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.