When you’re the rookie, all eyes are on you.
You’re the new kid on the block that is coming into shake up and improve a franchise. Give it a year, though, and in some respects you’re yesterday’s news.
A new, shinier group of draftees have come in to do the job you were brought you were meant to do. The fans are looking at them as the next generation of guys to get them to that elusive Super Bowl. You’re no longer special.
But you’re still special to us, Mr. Year Number Two.
Our all-sophomore team shows that picking at the top of the draft is no science — only one of the top 12 overall picks made the cut.
Quarterback – Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sometimes he doesn’t challenge you with his throwing, but his ability to shake off defenders and get things going with his legs make up for that. Makes plays others can’t.
Running Back – LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
Quietly rebounded from his disappointing rookie year to look the part in 2010. Does a lot for the Eagles from any spot, finishing 8th overall in our running back rankings.
Fullvack – Quinn Johnson, Green Bay Packers
Only played 205 snaps but was part of this apparent conveyor belt of fullbacks the Packers are able to produce.
Tight End – Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions
We’re far from sold on Pettigrew, but he’s the best of an underwhelming crop of tight ends from 2009. Too many penalties (10) and too many drops (12) undo a lot of the good work bringing in 71 receptions, and improving on his rookie efforts with his run blocking.
Wide Receiver – Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers
Emerging as perhaps the league’s most potent deep threat, Wallace got behind defense after defense. Only DeSean Jackson had more yards per reception, and only six more receivers had a larger number of TDs.
Wide Receiver – Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings
While you have to respect what Hakeem Nicks can do and all the touchdowns, Harvin had an exceptional year hidden in the Brett Favre drama, picking up more yards after the catch than anyone other than Santana Moss.
Left Tackle – Michael Oher, Baltimore Ravens
Because that much-beloved tackle class of 2009 hasn’t really worked out so far. Thus, despite Oher struggling to make the move over from the left side, he gets the nod. He could have been worse.
Left Guard – Matt Slauson, New York Jets
For Slauson to be a success in replacing Alan Faneca, he just needed to be average. No more, no less. Mission accomplished. Slauson, by virtue of not being terrible, was a big upgrade at the left guard spot.
Center – Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns
At times you watch Mack and you see what all the fuss is about. He’s a guy who can dominate a chap by the name of Vince Wilfork, but for too much of the season he was struggling against guys like Remi Ayodele. He’s good, but he’s not the finished product yet.
Right Guard – Louis Vasquez, San Diego Chargers
Vasquez missed some time through injury, and was rarely dominant. But he was rarely beaten and for the second year in a row looked the part at right guard. Well a solid part on a line that is far from.
Right Tackle – Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots
While our left tackle was better at right tackle in 2009, our right tackle was better at left tackle as a rookie. Vollmer was decent enough, but he’s not the player he was last year with more shaky outings than we’d expected to see. Still our 7th ranked right tackle on the year.
Defensive End/ Outside Linebacker – Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins
Are we cheating by going for a hybrid defense? We’re going to use Orakpo as the guy who makes the hybrid tick and just ask him to rush the passer. Because he’s not very good at much else.
Defensive Tackle – Terrance Knighton, Jacksonville Jaguars
The disappointing thing about Knighton was how he withered as the season developed. A shame because he made a strong start where he added some pass rush to his rookie run stopping. Could benefit from fewer snaps.
Defensive Tackle – B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers
Raji had a good year, but the former first-round pick isn’t yet the player people make him out to be. Flashes the kind of ability that saw him a top-10 pick, but watch games like the Week 14 visit to Detroit to see that he’s still on his journey to earning that rep.
Defensive End – Matt Shaughnessy, Oakland Raiders
Shaughnessy is one of these guys who has slipped under the radar despite being an important part of the Raiders defensive line. He’s a better than average pass rusher, but finished 5th overall in our run defense rankings for 4-3 ends. Nice.
Outside Linebacker – Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
A really good year from Matthews, even if injury (and a higher quality of tackle) slowed down a rampant start to the season. 60 QB disruptions on the year.
Middle Linebacker – James Laurinaitis, St Louis Rams
As a rookie, Laurinatis was raved about. As a much-improved sophomore? For some reason, not so much. But he was much better, and finished the year our fourth-rated middle linebacker.
Outside Linebacker – Aaron Curry, Seattle Seahawks
Coming out of college, Curry was a sure-fire thing. But it’s really taken him time to adjust to life in the NFL. He looks like an impact player, and improved significantly with his run defense this year. Can the rest of his game come along in 2011?
Cornerback – Sean Smith, Miami Dolphins
He reacted exceptionally well to his benching by playing at an extremely high level when he came into the team. He was the No. 8 CB in our rankings by the end of things, even if he struggles catching the ball. Allowed just 54.5% of passes thrown his way to be completed.
Safety – Louis Delmas, Detroit Lions
Delmas is part of a 2009 Detroit class that has teased its potential, but all too often flattered to deceive. His selection here owes an awful lot to the lack of other productive players, with Delmas missing too many tackles (11) and no great shakes in coverage.
Safety – Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills
The weird thing about Byrd? With the ball not finding its way to him as it did in 2009 (nine INTs), he actually improved his all round game and was noticeably more aggressive in the run game. The Bills would trade some of that for the turnovers, though.
Cornerback – Vontae Davis, Miami Dolphins
2009 was quite the draft year for the Dolphins as they got the pick of the available CBs thus far. Davis ended up 14th in our rankings, but had a number of bad games in coverage that let him down (noticeably games against Baltimore and Oakland).
Kick Returner – LaRod Stephens-Howling
The Cards found a difference maker with Stephens-Howling, who finished the year with our highest grade for kick returns.
Kicker – Graham Gano, Washington Redskins
You woldn’t want to rely on Gano too much, but he was decent on kickoffs and did hit some big ones.
Punter – Thomas Morstead, New Orleans Saints
Our seventh-rated punter had the second longest max hang time with a 5.5 second punt. Now that’s interesting.
Special Teamer – Moise Fokou, Philadelphia Eagles
Made 14 special team tackles and missed precisely none.