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Rookie Watch: Biggest surprises, disappointments

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  • By Around the NFL staff
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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.

This week we're doing something different.

With the stretch run set to ignite, we've asked Around The NFL's roomful of heroes to name their Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year choices, along with their biggest rookie surprises and disappointments to date.

Let's dive in, shall we?

Offensive Rookie of the Year


Gregg Rosenthal's pick: Mike Evans. I'll take a short period of absolute dominance over year-long consistency. Evans' season started slowly and he missed a game with injury, but he's on a torrid run with over 455 yards in his last three games alone. He's quickly made Vincent Jackson the second best deep threat on the Bucs.

Chris Wesseling's pick: Mike Evans. No rookie in NFL history has matched Evans' streak of three straight games with at least seven receptions, 100 yards and one touchdown. Sammy Watkins has been too inconsistent, and Kelvin Benjamin's production has been overly reliant on garbage time. I still believe Odell Beckham has the brightest future of the rookie wideouts.

Kevin Patra's pick: John Brown. Other rookie receivers have put up killer numbers and all are worth a nod. They're also on losing teams. I'll take the kid on the team with the NFL's best record, who has made game-winning plays. Four game-winning touchdowns.

Marc Sessler's pick: Sammy Watkins. Odell Beckham might be the better long-term player and Evans has been white-hot, but I'm sticking with Watkins. With 20 more targets than the next Bills wideout, Watkins has churned out his share of monster weeks despite battling through a string of nagging injuries and a quarterback change. 

Dan Hanzus' pick: Mike Evans. The Buccaneers wide receiver moved to the front of this list after Sunday's monster game against the Redskins. Not only has Evans developed at lightning speed, he's actually displaced Vincent Jackson as the team's No. 1 option. If the Bucs finish strong, Evans will be a major reason why.

Defensive Rookie of the Year


Gregg Rosenthal's pick: Chris Borland. I'm projecting here, but Borland absolutely deserves the award if he continues his torrid pace for the last six weeks of the season. He's been one of the most dominant defensive players in the league at any position since he took over. Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr and C.J. Mosley are all great picks, but Borland has made the biggest impact, albeit in limited starts.

Chris Wesseling's pick: C.J. Mosley. Every-down player and leading tackler on a stout Ravens defense. He has no weaknesses in his game. Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr and Aaron Donald are also strong candidates.

Kevin Patra's pick: Khalil Mack. Despite sitting on a winless team, Mack has been an absolute beast. He has just one sack, but his run defense has been outlandish. This is a player that will dominate for years to come. If he can put on performances like this consistently with the group he's playing with, imagine if he had other playmakers around him?

Marc Sessler's pick: C.J. Mosley. The Ravens plugged him as a starter in August and never looked back. He's been an absolute rock against the run with a knack for making plays in coverage. Inside linebackers don't pile up the sexy numbers, but Mosley has been as central to his defense as any rookie around.

Dan Hanzus' pick: Anthony Barr. The No. 9 overall pick has made an immediate impact with his ability to get to the quarterback, stuff the run and hold his own in coverage. Barr's signature play came in overtime against the Bucs, when he forced and recovered a fumble, then ran it in for a dramatic game-ending score.

Biggest Rookie Surprise


Gregg Rosenthal's pick: The Raiders' draft class. Everyone that put Khalil Mack No. 1 on their big board looks smart now. He's a Pro Bowl candidate. Derek Carr has showed enough potential to believe he's a keeper. Guard Gabe Jackson, defensive tackle Justin Ellis, and cornerback T.J. Carrie all look like solid role players. Reggie McKenzie left the next Raiders general manager a going away present.

Chris Wesseling's pick: Chris Borland and Aaron Lynch. It's not hyperbole to suggest that Borland has actually been an upgrade on five-time first-team All-Pro Patrick Willis over the past three weeks. He's been the most productive inside linebacker in the NFL. Lynch has been a revelation on the outside, sending veteran Ahmad Brooks to the bench.

Kevin Patra's pick: Chris Borland. Some of us loved this pick on draft day -- yes, yes I went there. Still I never thought it'd happen this quickly, nor at the dominant level he's played the past three weeks.

Marc Sessler's pick: The Ghost of Manziel. Johnny Manziel has attempted one pass all season. On a team with a rookie coach, a first-year general manager and Brian Hoyer at quarterback, who expected the quarterback savior out of Texas A&M to serve as a complete nonfactor? Cleveland's in for another interesting offseason.

Dan Hanzus' pick: Odell Beckham Jr. Expectations in 2014 bottomed out after a lingering hamstring injury nearly derailed his rookie season. Then Beckham got healthy, started making big plays every week, and became the subject of praise from high places. In a lost season at the Meadowlands, Beckham represents reason for hope for the Giants.

Biggest Rookie Disappointment


Gregg Rosenthal's pick: Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson. Let's stop with the fiction that offensive linemen are "safe" picks at the top of the draft. In the last two years alone, Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, Matthews and Robinson have all started their careers with serious issues. Robinson struggled even to get on the field.

Chris Wesseling's pick: The quarterbacks. Johnny Manziel got beaten out by the underwhelming preseason version of Brian Hoyer in August. Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater have shown flashes of brilliance only to regress over the past few weeks. I still believe Bortles has the brightest future of the group, but his mechanics and decision-making have devolved.

Kevin Patra's pick: Jadeveon Clowney. How can it not be the No. 1 overall pick who has played in just three games?

Marc Sessler's pick: Eric Ebron. Detroit seemed like an ideal landing spot for the supposed playmaking tight end, but Ebron's early struggles with the playbook have given way to an uneven and underwhelming campaign for a Lions offense that could use a push.

Dan Hanzus' pick: Calvin PryorPryor was supposed to be bring attitude to Rex Ryan's secondary, but the Jets' ongoing cornerback apocalypse has forced New York to play Pryor out of position. His stat sheet has been mostly blank as a result. He has also reportedly missed team meetings, making it no surprise when he lost his starting job to Jaiquawn Jarrett.

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