Rookie Riser Watch List

Steve Palazzolo looks at the rookies who are finding stride in the season's second half.

| 3 years ago

Rookie Riser Watch List

2014-rookie-risersAt 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
Since: +0.9
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
Since: +8.8
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
Since: +3.2
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
Since: +3.7
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
Since: +2.6
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
Since: +14.7
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
Since: +2.0
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.


Follow Steve on Twitter: @PFF_Steve

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Voidhelix


    • wva88

      He really can’t be considered a “riser” since he was playing at a high level from basically his first snap.

      • Voidhelix

        He can, because in his last game against the Jags, Martin had his best game of the year. Zero pressure allowed, 2nd level blocks. He`s improved each and every game. All-pro caliber.

        • Jacob B.

          He is not a late bloomer, he has been All-Pro level since day one. He does not belong on a list of rookies who are just starting to figure it out.

  • bigredr

    Nobody believes in PFF anymore. Chris Borland’s stats are a really good example of why. He’s playing well, but he’s not playing better than any linebacker in the history of the NFL, which is what his PFF ratings suggest. I won’t be renewing my account next year.

    • Yonatan Bogale

      If you regret your account I can take over. I can shoulder that burden for you 😛

    • Hannah Hayes

      PFF watched every single play of Borland, documented every snap, accounted for every stat, and even doled out a grade based on the accumulation of his play-by-play performance.

      You disagree with their documented and heavily researched assessment, and you offer a rebuttal of what equates to “Nah-uh!”.

      Solid argument, bro.

      • Voidhelix


      • ae;rljgdk

        Ahh yes another “PFF watches way more football than you do” argument. You know what? So does Mel Kiper.

        • Hannah Hayes

          Completely irrelevant, but cool story, bro. Tell it again.

      • Izach

        While both of you are somewhat right, PFF is a bit off with grades but that’s simply a results of not knowing actual play calls and only grading based off results and keeping all aspects of a players game equal, they aren’t “WRONG” per say, but they are off depending on how you grade.

  • Dylan Owens

    No love for Jarvis Landry?

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    • CountMahdrof

      Nah, he’s a Dolphin

      • Dylan Owens

        Oh right. Yeah, I guess that makes sense.

  • a57se

    OK, where is Odell beckham???

  • rml

    Derek Carr is having the best year of any of the rookie QB’s. Why don’t we hear anything about him?

  • DLane