Rookie Riser Watch List
At the end of last season, I highlighted some rookies that showed improvement during the second half of the season, so it’s time to look at this year’s rookie class to see if there are any prime candidates to make this year’s list. Many rookies take time to get acclimated to the NFL, and while first impressions are tough to overcome sometimes, the “late” bloomers can prove quite valuable.
I use “late” very loosely here as Year 1 is certainly not the time to make a definitive judgment about a player, but it’s always encouraging to see players overcome slow starts to make an impact in their first season. Here’s a watch list of sorts of players to keep an eye on during the second half of the season, some of which have already started to turn the corner.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings
First eight Weeks: -7.0
Breakdown: Bridgewater has settled down in recent weeks, even if the big plays have been lacking, he’s avoided the big mistake for the most part (end of the game against the Bears notwithstanding).
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
First eight Weeks: +1.6
Breakdown: The rookie wide receivers have gotten quite a bit of hype and Evans might be at the top of the class. He’s coming off three straight positive grades including a 209-yard effort last week.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
First eight Weeks: +0.8
Breakdown: Hill has seen an increase in workload the last few weeks, going over 20 carries and 150 yards in two of his last three games. Even with Giovani Bernard in the mix, expect Hill to get plenty of opportunities to show his worth during the stretch run.
Dominique Easley, 3-4 DE, New England Patriots
First eight Weeks: -6.8
Breakdown: Given his knee injury last season, Easley was a prime candidate for this list coming into the season. He started off slow, likely due to both the injury and some scheme adjustments, but he’s started to flash the first-step quickness that made him a first-round talent. His second-half emergence could be a big story for a New England team that has lacked an interior pass rushing presence for years.
Trent Murphy, 3-4 OLB, Washington Redskins
First eight Weeks: -0.4
Breakdown: With Brian Orakpo going down for the season, Murphy was thrust into the starting lineup three weeks ago where he’s shown well against both the run and as a pass rusher. If he keeps up the strong play, he’ll be a prime candidate for the most-improved list given his increase in playing time.
Chris Borland, ILB, San Francisco 49ers
First eight Weeks: +1.2, 91 snaps
Breakdown: It’s not easy to amass +15.9 grade on only 270 snaps at inside linebacker, and it’s also not easy earning man-crush status from Sam Monson. But Borland has defied the odds on both counts and he looks like a mid-round steal for the 49ers to this point, and at a position of dire need.
K’Waun Williams, CB, Cleveland Browns
First eight Weeks: +2.8, 87 snaps
Breakdown: Certainly a longshot for this list, Williams has seen an increase in playing time in recent weeks. It’s too early for broad declarations, but Williams has made the most of his time and his pass breakup on a well-thrown deep ball by Ryan Mallett last weekend was a thing of beauty.
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