Rookie Recap: AFC South
With the AFC East and AFC North in the books, it’s time to look at the first-year players from the AFC South. Though the Houston Texans ran away with the division title, they did so with much less rookie impact than that of their division rivals. The Indianapolis Colts found their quarterback of the future to go along with some new offensive weapons, while the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans found numerous starters for their respective rebuilding projects.
Here’s a look at all of the rookies from the AFC South.
Whitney Mercilus, OLB
Draft: First round, 26th overall
Snaps/Usage: 504 snaps, including four starts at outside linebacker
Notes: With Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin already returning at outside linebacker, Mercilus had the luxury of easing into the lineup this season. He saw spot duty before picking up four starts in the second half of the year. Like Reed and Barwin, Mercilus was unable to consistently provide pressure off the edge, so don’t be fooled by his six sacks. He picked up only 21 pressures on 310 pass rushes, good for a pass rush grade of -13.7 and Pass Rushing Productivity of 6.0 (26th out of 32 qualifying 3-4 outside linebackers).
Ben Jones, G
Draft: Fourth round, 99th overall
Snaps/Usage: 703 snaps including 10 starts at right guard
Notes: The right side of the Texans’ line was their clear weakness up front and Jones was part of the problem. Though he showed some ability to seal defensive linemen and climb the second level in the running game (+0.3) he struggled in pass protection, grading at -6.2. He gave up 21 pressures on his 374 pass blocks for a Pass Blocking Efficiency of 95.3, which ranked 61st out of the top 72 guards.
Other Texans rookies:
Third-round wide receiver DeVier Posey saw the majority of his 165 snaps in the second half of the season as the Texans’ search for a viable No. 2 wide receiver continued. He picked up 87 yards on his six receptions (14.5 yards/reception) though he dropped two passes. RG Brandon Brooks saw some time in a platoon with Jones at right guard and fared better in pass protection surrendering only one pressure (a sack) on his 68 pass block attempts. Houston grabbed another wide receiver in the fourth round in Keshawn Martin. He struggled with catching the ball, as he dropped five of the catchable balls thrown his way. Fourth-round defensive end Jared Crick played 220 snaps as part of the defensive line rotation. His Run Stop Percentage of 10.9 tied for third among 34 3-4 defensive ends. Undrafted safety Eddie Pleasant saw all three of his snaps in Week 16 and he also picked up both a tackle and a missed tackle on special teams.
Andrew Luck, QB
Draft: First round, 1st overall
Snaps/Usage: Starting quarterback for all 16 games
Notes: Luck’s strong rookie season was overshadowed by record-breaking performances from fellow first-year players Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III. Still, the future is bright in Indianapolis as Luck was asked to do a lot in his first year. His 101 deep passes led the league, and his 42.6 % Accuracy Percentage ranked eighth. Luck’s +8.1 overall grade ranked 17th among all quarterbacks.
Coby Fleener, TE
Draft: Second round, 34th overall
Snaps/Usage: 461 snaps, 404 as an inline tight end
Notes: Fleener was drafted to provide a receiving threat from the tight end position, but he was targeted only 45 times on the season. He finished with 26 catches for 281 yards and two touchdowns. His 1.12 Yards Per Route Run ranked 32nd out of the 37 qualifying tight ends.
Dwayne Allen, TE
Draft: Third round, 64th overall
Snaps/Usage: 925 snaps at various tight end positions
Notes: Despite being drafted a round later than Fleener, Allen was the primary tight end, and it was well-earned as he graded second in the league at the position at +19.1. He was among the league’s best blockers, as he ranked third as a run blocker (+10.1) and second as a pass blocker (+3.6). Allen added 45 catches for 521 yards (11.6 yards per reception) and was an easy choice for our All-Rookie Team.
T.Y. Hilton, WR
Draft: Third round, 92nd overall
Snaps/Usage: 682 snaps, 426 at outside wide receiver
Notes: Hilton was one of Luck’s favorite targets, as he had 88 passes thrown his way, catching 50 for 861 yards (17.2 yards/reception) and seven touchdowns. While he did a nice job of getting open, he struggled to catch the ball — he had the third-highest Drop Rate (16.67%) of all wide receivers with at least 50 targets.
Vick Ballard, RB
Draft: Fifth round, 170th overall
Snaps/Usage: 589 snaps as team’s top running back
Notes: Ballard started so see an increased workload in Week 7 as he received at least 10 carries in all but one game from that point. He graded at +1.9 as a runner and finished eighth in the league in Elusive Rating at 38.6 with 32 of his 35 forced missed tackles coming in the running game.
Other Colts rookies:
Sixth-round wide receiver LaVon Brazill played 209 snaps, 169 of which came on the outside. He picked up 16.9 yards on 11 catches (16.9 yards/reception). Among the undrafted free agents, WR Nathan Palmer caught one pass for -4 yards on his 16 snaps, and tight end Dominique Jones saw 33 snaps and caught the only ball thrown his way for 8 yards. OT Bradley Sowell played 60 snaps at both right tackle and as an extra tight end. He surrendered five pressures on only 22 attempts for a pass block grade of -2.0.
Go to Page 2 for the Jaguars and Titans…
Justin Blackmon, WR
Draft: First round, 5th overall
Snaps/Usage: 982 snaps, 393 in the slot
Notes: Blackmon was really struggling though his rookie campaign until a Week 11 game that saw him rack up 236 receiving yards, or 27 % of his season total of 865. His second half was much improved over his first, and the Jaguars really tried to get him the ball as he was targeted at least 10 times in each of the last four games. He finished the season with 1.72 Yards Per Route Run from the slot, good for eighth in the league.
Andre Branch, DE
Draft: Second round, 38th overall
Snaps/Usage: 421 snaps, 262 at defensive right end
Notes: The Jaguars’ yearly search for an edge rusher led them to Branch, but it was a difficult start to his career. He picked up only 14 pressures on his 259 rush attempts to post a -10.5 grade as a pass rusher and a PRP of 4.5 that ranked 58th out of 62 4-3 defensive ends.
Bryan Anger, P
Draft: Third round, 70th overall
Snaps/Usage: Starting punter for all 16 games
Notes: Perhaps the most discussed selection of the 2012 draft with regards to ‘value’, the Jaguars shocked the league by picking a punter early in the third round. Draft strategy aside, Anger had a nice start to his career, ranking as our eighth-best punter at +22.0 including a net average of 41.3 that ranked ninth.
Mike Brewster, G
Draft: Undrafted free agent
Snaps/Usage: 556 snaps including seven starts at left guard
Notes: Brewster was forced into action due to injuries up front and he looked overmatched at times. He ranked dead last among the top 72 qualifying guards in PRP at 93.8, as he gave up 27 pressures on 339 pass block attempts.
Other Jaguars rookies:
Sixth-round cornerback Mike Harris saw 288 of his 538 snaps in the slot, where his 1.01 Yards Per Cover Snap ranked 14th out of the 40 qualifying slot cornerbacks. DT Jeris Pendleton played all 33 of his snaps in the last four games that saw him finish with a +1.1 grade against the run. Jacksonville saw contributions from a number of undrafted free agents. WR Kevin Elliott dropped five of the 15 catchable balls thrown his way before getting released late in the season. Fellow wide receiver Toney Clemons caught three of his nine targets for 41 yards. WR Mike Brown dropped the only pass he saw on his 13 snaps. WR Jerrell Jackson played all four of his snaps in Week 17 with little to show for it. As part of the revolving door at left guard, Austin Pasztor got the start in the last three games of the season. He showed well as a run blocker at +1.8 but surrendered eight pressures on his 166 attempts for a pass block grade of -1.0. LB Julian Stanford made the team out of training camp and rotated in for 353 snaps. He graded at -6.2 overall and -3.7 against the run. DE Ryan Davis played all 17 of his snaps in Week 5 and he picked up one pressure on his 13 pass rushes. CB Antwon Blake managed to hit the quarterback on his only pass rush of the year. He saw the field for only four snaps.
Kendall Wright, WR
Draft: First round, 20th overall
Snaps/Usage: 578 snaps, 498 at outside wide receiver
Notes: Wright was thought to be the best slot receiver in the draft, but he was used almost exclusively on the outside in his first season. He averaged only 9.8 yards on his 64 receptions, but he averaged 5.2 yards after the catch. He was used on a lot of short passes as his average depth of target was only 6. 5 yards, and 17 of his 64 catches were screens.
Zach Brown, OLB
Draft: Second round, 52nd overall
Snaps/Usage: 756 snaps, 65.9% of team total
Notes: Brown was having a strong season before hitting a bit of a lull near the end of the year, but he finished with a +2.1 overall grade. He made the best of his 60 pass rushes, as he picked up 10 pressures for a PRP of 14.6, good for seventh among 4-3 outside linebackers. He also showed well in coverage where is 0.92 Yards Per Cover Snap ranked eighth out of 31 qualifiers at the position.
Mike Martin, DT
Draft: Third round, 82nd overall
Snaps/Usage: 435 snaps, 263 at defensive left tackle in a four-man front
Notes: One of our two All-Rookie defensive tackles, Martin graded at +12.2 overall and showed well against both the run and the pass. He ranked fourth among defensive tackles in PRP at 8.5 and third in Run Stop Percentage at 10.9. After selecting Jurell Casey in 2011, it looks like the Titans have gotten another third-round steal at defensive tackle.
Other Titans rookies:
Fourth-round cornerback Coty Sensabaugh played 281 of his 319 snaps in the slot. His 1.24 Yards Per Cover Snap ranked 24th out of the top 40 qualifying slot cornerbacks. Fifth-round tight end Taylor Thompson was used as a run blocker on 173 of his 265 snaps and it was a good decision as he graded at +7.3, good for seventh best among all tight ends. DE Scott Solomon was drafted in the seventh round, and he was able to muster only four pressures on his 84 pass rush attempts. Undrafted free agent DT DaJohn Harris played 81 snaps and picked up only one pressure on his 34 rushes. TE Brandon Barden played all 23 of his snaps in Week 17. He was not targeted. RB Colin Mooney’s 10 snaps all came in Week 17 and he collected 19 yards on his five carries.
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