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Rookie Watch: Biggest disappointments

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Welcome to Around The NFL's "Rookie Watch" series, a week-by-week journey ranking this year's promising collection of first-year players.

Rookies bring hope to all 32 teams. In recent years, we've seen Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck immediately shake up the landscape on offense, while draft picks spent on J.J. Watt and Robert Quinn turned vanilla defenses into trouble for opponents.

Between now and the end of the regular season, we'll chart this year's rookie class in an effort to predict which first-year players have the best chance at long careers in our nation's finest sport.

We took a broad look at the entire class after Week 1 and Week 2, ranked the running backs after Week 3, unveiled our early picks for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year after Week 4, and examined this year's top undrafted rookies after Week 5.

After ranking the first-year quarterbacks last week, let's take a peek at some of this year's rookie disappointments.


High picks, low impact


Greg Robinson, OL, St. Louis Rams, No. 2: Playing just 10 snaps over the first five weeks of the season, Robinson has been a slow starter in St. Louis. An August report insisted the rookie's head was "spinning" after shuttling between left guard and tackle in the preseason. I'd ask why the Rams put so much on his plate. I nearly left Robinson off this list because he's started the past two games at left guard and graded well in both affairs. He's a late-bloomer -- especially for a No. 2 pick -- but continuing his strong play (and eventually taking over the bookend role) will make up for it.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland Browns, No. 8: Coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer drafted Gilbert to give Cleveland a shutdown corner across from Pro Bowl cover man Joe Haden. It hasn't worked out that way for the Browns, who essentially benched Gilbert after shaky outings against the Steelers, Saints and Ravens. Losing his job to undrafted rookie K'Waun Williams, Gilbert saw a season-low eight snaps against the Titans in Week 4 before an injury to Williams thrust the first-rounder back into the mix against the Steelers in Week 6. There's hope, as Pettine called Gilbert's handiwork against the Jaguars on Sunday some of his best play yet.

Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions, No. 10: Ebron acknowledged in July that the challenge of learning multiple roles was "killing me." By August, he was telling reporters that he'd already hit his rookie wall. After a silent September, the tight end admitted to feeling "zombified" with the neck-up process of learning an NFL offense. He's good for a quote, but the Lions need Ebron to do more. With just 10 catches for 103 yards and a score, he's averaging 33 snaps per game, a figure we expect to increase as the season goes on.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns, No. 22: We all know the story. Touted all summer as a savior in Cleveland, Johnny Football failed to secure the starting job in camp and has seen just five snaps since. With veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer holding his own prior to Sunday's meltdown in Jacksonville, Manziel has been an afterthought. It's worth noting that Pettine told reporters on Monday that the team "discussed briefly" playing the rookie against Jacksonville and wouldn't rule out giving Manziel some action against the Raiders on Sunday. With Cleveland clinging to hope in the AFC North, the rookie has a strong shot to play this month if Hoyer devolves.

Dee Ford, LB, Kansas City Chiefs, No. 23: To be fair, the Chiefs didn't need Ford to step into a starting spot off the bat. With Justin Houston and Tamba Hali ahead of him, Ford mixed special teams work with just 32 snaps over six appearances. His best game saw the first-rounder notch a pass breakup, a quarterback hit and a hurry against Miami in Week 3. With Ford seeing limited snaps as a quarterback-chaser on passing downs, position coach Gary Gibbs admitted the rookie is "in the learning process," but will "see more playing time" down the stretch.

Ford promised fans on Twitter that we'll never see his "Cowed Man Running From an Alien Visitor" act again:

Marcus Smith, LB, Philadelphia Eagles, No. 26: Like Ford, Smith has barely played. Logging just 50 snaps for the Eagles, the rookie has been slowed by a position switch from outside to inside linebacker because of an injury to Mychal Kendricks. Blowing a coverage against the 49ers that led to a touchdown, Smith has yet to earn the trust of his coaches. "I think you'd lose the rest of the guys on your team if you say, 'Why are you playing this guy? Just because we drafted him high,'" Chip Kelly said this month, per the Philadelphia Inquirer. "He has to prove that he deserves playing time."

Cyrus Kouandjio, OL, Buffalo Bills, No. 44: With fellow rookie Seantrel Henderson manning the right tackle spot, Kouandjio has yet to be activated for a game. With Doug Marrone feeling "very comfortable" with his tackle play, the second-round blocker has begun "playing some guard" in practice. Given first-team reps at right tackle after the draft, Kouandjio was immediately pushed to the second team before struggling mightily in the preseason. Marrone hinted this month that the rookie's best chance to play might come at guard down the stretch.

Hype bunnies lost in the woods


Darqueze Dennard, CB, Cincinnati Bengals, No. 24: After Marvin Lewis called Dennard "the best rookie corner I've seen," the former Michigan State star was ticketed for plenty of work in nickel and dime duty. Instead, he's played just 34 snaps over six games. Cincinnati's aging corners have played well enough to keep Dennard off the field, but Terence Newman (36) and Leon Hall (29) aren't getting any younger.

Dri Archer, RB/WR/KR, Pittsburgh Steelers, No. 97: After the runner out of Kent State was "tagged internally as a miniature version of Jamaal Charles," Archer told reporters in July that he was ticketed for a "big role" this season. Over five games, though, he's accounted for just 46 yards of total offense. We still continue to believe in his elite speed as a return man. Besides, they don't need him to play a starring role with Le'Veon Bell setting the earth on fire.

James White, RB, New England Patriots, No. 130: We stopped believing our own summertime puff pieces on White as soon as the games began. Bill Belichick cited his "ability to compete on all three downs," while Tom Brady said White "made an impression on everybody" in training camp. Looking like a plodder in the preseason, White has played just 14 snaps this autumn. With Stevan Ridley shelved, it's telling that New England opted for the undrafted Jonas Gray while deactivating White against the Jets last Thursday night.

Saved themselves from this list


Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans, No. 11: After a hyper-rocky start, Lewan is the only Titans lineman to grade positively over the past two weeks, per Pro Football Focus. Tennessee has shown enough confidence in the rookie to run heavily behind him on the left side, with the results drawing praise from coach Ken Whisenhunt.

Odell Beckham, WR, New York Giants, No. 12: After missing the first four games of the year with a nagging hamstring injury, Beckham has made amends with three strong outings. Piling up 10 grabs for 106 yards and three scores, the rookie has seen his snaps increase weekly and looms as a regular fixture with Victor Cruz shelved. The obvious takeaway here: A month off work would do us all a world of good.

Trainer's room


Jadeveon Clowney, Demarcus Lawrence, Charles Sims, Ryan Shazier, Kyle Van Noy

We can't discredit the injured. It's just a shame that fans haven't been given a chance to see Clowney paired with J.J. Watt for more than 23 snaps this season. ... Shazier was a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate before suffering a knee injury. Reports suggest the speedy linebacker will return soon for the Steelers. ... Lawrence is back at practice after missing all seven games with a foot injury and is looking "really good" as a pass-rusher for the Cowboys. ... Placed on IR-Recall with an ankle injury, Sims is projected to make his backfield debut next month for the Bucs. They loved his play over the summer. ... Abdominal surgery dropped Van Noy onto IR-Recall, but the linebacker is back at Lions practice and eligible to play in Week 10 against the Dolphins.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Week 7 game, and breaks down Peyton Manning's record-breaking night. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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