Rookie Recap: NFC South
Our Rookie Recap series takes us to the NFC South where the Atlanta Falcons ran away with the division crown, while the other three teams sported identical 7-9 records. Atlanta did their damage without much help from their rookie class, as they combined for just 83 offensive and defensive snaps, save for Peter Konz who started 10 games at guard. The Carolina Panthers found three starters in the draft, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked up four cornerstone players for their rebuilding efforts. The New Orleans Saints were hamstrung by previous trades, as well as “BountyGate” punishment, so their limited lot of picks was likely a big reason for their regression.
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, NFC North.
Here’s a breakdown of every rookie in the NFC South.
Notes: The only Falcons draft pick to see significant snaps, Konz was overwhelmed at times during his rookie season. He graded at -12.7 overall as he moved to right guard after playing center in college. He allowed 25 pressures on his 406 pass block attempts, good for a -10.5 grade and Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) of 95.1 that ranked 65th among guards.
Other Falcons rookies:
Third-round offensive tackle Lamar Holmes played all seven of his snaps as an extra tight end in Week 15. Fifth-round defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi rushed the passer on 20 of his 27 snaps, with only one hurry to show for it. Week 15 was the only time sixth-round safety Charles Mitchell saw action as well, as he played two snaps at free safety. Seventh-round defensive tackle Travian Robertson saw the field for 47 plays and notched two pressures on his 24 pass rush attempts.
Notes: The season started slowly for Kuechly, who played weakside linebacker the first four games, but a shift to the middle proved to be a good decision and he finished at +5.2 overall for the year. He was fantastic against the run as he graded at +8.8 and notched a Run Stop Percentage of 13.4 while playing middle linebacker, good for fourth at the position. Though he was expected to become an impact player against the pass, Kuechly graded at only -4.0 in coverage, with five of his 11 missed tackles coming in the passing game.
Amini Silatolu, OG
Draft: Second round, 40th overall
Snaps/Usage: Started 15 games at left guard
Notes: It was not a good showing for Silatolu for much of the season, though he finished strong before missing the last game of the year. His -16.8 overall grade ranked 77th out of the top 81 guards, while his -11.4 pass block grade ranked 78th. He surrendered 31 pressures on his 485 pass block attempts for a PBE of 95.0 that ranked 67th out of the Top 72 qualifiers at the position. He graded at -2.3 in the running game, though three straight positive grades to finish the year are more in line with his scouting report as a mauler coming out of Midwestern State.
Frank Alexander, DE
Draft: Fourth round, 103rd overall
Snaps/Usage: 562 snaps, 317 at defensive right end on a four man line
Notes: Alexander rushed the passer on 64% of his snaps and finished with a +1.5 grade as a pass rusher. He notched 35 pressures on his 360 rushes for a Pass Rush Productivity (PRP) of 7.8 that ranked 26th among 4-3 defensive ends. Alexander struggled against the run where he graded at -7.2.
Josh Norman, CB
Draft: Fifth round, 143rd overall
Snaps/Usage: 788 snaps, 710 at RCB
Notes: Norman started the first 13 games at RCB and finished at -6.9 overall for the season. His 1.50 Yards/Cover Snap ranked 93rd out of the Top 116 cornerbacks and he missed a tackle once every 6.7 attempts, a mark that ranked 86th at the position.
Other Panthers rookies:
Though he played only 22 snaps on offense, fourth-round wide receiver Joe Adams averaged 11.5 yards on 11 punt returns and 23.1 yards on nine kick returns. Sixth-round punter Josh Nortman ranked 29th at the position with a +5.4 overall grade. Seventh-round safety D.J. Campbell started the last four games of the season and graded at -1.3 overall. Undrafted defensive tackle Nate Chandler played 135 snaps and picked up four pressures on his 85 pass rushes for a +0.4 pass rush grade.
Click below for the Saints and Bucs…
New Orleans Saints
Notes: The Saints did not have a draft pick until late in the third round, so Hicks was their highest selection in 2012. He showed a well-rounded game as he graded at +5.1 overall on the season, including +1.3 as a pass rusher and +1.4 against the run. Hicks picked up 10 pressures on his 189 rush attempts for a PRP of 4.3 and his Run Stop Percentage of 6.9 tied for 30th among the top 82 qualifiers at defensive tackle.
Corey White, CB
Draft: Fifth round, 162nd overall
Snaps/Usage: 529 snaps, 347 in the slot
Notes: White played nine games as the Saints’ slot cornerback, but he took his lumps in the role. His 2.15 Yards/Cover Snap in the slot was the highest in the league and despite missing seven games, his 335 yards surrendered were fourth-most at the position. He also struggled against the run to the tune of a -5.8 grade. Despite the poor numbers, White showed some improvement before going down to injury as he graded at +3.4 over his last three games, so he may have been on his way to a strong second half.
Other Saints rookies:
No other Saints draft picks saw the field this season. Undrafted offensive tackle Bryce Harris played all 45 snaps in Weeks 11 and 12 and finished with a +0.9 grade. Undrafted running back Travaris Cadet ran pass routes on 23 of his 30 snaps and picked up five receptions for 44 yards on his eight targets.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Notes: Barron stepped right into the starting lineup at safety and while he graded at -4.9 overall, there were some positives to his game. He graded at +2.8 against the run and ranked 15th among safeties with a Run Stop Percentage of 8.5. Barron’s issues came in coverage where he graded at -6.8 and nine of his 13 missed tackles came in the passing game. He missed one out of every 7.8 tackle attempts, a mark that ranked 50th out of the top 87 safeties.
Doug Martin, RB
Draft: First round, 31st overall
Snaps/Usage: 841 snaps as starting running back
Notes: Martin nearly edged Washington Redskins RB Alfred Morris for the running back spot on our All-Rookie Team, and not many would have argued if Martin had gotten the nod. He graded at +12.6 overall and ranked third in Elusive Rating at 58.2. His 1,454 rushing yards were fifth-most in the league, while his 53 forced missed tackles tied for fourth. Martin was a weapon in the passing game with 472 yards on 49 catches, though he did have a four-game stretch that saw him drop six passes.
Lavonte David, OLB
Draft: Second round, 58th overall
Snaps/Usage: 1,090 snaps as starting weakside linebacker for all 16 games
Notes: David was our No. 5 4-3 outside linebacker grading at +10.2, including the fourth-highest grade against the run at +8.1. His Run Stop Percentage of 14.7 dwarfed the rest of the outside linebacker field and his 51 run stops were eight more than the next closest competitor. He showed well in coverage as well, as he graded at +3.0 and allowed only 0.94 Yards/Cover Snap, good for sixth at the position.
Leonard Johnson, CB
Snaps/Usage: 594 snaps, 433 at LCB
Notes: Johnson didn’t see his first extended action until Week 8, but he became a mainstay in the Tampa Bay secondary as he graded at +3.8 in coverage. He did allow 1.50 Yards/Cover Snap to rank 67th among cornerbacks, but that was more the product of two 80-yard plays that skewed the numbers a bit. If he can avoid those blunders, Johnson looks like a solid pickup as an undrafted free agent.
Other Buccaneers rookies:
Fifth-round linebacker Najee Goode played all three of his defensive snaps in Week 17, and sixth-round cornerback Keith Tandy saw all seven of his snaps in the same game. Undrafted free agent wide receiver Chris Owusu caught one of the three balls thrown his way for 24 yards, while undrafted free agent WR David Douglas was not targeted on his six snaps. Undrafted tight end Danny Noble was used as a run blocker on six of his seven snaps.
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