2015 rookie grades: Bills, Chiefs, Vikings and Buccaneers shine

When Bucky Brooks graded the 2015 rookie classes of all 32 NFL teams, eight received "A" marks. Here's what he had to say about those exceptional groups that stood out from the rest:


Despite a disappointing debut season under Rex Ryan, the Bills are heading in the right direction due to the rapid development of their young players on both sides of the ball. Ronald Darby was a legitimate Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate after impressing observers with his sticky cover skills and nasty disposition on the perimeter. The scrappy corner registered 21 passes defensed as a first-year starter, including a pair of interceptions, while displaying an uncanny feel for route recognition. Most impressive: Darby was a punishing tackler capable of stopping ball carriers in their tracks. Tony Steward didn't crack the starting lineup, but carved out a role as a special teams contributor down the stretch. Offensively, Karlos Williams and John Miller exceeded expectations with their strong play. Williams, in particular, flashed outstanding promise as a change-of-pace back. He rushed for over 500 yards and scored nine total touchdowns (seven rushing, two receiving) as LeSean McCoy's primary backup. Miller started 12 games for a Bills offensive line that grew into a solid unit over the course of the season. Grade: A


Credit GM John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid for building a deep and talented roster capable of earning a playoff berth despite losing one of the NFL's most explosive players (Jamaal Charles) early in the season. With the bulk of the credit for the team's success going to the defense, Defensive Rookie of the Year Marcus Peters deserves kudos for his spectacular play as the Chiefs' CB1. The rookie ballhawk swiped a league-high eight interceptions and defended 26 passes as a suffocating playmaker on the perimeter. Ramik Wilson and D.J. Alexander not only upgraded the team's depth at linebacker, but they played a major role on the Chiefs' special teams units. Offensively, Mitch Morse looks like a keeper as a heady player with exceptional instincts and awareness. He anchored the offensive line with his steady play on the interior. Chris Conley flashed potential as a WR4. He is an electric athlete with the tools to grow into a solid starter down the road. James O'Shaughnessy is still learning the ropes as a young tight end, but appears to be a nice complement to Travis Kelce. Grade: A


Coach Mike Zimmer has engineered a quick turnaround in Minnesota behind a homegrown group of players who have developed rapidly under the gruff taskmaster. He worked his magic with 2014 rookies Teddy Bridgewater (QB) and Anthony Barr (LB) during his first season at the helm, and he did it again with 2015 rookies Eric Kendricks, Stefon Diggs and T.J. Clemmings, who played significant minutes in Minnesota's 11-5 campaign. Kendricks and Diggs, in particular, look like blue-chip players with immense potential. Each could shine as a front-line playmaker for a team that looks poised to stay atop the NFC North for several seasons. Trae Waynes didn't make a huge impact as a first-year pro, but he made significant strides down the stretch and should be in line to crack the starting lineup in Year 2. Grade: A


The Buccaneers didn't win enough games to save Lovie Smith's job, but the stellar performance of their rookie class contributed to former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's promotion to the top job. Jameis Winston earned rave reviews for his work as a first-year starter. He thrived as a playmaker during the second half of the season and showed great potential as a franchise quarterback. Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet were steady performers as rookie starters. On defense, Kwon Alexander -- prior to his season-ending, four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances -- looked like a star in the making as a "sideline to sideline" playmaker with exceptional quickness and burst. Despite logging just 12 games, Alexander finished second on the team in tackles and flashed disruptive ability as a designated playmaker on the second level. Grade: A


Despite an off year -- at least, according to their lofty standards -- the Packers should be encouraged by the promising play of their rookie class. The team got immediate contributions from their young DB tandem (Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins) and an unheralded inside linebacker (Jake Ryan). These three played key roles on a defense that carried the team into the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Ty Montgomery teased Packers' teammates and coaches with his talent, but injuries prevented him from making a bigger impact as a WR3. Brett Hundley was the star of the preseason; he looks like a diamond in the rough as a developmental quarterback prospect. Grade: A-


Beyond obvious shortcomings at quarterback, the Rams have assembled a talented collection of players on both sides of the ball during the Jeff Fisher era. The franchise continued to add quality youngsters in 2015, with blue-chipper Todd Gurley headlining a productive rookie class that made immediate contributions in Year 1. The Offensive Rookie of the Year rushed for over 1,100 yards in just 13 games (12 starts), displaying the balance, body control and explosiveness to take it the distance from anywhere on the field. Rob Havenstein, Jamon Brown and Cody Wichmann anchored an offensive line that paved the way for Gurley's dominance between the tackles. Andrew Donnal also contributed as a valuable backup/spot starter during the season. With the Rams getting key production from a number of first-year players, the future looks bright for the Rams. Grade: A-


GM Reggie McKenzie and coach Jack Del Rio have the Raiders headed in the right direction behind a solid young nucleus that's brimming with talent and potential. Amari Cooper is a dynamic WR1, having made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He quickly developed a rapport with Derek Carr to give the Raiders one of the top passing connections in the NFL. Clive Walford shows promise as a big-bodied tight end with speed and quickness. He balances out the Raiders' passing game by providing a strong presence between the hashes. Defensively, Mario Edwards Jr. didn't receive national attention for his stellar play, but his ability to wreck shop on the interior helped Khalil Mack create chaos on the edges. Ben Heeney quietly cracked the lineup and displayed intriguing potential as a playmaker on the second level. Grade: A-


Credit general manager Scot McCloughan for upgrading the Redskins' roster with immediate-impact players throughout the draft. Brandon Scherff was a rock-solid blocker on the interior. He solidified the middle and provided the unit with some much-needed toughness at the point of attack. Preston Smith made solid contributions with his workmanlike presence off the edge. He notched eight sacks as a situational rusher and flashed big-time potential as a future starter. Matt Jones showed glimpses of being a future starter at running back. Washington's ground game could revolve around him in Year 2 if Alfred Morris leaves as a free agent. Jamison Crowder is a star in the making as a dynamic slot receiver/kick returner. He is a terrific route runner with outstanding ball skills and playmaking ability. Look for Crowder to play a big role as a WR2/WR3 going forward. Grade: A-

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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