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Top 50 Rookies in the NFL

Ranking rookies through the mid-season
By Michael Schneid, WhatIfSports.com
November 11, 2009

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At the halfway point of the season there are still so many questions to be answered. Which teams will win certain divisions? Can anyone stop Peyton Manning - you can see our Week 10 picks for that answer. But one question we can answer has to do with rookies.

Back in April, we at WhatIfSports.com unveiled our top 100 impact rookies article which you can revisit here. This list was created with the help of our NFL simulation engine and other statistical analysis used for our preseason and weekly projections.

Now we have created a list of the top 50 rookies based on actual numbers for each player through Week 9, but ranked using the same grading system as our orginal article. Unfortunately though, due to lack of the appropriate data at this point, offensive lineman cannot be fairly judged.

Here are some interesting notes regarding comparisons between our new top 50 list and original top 100:

  • Despite the fact that many analysts say wide receiver requires a very difficult transition from college to the NFL, 13 WRs made our new top 50, the most of any position. 8 are in the top 20, yet only Percy Harvin made the cut into top 10.
  • We ranked 4 QBs in our original top 100. With Josh Freeman's most recent start, 3 QBs are now in our top 50 and the 4th, Pat White, has been used sparingly in wildcat and spread formations.
  • Top 50 sorted by draft round: 18 first rounders, ten second rounders, seven third rounders, six fourth rounders, two fifth rounders, one sixth rounder, four seventh rounders and two undrafted.
  • Of our original top 100 - five have been placed on season ending injured reserve (Bradley Fletcher, William Moore, Andre Brown, Stanley Arnoux and Cornelius Ingram) and three have been cut (Stryker Sulak, Mike Mickens and Deangelo Smith).
  • Our new top 50 does not include offensive linemen (9 were included in original top 50, 18 overall in the top 100).
  • 18 players in the top 50 were not ranked in our preseason top 100 (Mike Thomas, Sean Smith, Brian Hartline, Bradley Fletcher, Captain Munnerlyn, Pat McAfee, Bruce Johnson, Al Afalava, Glen Coffee, Roy Miller, Glover Quin, Sammie Stroughter, Jerraud Powers, Jacob Lacey, Johnny Knox, Mike Wallace, Mohamed Massaquoi and Derek Cox).
  • Including only players ranked in both lists: Louis Murphy has made the biggest jump from 82 to 17. Michael Crabtree has made the biggest fall from 1 to 44.
  • Derek Cox (9) is the highest ranked current rookie who was not originally ranked.
  • Of our new top 50, the Cowboys, Saints, Ravens, and Falcons do not have any rookies listed. Dallas drafted 12 players and after cuts and placing guys on IR now have six active. The Falcons top tw picks are on IR and the Ravens drafted an OL in the first round, so he does not qualify for the current list.
  • Teams that have the most rookies on the new list: Colts (5), Lions (4), Patriots (3), Eagles (3), Tampa Bay (3), Miami (3).

Dishonorable Mentions (notable players ranked in our top 100 who are no longer ranked):

#21. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Oakland Raiders
Darrius Heyward-Bey is part of the reason people believe WRs have such a tough transition from college to the NFL. Maybe it's the transition or maybe he is just not talented enough. Michael Crabtree has eclipsed Heyward-Bey in catches (14 to 5) just three games while DHB has played eight.

#32. Tyson Jackson, DE, Kansas City Chiefs
The #3 overall pick has made about as much of an impact as current Chiefs and former LSU teammate Glenn Dorsey who was the fifth overall pick a year ago. That impact is minimal. Jackson ranks 36th among rookies with ten solo tackles. He had only three through the first seven games - which was good enough to be tied with 49ers RB Glen Coffee for 65th among rookies - until a breakthrough performance in Week 9 in which he led the team with seven tackles. A few more games like this for Jackson will get him closer to our initial projections.

#14. BJ Raji, DT, Green Bay Packers
Our initial projections did not really account for a Raji holdout or arriving at camp out of shape. The holdout and physical issues have slowed his progression and affected his playing time. Recently, Raji has gotten on the field and is finally starting to make a bit of an impact. It may take some time (alot) for him to reach our initial rank of 14, but Raji is probably a few weeks away from cracking the top 50.

Honorable Mentions

#44. Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers
The Texas Tech product held out for 71 days and has played in just three games, but just based on his stats thus far, Crabtree still ranks in our top 50. Crabtree was our #1 impact rookie in our original projections and will not likely be #1 this year, but he has a chance to have a very fine season if he can consistently get the ball and shake defenders as he did so well in college.

#41. Pat McAfee, P, Indianapolis Colts/ #39. Kevin Huber, P, Cincinnati Bengals

Punters can have impacts too - not just skill positions. Huber was the first punter drafted in April and remains in our top 50 while McAfee has impressed and is a new addition to the rankings. Both have reached 60 yard punts at some point this year. Huber has averaged 43.7 yards, and 13 down inside the 20. He is a significant contributor to the Bengals surprising success. McAfee has averaged 43.7 yards per punt.

#33. Ryan Succop, K, Kansas City Chiefs
Mr. Irrelevant continues to remain relevant. Succop has been perfect on extra points so far, hit a 53-yard FG and missed just three FGs (78.6% accurate).

#38 Bruce Johnson, CB, New York Giants/#25 Jacob Lacey, CB, Indianapolis Colts
Both Johnson and Lacey went undrafted in April and now find themselves big time players on playoff contenders. These two are meshed together because they are the only two guys who crack our top 50 who were not drafted and they have similar stats. Both have deflected six balls and returned an interception for a touchdown. Both made the team and the lineup the same way too - injuries. Not saying they would not have ultimately earned their stripes, but injuries for the Giants and Colts secondaries played a big role in speeding up the development of Johnson and Lacey.

Here are 50-11 from the updated list:

50. Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
49. Larry English, LB, San Diego Chargers
48. Macho Harris, FS, Philadelphia Eagles
47. Mike Thomas, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
46. Sean Smith, CB, Miami Dolphins
45. Brian Hartline, WR, Miami Dolphins
44. Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
43. Bradley Fletcher, CB, St. Louis Rams
42. Captain Munnerlyn, CB, Carolina Panthers
41. Pat McAfee, P, Indianapolis Colts
40. Rey Maualuga, LB, Cincinnati Bengals
39. Kevin Huber, PT, Cincinnati Bengals
38. Bruce Johnson, CB, New York Giants
37. Darius Butler, CB, New England Patriots
36. Sherrod Martin, CB, Carolina Panthers
35. Pat Chung, S, New England Patriots
34. Al Afalava, S, Chicago Bears
33. Ryan Succop, PK, Kansas City Chiefs
32. Glen Coffee, RB, San Francisco 49ers
31. Roy Miller, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
30. Austin Collie, WR, Indianapolis Colts
29. Glover Quin, CB, Houston Texans
28. Sammie Stroughter, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
27. Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts
26. Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay Packers
25. Jacob Lacey, CB, Indianapolis Colts
24. Vontae Davis, CB, Miami Dolphins
23. Chris Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals
22. Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Detroit Lions
21. Jerraud Powers, CB, Indianapolis Colts
20. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
19. Johnny Knox, WR, Chicago Bears
18. Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans
17. Louis Murphy, WR, Oakland Raiders
16. Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
15. Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
14. DeAndre Levy, LB, Detroit Lions
13. Mohamed Massaquoi, WR, Cleveland Browns
12. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos
11. Brian Orakpo, DE, Washington Redskins

And now for the top ten:

#10. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
With Brian Westbrook banged up to start the season, McCoy has been asked to do a lot more early on than anyone probably expected. McCoy has 348 yards and two TDs on the ground - the second most yards among rookies. In last week's game, he had 18 touches for 115 yards.
Projected Final Stats: 768 total yards, 5 TDs

#9. Derek Cox, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Cox has seeminlgy come out of nowhere and wasn't even ranked in our top 100 originally. He has two INTs and eight passes deflected - not bad for a third round pick out of William & Mary. Cox is also fourth on his team with 40 combined tackles.
Projected Final Stats: 72 total tackles, 4 INTs

#8. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
Stafford was the #1 overall pick in April and, despite putting up Harrington-esque numbers, has still performed admirably. Recent rookie QBs don't make Stafford look like a great success, but guys like Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, and even Mark Sanchez have inherited good teams. Stafford inherits arguably the NFL's worst team of all time. Stafford ranked second behind Crabtree and just above Sanchez in April. The rookie QB does not have a lot to work with and has missed one game due to injury as has his number one weapon Calvin Johnson. The running game has also been non-existent all year as well. However, Stafford has led the Lions to one win - one more than last year - so he definitely deserves a spot in the top ten.
Projected Final Stats: 2,760 yards, 13 TDs, 22 INTs

#7. Aaron Curry, LB, Seattle Seahawks
Curry has been a monster and a huge weapon for a Seahawks defense that has been banged up all year. He already has two sacks and two forced fumbles. Playing along side Lofa Tatupa helped for a while, but now with Tatupa out and Seattle struggling, Curry will have even more pressure on him the second half of the year.
Projected Final Stats: 86 total tackles, 4 sacks

#6. Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Harvin is someone we couldn't quite figure out when we first did our projections. Despite being ranked fourth, Harvin was a WR and RB in our simulations and we also expected him to get some wildcat snaps. Well this was before the Vikings settled on a good quarterback. That quarterback hasn't struggled like we did to find ways to best utilize Harvin who has become a top third-down target and is an excellent kick returner with his electrifying breakaway speed.
Projected Final Stats: 806 yards from scrimmage, 9 TDs

#5. Louis Delmas, S, Detroit Lions
We had Delmas in our top 10 (#10) the first time around and now he is even higher. Not bad for the 33rd overall pick the only one in our original top 10 not drafted in first round. Delmas has 1 sack and a fumble recovery for a TD along with third most tackles among rookies (37 solo).
Projected Final Stats: 87 total tackles, 3 INTs, 2 sacks

#4. Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets
We have seen the best of Mark Sanchez; we have seen the worst of Mark Sanchez. Now its time to see a consistent Mark Sanchez. Sanchez has thrown 8 TD and 10 INT. The addition of Braylon Edwards and having a bye week this past week should give Sanchez a great opportunity to improve in teh second half of the year. Not having the ability to check down to Leon Washington (out for the year) will hurt, but Sanchez is well equipped with all the physical and mental tools to be an NFL QB. No matter what he does on the field, it's better than watching Sanchez eat hot dogs on the sidelines or pose like the "Hoff" in GQ magazine.
Projected Final Stats: 2,864 yards, 17 TDs, 18 INTs

#3. James Laurinaitis, MLB, St. Louis Rams
Despite not yet getting his first sack, Laurinaitis has been one of the few bright spots on one of the NFL's worst teams. The former Buckeye with plenty of big game experience will be looked upon as a leader for year's to come in Steve Spagnuolo's defense. For now, Laurinaitis ranks in the top 30 in the NFL in tackles and second among rookies.
Projected Final Stats: 105 total tackles, 4 INTs, 1 sack

#2. Jairus Byrd, FS, Buffalo Bills
Byrd was ranked #35 originally and wasn't expected to play much, but with an injury riddled secondary, Byrd has taken advantage of playing time to pick off seven passes and deflect another nine. The seven INTs are enough to have Byrd tied for the league lead with Darren Sharper.
Projected Final Stats: 40 total tackles, 10 INTs

#1. Brian Cushing, OLB, Houston Texans
Cushing was the first USC linebacker off the board (with Clay Matthews, Rey Mauluga and Kaluka Maiava to follow). Cushing has certainly lived up to his draft position and has helped a resurgent Texans defense. Cushing leads all rookies with 78 combined tackles and trails only Curtis Lofton among the entire NFL in tackles. Cushing has 22 more tackles than the next rookie. He has also recorded 1.5 sacks, two INT, a safety, eight passes deflected and two forced fumbles.
Projected Final Stats: 118 total tackles, 3 INTs, 4 sacks

Michael Schneid is the Marketing Director for WhatIfSports.com, a division of FOX Sports Interactive. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Mike can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!

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