's touchdown passes. The first came toward the end of the first half. He lined up man-to-man in the red zone against J.J. Nelson. Bell played off and took inside leverage but was slow to react to the corner route from Nelson, who was wide-open in the back of the end zone for an easy touchdown.

    Late in the fourth quarter, Bell had a deep half of the field in what appeared to be two-man coverage (two deep safeties with man coverage underneath). Bell was late to react to the go route down the sideline and failed to stay on top of it, resulting in another touchdown. He ended up fighting over who was responsible with the corner who was also beaten while the Cardinals celebrated their touchdown.

    Bell also had issues in the run game. Larry Fitzgerald is one of the better blocking wide receivers in the NFL, and he took full advantage of the size differential between himself and Bell. The 6'3" Fitzgerald managed to pin the 5'11" Bell inside on a few outside runs early on.

    When the Cardinals came back with an inside run later, Fitzgerald kicked out Bell and cleared a running lane behind him. On a touchdown run in the fourth quarter, Fitzgerald worked inside from the slot and pinned Bell inside as the running back ran past on his way to a touchdown.

         

    Grading Scale

    • Cvg: Coverage (Graded out of 30)
    • Rec: Recovery (Graded out of 30)
    • Slot: Slot/LB (Graded out of 10)
    • Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 20)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

         

    Rookie FS Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamCvgRecSlotTklPosOvrLWTrend
    1Andrew AdamsNYG22216168736
    2T.J. GreenIND20226158715
    3Justin SimmonsDEN20205168694
    4Kevin ByardTEN18195158652
    5Vonn BellNO18195148641

         

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Kentrell Brice—insufficient snaps

    Notable Performances

    T.J. Green

    Week 15 Stats: 7 tackles

    Green had a solid week for the Colts. He was at his best breaking quickly on underneath routes and making sound tackles. Tackling has been an issue for Green at times this season, so it's good to see an improvement there. He did, however, miss one tackle late in the fourth quarter that cost his team a first down, so he hasn't completely resolved the issue, but there was noticeable progress this week.

          

    Vonn Bell

    Week 15 Stats: 9 tackles, 1 forced fumble

    While Bell's stats might suggest a strong performance, he actually struggled this week against the Cardinals. In the run game, he was often caught on blocks from Fitzgerald. But most of his struggles came in the passing game.

    In the second quarter, he matched up man-to-man in the red zone against Nelson, who ran a corner route from a tight stacked alignment. Bell was slow to react to the break outside and couldn't recover, giving up a touchdown. Later on, he was assigned with covering a deep half of the field and failed to stay on top of a go route down the sideline, which also resulted in a touchdown.

Strong Safeties

18 of 19

    George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    For the second time this season, Keanu Neal graded out as the top-ranked strong safety—not just top of the rookie class.

    The Falcons allowed him to play in more underneath zone coverages against the 49ers, having previously asked him to play tough man-coverage assignments, such as against the Chiefs' Travis Kelce. By allowing him to play in those underneath zones, they got the best out of him.

    The 49ers offense consists of a lot of short passes with the intent of receivers' picking up yards after the catch. But Neal read those short routes perfectly, breaking on them and making tackles almost instantly to prevent extra yards.

    In the second quarter, Neal was the buzz defender in Cover 3 buzz. He spotted a crossing route from the opposite side of the field and instantly recognized that as the main threat. He broke on it and arrived just after the ball, making a strong tackle to stop any yards after the catch.

    A few series later, Neal was playing slightly deeper but again spotted a crossing route and made an almost identical play. A large portion of his game consisted of these zone coverages, and he quickly identified the threat and broke on it before the receiver had a chance to pick up extra yards. 

    Bears rookie Deon Bush had a solid game this week against the Packers. He nearly had a highlight play in the second quarter. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers felt pressure in the pocket and began to scramble, looking for his go-to receiver, Jordy Nelson. But Bush reacted well to the play and read the throw, undercutting the route and dropping what should have been an interception.

    He was, however, partially at fault for the deep shot that set up the Packers' game-winning field goal. The Bears appeared to be in quarters coverage. Bush seemed to lock in on an underneath crossing route while Nelson ran past him on a post route. That left the outside cornerback one-on-one against Nelson, who had the whole field to run into. Rodgers found him for a 60-yard gain to put the Packers in field-goal range.

          

    Grading Scale

    • Cvg: Coverage (Graded out of 25)
    • Rec: Recovery (Graded out of 25)
    • Slot: Slot/LB (Graded out of 20)
    • Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 20)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

          

    Rookie SS Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamCvgRecSlotTklPosOvrLWTrend
    1Keanu NealATL222116166811
    2Sean DavisPIT181914166733
    3Deon BushCHI171814156702
    4Will ParksDEN16171515669NR
    5Miles KillebrewDET16161415667NR

         

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • Karl Joseph—inactive

         

    Notable Performances

    Keanu Neal

    Week 15 Stats: 11 tackles, 2 pass breakups

    Neal had a terrific week against the 49ers, as the Falcons allowed him to play in his best role. He played underneath zone coverage, which is where he excels. He was a force, reading the 49ers' short-range passing game well and breaking on just about every throw before anyone else. He made sound tackles and stopped the 49ers from picking up yards after the catch, which is what their passing attack relies on.

          

    Deon Bush

    Week 15 Stats: 5 tackles, 1 pass breakup

    Bush put in a useful performance against the Packers. The Bears rookie had a positive game in coverage against a tricky offense, which is particularly so when Rodgers begins to scramble. In the second quarter, Rodgers did just that and looked to his favorite target, Nelson, to find an outlet. Bush identified the threat and broke down on it, staying on top of Nelson until he saw the throw. He undercut the route and got both hands on the ball but dropped what should have been an interception.

    Bush did have one mishap, though. In quarters coverage late in the game, Bush was caught focusing on underneath routes while Nelson ran past him on the outside. Rodgers hit Nelson for a big gain to set up the game-winning field goal.

Special Teams

19 of 19

    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Kickers

    Since starting the year 4-of-7 on field goals, Wil Lutz has gone 19-of-22, showing tremendous improvement in his mechanics, which match what is showing up on the scoresheet. Lutz is far more consistent than anticipated, as it appeared his early struggles would continue throughout the season. He is building a strong base for 2017, even though the 6-8 Saints are likely out of playoff contention. 

    Roberto Aguayo's struggles have been much more consistent, though he is riding a two-game streak of perfection. If he can carry it through until the end of the year and into the playoffs, it could give him a psychological boost heading into the offseason.

    No one has had more eyes on him at the position than Aguayo, and if he can show well during the final two weeks and any playoff games he kicks in, it will say a lot about his ability to weather pressure. Give him a ton of credit for continuing to battle, even if the results have not always been there. He may be turning a corner.

        

    Kicker Grading Scale

    • Pwr: Kick Power (Graded out of 40)
    • Acc: Kick Accuracy (Graded out of 40)
    • Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 10)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
    • LW: Rank Last Week

             

    Rookie Kicker Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamPwrAccTklPosOvrLWTrend
    1Wil LutzNO313453731
    2Roberto AguayoTB313253712

             

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

                  

    Notable Performances

    Wil Lutz

    Week 15 Stats: 2-of-2 FG, 6-of-6 XP

    It was another perfect week for Lutz, who continues to get better. The prospect who put on the best tryout the Saints coaches have ever seen, per John DeShazier of the team's website, is turning into a capable rookie kicker.

                

    Roberto Aguayo

    Week 15 Stats: 2-of-2 FG, 2-of-2 XP

    It's been two perfect weeks in a row for Aguayo, who may be building momentum. It would be great to see him get playoff experience.

          

    Punters

    San Diego's Drew Kaser put up the performance we all knew he was capable of. The rookie out of Texas A&M flashed in the preseason but had been an enigma throughout 2016, largely unable to put together a mistake-free effort.

    This week represented the cleanest, most efficient game for him yet and is a major stepping stone as he heads into 2017. There are two more weeks to go for Kaser to build confidence.

    Riley Dixon continues to chug along as a capable punter for the Broncos, this week seeing a slight regression in his directional game but picking up additional power against the Patriots. Dixon is not flashy, but he is the most consistent of the three rookies, and consistency can often be enough to hold a job in the NFL.

    Lachlan Edwards had another below-average showing for the New York Jets, as he continues to battle for a spot heading into 2017. Edwards has been the weakest of the three rookies, and while he has a big leg, it does not show up often enough. His technique is still too raw to compete on a weekly basis.

    He may be an NFL punter down the road, but it feels like it is too soon to hand him the job heading into next year.

            

    Punter Grading Scale

    • Dist: Kick Distance (Graded out of 20)
    • Hang: Kick Hang Time (Graded out of 20)
    • Acc: Kick Accuracy (Graded out of 45)
    • Tkl: Tackling (Graded out of 5)
    • Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
    • Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100

           

    Rookie Punter Rankings Week 15
    RankPlayerTeamDistHangAccTklPosOvrLWTrend
    1Drew KaserSD19173433763
    2Riley DixonDEN18132933662
    3Lachlan EdwardsNYJ13123033611

    Notable Omissions/Not Graded This Week

    • None

    Notable Performances

    Drew Kaser

    This is the performance that we have been looking for all year from Kaser. Now it's time for him to bear down and finish strong with two more top-notch efforts.

          

    Riley Dixon

    This was another competent effort from Dixon; however, his directional game struggled at times against the Patriots.

          

    Lachlan Edwards

    This was a below-average game for Edwards, with nothing that stands out either way, as he continues to try to adjust to the NFL game.

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