Rookie Recap: NFC North
Only three divisions remain in our Rookie Recap series, and today’s focus is the NFC North. The Green Bay Packers spent the majority of their draft picks on the defensive side of the ball and they got major contributions from a number of first-year defensive players. The Minnesota Vikings may have gotten the division’s best immediate return on their rookie investments, as they shored up some major weaknesses on their way to reaching the playoffs. On the other side of the division, the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions had rookie classes filled with limited roles and injured players so their 2012 draft grades are still a work in progress.
Be sure to check out our PFF Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie Team which are both good reference points for the best rookie performances of the season — and check out the rest of our recap series: AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, NFC East.
In the meantime, let’s see how the NFC North’s rookie class shaped up.
Notes: McClellin was thought to be more of a 3-4 outside linebacker prospect coming out of Boise State, but the Bears put him at defensive end and threw him into the mix as a sub-package pass rusher. He had moderate success as he graded at -2.8 as a pass rusher with 29 pressures on his 268 rush attempts. His 8.8 Pass Rush Productivity ranked 27th out of the top 62 qualifiers at 4-3 defensive end.
Alshon Jeffery, WR
Draft: Second round, 45th overall
Snaps/Usage: 445 snaps, 400 at outside wide receiver
Notes: After a strong start, Jeffery was sidelined by injury in the middle of the season before returning to play the final four games. He finished the year with 367 yards on 24 catches (15.3 yards/reception) to go with three touchdowns and only two drops. The Bears really tried to incorporate Jeffery into the deep passing game as 17 of his 48 targets came beyond 20 yards. He caught five of the deep balls for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Jeffery also picked up four penalties on the season, including a disastrous three-penalty game against the Packers in Week 15.
Other Bears rookies:
Fourth-round fullback Evan Rodriguez was targeted only six times with four catches for 21 yards to show for it, but he graded at +2.8 as a run blocker. The only other rookie to see significant time was guard James Brown who saw action in the last five games of the season, including three starts at left guard to finish the year. He showed well with the exception of a difficult game against the Packers in Week 15 where he graded at -7.4. He finished at -6.3 overall for the season.
Notes: With two veteran returning starters at both tackle spots, Reiff was eased into the action as a blocking tight end for much of the season. He did fill in for LT Jeff Backus in a relief role in Week 11 and then in a spot start the following week, but those two games represented the worst of Reiff’s season as he graded at -4.7 over the two-week stretch. For the year, he graded at +6.3 overall, including +6.4 in the running game as he took advantage of being the sixth offensive lineman on the field throughout the season.
Ryan Broyles, WR
Draft: Second round, 54th overall
Snaps/Usage: 284 snaps, 184 in the slot
Notes: Broyles was thought to be more of a mid-round option due to a knee injury suffered during his senior season, but the Lions pounced on him in the second round. He played more than 36 snaps in a game only once as he logged 81 against the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving on his way to picking up a career-high 126 receiving yards. For the year, Broyles caught 22 of his 30 targets for 310 yards (14.1 yards/reception) including 7.2 YAC/reception.
Jonte Green, CB
Draft: Sixth round, 196th overall
Snaps/Usage: 408 snaps, 269 at RCB
Notes: Green made his first start in Week 4 and showed well at times before tapering off and finishing the season with an average 0.0 overall grade. His 1.23 Yards/Cover Snap ranked right in the middle of the pack and opponents had a QB Rating of 117.2 when throwing into his coverage.
Other Lions rookies:
Third-round cornerback Dwight Bentley was limited to only four games that saw him miss five tackles and commit five penalties on his 177 snaps. Fourth rounder Ronnell Lewis saw his only defensive snap at defensive end in Week 4. He added three special teams tackles on the season. Seventh-round linebacker Travis Lewis picked up a tackle on his three defensive snaps.
Click below for the Packers and Vikings
Green Bay Packers
Notes: Perry was drafted to provide a pass rushing threat opposite OLB Clay Matthews and he stepped right into the starting lineup at LOLB in Week 1. After a tough debut that saw him grade at -5.7, he moved into more of a situational pass rushing role where he showed improvement before going down for the season in Week 6. He finished with 10 pressures on his 106 pass rushes for a respectable PRP of 8.1.
Jerel Worthy, DE
Draft: Second round, 51st overall
Snaps/Usage: 467 snaps, 314 rushing the passer
Notes: Worthy’s main job was to get after the quarterback, though he did not provide a lot of production on his 314 pass rushes. He picked up only nine pressures for a -9.1 pass rush grade and a PRP of 2.6 that ranked 26th out of the top 30 3-4 defensive ends.
Casey Hayward, CB
Draft: Second round, 62nd overall
Snaps/Usage: 703 snaps, 483 in the slot
Notes: Our Defensive Rookie of the Year, Hayward looks like a steal after being chosen late in the second round. He was second among all cornerbacks with a +19.4 coverage grade and his 12 passes defensed also tied for second at the position. Hayward’s 0.96 Yards/Cover Snap tied for eighth among all cornerbacks, and his 0.75 mark when lined up in the slot ranked third.
Jerron McMillian, FS
Draft: Fourth round, 133rd overall
Snaps/Usage: 610 snaps, mostly as an extra defensive back in sub packages
Notes: McMillian came out on fire with big games at the start of the season before tapering off and finishing with a +1.9 grade for the season. He was targeted in coverage 34 times, allowing 21 receptions for 266 yards with four passes defensed.
Dezman Moses, OLB
Draft: Undrafted Free Agent
Snaps/Usage: 445 snaps, 196 at ROLB
Notes: After playing sporadically early in the season, Moses filled in for Matthews for four games at ROLB in the middle of the year before spending time at the revolving door that was the LOLB position late in the season. Moses finished at –13.4 overall, including -6.9 as a pass rusher. His 17 pressures on 229 rush attempts netted him a PRP of 6.5 that ranked 24th out of the top 32 qualifiers at 3-4 outside linebacker.
Other Packers rookies:
Fourth-round defensive end Mike Daniels showed well as a pass rusher as he graded at +1.0 with 10 pressures on his 146 rush attempts. Undrafted offensive tackle Don Barclay got the nod for four starts at right tackle and graded at -6.0 as a pass blocker surrendering 20 pressures on his 197 pass block attempts. WR Jarrett Boykin was yet another undrafted player to see time on offense. He caught five of the six balls thrown his way for 27 yards. Undrafted guard Greg Van Roten spent 16 of his 18 snaps as a run blocker. The other undrafted free agent to see the field was FS Sean Richardson who played 15 of his 16 snaps in Week 11 against Detroit.
Notes: Kalil was exactly what the Vikings hoped when they took him with the fourth overall pick as he provided stellar pass protection while showing signs of life late in the season as a run blocker. He allowed only 23 pressures on his 583 pass block attempts, good for a +15.5 grade and Pass Blocking Efficiency of 96.8 that ranked sixth among offensive tackles. His two worst games in pass protection came against the Bears in Weeks 12 and 14.
Harrison Smith, FS
Draft: First round, 29th overall
Snaps/Usage: 1068 snaps, 874 at FS
Notes: The Vikings moved back into the first round in order to select Smith and he did a nice job of solidifying the back end of their defense. His +10.5 coverage grade ranked sixth among safeties, while his six passes defensed tied for fifth. Smith graded at -3.4 against the run as eight of his 12 missed tackles came in the running game.
Josh Robinson, CB
Draft: Third round, 66th overall
Snaps/Usage: 651 snaps, 563 at LCB
Notes: Robinson was in and out of the starting lineup throughout the year, but he saw time in all 16 games. His –12.6 coverage grade was the worst among cornerbacks, and he surrendered six touchdowns which tied for fifth most at the position. If there was a positive, Robinson did a nice job of avoiding the big play as he allowed only 9.2 yards/reception, seventh-lowest among cornerbacks.
Blair Walsh, K
Draft: Sixth round, 175th overall
Snaps/Usage: Starting kicker
Notes: Our top rated kicker, Walsh showed a dominant leg as he hit all 10 of his field goals beyond 50 yards and seven of nine in the 40-50 yard range. He was a weapon on kickoffs as well, as his 70.4 average ranked second in the league.
Other Vikings rookies:
Fourth-round fullback Rhett Ellison played a key role in MVP Adrian Peterson’s monster season, as he graded at +8.8 as a run blocker while lining up at a variety of positions. Fourth-round wide receiver Jarius Wright caught 22 of the 36 balls thrown his way for 310 yards including two plays of more than 50 yards. Fifth rounder Robert Blanton played 56 of his 59 snaps in Week 5 as he filled in at safety. He graded at +0.9 on the year. Seventh-round linebacker Audie Cole’s one snap also came in Week 5.
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