So we are into week 9, and its time to grade those 10 to watch. Some have reached the giddy heights, others were on a downward spiral so perfect, Doug Williams could have thrown it. Going from the worst to the first, here are how our rookies have graded a Half Term.
10. Nelson Agholor : F+
This particular grading saddens me deeply. Agholor was the Eagles 1st round draft pick, a speedster to replace the departed Jeremy Maclin, who would give incoming quarterback Sam Bradford another legitimate deep threat to guide the Eagles to the playoffs. And how wrong could we have been. It can be argued that its as much the system this year as it is the player, as the Eagles have looked at their strongest when playing short yardage offense with two TE’s (Celek & Ertz), but his inability to get open or breeze by defenders has meant he has been targeted very rarely by Bradford. 17 attempts by Bradford have resulted in only 8 catches for 105 yards, and nearly half of that being on a single 45 yard toss against the Redskins in week 4. Injury has not helped, with Agholor being out since week 5 with a shin injury, but Chip Kelly views him as a great prospect, so its likely he will come straight back into the team when he’s fully recovered. Even so he will have to improve dramatically to end the season with a passing grade.
9. Maxx Williams : D-
The Cornfed “Ginger Gronk” was probably one of the Tight End’s I expected most from this season. After Crockett Gilmore’s less than spectacular rookie year, it was expected Williams would come in and share snaps, giving Flacco both a little extra protection off the edge, and a potent pass catching threat in short yardage. In short however, the Ravens season has just imploded from week 1 onwards, and Gilmore has been having a far better year, limiting Williams’ upside. It can be said that whilst they’re not winning, the Ravens are not struggling to put points on the board, so more yardage was expected, however 12 catches from 19 targets, whilst far from being terrible, are not the kind of numbers you would expect from your second round draft pick. With Steve Smith now out for the year, Flacco will need more offensive weapons in the second half of the season, which could be Williams’ saving grace.
8. Devin Smith : D+
Smith has been probably one of the most targeted rookies in our countdown, but his previously red hot hands have deserted him since hitting the NFL. Despite playing in a very strong Jets team, he’s collected a mere 6 catches all season from 17 targets, and just 10 yards per catch. Missing early games with a rib injury, Smith has found it hard to move up the depth chart, particularly with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker being the favoured targets of Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the return of Geno Smith, a quarterback with confidence issues of his own, may make things worse as he’s likely to go with the experienced hands to get himself eased back into the Jets offense.
7. Marcus Mariota : C-
After week 1, there was no way anyone could have envisaged Mariota being this far down the list. As the Titans ran all over the Bucs and Mariota achieved the hallowed ‘Perfect’ QB rating, everyone gushed about the potential of the Heisman winner. Unfortunately, that week 1 win proved to be the high spot of the Titans season, as they proceeded to lose 6 straight, and Mariota himself, reverting to being the 2014/15 Titans in the process. Seemingly unable to motivate the players around him, Mariota has seen his QB Rating slide in every game since from the 158.3 in week 1 to 67.6 by the time they were beaten in the ground by the Dolphins in Dan Campbell’s first game in charge. In his absence, Zack Metterberger has actually scored even less points as the Titans go into full on “Lets get the #1 draft pick next season” mode. This week, its cost Ken Whisenhunt his job, and it would be a brave coach that would give up a College job to take over the hopeless Titans. As with Parker, Mariota may drift further down this ranking by seasons end.
6. Devante Parker : C+
Parker was one of Miami’s big investments this season, however an ongoing foot injury has hampered his development. Surgery to replace a screw he had inserted in his foot in 2014 has seen him take the field just twice, collecting only 4 passes on 8 targets. He has looked good when on the field though, picking up 49 yards on those 4 catches, and its his lack of games that have seen him above Agholor in this report. Miami have been a shadow of their former selves until the departure of Joe Philbin, and the second half of the season could be worse for Parker, as he’s behind Kenny Stills, Rishard Mathews and Jarvis Landry in the depth charts, and struggling to stay even that high with Greg Jennings also on the roster. May slip further down the rankings by the end of the season.
5. Melvin Gordon : B-
Its hard to be overly critical of Gordon’s performances for the Chargers this year. His failure to appear higher up the list here is not down to a lack of effort on his part, but the stellar performances of the players above him. Playing in an offense where Philip Rivers is on fire through the air also has not helped his cause, but along the ground, he has still managed over 100 carries and just shy of 400 yards, which for a rookie season is a damned good start. His consistent performances have seen him rise to the top of the depth chart, displacing Brandon Oliver and Danny Woodhead, and if he pushes on in the remainder of the season, 800-900 yards is not unrealistic. Despite this though, he is yet to record his first NFL touchdown, indicating he still has a little way to go to convince Mike McCoy he is an every down back.
4. Jameis Winston : B-
Anyone watching in week 1, where Winston went gunslinger from the outset, got repeatedly picked off, and continued to throw picks and duds for the remainder of the game, would be forgiven for asking why he ranks so much higher than Mariota and has a pass mark from the author. That first game showed that he could throw, but that he seemed to lack the football intellect that Mariota displayed, and disappeared off people’s radar as quickly as he arrived. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise though, as the lack of focus on him from the media, and an unimpressive list of opponents saw his numbers steadily improve, whilst Mariota’s tailed off. Leading the Bucs to a 3-4 record, throwing over 200 yards a game, and more importantly picking up at least one passing TD per matchup to build his confidence. Most importantly, he has not thrown an interception in his last 3 matchups against the Redskins , Jaguars and Falcons, 3 defences that have been reasonably good at picking off opposing QB’s this season. None of the Bucs fixtures this season are against teams that look like genuine Superbowl contenders, so Winston may well push higher up this list at the seasons end.
3. TJ Yeldon : B+
Its not hard to improve a team like the Jags, but Yeldon has really impressed on the ground this season. Carrying over 100 times and topping 400 yards, Yeldon finishes higher up the rankings than Melvin Gordon because he has arguably achieved this in a far weaker team. His season high 115 yards against the Bills at Wembley brought him to the attention of a wider audience, being arguably the star of the show in a fantastic game, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and going over for his first NFL touchdown, Yeldon showed not only speed, but patience as he bounced from tackler to tackler, staying upright when other, more experienced backs may have gone down. Whilst the team website still lists Denard Robinson as the #1 back on the depth chart, its hard to argue for that actually being the case. The Jags will continue to suck, but will “Jags up” (thanks Paul) less games than usual this season on the back of Yeldon’s running.
2. Todd Gurley : A-
This was a tough call. The top two performers from the rookie class have been quite outstanding in the first half of the season, however Gurley finds himself losing out on top spot not on the basis of his performances, but due to injury keeping him out for the first two games of the season. He has been quite outstanding for the Rams this year, easily displacing Tre Mason at the top of the depth charts with his performances since returning. 4 consecutive games over 100 yards puts him on course for a 1000 yard rookie season, putting him in a class with the likes of Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson, but most importantly keeping a misfiring Rams offense going when the connection between Nick Foles and his wide receivers seems to be a crossed line. Whats even more worrying for opposition defenses is that Gurley actually seems to be getting stronger with every game, becoming a goal line back as well and picking up 3 TD’s in his last 2 games. The End of Season report card could easily see Gurley displace this next guy ….
1. Amari Cooper : A+
Cooper sneaks top spot in the half season awards by virtue of having played in every game for the Raiders this season, having a 14.9 yards per catch average, and more importantly, displaying footwork and after-the-catch yardage that’s reminiscent of some of the very top wideouts in the modern game. Benefitting from a balanced Raiders offence, and Michael Crabtree reminding 49’ers fans what they let go, Cooper has been sensational, collecting 38 passes from 59 targets, 565 yards , and 3 touchdowns. With only the Broncos and the Packers of any real quality left to play this season, and a second visit in week 16 to a porous Chargers defence that gave Cooper 133 yards in week 7, there is every chance of this seasons Rookie of the Year going to a deserving player this year after OBJ got screwed in last years awards.