Looking at the 7 rookies to crack the 2016 Top 101

Senior Analyst Sam Monson looks at the 2016 rookie class, one of the strongest in a decade.

| 3 months ago
Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Looking at the 7 rookies to crack the 2016 Top 101

The immediate impact of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott for the Dallas Cowboys was one of the stories of the 2016 season, but a glance at the Top 101 this season shows the impact of the rookie class went far beyond that.

In fact, the 2016 draft class tied the record for the most rookies to appear on PFF’s top 101 list, with seven. That actually beat the fabled 2011 draft class (featuring J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Tyron Smith, Cam Newton etc.) which had six players make the 101, and tied 2012 for the most we have seen since starting this list back in 2010.

This rookie class may not go on to match the 2011 class overall, as seven of the first eight picks in that class — and 12 of the first 16 — have made the Pro Bowl so far in their NFL careers, but for immediate impact it has seen a lot of high quality players emerge already.

Here are the rookies to make the PFF 101 list each year:

2010 (four)

  • Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland Browns
  • Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
  • Devin McCourty, CB, New England Patriots
  • Ndamukong Suh, DI, Detroit Lions

2011 (six)

  • Von Miller, EDGE, Denver Broncos
  • J. Watt, DI, Houston Texans
  • Tyron Smith, T, Dallas Cowboys
  • Aldon Smith, EDGE, San Francisco 49ers
  • Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
  • Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks

2012 (seven)

  • Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
  • Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
  • Casey Hayward, CB, Green Bay Packers
  • Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks
  • Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Blair Walsh, K, Minnesota Vikings

2013 (five)

  • Larry Warford, G, Detroit Lions
  • Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
  • Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta Falcons
  • Sheldon Richardson, DI, New York Jets
  • Tyrann Mathieu, CB, Arizona Cardinals

2014 (three)

  • Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
  • Aaron Donald, DI, St Louis Rams
  • Khalil Mack, EDGE, Oakland Raiders

2015 (one)

  • Ronald Darby, CB, Buffalo Bills

2016 (seven)

  • Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

One of the stories of the season, Prescott played well enough at QB to do the unthinkable and take Tony Romo’s job from him as he recovered from injury, a scenario that Jerry Jones maintained was not possible for much of the season, and Elliott was the NFL’s rushing champion by more than 300 yards.

  • Joey Bosa, San Diego Chargers

Bosa took a while to get on the field, between contract dispute and then injury, but when he did he looked like one of the league’s most impactful defenders straight out of the box. Bosa was generating pressure at a rate we haven’t seen from a rookie in his first season over the past decade of grading, and ended the season with double-digit sacks and 59 total pressures despite only playing what amounts to 11.5 games.

(Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

  • Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans

Conklin was a run-blocking monster at Michigan State, but was expected to struggle significantly as a pass-blocker in his first season in the league. Tennessee gives their offensive linemen more help than most teams in that regard, but Conklin dramatically surpassed expectations in that regard and often didn’t need the help that was potentially there for him. It took him until Week 11 to allow his first sack of the season, and he didn’t allow a sack or hit on the QB in 13 of his 16 games.

  • Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

Given the line Elliott was running behind, and the extra time he had as the starter, there’s a case to be made that Howard – at least carrying the ball – was every bit as impressive in his first season. Elliott was the league’s rushing champion, but Howard was second despite not starting until Week 4. He racked up 1,246 rushing yards from Week 4 onward, scoring six times on the ground and averaging 3.0 yards per carry after first contact, and fumbling the ball just once to Elliott’s five over the year.

  • Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

Thomas is a case study in how a team can get a playmaker on the field even if he isn’t ready to master every aspect of his job. Early in the season the Saints had Thomas running primarily just two routes – slants and hitches – but they were still feeding him the ball and making use of what he could do, not using what he couldn’t as an excuse to keep him off the field (a lesson the Minnesota Vikings could learn from with Laquon Treadwell). Thomas ended the year with 1,137 yards, nine touchdowns and 20 broken tackles, the fourth-most among wide receivers after the catch.

  • Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

Hill was a playmaker for the Chiefs this season, who started to get him involved in all areas they could to make use of his electrifying pace and ability to score any time he touched the ball. Hill notched touchdowns as a punt returner, kick returner, receiver and running back out of the backfield during his rookie year, and changed the outcome of multiple games with those big-time plays.

This rookie class may not be as deep or dominant overall as 2011, but in terms of immediate high-end impact it has been the match for any class we have seen dating back to 2010.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.


    Dak is so overrated. Everyone will see this soon.

    • dlund6cutler

      Jordan Howard is underrated. Everyone will see that soon.

      • crosseyedlemon

        It would help if the Bears improved their time of possession which was next to worst in 2016.

        • dlund6cutler

          Oh yeah, we were horrible at that this season.

    • Blaze Gunn

      He’ll improve so i’m not sure how everyone will see he’s overrated… Whether he is or isn’t his Offense is too good for you to tell

    • jackie

      he is just the opposite underrated in a system that failed this young man he lost money being a 4th round pick then selected by Cowboys playing with Tony Romo standing to take the job back, and somehow this screams overrated, but the paying public watching weekly bad QB and no one is running them away or forcing them to sit because they are white is a good thing. Face facts the scouts were wrong but not now they always are wrong judging what someone can do, if you’re such a great talent and Dak is gonna be a failure who may I ask
      was better ROOKIE QB and your projected sophomore QB from 2016?

      • PKLIP

        He is a product of the system, you will see.

  • http://gomadden.com GoMadden

    Where’s the snippet for the 7th player? I’m assuming Ramsey?

    • Delevie

      They combined Dak and Zek for their write up.

  • Andre Taylor

    The comment that dak is overrated is by far the stupidest comment ive seen in a long time. If you know anything about football, you would have seen how truly impressive his season was. He outplayed almost all of the quarterbacks he faced, and went toe to toe with Aaron Rodgers in the playoff game. Dallas had those same lineman and a 100 yard rush the year before and went 4-12. So instead of hating and sounded dumb as a bag of rocks, and try learning the game.