Rookies are simply better, or teams are making sounder selections, but the amount of first-round busts — judged by rookie-year performances — is low this season.
The top two picks have more than lived up to their lofty expectations, and many others have exceeded theirs. Several high-profile rookies who have underperformed were also hampered by injuries.
With only two weeks left in the regular season, it’s a good time to look back at the preseason Rookie Meter and see why some players that had the hype in early September won’t be found on the season’s final rankings. This also serves as a reminder that the Rookie Meter does put more weight on numbers, as we try to help predict Rookie of the Year winners, and you won’t win it without putting up the stats. Sorry, Matt Kalil.
Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon (preseason Rookie Meter rank: 7) — We knew that the quarterback concerns in Jacksonville could keep Blackmon, a prolific college receiver, from a stellar rookie season. He was the clear-cut top rookie wideout entering the season, and he is second among rookies in receptions and third in receiving yards, but Blackmon’s slow start has kept him off the meter. Through six weeks, Blackmon had only 14 catches for 126 yards. With Chad Henne at the helm, though, Blackmon has started to thrive.
Giants RB David Wilson (preseason rank: 10) — Like Blackmon, Wilson is coming on strong of late, and he had a huge game replacing Ahmad Bradshaw in Week 14. But a fumble in Week One put Wilson in the doghouse, and other rookie backs Alfred Morris and Vick Ballard have been much more productive. Wilson has shown his skills on kickoff returns and appears to have a bright future, but he is well behind the top rookie backs.
Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne (preseason rank: on the cusp) — Rarely can a defensive back haul in defensive rookie honors, and Claiborne has had a fine year, but his numbers (five passes defensed, one interception) pale in comparison to the top rookie corner, Casey Hayward. His fumble-return touchdown was his biggest play of the season, but he has had some struggles with penalties and in coverage. Expect much more from Claiborne in Year Two.
Chargers LB Melvin Ingram, Seahawks DE Bruce Irvin and Texans LB Whitney Mercilus (preseason rank: on the cusp) — These pass rushers get lumped together because limited snaps have kept their production down, but we’ve seen the talent. Ingram has started to see more playing time, but he has only half a sack and four TFLs. Early on, it appeared Irvin would try for an Aldon Smith-like season of giant sack numbers, but his production slowed. He still has eight sacks and 17 QB hits as a situational pass rusher. Mercilus has also impressed in the last few games, with six sacks on the year, but not enough to pass some of the every-down linebackers on the list.
Colts TE Coby Fleener (preseason rank: on the cusp) — Teams continue to search for the next Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, and Fleener was the top tight end in the draft and wound up paired with his college QB, Andrew Luck. Fleener missed time with injuries and fellow rookies TE Dwayne Allen and WR T.Y. Hilton have been more productive.
Patriots DE Chandler Jones, Buccaneers SS Mark Barron and Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower were also all in the preseason rookie rankings, and find themselves “on the cusp” at the end of the season. Jones was the early favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year before an ankle injury. Barron has been a hard hitter in the Bucs’ back end, but he has had limitations in coverage. Hightower is playing very well in the last couple games, but he also dealt with injuries earlier in the campaign.
A common trend with the aforementioned players is that none of them is considered bust-worthy. Injuries, limited snaps and rookie stumbles have contributed to a lack of production, and let's not forget that many of the top rookies are overachieving.
The initial list was pretty good, though (pats self on the back). Six of the top eight players in the preseason Rookie Meter are still here as we enter the final two weeks of the season.
1. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (first round, second overall)
Last week’s ranking: 1
Griffin did not play in Week 15 because of a sprained LCL, allowing Russell Wilson to close the gap.
2. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (3, 75)
Last week’s ranking: 3
Wilson completed 14-of-23 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown and had nine carries for 92 yards and three rushing touchdowns in Seattle’s win over the Bills. Wilson has the rookie lead with 21 touchdown passes.
3. Colts QB Andrew Luck (1, 1)
Last week’s ranking: 2
In the Colts’ loss to the Texans, Luck completed 13-of-27 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns. He leads rookies in passing yards by a wide margin, but also in interceptions with 18.
4. Redskins RB Alfred Morris (6, 173)
Last week’s ranking: 6
Morris had 27 carries for 87 yards and two touchdowns in Washington’s win over the Browns. He now has the rookie lead with 1,322 rushing yards at 4.7 yards a carry.
5. Buccaneers RB Doug Martin (1, 31)
Last week’s ranking: 4
Like the rest of his team, Martin had a poor game on Sunday against the Saints, rushing for only 16 yards on nine carries. He had three catches for 19 yards in the blowout loss.
6. Seahawks MLB Bobby Wagner (2, 47)
Last week’s ranking: 7
Wagner notched 12 tackles in Seattle’s blowout win over the Bills. He is third among rookies with 121 tackles.
7. Buccaneers LB Lavonte David (2, 58)
Last week’s ranking: 5
David had seven tackles and his rookie-leading 17th tackle for loss in the Buccaneers’ loss to the Saints.
8. Packers CB Casey Hayward (2, 62)
Last week’s ranking: 10
Hayward picked off his sixth pass of the season, which is tops among rookies and tied for third in the NFL. He has 25 passes defensed on the season, tied for second in the league.
9. Panthers LB Luke Kuechly (1, 9)
Last week’s ranking: 8
Kuechly had eight tackles in the Panthers’ win over the Chargers, upping his season total to 138, second in the NFL.
10. Browns RB Trent Richardson (1, 3)
Last week’s ranking: 9
Richardson had two rushing touchdowns in Cleveland’s loss to the Redskins, giving him 11 on the season, which is No. 1 among rookies. But he only had 28 yards rushing on 11 carries. Richardson needs 103 rushing yards in his final two games to get to 1,000.
On the cusp (listed alphabetically)
Buccaneers SS Mark Barron (1, 7)
Titans LB Zach Brown (2, 52)
Browns WR Josh Gordon (2, supplemental)
Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (3, 92)
Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower (1, 25)
Rams CB Janoris Jenkins (2, 39)
Patriots DE Chandler Jones (1, 21)
Vikings OLT Matt Kalil (1, 4)
Vikings S Harrison Smith (1, 29)
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (1, 8)