Rookie Recap: AFC North
Our Rookie Recap series began with the AFC East, and today we take a look at the AFC North. The Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens had key performances from their top rookies, while the Cleveland Browns’ season was littered with contributions from first-year players. The Cincinnati Bengals brought in a number of high-upside picks and they may have just scratched the surface on their draft class. Finally, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a tumultuous season with their rookies both due to injury and off-the-field incidents.
Let’s take a look at how it all shook out in the AFC North.
Notes: The Ravens traded back out of the first round, but still landed Upshaw who many believed was a top-round talent. He was fantastic against the run, as he graded at +14.9 and finished second among 3-4 outside linebackers in Run Stop Percentage at 9.9. However, Upshaw was less effective as a pass rusher where he graded at -17.6, while ranking 19th out of the Top 20 3-4 OLBs in Pass Rushing Productivity, at 5.4. It evened off into a -1.4 overall grade, and for Upshaw to take the next step as a player he must improve his ability to get to the quarterback.
Kelechi Osemele, T/G
Draft: Second round, 60th overall
Snaps/Usage: Started all 16 games at right tackle (note: moved to left guard during playoffs)
Notes: It was a typically uneven rookie season for Osemele, who mixed in some solid games with a few disasters along the way. He finished at +1.7 on the season and ranked 28th among tackles in Pass Blocking Efficiency, at 94.6. It should be noted that Osemele moved to left guard during the Ravens’ Super Bowl run, so it’s uncertain if his future lies at tackle or guard.
Bernard Pierce, RB
Draft: Third round, 84th overall
Snaps/Usage: 229 snaps at backup running back
Notes: Pierce saw his workload increase as the season progressed and graded at +6.1. He finished with an Elusive Rating of 75.7 and averaged 3.48 Yards After Contact/Rush, both numbers that ranked third among running backs with at least 100 carries. Though Ray Rice is still entrenched as the starter, Pierce made a strong case for more playing time by the end of the year.
Other Ravens rookies:
Fourth-rounder Gino Gradkowski saw 73 of his 89 snaps in a Week 17 start at center. He did not allow a pressure on his 38 pass block attempts and finished with a +1.1 run block grade. Defensive end DeAngelo Tyson was drafted in the seventh round and he played 187 snaps as part of the defensive line rotation. He picked up three pressures on his 80 pass rushes and notched eight stops in the running game. Undrafted wide receiver Deonte Thompson saw the field for 80 of his 89 snaps in Week 17, and he finished the season with five receptions for 51 yards. Two undrafted players saw time on the defensive side, as safety Omar Brown logged 39 snaps and linebacker Adrian Hamilton was in on 10 plays and added two special teams tackles. It was a strong season for rookie kickers around the league and Justin Tucker was one of the best. He ranked third at the postition at +35.8 overall.
Notes: Zeitler had a fantastic rookie season, as he ranked 12th among all guards, at +12.9, and he made for an easy choice for our All-Rookie Team. He was third in PBE among guards, at 98.0, as he allowed only 15 total pressures on his 603 pass blocking snaps. Zeitler also showed well as a run blocker, though a rough -4.4 performance in Week 16 against the Pittsburgh Steelers brought that grade down to +1.0 for the season.
Vontaze Burfict, OLB
Draft: Undrafted free agent
Snaps/Usage: 899 snaps, started 14 games
Notes: Many saw Burfict as a first-round talent heading into the 2011 season, but a decline in play and some off-field concerns saw him go undrafted. The Bengals were thrilled to pick him up as a free agent, as he became a starter in Week 3. He graded at +4.5 against the run and ranked fifth among 4-3 outside linebackers in Tackling Efficiency, missing one every 19 attempts.
Trevor Robinson, C
Draft: Undrafted free agent
Snaps/Usage: 454 total snaps, seven starts at center
Notes: The Bengals went through a number of centers in 2012 and Robinson got the call for seven starts. He showed well as a run blocker, grading at +1.0, but his 10 pressures surrendered on only 230 pass block attempts ranked him 35th out of 36 centers in PBE, at 96.6.
Other Bengals rookies:
First-round cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick battled injuries all season and was limited to only 42 snaps, 35 of which were spent at LCB. The Bengals used both a second- and third-round pick on defensive tackles Devon Still and Brandon Thompson respectively. Still played 156 snaps as part of the defensive line rotation and picked up five pressures on his 77 pass rushes, while Thompson was limited to 23 snaps where he notched one pressure and one stop. Cincinnati double-dipped at the wide receiver position as well, as they brought in Mohamed Sanu in the third round and Marvin Jones in the fifth. Sanu saw the field for 209 snaps in nine games before a season-ending injury after Week 12. He caught 16 of his 24 targets for 154 yards (9.6 yards/reception) and four touchdowns. Jones took over for Sanu and played 364 snaps that saw him haul in 18 receptions for 201 yards (11.2 yards/reception) and a touchdown. Fourth-round tight end Orson Charles was used primarily as a run blocker, as he did so on 171 of his 293 snaps. He graded at -2.8 in that department, though he added eight catches for 101 yards. RB Dan Herron was drafted in the sixth round and had only five yards on his four carries in 14 snaps. Two other undrafted free agents saw the field, as LB Emmanuel Lamur graded at +2.0 as a run defender on his 102 total snaps, while CB Chris Harris-Lewis saw all 21 of his plays in Week 17 where he played primarily at RCB.
Click below for the Browns and Steelers
Notes: The Browns traded up to grab Richardson with the third overall pick and he stepped in as their feature back in Week 1. He finished seventh in Elusive Rating at 38.8 and most of his damage was done in the passing game where his 19 forced missed tackles led all running backs. He graded at +6.1 as a runner, though he struggled in pass protection where he surrendered nine pressures on his 69 pass block attempts, good for a -2.6 grade.
Brandon Weeden, QB
Draft: First round, 22nd overall
Snaps/Usage: Starting quarterback for all 15 games in which he played
Notes: It was a difficult rookie season for Weeden, who graded as our worst quarterback at -30.0. There were a few positives, as his Accuracy Percentage ranked 12th in the league, though only 46.6% of his yards came through the air, second fewest in the league. With a new regime in town, Weeden’s hold on the starting job may be short-lived, but if he’s back under center next season he has to show a lot of improvement to ensure his spot as the quarterback of the future in Cleveland.
Mitchell Schwartz, RT
Draft: Second round, 37th overall
Snaps/Usage: Starting all 16 games at right tackle, missed only two offensive snaps all season
Notes: After a difficult debut that saw him grade at -4.7, Schwartz turned it around and had a fantastic season. He finished at +15.9 and his final grades are almost identical to Minnesota Vikings first-round pick Matt Kalil. They both locked down the tackle spots on our All-Rookie Team. Schwartz was much better in pass protection, as he ranked 17th in PBE, at 95.8, though he graded at -2.9 as a run blocker.
John Hughes, DT
Draft: Third round, 87th overall
Snaps/Usage: 529 snaps, played in all 16 games as part of defensive line rotation
Notes: Despite being pushed around at times in the running game, Hughes showed an ability to make plays as he ranked 17th among defensive tackles in Run Stop Percentage, at 6.9. As a pass rusher, he notched only nine pressures on his 287 rush attempts, good for a PRP of only 2.8 and a -3.1 grade.
Billy Winn, DT
Draft: Sixth round, 206th overall
Snaps/Usage: 719 snaps, played in all 16 games as part of defensive line rotation
Notes: Like Hughes, Winn was a fixture on the Browns’ defensive line rotation from Week 1. He showed well as a run stopper, grading at +5.0 with a Run Stop Percentage of 6.6. Winn had his issues as a pass rusher, where he got pressured on the quarterback on only 19 of his 432 rushes, good for a PRP of 3.6.
Josh Gordon, WR
Draft: Second round, Supplemental Draft
Snaps/Usage: 839 snaps, 549 as outside left wide receiver
Notes: The Browns will be without their second-round pick in this upcoming draft, but Gordon turned out to be the best rookie wide receiver this season. He averaged 16.1 yards on his 50 receptions to go with five touchdowns. Gordon dropped only four passes as he added a sure-handed deep threat to the Browns’ offense.
Other Browns rookies:
Fourth-round WR Travis Benjamin saw 308 snaps and caught 18 balls for 298 yards (16.6 yards/reception). Fellow fourth round linebacker James-Michael Johnson played 294 snaps and picked up 14 of his 21 tackles went for stops. In the fifth round, the Browns selected G Ryan Miller who played all 11 of his snaps in Week 17. He still managed to give up two sacks and a hurry for a -2.1 pass block grade. CB Trevin Wade was picked in the seventh round and spent all but 10 of his 201 snaps covering the slot. He gave up two touchdowns on only 10 targets and finished at -1.9 in coverage. Undrafted TE Brad Smelley saw all 26 of his snaps in the last two weeks of the season, and graded at -1.5 as a run blocker. FS Tashaun Gipson played the majority of his 377 snaps in the second half of the season, including three starts. He finished at +0.4 for the season. DT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen was yet another rookie in the defensive line rotation. He did most of his work before Week 10 and finished with only five pressures on his 104 pass rushes. LB L.J. Fort got off to a great start in a spot start in Week 1 as he came away with an interception and a pass defensed, but was relegated to mostly special teams duty the rest of the season and finished with only 98 snaps. Fellow linebacker Tank Carder graded at +2.4 on his 30 snaps. CB Johnson Bademosi played 21 of his 24 snaps in Week 11, but he made his mark on special teams where his 15 tackles tied for third in the NFL. WR Josh Cooper played 81 of his 91 snaps in the slot. He caught eight of his 16 targets for 106 yards.
Notes: After tearing his MCL in the preseason, DeCastro was thought to be done for the year but he battled back and made his debut in Week 17. In his limited time, he gave up three sacks and three hurries on his 82 pass block attempts, good for a -2.6 pass block grade.
Mike Adams, OT
Draft: Second round, 56th overall
Snaps/Usage: 496 total snaps, all at right tackle. Started six games before suffering an ankle injury that ended his season
Notes: Adams took over for RT Marcus Gilbert in Week 7. He had some positive moments, but struggled in pass protection as he gave up seven sacks, three hits and 15 hurries on his 292 pass blocks. His PBE of 92.7 ranked 61st out of the Top 72 tackles.
Other Steelers rookies:
Fifth-round running back Chris Rainey saw most of his 152 snaps in the passing game where he caught 14 balls for only 60 yards (4.3 yards/reception). He had problems with ball security as he fumbled twice and dropped four passes. Rainey also added a 26.5 average on 39 kickoff returns. He was released by the Steelers in January following an off-field incident. TE David Paulson was drafted in the seventh round and played 315 snaps in a backup role. He picked up seven receptions for 51 yards (7.3 yards/reception) and graded at -4.3 as a run blocker. Fellow seventh-rounder Kelvin Beachum took over for Adams in Week 13 and logged five starts at right tackle. He gave up 18 pressures on his 205 pass block attempts. Undrafted Will Johnson took over fullback duties this season. He played 365 snaps, picking up 15 receptions for 137 yards (9.1 yards/reception). FS Robert Golden logged 46 snaps that saw him pick up two stops and a missed tackle.
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