5 most-improved second-year NFL players

Blake Bortles and Stephon Tuitt highlight our list of most-improved second-year players.

| 1 year ago
Blake Bortles

(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

5 most-improved second-year NFL players

Rookie years are tough. The level of competition rises exponentially from the collegiate level. There’s so much to learn and digest. A bigger stage means a brighter spotlight when things go well—and when they go wrong.

It’s no surprise that some players struggle right of the gate in the NFL. However, that doesn’t make them bad players forever—it just provides an opportunity for redemption. That’s exactly what we’re looking at in this piece, with five second-year guys who are putting their shaky debut-seasons behind them with strong 2015 starts.

Jake Matthews, LT, Falcons

2014 cumulative grade: -36.8

2015 grade through Week 2: +3.8

Matthews is, in essence, the inspiration for this piece. The former Texas A&M tackle had a bad rookie year, and while he wasn’t helped by a lingering ankle injury, it was a huge concern for Atlanta. Fast-forward a year, and despite offseason surgery, he’s become a guy you just don’t notice in pass protection. That’s a compliment to an offensive tackle.

Russell Bodine, C, Bengals

2014 cumulative grade: -15.6

2015 grade through Week 2: +3.1

Bodine put up a rollercoaster-like performance in 2014. In nine games, he posted a -1.0 grade or worse—but with six grades above +1.0, he showed potential, just not consistency. This year might reveal similar issues, but given his performance against San Diego (+4.3), it looks like the highs will be higher. He is currently tied in our rankings as No. 2 center through Week 2.

Blake Bortles, QB, Jagaurs

2014 cumulative grade: -38.9

2015 grade through Week 2: -1.7

There was really only one way for Bortles to go after finishing as our lowest-graded QB in 2014: up. So, it’s encouraging that he’s taken such a big leap from being way below average, to being right around it. If he keeps it up, he could be the guy the Jaguars need him to be.

Stephon Tuitt, ID, Steelers

2014 cumulative grade: -9.7

2015 grade through Week 2: +2.3

Starting the last five games of the 2014 season, Tuitt got a chance to show his stuff as a rookie. Unfortunately, he earned negative marks in four of those five starting appearances, and had an average outing this season against New England. But his effort against San Francisco in Week 2 scored him the best mark of his career, with five quarterback disruptions (also a single-game career-best for him).

Deone Bucannon, S, Cardinals

2014 cumulative grade: -14.3

2015 grade through Week 2: -1.3

After Week 1, it wasn’t looking like Bucannon, who missed three tackles against the Saints, would crack this list. But the versatile defender put forth a much better showing in Week 2. He’s still got a lot to prove, but the first rounder out of Washington State is starting to deliver on the talent that convinced the Cardinals to spend a first-round pick on him.

  • Jaguars28

    Blake looked real solid last week and getting Julius back should only help him more.

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      julius will just get hurt, again, it’s what he does.

    • Tyler Ferree

      The reasons i liked Bortles over Bridgewater in that draft are starting to show up, his ceiling is a slightly poorer man’s Ben Rothlesburger.

      • bobrulz

        And Teddy Bridgewater’s ceiling is a slightly poorer man’s Joe Montana, so…

        • SeattleSteve

          Give Bortles the viking’s offensive roster, seriously.
          That group made Ponder look serviceable when they carried him to the playoffs.

          • Samuel Myers

            First of all that was a different team. Second, the Jags have better talent at receiver and when Thomas is healthy, at tight end. Both offensive lines have some injuries but I will take the Jags’ O-Line as it stands right now. Linder and Parnell are excellent on the right side.

            Both players have a chance to be good, Bridgewater was always more NFL-ready because he had a much better grasp on the mental aspects of the game coming in. Bortles was raw, though he has more “arm talent”. He plays his best in the clutch, and is a better runner. Bridgewater has icewater in his veins under pressure and is very adept at taking what the D gives him. Neither guy has proven anything, but both of them look promising.

          • Blyake Price

            I thought that Bridgewater should’ve been the number one overall pick in that draft. I thought Bortles was a 3rd rounder at best.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I’m guessing none of these guys has a veteran as a mentor otherwise they would know you wait until your in your contract year before making a big improvement.

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  • locdog284

    Cowboys brought in ponder for a visit but preferred McLeod bethel Thompson and Flynn over him… They ended up trading for cassell but it speaks volumes about ponder that a guy who has never started a game in McLeod is preferred over him