2014 PFF Rookie of the Year

You've seen our offensive and defensive rookie choices, now for the best of 2014 overall.

| 2 years ago

2014 PFF Rookie of the Year

2014-ROYWe’re not finished handing out awards at PFF yet, and we’re taking a look at the rookie crop right now. We have separate articles breaking down both the defensive and offensive standouts, but for this one we are looking at the rookie class as a whole.

It was a vintage year for rookie impact, with more immediate, high-level performances across the board than most years. Far from performing well ‘for a rookie’, this year’s crop featured players at multiple positions that were threatening All-Pro or Pro-Bowl places.

All five rookies to feature in this piece appeared on the PFF All-Pro team either as an All-Pro starter or honorable mention.

4th Runner Up

Zack Martin, G, Dallas Cowboys

2014-ROY-inset-MARTINThe Dallas Cowboys have invested a lot in their offensive line in recent years. Zack Martin joins Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith to make three fifths of the unit comprised of former first-round picks, and from the looks of his rookie year they are all paying off, which in itself represents a rare strike rate for first round linemen. Martin was excellent as a rookie, finishing the year seventh in PFF’s guard rankings but second when it came to pass protection alone. He didn’t allow a sack all season and surrendered just 10 total pressures.

There were a couple of down games for Martin throughout the season but otherwise he was a model of consistency, and could quickly become one of the league’s best guards.

3rd Runner Up

Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders

2014-ROY-inset-MACKThings haven’t been great for the Oakland Raiders for a long time now, and draft misses have been a big reason why that remains true, but at least they look to have struck gold in Khalil Mack.

Mack wasn’t the devastating pass rusher many expected him to be – notching just four sacks on the year and a decent but not great amount of total pressure – but he was a real standout when it came to play against the run from his linebacker position.

He set the edge and dominated tight ends and offensive tackles at the point of attack like no other linebacker in football this year, destroying countless run plays almost single-handedly. Since he came into the league, Von Miller has been head and shoulders above anybody else at his position in terms of PFF grade but this year, at the first time of asking, Mack finished above him.

2nd Runner Up

Joel Bitonio, G, Cleveland Browns

2014-ROY-inset-BITONIOWhile Zack Martin was an excellent performer all season at guard, Bitonio was consistently just a little further in front in the rankings all year. He suffered from his worst two games of the season in the final two weeks (much like most of the Browns), but even with those included he ended the year ahead of Martin.

Bitonio did surrender a sack, though only one and it took him until Week 16 against Carolina to be beaten, and he did allow a little more pressure than Martin (15 total pressures including the sack), but his run blocking was superior, showing some truly dominant traits over the season. Like Martin, Bitonio has the ability to become one of the league’s best with even a small improvement going into his second season, though both players will need to avoid the sophomore slump that affected Detroit’s Larry Warford who was in the same position a year ago.

1st Runner Up

Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis Rams

2014-ROY-inset-DONALDAt 285 pounds, Aaron Donald was supposed to be too small to hold up over an NFL season, or to play the run effectively, or to contend with the power of the blockers at this level. At the very least I expected a performance similar to that of Geno Atkins in his early career – high level pass-rushing but struggling against the run because of that relative lack of size. Donald, though, had other ideas, and if anything was actually better against the run all year long.

He did this by showing right away that he knew what it took Atkins at least a year to figure out – you can play the run at that size by treating it like pass rush. Shooting gaps and penetrating into the backfield will disrupt run plays just like it will disrupt pass plays, and Donald did that consistently. His season highlight reel would feature a weekly example of him knifing through the offensive line almost untouched to destroy a run play in the backfield before it has even begun and he ended the year sitting atop the PFF rankings for defensive tackles. In his first year of play, at 285 pounds, he topped Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Marcel Dareus and anybody else at the position you care to mention.

What is perhaps most impressive was how balanced he was. His pass rush grade almost matched his impressive run defense mark, and he even made a couple of nice plays against screens to grade positively in coverage. The sky is the limit for Aaron Donald, and he might even have led NFL personnel evaluators to readjust what they deem suitable size and weight for an interior lineman.

2014 PFF Rookie of the Year

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants

It feels like Odell Beckham Jr. was destined for great recognition the moment he hauled in that catch on Sunday Night Football against the Cowboys, but in truth he had been impressing long before then. After suffering an injury before the season and frustrating everybody with his absence, Beckham hit the ground running when he did finally make it onto the field. He didn’t play until Week 5 against Atlanta but caught a touchdown in that first game and ended the year as our fourth-highest-graded wide receiver despite the missed games. Looking at just receiving grade (discounting blocking, penalties etc) he trailed only Antonio Brown.

As the season wore on his workload only increased as the Giants leaned on him ever more. His first game saw just five passes sent his way, with only 15 from his first three games in total. Over the next nine games he averaged 12.7 targets and the final game of the year against the Eagles saw the ball come his way 21 times.


But what makes him special? You often hear about guys playing bigger than they are. If you want to get a great look at what people mean when they say that watch Beckham play. He is listed at 5-foot-11 and 198 pounds, but he plays like a guy who is 6-foot-3. He never allows the ball come to him, rather attacking it no matter what route he is running, snatching the ball out of the air at the highest point he can reach with his ridiculous hands.

This is key because is minimizes the chance a defensive back has to make a play on the ball. The reason 6-foot-3 guys are desirable as receiver targets is because their catch radius is so big, but Beckham’s is as large as anybody’s because of the way he attacks the ball. Throw in impressively subtle route running and the kind of ball skills that he showed in that Cowboys game, or the countless videos of his warm-up catches that went viral soon after, and you have the most devastating rookie receiver performance since Randy Moss.

You’ve also got PFF’s Rookie of the Year.


See the other awards we’ve handed out this week:

2014 PFF All-Pro Team
2014 PFF All-Pro Special Teams
2014 PFF Stephenson Award (Best Player)
2014 PFF Offensive Player of the Year
2014 PFF Defensive Player of the Year
2014 PFF Matthews Award (Best Offensive Lineman)
2014 PFF O-Line Rankings
2014 PFF Rookie of the Year
2014 PFF Offensive Rookie of the Year
2014 PFF Defensive Rookie of the Year


Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Chris

    All I can think of is the Rams game where they were targeting ODB with dirty shots and starting fights and he still caught 8 balls for 148 yards and 2 TDs.

    • ninjacarrot

      Dirty shots? Pretty sure they were legal, buddy. Maybe if used the word vicious or something you’d be closer to the truth. And pretty sure it was ODB throwing a ball that started a fight (if Ogletree’s tackle out of bounds was so cheap he would have been flagged and fined, neither of which happened).

      • AJ

        I’m a Rams fan but you’re completely wrong. Ogletree WAS fined. He didn’t think so, but the fine came down later. Him and Hayes were both fined. That out of bounds tackle was cheap, and the Rams are a pretty dirty team. They led the league in flags after the whistle and Eugene Sims (a BACKUP DE) led the league in personal fouls.

        Source on fines: http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/12/26/william-hayes-alec-ogletree-draw-fines-after-fight-with-giants/

        • Chris

          We call that the Gregg Williams Effect lma0

          • Riffle,Rod&Fly

            Fisher is dirty. Williams is dirty. That is what we call a match made in hell.

      • Brian

        BS. There’s hard and there’s dirty, they were all WAY out of bounds and VERY borderline, to be polite. It’s been agreed by most and sorry ODB did NOTHING out of the ordinary to start anything. I’ve seen other players do worse. The Rams said they were pissed he gets so much attention….that was all, they admit it. They just wanted to take him down a peg, and failed.

      • Brian

        I mean, a Gregg Williams defense would NEVER target a specific player and try to rough him up…..

    • Brian

      Yeah that game was a thing of beauty, it was almost like it was scripted how he took all the abuse Gregg Williams could throw at him, then got WIDE open and burned em

    • Riffle,Rod&Fly

      I admittedly haven’t watched a lot of Giants this year. My friend in NYC says he’s good, but Cruz is still better. What do you think?

      • Chris

        He’s got way more potential than Cruz. I’d say he’s as good right now with a higher ceiling.

        • Riffle,Rod&Fly

          Shiny and new toys always have so much potential until next year’s version comes out! 😉
          I won’t take anything away from him though. It sounds like he’s been on a tear. My skepticism mostly came from the fact that I hadn’t heard of him until “the (other) catch”. Then the hype machine kicked into high gear and I was hearing about him enjoying brunch with MJ, Lebron and the rest of the posterboy crew.

          • eYeDEF

            You hadn’t heard of him until his one handed catch? Seriously? Well he was one of the highest rated wide receivers coming out of college, just behind Sammy Watkins and only because his height of 5’11”. Make no mistake, he’s no flash in the pan. You don’t put up rookie numbers like he did and not be something special. He’s got Randy Moss potential.

          • Riffle,Rod&Fly

            I haven’t followed college ball since ’10. I probably heard of him around the draft. He didn’t seem to become weekly highlight reel material until after the catch and forgive me if I’m a little skeptical of the media coverage for darlings like the Giants. There have been a number of good receivers showing up and making an immediate impact for the last 4 years. I think that idea that they take a couple years to learn the game is a dated one at this point.

          • eYeDEF

            I don’t know if it’s ‘dated’ but rule changes that have favored offenses have made it easier for rookie receivers to make immediate impacts. I’m not familiar with any rookie WR that has put up numbers like Beckham though, just looking at his numbers objectively. Which ‘immediate impact’ rookie wideouts are you thinking of in the last 4 years? Because AFAICT this past year’s WR class has been more an aberration.

          • Riffle,Rod&Fly

            Guys like Julio Jones, AJ Green, Josh Gordon, Keenan Allen have all been able to have a huge impact early on. I looked it up and Beckham’s rookie season has been a little better than theirs. It makes you wonder just how bad the Giants would have been without him.

          • eYeDEF

            Well yeah and when you consider his rookie numbers that were a “little better” than those other guys came in spite of missing all of training camp and the first 4 games of the season with injury his numbers become even more impressive. On top of that he had the third highest QB rating when targeted (127.6), 4th lowest drop rate (2.15 rate or 2 dropped balls all year on 93 catchable passes), and a catch rate of 70.5 (anything in the seventies is outstanding) and it starts becoming clear that the kid is elite. Had he not missed time, the Giants might have won one of those early season losses. He was an absolute monster in the games he played in. He was only one of 3 receivers all year to beat Richard Sherman on a deep ball after Sherman was assigned to shadow him all game (which was a special exception, the Seahawks normally never assign Sherman to cover just one receiver all game instead of just one side of the field) which is very impressive for a rookie to pull off.

            No doubt, the Giants would have suffered without him as he was their lone offensive weapon that forced defenses to always have to account for him.

          • Riffle,Rod&Fly

            Jones and Green missed some of training camp due to a lockout. Green was able to help transform that team into an over-performing winner, rather than the grossly underperforming loser that the Giants are. The Bengals were literally last on power rankings going into that year. Beckham is obviously really good though. Generally, I just don’t think I care as much about rookies as most do. Rookie worship is for card collectors and children who like guys like Manziel because they look like them. We’ll see if his productions stays up with Cruz back and if they can win with him.

          • eYeDEF

            Sure. Not denying the impact Green and Jones had. They’re both All Pro caliber receivers and two of the very best in the game currently. Was Green solely responsible for turning the Bengals around or was that more about jettisoning the divas that had turned the team into a loser and drafting a QB that also played well by adapting to the game fairly quickly? The Bengals also had a much better primary 1k rusher Cedric Benson, even though marginal overall he was a far better runner than any of the garbage on the Giants roster this year. The Bengals also had a league average defense in 2011 while the Giants primary problem this past season aside from having no offensive threats outside Beckham was their bottom quartet defense that led to the firing of their defensive coordinator.

            The thing is I very rarely pay attention to rookie wideouts because unlike Green, Jones, and Beckham they generally do take a few years to develop. It’s just that last year’s draft class was so abnormal in that so many rookie wideouts started producing as starters immediately it was hard not to take note of it as probably the most talented rookie wide receiver class ever … or at least since 1996. And out of that crop Beckham’s advanced metrics stood out as being head and shoulders above the rest with the only comparable receiver being Randy Moss, who I’m sure you had to take note of when he took the league by storm in 1998. I can see why it’d be harder to notice the exploits of rookie receivers now with all the rules changes and more immediate impact receivers and I can understand why you’d be skeptical of the new york press. I just prefer looking at the numbers and advanced stats to tell the story these days.

          • Riffle,Rod&Fly

            Yeah, Green definitely was NOT the only factor in that team’s success. The media would have you believe he threw every one of those balls to himself though. Early Randy Moss was something else, late Randy Moss was spectacular for a handful of downs each game. I fear Green has a little of that in him. Beckham puts up the numbers, that is for sure. He is a great athlete and could probably do well at just about any sport too.

          • eYeDEF

            So Green’s got a little slacker in him? Moss always had that character streak even coming out of college where he was known to take plays off and smoke lots of weed. Obviously he was such a glaring talent that it all didn’t matter even though he sank till the last 3rd of the draft before Dennis Green snagged him. I’d never heard of any type of rebelious or slacker streak in AJ Green.

          • Riffle,Rod&Fly

            He was useless in the last game of the season, but he was also hurt in the previous game. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was supposed to be a decoy in it. Unfortunately, Dalton did not get that memo and threw to him quite a bit. I think a lot of deep ball guys probably take off the gas a little on plays now and then. He’s a good player, I’ll try not to speculate too much on character. He has had a lot of small injuries in his career and I’m not sure if Moss was ever so fragile. Dalton’s accuracy and arm strength were improved at the beginning of this year, everything declined towards the end of it. AJ was the only of Daltons top 3 or 4 receivers that was still around and I don’t think they had good chemistry late in the season. I think it has become a little too easy for AJ to use Dalton as an excuse and I saw some frustration on the sidelines (I.E. ignoring Dalton who was trying to talk to him after a play) that was unfair.

          • eYeDEF

            Interesting. Yeah I read a study last off season that closely examined accuracy and ball placement of a sampling of different starting QBs. The findings were interesting, specifically when it came to Dalton. It concluded that Dalton has pretty poor ball placement, and having AJ Green as his first read was of huge benefit to masking Dalton’s issues with accuracy since AJ’s large catch radius and dependability catching poorly placed balls when AJ regularly turns what would have been drops or incompletions for most receivers into catches. Dalton’s accuracy % has been league average, with a range between 71-73% since entering the league, and the article speculated his accuracy would take a 5 point hit he didn’t have AJ. Just looking at his passing numbers right now by direction, he really struggles throwing that long ball huh? He can only seem to hit the right side of the field when throwing for 20 yards or more.

          • Riffle,Rod&Fly

            Here is another article: https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2014/02/06/the-contrarian-andy-dalton-is-a-franchise-qb/

            Everyone has an opinion of course. This was Daltons first poor year and it ended very badly after an efficient start. He was intelligently gameplanned as much as possible out of the game after the team lost all but 2 of it’s starting receivers and tight ends. In the last two games of this season, he only had Sanu among all starting WRs and TE’s and he is 3rd or 4th read guy. They began using a fullback because they were out of Tight Ends altogether and one of them did double duty as a receiver too.

          • eYeDEF

            Great stuff. Yeah his deep ball accuracy unquestionably took a major hit this year too dropping from 44.2 to 33.3 though it’s not even unique to his short career thus far seeing how he dropped from 46.7 in 2011 to 32.8 in 2012. I expect a rebound next year. Considering the incremental drop in receiving talent available to him as the year went on wouldn’t that explain a lot of his regression over the course of the season? From your description of the weirdly deteriorating relationship between him and AJ Green, whatever the source of the friction might have been, that lack of chemistry could have played a part. But it’s kind of odd when you consider they came into the league at the same time and this was their 4th year together. With their familiarity with each other Dalton should have been on the same page with Green more than any other receiver he had.

  • LightsOut85

    I can’t stress how much I appreciate someone who’s a good “hands catcher”. I may sound like some old codger complaining about “kids these days”, but so many of the top (talent-wise) WRs are very passive catchers of the ball. Yea, sometimes certain throws benefit more from making an “arm basket”, but it’s never as reliable as attacking the ball. Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, Antonio Brown & (my team’s own) Malcolm Floyd (to name a few) are also very good at doing this.

    • eYeDEF

      I don’t see how you’d be able to survive in the pros as a wide receiver unless you had at least some comptetence in out muscling DBs to high point the ball.

  • Brian

    Beckham! The one ray of light and hope that kept us Giants fans from drinking ourselves to death!
    So true, the spectacular catch(es) get the headlines but he makes lots of little catches, difficult/contested ones, runs great routes, can get YAC, wide open, does it all.

    God I hope Cruz can get back to 100% or at least a very good WR.

  • hsilgnede

    ODB is so awesome. The only bright spot in the Giants season.

  • Riffle,Rod&Fly

    Manziel was a major snub!

    • DrAWNiloc

      Well, being drafted after him certainly would have been.

  • David Wilson

    What a crock. Why do you have a grading system if you don’t give the guy on top of it the award.

    Khalil mack won it fair and square, and by some way.

    • bobrulz

      Because grading works differently across each position, AND the grades are only part of the story. If you’re going to complain about their grading system, at least pretend like you understand how it works.