This year’s NFL rookie class isn’t making a good first impression
Though it’s still far too early to call any of these players busts, there are only a few who have made an immediate impact.
The 2014 NFL season felt like Invasion of the Rookies, with Odell Beckham blossoming into an instant superstar and several other players making a name for themselves felt right away: Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, Jarvis Landry, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and many more.
It wasn’t an easy act for the 2015 rookie class to follow. And through 10 weeks of this season, the rookie crop hasn’t come close to matching the hype and production.
The class hasn’t been as bad as the 2012 draft, which less than three years later is riddled with busts, starting with the first three picks: Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, Dion Jordan. There have been a few standout performances, and two players have already cemented themselves as instant stars, but it’s been a fairly forgettable season for the rookies.
Let’s take a look at how they are performing:
■ First, the “good.” Two players are carrying this year’s rookie class on their shoulders: Raiders receiver Amari Cooper and Rams running back Todd Gurley.
Cooper, the No. 4 overall pick, has 50 catches for 732 yards, both in the top 20 among all receivers, and has added four touchdown catches. Cooper had his way with Darrelle Revis two weeks ago, and has quickly emerged as the No. 1 option for second-year quarterback David Carr. This is a pairing we’re likely going to watch blossom over the next six to eight years.
Gurley, meanwhile, has been an absolute animal for the Rams, and kicks dirt on the theory that running backs aren’t worth a first-round pick. Taken 10th overall despite suffering a torn ACL last November, Gurley is fourth in the NFL with 709 rushing yards — and he missed two-plus games to start the season because of his knee.
Gurley is second in the NFL at 101.3 yards per game, rushed for 128-plus yards in each of his first four games, has scored a touchdown in each of the last four games, and looks like the league’s best young running back since Adrian Peterson came out in 2007.
The two quarterbacks taken at the top of the draft have done pretty well so far. Jameis Winston has the Buccaneers at a respectable 4-5 (doubling last year’s win total), and while his stats are fairly pedestrian — 240 yards per game, 10 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 57.5 completion percentage — Winston has shown good pocket presence, has scrambled for an additional four touchdowns, and makes one or two jaw-dropping throws each game that give hope for his development into a legitimate NFL starter.
Marcus Mariota, meanwhile, has adapted surprisingly well to the NFL. The Titans are only 2-8, and everything scouts said about Mariota in the predraft process still holds: He needs to learn to become more of a pocket passer and how to run an NFL-style offense.
But he’s been incredibly efficient, a testament to his athleticism and poise, and to his coaches putting him in a position to succeed (at least stats-wise). Mariota has 253 passing yards per game with 13 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and a 65.3 completion percentage, and looks like he belongs in the NFL.
Buffalo running back Karlos Williams (432 total yards, 7 touchdowns) looks like a steal from the fifth round. So does Minnesota receiver Stefon Diggs (30 catches, 507 yards, 2 touchdowns), who lasted until the fifth, and Washington receiver Jamison Crowder (42 catches, 402 yards), who lasted until the fourth.
Defensively, three linebackers have stood out: Vikings second-round pick Eric Kendricks (4 sacks, 42 tackles), Bucs fourth-round pick Kwon Alexander (2 sacks, 2 interceptions, 63 tackles, and a forced fumble), and Eagles second-round pick Jordan Hicks (1 sack, 2 interceptions, 50 tackles, 1 forced fumble). Chiefs first-round cornerback Marcus Peters has four interceptions, Bills second-round corner Ronald Darby has two picks and 11 passes defended in nine games (all starts), and Saints second-round pass rusher Hau’oli Kikaha has four sacks and three forced fumbles.
■ But there has been plenty of “bad.”
The pass rushers have been mostly forgettable, with Pittsburgh first-round pick Bud Dupree leading the way with four sacks. Leonard Williams, the Jets’ sixth overall pick, has 33 tackles and half a sack. Vic Beasley, the No. 8 overall pick by the Falcons, has two sacks and an interception. Arik Armstead, the 17th overall pick by the 49ers, has one sack and seven tackles. Shane Ray, the 23d overall pick by the Broncos, has two sacks and five tackles.
ProFootballFocus.com rates Beasley, Williams, Arizona’s Markus Golden, and Indianapolis’s Henry Anderson as the relative best among a mediocre crop of rookie pass rushers.
Minnesota cornerback Trae Waynes (11th overall) and Cleveland nose tackle Danny Shelton (12th) have yet to make an impact play. New Orleans tackle Andrus Peat (13th) has started only three games, while Bengals tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (21st) and Cardinals tackle D.J. Humphries (24th) haven’t taken a snap yet because of predraft injuries, and Jaguars pass rusher Dante Fowler (third) tore his ACL in June.
■ There has been plenty of “ugly,” particularly from the wide receivers, who came in with the hype of being every bit as good as last year’s class.
Two first-round receivers will miss the entire season: Chicago’s Kevin White (No. 7), whose predraft foot injury was worse than anticipated, and Baltimore’s Breshad Perriman (26th), who strained the PCL in his right knee in his first training camp practice and was placed on injured reserve last week.
Miami’s DeVante Parker (14th) has struggled with a foot injury and has just four catches for 49 yards. Philadelphia’s Nelson Agholor (20th) has just 11 catches for 137 yards. Phillip Dorsett (29th) looked completely lost in the Colts’ offense and had just 11 catches for 167 yards and a touchdown before going on IR. Second-rounders Devin Smith (Jets), Dorial Green-Beckham (Titans), and Devin Funchess (Panthers) have made little impact, as well.
It’s still far too early to call any of these players busts, but this year’s rookie class isn’t exactly making a good first impression.
FLAGGING THE LEAGUE
NFL discipline irks some officials
A Week 10 game between the two-win Ravens and three-win Jaguars usually wouldn’t deserve much national attention, but the 22-20 win by the Jaguars has caused a commotion with more than a few people across the league.
The Ravens and their fans are incensed that the officials, led by referee Pete Morelli, botched the second-to-last play of the game, which cost the Ravens a victory. The NFL admitted last week that officials should have flagged the Jaguars for a false start, which would have killed the play and led to a 10-second runoff and the Ravens winning the game.
But no flags were thrown, Elvis Dumervil committed a face mask penalty while trying to sack Blake Bortles . . .
. . . and the 15-yard penalty moved the Jaguars close enough to hit a game-winning 53-yard field goal as time expired.
But league sources tell us that there are many inside the officiating community upset that no disciplinary action was taken against the officials who botched the play — that the NFL seems to be handing out justice arbitrarily (stop me if you’ve heard that one before).
Earlier this season, the NFL handed out a one-game suspension to side judge Rob Vernatchi (who coincidentally was working the Ravens-Jaguars game) for not catching an 18-second clock runoff at the end of the Steelers-Chargers game (which didn’t affect the outcome). And back judge Greg Lewis was reassigned from the Patriots-Colts Sunday night game to the Dolphins-Titans game that week after missing an illegal batting call in the Lions-Seahawks game.
Our sources tell us that many inside the NFL Referees Association were none too pleased with Vernatchi and Lewis being disciplined and publicly reprimanded, but they also are baffled at the NFL’s decision not to punish any of the officials from the Jaguars-Ravens game. The two people who missed the Jaguars’ false start penalty were head linesman Ed Camp and line judge Sarah Thomas, the NFL’s first full-time female official.
“They had officials that were suspended because one of them lost 18 seconds in a game that had no effect on the game,” one officiating source said. “This has a big effect. It cost a team a game, may cost them a playoff spot in theory, and nothing’s going to be said about it.
“Guys are getting suspended, moved off games, and nothing is being done with this one. All they want is consistency in what’s being done up there. There’s no consistency because they have no guidelines. They’ll just arbitrarily penalize some guys and not others.”
EXTRA POINT WATCH
Rules are having the desired effect
Picking up our Extra Point Watch after taking a step back the last couple of weeks:
■ NFL kickers have missed 36 extra points this year, one more than they missed in the previous five seasons combined. Kickers are 655 of 691 on extra points, a success rate of 94.8 percent. Only 14 teams are perfect, while Detroit, Houston, San Diego, and Jacksonville have each missed three extra points. Lions kicker Matt Prater missed two extra points last week against the Packers.
■ The new rules were also supposed to encourage teams to go for 2-point conversions more often, and so far that has been true. NFL teams have attempted 62 two-pointers, more than in any of the previous five seasons except 2013, when there were 69. But the teams are on pace for 109 attempts this year, and the number could climb higher once the weather gets colder and extra points become tougher to kick.
Teams are 29 of 62 this year on 2-point conversions, a success rate of 46.8 percent. The Steelers are 5 of 7, and no other team has attempted more than four. The Patriots are one of six teams not to have attempted one yet.
■ Which is the better tactical move, kicking the extra point or going for 2? This year, at least, it’s a relative coin flip. One hundred kick attempts would generate 94.8 points, while 100 2-point attempts would generate 93.6 points.
NFL helps with executive search
It’s been a long time since New England football media have had to cover a coaching or general manager search, and I haven’t covered one since the Dolphins replaced Tony Sparano with Joe Philbin in January 2012. So I found it interesting to read in the Detroit Free Press that the NFL has a career advisory panel made up of former coaches and executives who can help teams such as the Lions identify candidates for head coaching, GM, and even team president roles.
An NFL spokesman told the newspaper that the panel meets every four weeks during the season to try to identify and recommend certain candidates, and includes people such as John Madden, Bill Polian, Ron Wolf, Dennis Green, Tony Dungy, Ernie Accorsi, Carl Peterson, James Harris, and Mike Holmgren.
“This is a very sophisticated process that is led by our team here in New York,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, “and it’s very similar to what Fortune 500 companies would do as they look for senior leaders in their organizations.”
Lions owner Martha Ford didn’t use the panel in hiring Rod Wood, a longtime family adviser, as team president last week. But the Lions still need a GM, and will likely look to replace coach Jim Caldwell after the season.
Give Smith credit for this
We won’t see Raiders pass rusher Aldon Smith for a while, as he was suspended for a year by the NFL for his drunk-driving arrest in August, his third such arrest since 2012. Smith didn’t appeal his suspension, and maybe was smart to do so. Instead of sitting out an entire season — and not getting credit for an accrued one — he got credit for an accrued season this year by playing in nine games, and if he returns for seven games next year, he’ll get credit for another accrued season, helping him get to free agency sooner.
Only 11 teams enter Week 11 with a winning record, the fewest at this point in a season since 1990 . . . LeGarrette Blount has 513 rushing yards, already surpassing the Patriots’ leading rusher a year ago — Jonas Gray, who had only 412. Blount is on pace for 962, although he tends to have a bigger impact on the offense down the stretch when the weather turns cold. The Patriots haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Stevan Ridley (1,263) in 2012 . . . Speaking of Gray, we hear the Dolphins are paying him $25,000 per week to be on their practice squad. The minimum practice squad salary is $6,300 per week, but teams will occasionally increase that to reward players. If Gray were on a 53-man roster, he’d make $30,000 per week as a second-year player . . . On first and 10, the Patriots throw the football 61.07 percent of the time. Only the Lions, Jaguars, and Raiders throw the ball more on first and 10. On the other end of the spectrum, the Rams run the ball on 67.3 percent of first and 10s, while the Vikings run on 63.03 percent. No other team runs the ball more than 60 percent of the time . . . NFL coaches are 66 of 181 on challenges this year. Rex Ryan is 5 of 7, Pete Carroll is 4 of 6, and Bill Belichick is 1 of 3 . . . Patriots players Rob Ninkovich, Dominique Easley, Nate Ebner, and Ryan Allen are hosting a silent auction, raffle, and dinner at Karma Japanese and Chinese restaurant in Andover on Nov. 30. All proceeds benefit the Rotary Club of Andover and Andover Cares. Call 978-809-3075 for more information.
Despite setting the record for career passing yards last Sunday, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had a dismal outing. However, he isn’t the only all-time great to submit such a terrible game. Manning joins three Hall of Famers that had a rating of 0.0 and completed less than 25 percent of their passes in a game.