The rookies were meant to be handled with extra thick kid gloves given they had such a shortened opportunity to acclimate.
So it’s rather amazing that if you compare the impact the Class of ’11 has made to the 2010 version, you’re likely to walk out saying they’ve been far more impressive. Now, some of that will come down to the class perhaps behind a little stronger, but, nonetheless, it means we’ve seen plenty of rookies in action through the first seven weeks of the season.
Where am I going with this? Well, it’s time to look at what the 2011 first round is up to. Let’s start at the top.
(Note: our snaps include plays nullified by penalties)
1. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Grade: +19.4 Snaps: 490
Possibly Interesting Stat: Has more yardage on throws that have travelled 20 yards or more than any other QB in the league. His 729 is 119 yards more than Eli Manning in second.
Observations: Has been a revelation. We all expected plenty of ups and downs, and right now there have been far more ups. Sure his accuracy has been patchy, but he’s carried the Carolina offense on his back and has made them competitive (with some help mind you). Our sixth-ranked QB is already living up to being the first pick of any draft.
2. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos
Grade: +20.4 Snaps: 351
Possibly Interesting Stat: Has taken the QB down (sacks and hits combined) 11 times. Only seven defenders in the league have more. Not bad considering he primarily rushes in the Broncos’ nickel package.
Observations: Some aren’t sold on Miller, and took his benching after a blown coverage and over pursuit on a running play as evidence that he was far from elite. I saw it as more of a message that he hasn’t made it yet. Leads our 4-3 OLB rankings because he gets pressure, sheds blocks, and can make plays in coverage. This guy is already a player.
3. Marcell Dareus, DT, Buffalo Bills
Grade: +5.5 Snaps: 292
Possibly Interesting Stat: His bye week came at the wrong time. His +5.1 grade against the Giants was primarily as a result of season-high pressures (four) and defensive stops (three).
Observations: It’s not easy playing in the hybrid scheme of the Bills, and Dareus has had games where that has shown. But the quality has also shone through, with three performances graded in the green, to push him up into 11th place in our DT rankings. We feel like the best is yet to come this year.
4. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Grade: -3.5 Snaps: 384
Possibly Interesting Stat: On balls thrown further than 20 yards, he has the fifth-highest receiving yardage in the entire league with 224.
Observations: Don’t be fooled by his negative grade. That owes a lot to those drive-killing penalties. Incredible that he has picked up six so far, two more than the next-worst-offending wide receiver. His receiving has been far more consistent, already showing himself to be a player you have to account for on every play.
5. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals
Grade: -7.3 Snaps: 434
Possibly Interesting Stat: Has allowed 69.4% of the balls thrown his way to be complete.
Observations: Peterson may go on to be the next shutdown cornerback in the NFL, and if he does it will mean looking back at his first six NFL starts and wonder how he could ever struggle so much. Simply getting beat a little too often, struggling to replicate the success of 2010 rookie’s like Devin McCourty and Joe Haden.
6. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Grade: +2.0 Snaps: 282
Possibly Interesting Stat: Has caught 62.5% of the balls thrown his way.
Observations: Jones was really starting to come along before he was knocked out of the Seahawks game with a hamstring injury. A shame because he was starting to offer the kind of explosive threat the Falcons were looking for, with Jones (who has forced four missed tackles) looking dangerous when he gets the ball in space.
7. Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers
Grade: +6.0 Snaps: 201
Possibly Interesting Stat: Has picked-up a quarterback disruption (sack, hit or pressure) on 15.6% of plays he has rushed the quarterback.
Observations: The 49ers are limiting Smith to a purely situational role, with the aim being to get their first round pick working with his hand on the ground. It’s working as evidenced by a real breakout display against the Lions. Their three receiver set meant plenty of nickel, which meant plenty of Smith beating Jeff Backus. A nice start.
8. Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans
Grade: 0.0 Snaps: 11
Possibly Interesting Stat: Three drops backs. One completion. One incompletion. One sack. 2012 anyone?
Observations: With Matt Hasselbeck playing well, Locker fans can look at this year as one he gets to sit and learn. That may be a good thing in the long run.
9. Tyron Smith, OT, Dallas Cowboys
Grade: +7.6 Snaps: 424
Possibly Interesting Stat: His Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 96.7 (giving up just two sacks and eight pressures) is the third highest of all right tackles.
Observations: PFF Founder Neil Hornsby named Tyron Smith his early selection for the NFC RT Pro Bowl Bowl spot. How could you disagree with him when Smith has been nearly flawless in pass protection and is growing into a more imposing run blocker. To think, he’s regarded as raw now. Scary.
10. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Grade: -7.0 Snaps: 336
Possibly Interesting Stat: If you factor in drops, throwaways and spikes, no quarterback is as inaccurate as Gabbert and his 58.7% mark.
Observations: Quite clearly not ready to be on the field yet. Struggles when pressured, with the extra athleticism at the NFL level resulting in him having the highest amount of his pressure (33.3%) turn into sacks. Will he better for taking his lumps, or would a year on the sidelines have been better for our lowest-ranked QB on the year? We’ll never really know.
11. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
Grade: +4.6 Snaps: 344
Possibly Interesting Stat: His 18 combined sacks, hits and hurries are the fifth-most of any 3-4 defensive end.
Observations: Watt and his high motor made an instant impact with a five-pressure game against the Colts, but he has struggled to replicate that performance. Interestingly, the Texans have cut down on his playing time after he played 85% of the Texans’ snaps in the opening three games (he’s down to 68.4% in the last three). The result seems to be more consistent performances, showing up big against Oakland in the run game, and picking up a sack and two pressures against Tennessee.
12. Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Grade: +2.1 Snaps: 88
Possibly Interesting Stat: Despite dropping back from center just 55 times, has thrown away four balls. That’s the same amount as Drew Brees who has 320 drop backs.
Observations: He definitely added something with his Matt Ryan Moment (you know the one where you make your first start and mark it with a big completion to Michael Jenkins) getting everyone’s attention. Has the rest of the year to see what he can do, but early signs are that he’s worth watching.
13. Nick Fairley, DT, Detroit Lions
Grade: +2.4 Snaps: 68
Possibly Interesting Stat: Picked-up three pressures in his debut, and nothing since.
Observations: Is obviously being eased into things after injuring himself in preseason, with the result being very limited tape on him. That said, his NFL start got the mouth watering as he picked up pressure, and showed an ability to read and react to what the offense was doing. As the season goes on it will be interesting if his snap count continues to increase (as it has every week).
14. Robert Quinn, DE, St Louis Rams
Grade: -1.0 Snaps: 189
Possibly Interesting Stat: Has one sack (unblocked), four hits and six pressures. Three of those hits and four of those pressures came in one game against Baltimore.
Observations: After that performance against the Ravens, you figured he would flourish as a situational end in Steve Spagnulo’s four aces nickel package. Only, he hasn’t, and he’s seen his playing time cut in the past two games with the result being you rarely noticing him on the field.
15. Mike Pouncey, C, Miami Dolphins
Grade: +3.5 Snaps: 405
Possibly Interesting Stat: His +3.5 grade is 6.3 higher than his twin brother, Maurkice.
Observations: After his first four games I was ready to crown Mike an outsider in the rookie of the year stakes. He was able to handle talents like Vince Wilfork and Antonio Garay in impressive fashion. Cracks are now starting to appear; first against Sione Pouha, and then against Brodrick Bunkley. It was Bunkley who really stuck it to Pouncey, standing him up at the line of scrimmage and moving him at will. Will need to regroup after that.
16. Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Washington Redskins
Grade: +6.7 Snaps: 399
Possibly Interesting Stat: Has dropped into coverage on 26.9 percent of his plays.
Observations: Has looked very good at certain times, and near invisible at others. Those good performances have carried him to ninth place in our 3-4 OLB rankings, picking up three sacks, three hits and 17 pressures along the way. Looks like a nice complement to Brian Orakpo.
17. Nate Solder, OT, New England Patriots
Grade: -0.7 Snaps: 400
Possibly Interesting Stat: Has only given up one sack on the year.
Observations: Solder wasn’t meant to be starting, but injuries have forced him into a lineup where he has acquitted himself well. He’s not excelled in any area, but neither has he struggled, and for a rookie tackle, what more could you want? Well, for them to play like Tyron Smith, but that so rarely happens.
18. Corey Liuget, DE, San Diego Chargers
Grade: -9.0 Snaps: 163
Possibly Interesting Stat: Has managed just one hit and one pressure on his 79 pass rushes.
Observations: The fact Liuget is our lowest-ranked 3-4 DE tells you all you need to know about how we rate his performance this year. Has been barely visible during his time on the field. A real disappointment for a Chargers team that needed him to make an instant impact in filling in the void left by Luis Castillo.
19. Prince Amukamara, CB, New York Giants
Grade: N/A Snaps: N/A
Possibly Interesting Stat: One of only two players drafted in the first round not to play a snap on defense or offense.
Observations: Give us a chance to see him play before we start breaking him down!
20. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Grade: +9.4 Snaps: 325
Possibly Interesting Stat: Has 23 combined sacks, hits and pressures, yet just eight tackles.
Observations: Earned his negative grade in run defense almost as much as the positive he has with his pass rushing. From his first seven games in the NFL, he has demonstrated the kind of ability you get from Pro Bowlers; the ability to feast on bad tackles. That should lead to big numbers from the improving defensive end.
21. Phil Taylor, DT, Cleveland Browns
Grade: +4.8 Snaps: 253
Possibly Interesting Stat: His 12 defensive stops are the seventh-most of all defensive tackles.
Observations: His début was extremely impressive, but since then? Not quite so much. He hasn’t been bad, but neither has he looked all that good without Clint Boiling making life easy for him.
22. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Indianapolis Colts
Grade: -1.3 Snaps: 200 snaps
Possibly Interesting Stat: Had a Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 94.8, while the man he replaced, Charlie Johnson, is languishing near the bottom with a 92.5.
Observations: Things keep going wrong for the Colts, with the possible solution to their left tackle woes dropping out after 11 snaps of their Week 4 Monday Night Football matchup. Castonzo looked good in parts, which qualifies as a monumental upgrade given what Indy has put at LT before. A step in the right direction.
23. Danny Watkins, OG, Philadelphia Eagles
Grade: +1.2 Snaps: 141
Possibly Interesting Stat: Given up just one QB hurry so far.
Observations: Watkins is an interesting one. He apparently was slow to pick things up, which was especially evident when his line went one way and he went the other against the Redskins. The result was him putting a great block on his teammate (for those so inclined, go to 4:19 in the second quarter). That aside, he’s looked pretty useful, and a definite upgrade on Kyle DeVan.
24. Cameron Jordan, DE, New Orleans Saints
Grade: +1.4 Snaps: 252
Possibly Interesting Stat: While he has just two hits and nine pressures, Jordan does have a +5.7 grade in run defense.
Observations: When you watch Jordan you can’t help but notice he looks incredibly strong. Not exactly dynamic, he plays like a prototypical left end. So essentially he’ll make the Saints’ run defense better in the long run, but is he the guy to help them pick up pressure by sending four? I have my doubts.
25. James Carpenter, OT, Seattle Seahawks
Grade: -11.6 Snaps: 384
Possibly Interesting Stat: Has a neutral grade for his run blocking as a tackle.
Observations: He hasn’t done anything to make those who questioned his drafting reexamine their position. Struggled at left guard when matched-up with Justin Smith, and struggled at right tackle when asked to cope with Ray Edwards and Jason Pierre-Paul in consecutive weeks. Fortunately, you don’t dump players on the back of six games, so let’s hope he can get better.
26. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Grade: -1.0 Snaps: 29
Possibly Interesting Stat: Dropped as many passes as he caught (0ne) on his week 7 NFL début.
Observations: After an eventful offseason that ended up with him missing the first six weeks of the NFL season, Baldwin didn’t set the world alight on his professional debut. Five times he was thrown at, and just 14 yards he picked up. Yet to make a positive contribution since becoming a Chief.
27. Jimmy Smith, CB, Baltimore Ravens
Grade: 0.0 Snaps: 0
Possibly Interesting Stat: Another defensive back who has yet to play a defensive snap in the NFL.
Observations: Given how bad Cary Williams has been, hasn’t got much to do to be considered an upgrade.
28. Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints
Grade: +1.6 Snaps: 155 snaps
Possibly Interesting Stat: Has the 13th-lowest Elusive Rating (20.2) for running backs, largely as a result of forcing just nine missed tackles on his 93 touches.
Observations: After a slow start, Ingram seems like he is finding his feet at the NFL level. That’s far more preferable to him finding the backs of offensive linemen, with his first three games seeing him perfect the art of running into them as if they were tacklers. Already has a role carved out in New Orleans, even if is yet to make the impact last year’s rookie Chris Ivory was able to.
29. Gabe Carimi, OT, Chicago Bears
Grade: -0.3 Snaps: 100
Possibly Interesting Stat: Gave up a sack and two pressures against Atlanta, before giving up nothing in his 33 snaps against the Saints.
Observations: The Bears could really use Carimi being healthy given the state of their tackle play. Did have his problems in pass protection against Atlanta, but you look forward to seeing how he does in extended action. Should be back after the bye.
30. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets
Grade: +1.2 Snaps: 279
Possibly Interesting Stat: Only Sione Pouha, with 283 snaps, has managed more playing time than Wilkerson on the Jets’ defensive line.
Observations: Is coming off his best performance as a pro, but hasn’t quite managed to fill the void left by Shaun Ellis. May have a sack, but is struggling to contribute as a pass rusher, though his 16 tackles lead all Jets defensive linemen. Would New York be wiser to move him in more slowly?
31. Cameron Heyward, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers
Grade: +0.7 Snaps: 84
Possibly Interesting Stat: Has managed double-digit snaps on just three occasions.
Observations: The Steelers are doing what the Steelers tend to do; easing a rookie in. Heyward picked up a pressure in his last outing, but it was his performance against Houston, where he saw most of his action, that probably convinced them he needs some more seasoning. He picked up his lowest grade o f the season against the talented Texans offensive line.
32. Derek Sherrod, OT, Green Bay Packers
Grade: +0.4 Snaps: 58
Possibly Interesting Stat: Gave up two pressures on his 38 plays in pass protection.
Observations: Seemed like the Packers wanted to get him into the starting lineup, but Sherrod was deemed not ready. As a result, he’s appeared in two games, and looked more competent than reports led you to believe he would be.