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2015 rookie grades: Meager returns for Chargers, Lions, Steelers

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When Bucky Brooks graded the 2015 rookie classes of all 32 NFL teams, 12 received "C" marks for a lack of production. Here's what he had to say about the groups that struggled:

Constant turnover at the top of the Browns' organizational flow chart has prevented the team from having the stability and continuity needed to build a championship squad. However, the franchise has assembled some talented players in recent years. Danny Shelton enjoyed a solid rookie campaign as a run stopper. He finished the season with 36 total tackles and flashed impressive athleticism as an active nose tackle, but he needs to make his mark as a pass rusher to be a three-down player in today's NFL. Nate Orchard quickly earned his way onto the field as an energetic pass rusher off the edge. Despite limited opportunities to rush the passer in favorable situations, Orchard tallied three sacks, a pick and a forced fumble in his rookie campaign. Xavier Cooper worked his way into the rotation as an interior disruptor (19 tackles and 1.5 sacks). And Charles Gaines carved out a role as a sub-defender. Offensively, Duke Johnson eclipsed 900 scrimmage yards (379 rushing, 534 receiving) as a versatile playmaker out of the backfield. He could see his numbers surge in 2016, as Hue Jackson revamps the offense to put the Browns' top weapons in the best positions to succeed. Cameron Erving was a bit of a disappointment as a part-time starter. The rookie lacked the strength to handle power players at the point of attack and his inconsistent footwork allowed opponents to run past him like a turnstile at the line of scrimmage. Grade: C+

The Broncos' veteran-laden roster fueled the team's Super Bowl 50 triumph, but general manager John Elway will need his rookie class to bounce back in Year 2 to sustain the momentum. While injuries prevented the Broncos' top picks from making key contributions, the team should remain optimistic about the class, based on the flashes shown by Shane Ray and Ty Sambrailo in limited action. Ray, in particular, looks like a natural pass rusher off the edge. He blows past defenders with an explosive first step, but he has added some moves to his arsenal after serving as an apprentice to DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Although Ray missed time with a sprained knee, he looks like the Broncos' next great pass rusher. Sambrailo was expected to make an immediate impact as a starter until a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season. Jeff Heuerman missed the entire season after suffering a torn ACL in rookie minicamp. With the Broncs getting minimal contributions from the rest of the rookie class, it's a testament to their veterans that the team claimed the title. Grade: C+

The Colts were one of the NFL's biggest disappointments in 2015, failing to make the playoffs despite fielding a roster that initially appeared ready to contend for the AFC title. Andrew Luck's scattershot play and injury woes certainly contributed to the team's underachievement, but the lack of production from the rookie class also played a part in the Colts' regression. Phillip Dorsett failed to make an impact as a big-play specialist on the perimeter. He finished with just 18 receptions and didn't post the explosive plays (only four catches of 20-plus yards) many expected from a speedster with home-run ability. Josh Robinson didn't add sizzle to the Colts' running game. He averaged a measly 2.3 yards per carry and didn't flash at all during limited opportunities. Defensively, Henry Anderson played well at the point of attack (31 tackles and one sack), but he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 9. Clayton Geathers impressed coaches with his play as a fill-in for Mike Adams in Weeks 11 and 12. He displayed solid instincts and stood out as a big hitter in the box. David Parry quietly anchored the middle of the Colts' defensive line as a rookie starter at nose tackle. Grade: C+

New England is a team that typically relies on veterans to spark success, but Bill Belichick isn't opposed to giving his young players chances throughout the season. Malcom Brown emerged as a solid fixture in the middle of the defense. He is a power player adept at playing on the other side of the line as a run stopper and opportunistic pass rusher. Jordan Richards and Geneo Grissom earned time as "spot" players in Year 1 -- their continued develop will be critical for the defense. Joe Cardona made a solid contribution as the team's long snapper. Injuries limited Trey Flowers' contributions, but the long, rangy defensive end certainly has potential to make an impact as a situational edge defender. Fourth-rounder Tre' Jackson and undrafted free-agent signee David Andrews played key roles on a patchwork offensive line that constantly reshuffled personnel. Grade: C+

Despite the Giants' disappointing season, the front office can take solace in the strong performances from the team's top two picks, Ereck Flowers and Landon Collins. Flowers made the unexpected move to left tackle in the wake of veteran Will Beatty's season-ending injury in May, and the big-bodied pass protector held his own in matchups with swift defenders off the edges. Although it wasn't always pretty, Flowers showed promise as a blind-side blocker. Collins is a tackling machine as a box defender. He led the Giants in tackles (112) and showed a propensity for delivering big hits in the hole. Undrafted free agent Will Tye, who was signed off the practice squad in October, led all rookie tight ends in receiving yards with 464. He should continue to be a factor in coach Ben McAdoo's offense going forward. Grade: C+

The Chip Kelly experiment is over, but the ex-coach's imprint will remain on the organization, thanks to his handpicked selections in the 2015 NFL Draft. Nelson Agholor (23 catches for 283 yards and one score) didn't play up to expectations as a rookie, but the implementation of more West Coast offensive principles under new coach Doug Pederson should play to Agholor's strengths as a catch-and-run specialist. Eric Rowe was thrown into the fire in the Eagles' aggressive bump-and-run defensive system. Although he struggled a bit early, he settled in and showed promise near the end of the season. Jordan Hicks, whose season ended with a torn pectoral in November, appears to be a great find for the team. Not only is he a productive tackler with superb instincts and awareness; Hicks is a natural leader with a knack for making plays in the hole. Grade: C+

The Chargers' disappointing season partially stems from the lack of production from their rookie class. Melvin Gordon failed to play up to the lofty expectations that accompanied his arrival as a top pick. He didn't post a single 100-yard game as a rookie and looked tentative running between the tackles early in the season. With Gordon failing to add sizzle as a dynamic RB1, the Chargers' offense was forced to lean on a pass-happy approach throughout the season. On defense, though, Denzel Perryman did make an immediate impact as a tackling machine between the hashes. He led the team in solo stops and emerged as a disruptive playmaker in the middle of the Chargers' defense. Kyle Emmanuel was a bit of a surprise as a situational pass rusher off the edge. The first-year player registered one sack, grabbed an interception and flashed intriguing skills as a disruptor from the corner. Craig Mager finally cracked the rotation at the end of the season after battling through a hamstring injury (six missed games). The rookie needed some time to acclimate to the pro game, but his versatility stood out when he was given more opportunities. Undrafted free-agent Josh Lambo provided a pretty solid season as the Bolts' kicker, making 26 of his 32 field-goal attempts (with all six misses coming from 40-plus yards out). Grade: C+

The rapid decline of the 49ers has been staggering. The team just has lost too much talent -- in addition to an exceptional head coach -- to compete in one of the toughest divisions in football. The Niners saw a ton of veteran leadership walk out the door prior to last season (see: Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Frank Gore), and San Francisco didn't get enough help from its rookie class to make up the difference. (An impossible task, really.) Still, there are some things to be excited about going forward. Arik Armstead made tremendous strides as a rookie despite only logging one start. He could grow into a solid plugger along the interior. Jaquiski Tartt made contributions on the second level as a designated thumper between the hashes. The 49ers should be encouraged by the flashes displayed by Mike Davis and Blake Bell in spot duty -- the young offensive playmakers should contribute as rotational guys going forward. Grade: C+

The Bengals' roster is so loaded that Marvin Lewis has the luxury of bringing along his rookies slowly. Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher essentially redshirted in 2015, with each player seeing limited action outside of special teams and jumbo formations. Learning on the sidelines should help them succeed when they are given the opportunity to crack the lineup. P.J. Dawson and Josh Shaw played sparingly as backups but anchored the Bengals' special teams as valuable contributors. If they continue to grow this offseason, both players should occupy bigger roles on defense next season. Mario Alford barely saw any action as a wide receiver, but his explosive speed could make him a valuable WR4 down the road. Grade: C

The Lions' disappointing play at the beginning of the 2015 season prompted owner Martha Ford to revamp the organization. General manager Martin Mayhew was relieved of his duties and coach Jim Caldwell faced questions about his job security after the team stumbled out to a 1-7 start. Part of the Lions' problems could be attributed to a rookie class that failed to play up to expectations. Ameer Abdullah was widely celebrated as Barry Sanders 2.0, but he failed to deliver a single 100-yard rushing game in his rookie season. Laken Tomlinson logged 14 starts at offensive guard, but the team's offensive line woes hindered Matthew Stafford's ability to effectively play from the pocket. Quandre Diggs, who contributed as a nickel corner, looks like a keeper as a CB3. Gabe Wright made minimal contributions at defensive tackle; the team needs more from the big-bodied defender in Year 2. Grade: C

The Dolphins were expected to contend for the division crown behind a talented rookie class that was supposed to add some sizzle to the lineup. However, Joe Philbin didn't appear to have a solid plan for assimilating the first-year group into the lineup -- and their negligible contributions played a role in his dismissal. DeVante Parker finished the season with 26 receptions and three touchdowns, but didn't make the impact that most anticipated from the team's top pick. Although he closed the season strong (22 of his 26 reception came in Miami's last six games), Parker should've played a much bigger role for the Dolphins as a rookie. Jay Ajayi, who missed time with a chest injury, showed flashes of talent and potential in minimal action. He could take on a bigger role under a new regime as a big back with a physical running style (especially if Lamar Miller leaves in free agency). Jordan Phillips is an impressive talent with a wide array of skills, but he needs more seasoning to become a steady contributor in the NFL. Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain are untapped commodities as perky cornerbacks with intriguing instincts and athleticism. Lastly, the Dolphins received solid contributions in the kicking game from undrafted free agents Matt Darr (punter) and Andrew Franks (placekicker). It's uncommon for a pair of rookies to man significant roles on special teams, but Miami's young duo played well in Year 1. Grade: C

The Steelers are well-positioned to continually make runs at the AFC title for years to come behind an electric offense that features a young nucleus on the perimeter. However, the defense needs to make steady improvement for Pittsburgh to eventually hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Mike Tomlin attempted to upgrade the unit by going heavy on defenders in the 2015 draft. Bud Dupree looks like a keeper as a designated rusher off the edge. Dupree not only exhibits explosive first-step quickness, but he has a non-stop motor that allows him to register sacks on extra effort. With Dupree also displaying enough athleticism and versatility to set the edge as a run defender or drop into the flat in coverage, the Steelers have a hybrid defender with the tools the wreak havoc. Senquez Golson and Doran Grant were expected to bolster the secondary with their energetic games, but the young cornerback tandem failed to contribute in Year 1. Golson spent the entire season on the sideline nursing a shoulder injury, while Grant honed his skills on the practice squad before earning a late-season promotion to the 53-man roster. Anthony Chickillo participated in seven games, but he failed to really make his mark as a rotational player. Offensively, the Steelers added Sammie Coates and Jesse James to a loaded lineup, which is why neither player made much of a contribution as a rookie. Although both players flashed potential in limited action, the Steelers hope to get more from the young pass catchers down the road. Grade: C-

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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