So the season is done. Our Rookie class of 2015/16 is in the books, and some have impressed whilst others have fallen badly by the wayside. The NFL has awarded its Pepsi Rookie of the Year award to Jameis Winston. Do we agree? Lets see.
10. Devin Smith
We said mid season that Smith was struggling with the fact that Fitzpatrick had two go-to wideouts in Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall, and the second part of the season really just bore that out. Smith was expected to come on strong in the second half of the season after struggling with an rib injury, but 9/28 and only 115 yards tells a large part of the story. As others got hot, Smith just could not eke out those all important YAC’s when he did catch the ball, and was used sparingly. He did have a receiving touchdown, and an average of 12.8 yards per catch, however the Jets will hope for a hell of a lot more next season out of the potentially explosive rookie.
9. Nelson Agholor
As an Eagles fan, ranking Agholor here gives me no pleasure whatsoever. Whether you can argue about the quality of the quarterbacks passing, the lack of an offensive line to keep the quarterback safe long enough to find his receivers, or the complete lack of a run game which allowed teams to stack the secondary, it can’t be argued that Agholor’s first season has been terrible. Ranked 10th in our midseason report card, the USC rookie was only 23/44 for 283 yards and a single TD in 13 games, and failed to impress in all of them. Whilst quick off the mark, he’s been unable to terrify cornerbacks when going deep, and has concrete hands when catching over the middle. Hopefully a better year next season for Agholor in what is undoubtedly going to be a transitional season in Philly.
8. Maxx Williams
Moving up from 9th in the mid season report card, the “Ginger Gronk” struggled mainly due to the fluctuating quarterback situation at the Ravens, but his 32/47 for 268yds and 1TD is respectable for a rookie Tight End. Despite the controversy around Vontaze Burfict’s hit on Antonio Brown, the shot he delivered to Williams in week 17 was far worse, and unfortunately for Williams, that was pretty much the only major headline he drew in the season. What killed Williams was his impatience , racking up five penalties in his 14 games putting him alongside Gary Barnidge as the most penalised Tight End in the AFC. John Harbaugh will look to limit those penalties across the Ravens organisation next season, and if Williams cant rein it in, he may find himself with less game time in his second season.
7. Marcus Mariota
Mariota’s failure to move up significantly in this top 10 is down to a few factors. Firstly, as the Titans organisation struggled, so did Mariota. The pass protection he received started to vanish, and he found himself on the move a lot more than a passer of his calibre would prefer. He did have some incredible plays, including the 3rd longest touchdown run ever by a Quarterback, but those hits kept on coming, and a sprained MCL eventually forced the Titans to make the call and end his season prematurely. Its clear they have a lot of faith in him at Tennessee, and his numbers do look good as and when he’s on the field. Passing for 2,818 yards and 15 touchdowns in your rookie year is a solid start to your NFL career, and put him on similar yardage to Dalton , Taylor and Bridgewater this season. 2016 could be a big year for Mariota.
6. Devante Parker
Another promising wideout that was hampered by a lack of accuracy by his Quarterback , Parker’s stats are in that area where you just have to say “Almost a success, but not quite”. Parker received plenty of love from Ryan Tannehill , being targeted 51 times, but catching just 26 of them for an average of 19.0 yards per catch. Where he goes up a level from Agholor is in the redzone , picking up 3 TD’s and plenty of those all important YAC’s. With Tannehill’s big money deal last year meaning he’s in there for the long haul, and Adam Gase looking to bring his “Quarterback Whisperer” magic to the team, Parker could be looking at his first 1000 yard receiving season next year.
5. Melvin Gordon
Being on the cusp of a good season in our previous report card, Gordon suffered badly in the second half of the season. Already over 400 yards by that point, he developed the cursed “Wobble Hand” and started turning the ball over (5 fumbles, 4 lost). It clearly got noticed, and he played less and less downs as the season went on before going onto IR with cartilage damage in his knee. Despite this, he still managed 641 yards rushing and 192 yards receiving, but never managed that 100 yard rushing game, or a touchdown, which those ahead of him in this ranking achieved in some style. Another one where being placed on IR a few weeks early may benefit him next season.
4. TJ Yeldon
We said mid season it was hard not to improve the Jags running game, and that Yeldon had undoubtedly done that. However it has appeared in the second half of the season as though the Jags want to wrap their star rookie in cotton wool, and his numbers have suffered for it. Achieving the key markers this season of both a 100 yard rushing game, and a rushing touchdown in his rookie year, Yeldon’s confidence in himself is sky high, but after limping out of the game against the Colts in week 13, Jacksonville chose not to press him into service again once their potential wildcard run came to an end. The developing relationship between Bortles , Robinson and Hurns bodes well for Yeldon as next season will see deeper secondaries, opening up running lanes for him to go after that all important 1000 yard rushing season.
3. Jameis Winston
At half term, Winston looked strong, and by seasons end, largely due to the fact that so many Quarterbacks pulled out for various reasons, he found himself in the Pro-Bowl in his rookie season, and throwing a Touchdown for good measure. Racking up 4000+ passing yards and avoiding the injury curse that plagued so many others this season, Winston hit the ground running in a Tampa offense that desperately needed him. Backed up by a resurgent Doug Martin (he’s earned it, I’m calling him the Douggernaut), Winston’s gunslinging made even a 6-10 season feel palatable for Bucs fans. Mike Evans in particular benefitted from Winston’s powerful arm, picking up 1,200+ receiving yards from the rookie, and improving on his already impressive 2014 stats. Whilst I personally don’t think he was rookie of the year, he was by far the best of the rookie QB’s in this years draft, and deserving of this position.
2. Amari Cooper
Despite having the strongest half season report card, Cooper slipped into the number 2 slot in this roundup as the rigors of the NFL season caught up with him. Being a promising rookie meant he tended to get the number 2 cornerback covering on deeper routes at the start of the season, but as his numbers rose, so did the attention other teams paid to him, and that along with the length of the NFL season and lack of rotation as he had in college, saw Cooper decline ever so slightly in the final few games of the year. It was still a blistering season for him, putting up 1000+ receiving yards, 6 TD’s and 72 catches from 130 targets as he formed a budding relationship with the ever improving Derek Carr. A full post season fitness camp for Cooper will benefit him tremendously, and if the Raiders make the playoffs next year, it should largely be on his shoulders.
1. Todd Gurley
I said mid-season that the difference between Cooper and Gurley was wafer thin, and that he could easily displace Cooper in the top slot, and so it proved to be. Despite only playing 13 games, Gurley racked up 100 yard game after 100 yard game, breaking the 1000 yard rushing barrier, and the goal line on 10 occasions, as he literally dragged a struggling Rams franchise to a 7-9 finish despite a dire Quarterback situation. In some games, Gurley was completely unplayable, spinning and bouncing past everyone at the line of scrimmage before racing away like an olympic sprinter, and more importantly only turning the ball over 3 times in that period. As with OBJ last season, Gurley was robbed of the Rookie of the Year award in favour of a Quarterback, and potentially because he plays for an unfashionable franchise in the Rams. And as much as I hate to say this (because we will never hear the end of it), my colleague Dean did pick out Gurley pre-season as, in his opinion, the star of this years rookie class. So expect Gurley to be traded to the Patriots in the off season.