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Grading first-round draft picks: Offense

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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.

Between now and the end of the regular season, we'll chart the 2014 rookie class in an effort to predict which young players have the best chance at long careers in our nation's finest sport.

In recent weeks, we've unveiled our early picks for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, examined this year's top undrafted players, dropped the boom on a batch of first-year disappointments and made our list of late-round draft gems.

Now it's time to grade this year's first-round picks. We'll start below with this year's offensive players and take a look next week at the first-rounders on defense:

First-round grades: Offense


Greg Robinson, Rams: (2nd overall pick) The Rams have surged down the stretch, but Robinson has endured his share of troubles. Forced to switch from left guard to bookend, the draft's No. 2 overall pick currently ranks 74th out of 78 qualifying tackles, per Pro Football Focus. We've seen more promise from Ja'Wuan James and Taylor Lewan, but Robinson probably had too much thrown on his plate heading into the season. I put that on the Rams. Grade: C-

Blake Bortles, Jaguars: (3rd pick) The preseason rockstar has looked human this autumn. Leading the league with 16 interceptions, Bortles has been knocked around behind Jacksonville's shaky offensive line. Coach Gus Bradley, though, acknowledged that some of those takedowns have to do with the rookie holding the ball too long. Bortles has outstanding size and a powerful arm, leaving us encouraged about his future if the Jaguars surround him with more talent. Grade: C+

Sammy Watkins, Bills: (4th pick) Watkins would earn a higher grade here if it weren't for stretches of streaky play. After piling up 12 catches for 279 yards and three scores over Weeks 7 and 8, the Bills pass-catcher was held to 35 or fewer yards in his next four games. Part of that channels back to the wildly inconsistent play of Kyle Orton. We also know that Watkins has spent most of the year dealing with rib and groin injuries. He has all the tools to be a star. Grade: B+

Jake Matthews, Falcons: (6th pick) As part of Atlanta's banged-up, Swiss-cheese line, no tackle in the league is grading out worse than Matthews, per PFF. Hobbled early by a high ankle sprain, the rookie has played through pain and was forced to adjust on the fly in a preseason switch to left tackle. Only four players at his position have allowed more quarterback hurries, but Matthews -- once healthy -- deserves a fresh look at the position in Year 2. Grade: C

Mike Evans, Bucs: (7th pick) One of the biggest playmakers from this year's draft class, Evans leads all rookies with 19 catches of 20-plus yards. The Bucs receiver has grown over the second half of the season, ranking fourth among all NFL wideouts in the third quarter of the NFL season with 430 yards through the air. Evans has the size and strength to dominate cornerbacks, making plays every week despite the absence of a reliable quarterback. Grade: A-

Eric Ebron, Lions: (10th pick) Drafted to operate as a playmaking force in Detroit's offense, Ebron has yet to top four catches or 38 yards in any game this season. Eighteen rookies have more catches and 19 have more receiving yards. Ebron has yet to post a catch beyond 17 yards, but we do believe he'll make strides with another full offseason. Grade: C-

Taylor Lewan, Titans: (11th pick) Starting since Week 6 in place of the injured Michael Roos, Lewan is grading out as the best rookie at his position. He's currently dealing with a high ankle sprain, but hasn't been afraid to rattle cages while sidelined, telling reporters last week that he wouldn't have stood for J.J. Watt squashing quarterback Zach Mettenberger. "I probably would have tried to do something if I was out there," said Lewan. The rookie gives the floating Titans a desperately needed dash of attitude. Grade: B-

Odell Beckham, Giants: (12th pick) Beckham is the most fascinating athlete to enter the NFL in years, drawing comparisons from our own Chris Wesseling to Michael Jordan for his "vice-grip hands, easy leaping ability, graceful athleticism, mid-air dexterity and improvisational creativity." NFL Media's Mike Mayock called the Giants star the best of this year's stellar class of first-year wideouts, citing Beckham's ability to line up all over the field after missing most of August and September with a hamstring injury. Perhaps we all should take a month or two off from work? Grade: A+

Zack Martin, Cowboys: (16th pick) Martin has been a beast since the early days of summer, immediately stepping into a starting role and not missing a snap all season. The reliable guard has been an outstanding pass protector and part of a road-grading unit that has unleashed DeMarco Murray weekly. Not allowing a sack all year, Martin looms as an annual Pro Bowl selection in Dallas. "The man's a monster," said Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant. "When I watch the film, I pay attention to him and the man is dynamic." Grade: A+

Ja'Wuan James, Dolphins: (19th pick) James deserves credit for seamlessly shifting from right tackle to left after Branden Albert was lost for the year. Only Samson Satele has played more snaps along Miami's line, where James has allowed just one sack since taking over the bookend spot. "Most people don't know how difficult it really is (switching from right to left tackle)," guard Daryn Colledge told the team's official website. "For him to step up and play at a high level at that is awesome." Grade: B+

Brandin Cooks, Saints: (20th pick) The Saints have done a poor job of using their offensive talent this season, but New Orleans can't be blamed for Cooks being shipped to injured reserve with a thumb injury after just 10 games. Despite missing three weeks, he still ranks seventh among rookies in catches after showing rare moments of explosiveness. We'd like to see more consistency, but we could say that about everyone in New Orleans this season. There's plenty to look forward to. Grade: B+

Johnny Manziel, Browns: (22nd pick) It's telling that Cleveland stuck with a plummeting Brian Hoyer in recent weeks instead of handing the reins over to Johnny. No player on this list, though, is in better position to make a massive impact down the stretch. Assuming the Browns anoint him in time for Sunday's must-win showdown with the Bengals, Manziel has a chance to guide the franchise to its first playoff berth in over a decade. His physical talents far exceed Hoyer's, but we're talking about a player with just 18 snaps on the year. Just play him already! Grade: Incomplete

Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers: (28th pick) I'm not sure what more can be asked from the fifth wideout taken off the board. Beckham has stolen the headlines, but Benjamin was a Rookie of the Year frontrunner for much of the season. Setting franchise rookie records for catches, yards receiving and touchdowns in a season, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin has more targets than Carolina's next two wideouts combined. Stuck inside an ugly Panthers offense, Benjamin's size and strength at the point of catch has been a bright spot. Grade: A-

Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings: (32nd pick) As we mentioned on the latest podcast, Bridgewater is showing signs of growth. In Sunday's overtime win against the Jets, the Vikings passer spotted New York in a no-deep-safety look and audibled into a wide-receiver screen to unleash Jarius Wright for the winning score. Teddy hasn't been perfect, but Sunday was another example of the first-year signal-caller making strides in Norv Turner's scheme. "This franchise is Teddy's," coach Mike Zimmer said after the game. "I know that was a good headline for you." Grade: B

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Sunday game from Week 14 and discusses the Seahawks' return to Super Bowl form. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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