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2016 rookie grades: Falcons, Cowboys, Chiefs earn high marks

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  • By Bucky Brooks and Conor Orr NFL.com
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When Bucky Brooks and Conor Orr graded the 2016 rookie classes of all 32 NFL teams, five received "A" marks. Here's what Brooks and Orr had to say about those exceptional groups that stood out from the rest:

Atlanta Falcons

» Round 1: (No. 17 overall) Keanu Neal, S, 17 games/17 starts.
» Round 2: (52) Deion Jones, MLB, 18 games/16 starts.
» Round 3: (81) Austin Hooper, TE, 17 games/4 starts.
» Round 4: (115) De'Vondre Campbell, LB, 14 games/13 starts.
» Round 6: (195) Wes Schweitzer, OG, 0 games.
» Round 7: (238) Devin Fuller, WR, 0 games.
» Notable undrafted FAs: Josh Perkins, TE, 11 games/1 start; Brian Poole, CB, 19 games/11 starts.

Brooks: Whenever a team can field four rookie starters on a Super Bowl defense, the coaching staff and personnel department deserve serious props for their player identification and development plans. Dan Quinn showed tremendous confidence in his youngsters when he inserted Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, De'Vondre Campbell and Brian Poole into the starting lineup. The young quartet not only energized the unit with energy and athleticism, but these guys added some thump and playmaking ability to a lineup that started to come together down the stretch. Offensively, Austin Hooper flashed big-play potential as a "stretch" tight end. If he continues to progress as a playmaker, he could emerge as a nice complement to a dynamic WR corps on the perimeter. GRADE: A+

Chicago Bears

» Round 1: (No. 9 overall) Leonard Floyd, OLB, 12 games/12 starts.
» Round 2: (56) Cody Whitehair, C, 16 games/16 starts.
» Round 3: (72) Jonathan Bullard, DE, 14 games/1 start.
» Round 4: (113) Nick Kwiatkoski, ILB, 14 games/7 starts; (124) Deon Bush, S, 11 games/6 starts; (127) Deiondre' Hall, CB, 8 games/0 starts.
» Round 5: (150) Jordan Howard, RB, 15 games/13 starts.
» Round 6: (185) DeAndre Houston-Carson, S, 8 games/0 starts.
» Round 7: (230) Daniel Braverman, WR, 3 games/0 starts.
» Notable undrafted FAs: Ben Braunecker, TE, 13 games/2 starts; Cre'von LeBlanc, CB, 13 games/9 starts.

Brooks: Don't let the Bears' 3-13 record detract from the outstanding performance of their emerging young nucleus. Fueled by the surprising play of Jordan Howard as the team's RB1, the Bears' offense started to make strides as a smashmouth unit. The hard-charging runner churned out 1,313 rushing yards and six touchdowns as a surprise starter. Howard also added 29 receptions for 298 yards and another score. Cody Whitehair played a role in the Bears' RB1's success as a rugged blocker at the point of attack. On defense, Leonard Floyd showed promise as a dynamic pass rusher off the edge. If he can avoid injuries and stay on the field, he could be a difference maker on a defense that's beginning to make strides. GRADE: A-

Dallas Cowboys

» Round 1: (No. 4 overall) Ezekiel Elliott, RB, 16 games/16 starts.
» Round 2: (34) Jaylon Smith, OLB, 0 games.
» Round 3: (67) Maliek Collins, DT, 17 games/14 starts.
» Round 4: (101) Charles Tapper, DE, 0 games; (135) Dak Prescott, QB, 17 games/17 starts.
» Round 6: (189) Anthony Brown, CB, 17 games/9 starts; (212) Kavon Frazier, SS, 10 games/0 starts; (216) Darius Jackson, RB, 0 games; (217) Rico Gathers, TE, 0 games.

Brooks: Whenever a team lands the Offensive Rookie of the Year and the NFL's leading rusher in the same draft, the personnel department and coaching staff deserve kudos for their outstanding identification and developmental plan. Dak Prescott rose from QB3 status to Pro Bowl playmaker while showing better passing skills, poise and leadership ability than many anticipated. Most impressively, he posted a 100-plus passer rating (104.9) and a stellar 23:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the way to notching 13 wins -- tying Ben Roethlisberger's NFL record for wins by a rookie starter. Not to be outdone, Ezekiel Elliott finished as the NFL's rushing leader, racking up 1,631 yards in 15 regular-season starts. The electric playmaker set the table for the offense with his hard-nosed running style between the tackles. Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown made key contributions on a defense that exceeded expectations. GRADE: A+

Kansas City Chiefs

» Round 2: (No. 37 overall) Chris Jones, DT, 17 games/12 starts.
» Round 3: (74) KeiVarae Russell, CB, 0 games.
» Round 4: (105) Parker Ehinger, OG, 5 games/4 starts; (106) Eric Murray, DB, 17 games/0 starts; (126) Demarcus Robinson, WR, 17 games/0 starts.
» Round 5: (162) Kevin Hogan, QB, 0 games; (165) Tyreek Hill, WR, 17 games/1 start.
» Round 6: (178) D.J. White, CB, 11 games/0 starts; (203) Dadi Nicolas, OLB, 11 games/0 starts.
» Notable undrafted FAs: Terrance Smith, LB, 10 games/2 starts.

Orr: Kansas City traded out of the first round, but still landed a fantastic player in Chris Jones with its second-round pick. Initially pegged by ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher as a potential replacement for the soon-to-be free agent Dontari Poe, Jones, in my opinion, outplayed the behemoth nose tackle in 2016. Over 573 defensive snaps, he logged a pair of sacks, 17 solo tackles and four broken-up passes. Third-round pick KeiVarae Russell was a surprise release, while fourth-rounder Parker Ehinger started before a slew of injuries culminated in a knee injury that ended his season prematurely. I liked the Kevin Hogan pick, but, like Russell, he ended up getting cut and heading to an AFC North team (Russell went to the Bengals, Hogan to the Browns). Tyreek Hill was obviously the moneymaker, though his complicated past made this a controversial selection (and explains why he was around so late). On the field, he looks like DeSean Jackson 2.0 for Andy Reid. GRADE: A-

Los Angeles Chargers

» Round 1: (No. 3 overall) Joey Bosa, DE, 12 games/11 starts.
» Round 2: (35) Hunter Henry, TE, 15 games/10 starts.
» Round 3: (66) Max Tuerk, C, 0 games.
» Round 4: (102) Joshua Perry, LB, 15 games/1 start.
» Round 5: (175) Jatavis Brown, LB, 12 games/7 starts.
» Round 6: (179) Drew Kaser, P, 16 games/0 starts; (198) Derek Watt, FB, 16 games/2 starts.
» Round 7: (224) Donavon Clark, OG, 0 games.
» Notable undrafted FAs: Kenneth Farrow, RB, 13 games/2 starts; Chris Landrum, LB, 10 games/0 starts; Spencer Pulley, OG, 16 games/0 starts; Trevor Williams, CB, 12 games/5 starts.

Orr: Drafting Joey Bosa third overall was a massive boom-or-bust proposition, but it paid off for the Chargers, with Bosa winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award and leading the team with 10.5 sacks despite missing four games. He might be the player who finally unlocks all the untapped potential across that defense -- it'll be a thrill to see him paired with new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley in 2017. Hunter Henry was sixth on the team in receptions but first in touchdowns (eight). The rookie tight end seemed to pair perfectly with QB Philip Rivers. Linebacker Jatavis Brown added some serious energy to the middle rounds and led the Chargers with 64 solo tackles on top of 3.5 sacks. His presence alone could make someone like pending free agent Manti Te'o expendable this offseason. Eventually, the Bolts will get a look at third-round center Max Tuerk, but anything he gives them at this point should be considered a bonus. This was a very solid draft. GRADE: A-

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