PFF Rookie Watch: Late Bloomers

The 'Year of the Rookie QB' has raised expectations for youngsters, but not everyone can shine straight away. Here's a look at the rookies who've come on in the season's ...

| 5 years ago
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PFF Rookie Watch: Late Bloomers

Perhaps more than ever, rookies are stepping right into the league and having immediate success. Our Race for Rookie of the Year is littered with first-year players who have earned starting roles from their first day of training camp. However, beyond those rookies who have received the majority of the hype, there are a number of under-the-radar players who waited their turn and started to see an increase in playing time here in the second half of the season.

For some teams, the late-developing rookie could act as an added bonus or perhaps just added depth for a playoff push. For the teams out of the race, these rookies could be players to build around for the future.

Whether they were forced into action due to injury, or earned their keep by sitting and watching, here are some of the rookies who have seen the field on a more regular basis in the second half of the season.

Playoff Contenders

Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins

Drafted to back-up first-round pick Robert Griffin III, Cousins saw spot duty in two games before making his first start last week. He led the Redskins to a comeback win in Week 14 against the Baltimore Ravens, and then graded at +3.0 against the Cleveland Browns as the starter. Cousins was featured as the Best Offensive Sub for Week 15 as he helped keep Washington’s playoff hopes alive while holding the fort for Griffin’s likely return this week. Though he’s thrown only 48 passes to this point in his career, Cousins has impressed many around the league and rumors are already circulating about his price tag in a future trade.

DeVier Posey, WR, Houston Texans

Have the Texans found their No. 2 wide receiver to play opposite Andre Johnson? WR Kevin Walter has been entrenched in the role, but he’s never been a player who had instilled fear into opposing defenses. While Posey has taken snaps throughout the season, he had his first real chance to shine last week against the Indianapolis Colts. He hauled in all three passes thrown his way for 46 yards, including a 36 yarder on a deep post route into traffic. Posey saw a season-high 36 snaps, while Walter played a season-low 39, so this may be a sign of things to come as Houston prepares for the playoffs.

Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Houston Texans

The Texans’ first-rounder was eased into the action this season, as he didn’t play more than 17 snaps in a game until he played 71 in Week 12. He’s started the past four games, and despite the six sacks on the season, he has not been an effective pass rusher. He’s grading at -9.7 for the season with a Pass Rush Productivity (PRP) of 6.9 that ranks 24th out of the top 33 qualifiers among 3-4 outside linebackers. He’s fared better as a run defender, grading at +1.1 with six run stops. The Texans continue to search for an edge rusher to complement DE J.J. Watt.

LaMichael James, RB, San Francisco 49ers

James did not see his first action until Week 14, and he’s played only 29 snaps on the season. With Kendall Hunter out for the year, James has taken over the role of change-of-pace back behind starter Frank Gore. He’s started slowly, averaging only 3.8 yards/carry, but he’s forced three missed tackles on his 16 attempts. The 49ers are extremely creative in the running game and with Colin Kaepernick a threat to run from their shotgun/pistol packages, James will be in good position to use his speed and elusiveness to create big plays.

Trevor Robinson, C, Cincinnati Bengals

It’s been a revolving door at center for the Bengals this season, but Robinson has brought stability to the position in the second half. His first full game was Week 10, after seeing spot duty throughout the beginning of the season, and he’s graded at +2.3 since taking over the starting job. He’s given up seven pressures on his 215 pass-block attempts for the year, while grading at +1.3 as a run blocker.

Dezman Moses, OLB, Green Bay Packers

The injury bug has struck the Packers at outside linebacker, forcing the undrafted Moses into extended action in Week 9. He’s had 205 pass rush opportunities with only 16 pressures to show for it, good for a PRP of 6.7. The return of Clay Matthews eased Moses’ workload last week, and he may have a better chance to contribute in a more limited role going forward.

Other Rookies on Playoff Contenders

James Brown, OG, Chicago Bears: The Bears’ offensive line has had another difficult season, and Brown first filled in at left guard in Week 14. The undrafted free agent has struggled, giving up six pressures on his 55 pass blocks and grading at 3.4 in the running game.

Marvin Jones, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have been cycling through No. 2 wide receivers, and Jones was the latest to get a shot. He’s played 86% of snaps the past three weeks, but managed to haul in only five receptions for 65 yards in that time.

David DeCastro, OG, Pittsburgh Steelers:  Pittsburgh’s first-round pick, DeCastro was injured in the preseason and finally made his debut last week. He played all 62 snaps, grading at +2.2 for the day.

Kelvin Beachum, OT, Pittsburgh Steelers:  With a lot of attrition on Pittsburgh’s offensive line, Beachum has started the Past three games after playing only seven snaps on the season. He’s given up 15 pressures on his 158 pass block attempts for a near-average pass block grade of -0.1.

Jarius Wright, WR, Minnesota Vikings:  Wright made his debut in Week 10 and he’s been a part of Minnesota’s never-ending quest to find playmakers at wide receiver. After a promising start that included a 54-yard reception, he’s cooled off in recent week and has 14 receptions for 167 yards and three drops on the season.

Turn the page for rookies on non-playoff contenders.

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • SeanJE

    Brandon Harris (CB, Houston) is not a rookie.

  • SeanJE

    And D.J. Campbell plays for the Panthers, not the Lions.

  • Nate

    Keep an eye open for Cole Beasley of the Dallas Cowboys. He is at worst Danny Amedola and at best the next Wes Welker. The real deal.

    • Colonel Crazy

       He’s not even close to that. He can’t play outside and beat press coverage, and hasn’t shown anything as a receiver after the catch. I like Beasley, but you’re assessment of him is ridiculously presumptuous.

      • Nate

        Ha ha I will agree it is presumptuous but that doesn’t mean it is not true. Wes Welker can’t play outside either, duh. He is a slot wr. Beasley is almost as quick as Welker but he is defiantly faster. I’m basing Beasley off of training camp and what I have seen. Beasley finds a way to get open almost every time. You will see my friend.

        • tjd1958tjd

          FYI, Welker mostly plays outside in 2 WR/2 TE packages and not just the slot.

          • Nate

            Actually FYI, Welker has taken 83% of his snaps in the slot via PFF. Welker is simply not fast enough nor big enough to play on the outside most the time. He is an amazing slot receiver because of his great quickness and how fast he accelerates.

          • antinate

            Fine, Beasley is an ALL PRO and Future Hall of Famer –  have him – I’m sure we’ve all got our Wide outs that are actually worth bragging about and won’t be forgotten after this season.

          • Nate

            Thank you.

  • Virgile – Bubqr

    Nate, I think he could also become Kevin Walter, or maybe Erick Decker, no ?

    FWIW, I don’t see how he could be “at worst Amendola”, as the lattest looks far superior to Beasley right now.

    • Nate

      Why do you say Amedola looks far superior to Beasley?

  • 839syork

    I would have liked to see Chiefs FB Pat DiMarco get some love in this article. He’s from an SEC school, so I think he’s got a chance at being yet another undrafted fullback who ends up as one of the best at the position.

  • Biebs

    I actually feel like Coples has come on pretty well for the Jets. He’s up to 5.5 sacks this season and he seems to make a few plays every game. And he’s even listed fairly high among DEs. 

  • Jack

    How does DeCastro give up 2 sacks and have a positive grade for the day?