Throughout the season we’ve taken a special interest in rookies — and this has been a pretty special group.
Watching these players come into the league, we’ve had the pleasure to chart and analyze them on each and every one of their NFL snaps. We’ve highlighted their play in our game-by-game recaps, and with our weekly “Race for Rookie of the Year” feature that ended with us crowning Devin McCourty as our choice for the leagues top young gun.
The next logical progression is to put forward our PFF All-Rookie team. Some positions were a little low on talent, and others very high, but ultimately we’re pretty happy with the team we’ve put together — you could definitely compete in 2011 with this group.
Quarterback – Sam Bradford, St Louis Rams
Let’s not kid ourselves. Bradford didn’t have the type of rookie year Matt Ryan did, but at the same time he helped turn around a Rams franchise that had been going nowhere for a long time. His biggest strength was limiting his mistakes, so even guys of the calibre of Palmer, Manning (x 2), Favre, Cutler and Brees threw more interceptions.
Running Back – LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A crazy world where the undrafted running backs (let’s not forget Chris Ivory) are more productive than any that were selected during the seven rounds of the 2010 draft. Fun stat about Blount? He broke more tackles (50) than any other running back, and he did it on fewer carries than the league leaders.
Full Back – Chris Gronkowski, Dallas Cowboys
An all-undrafted offensive backfield, and the first ‘Gronk’ to make the team. Chris replaced the useful Deon Anderson and didn’t let Dallas down with a solid season in all facets of his game.
Tight End – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
A shame for the excellent Tony Moeaki that Gronkowski was so darn good. It wasn’t just all the touchdown receptions, but some very good blocking that saw Gronkowski finish fifth overall (one spot ahead of Moeaki) in our tight end rankings. This all-rookie team would be using plenty two tight end formations.
Wide Receiver – Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If ever a guy simultaneously showed the pros and cons of starting a rookie receiver it was Williams. He finished fifth among all wide receivers in drops (12) and also fifth in forcing missed tackles. Far from consistent, but plenty of ability shown.
Wide Receiver – Jordan Shipley, Cincinnati Bengals
In truth, the appearance of Shipley owes much to the slow start/season-ending injury of Dez Bryant (who played almost 200 less snaps than Shipley). The Bengals’ slot receiver wasn’t the all-around talent Bryant was but he had games where he displayed that tough-to-cover ability that could make him a big threat in the upcoming years.
Left Tackle – Rodger Saffold, St Louis Rams
If there is one element of play in the NFL that is home to more guesswork than any other, it’s the offensive line. Saffold outplayed the tackles taken above him, but he was far from great with a disastrous last four weeks of the season. Before that rookie wall approached, he showed more than enough to suggest he could prove a solid investment.
Left Guard – Mike Iupati, San Francisco 49ers
Hands down the best offensive lineman from the 2010 draft. Struggled at times with his pass protection, but had the kind of games with his run blocking that made him one of the highest drafted guards in recent memory.
Center – Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers
A winner by default. Pouncey may make the Pro Bowl every year for the rest of his life on the back of a reputation he has really yet to earn. In fact Pouncey was downright awful at times, and has a long way to go before he lives up to the press hype.
Right Guard – John Jerry, Miami Dolphins
At least Pouncey earned his default selection by playing all year. Jerry only played 633 snaps and still ended the year with the 17th worst grade of all guards with his run blocking.
Right Tackle – Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay Packers
It’s safe to say that it isn’t easy making the transition from college to the NFL on the offensive line. Of the two candidates for this position, both ranked in the bottom ten of all tackles, but Bulaga at least wasn’t as bad as San Francisco’s Anthony Davis.
Defensive End – Lamarr Houston, Oakland Raiders
A good move from the Raiders to put Houston in at left end — it resulted in some truly dominating performances. His games against St Louis (Week 2) and Jacksonville (Week 14) are real indications of his potential.
Defensive Tackle – Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
Suh is a difference maker, and largely overcame his problems early in the season in taking himself out of position too often. He got better as the season went on, and kept on making an impact. Led DTs in sacks, and was second defensive stops. Has the potential to be the best player at his position in the coming years.
Defensive Tackle – Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Will McCoy spend his entire career being overshadowed? He was really hitting his stride before he ended up on IR, and actually generated more pressure on a per-play basis than Suh. Who knew?
Defensive End – Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles
Quite clearly wasn’t ready to start in Week 1, and he was far too one-dimensional a player to play the run. Graham did improve before his season ended, and maintained his pass rush throughout to finish the year as the most productive rookie pass rusher (37 total pressures).
Outside Linebacker – Koa Misi, Miami Dolphins
Finished 7th overall in our 3-4 outside linebackers rankings, and was particularly good against the run. He didn’t often show up as Dolphin fans would want with pressure, but looked a long-term complement to Cameron Wake.
Middle Linebacker – Rolando McClain, Oakland Raiders
McClain had some issues throughout the year in coverage, but by the end of 2010 looked like the impact player at inside linebacker who could blow up plays and make meaningful tackles for years to come. Finished second of all 4-3 MLBs in our run defense ranking.
Outside Linebacker – Jermaine Cunningham, New England Patriots
Played at end some, but after looking like he was coming on in the middle of the season was anonymous down the stretch. His inclusion points out a real lack of impact candidates at outside linebacker.
Cornerback – Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns
He was fifth overall in our cornerback ratings, and looks every bit the NFL player as he intercepted six passes and broke up another 11. He started the year as the Browns nickel back (playing LCB with Eric Wright moving into the slot) and the worst thing you can say about him is it took him a while to be handed a starting spot.
Safety – Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
When he came into the league, he looked out of his depth in the passing game and then some. But as the season wore on the plays started coming — you can’t help but be excited about watching him next year. If he can eradicate most of those coverage issues he could be an All-Pro for many years to come.
Safety – Kendrick Lewis, Kansas City Chiefs
Over Earl Thomas? Are we kidding? Well, no. Both men played the deep safety, and while Lewis may have made fewer highlight films but he was nowhere near as likely to give up a big play.
Cornerback – Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
Our Defensive Player of the Year naturally had to make the team, even after a somewhat disastrous effort in the Patriots’ playoff loss. One more interception and pass break up than Haden, and allowed just 55.6% of passes thrown his way. A remarkable rookie year.
Kick Returner – Marc Mariani, Tennessee Titans
He really had an underpublicized year, finishing No. 2 in our kick-return rankings and adding hugely to this part of the Titans’ game.
Kicker – Clint Stitser, Cincinnati Bengals
A default selection — he was our second lowest-ranked kicker.
Punter – Zoltan Mesko, New England Patriots
Not required to punt as much as his peers thanks to the New England offense, but in any case did a good job when asked of him.
Special Teamer – T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns
For a guy who is not a gunner it’s quite the achievement to end up with that many tackles. Throw in a blocked field goal and this is a slam dunk selection for a guy who wasn’t that far away from earning a spot as a starting safety in this team.