At the halfway point of the regular season, former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah breaks down the most notable developments in the 2015 rookie class:
THREE MOST DYNAMIC ROOKIES
2015 stats (7 games): 38 receptions, 565 yards, 3 touchdowns.
His production is excellent, but I've been more impressed with his polish. He understands how to set up defenders and create separation. His explosiveness is easy to identify, both before and after the catch. There have been a couple communication errors with his quarterback, but I expect that to improve through experience.
2015 stats (5 games): 94 carries, 575 yards (6.1 ypc), 3 touchdowns; 10 receptions, 68 yards.
The Rams were smart to ease Gurley into action following his knee surgery last fall. He looks even better than he did at Georgia. Gurley runs angry inside the tackles and has been a nightmare to tackle at the second and third level of the defense. He hasn't been a big factor in the passing game, but that should change as he gets more accustomed to the offense.
2015 stats (8 games): 20 receptions, 253 yards, 1 touchdown; 24 punt returns, 195 yards (8.1 ypr), 1 touchdown; 14 kick returns, 356 yards (25.4 ypr), 1 touchdown.
It was easy to spot Lockett when studying him at Kansas State: He was the guy who was always WIDE OPEN. Not much has changed at the NFL level. He knows how to leverage defenders and has another gear when the ball is in the air. Lockett's combination of vision, toughness and burst has him on the verge of earning a trip to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner. His role in the offense should continue to increase in the second half of the season.
THREE MOST DISRUPTIVE ROOKIES
I love the way he plays the game. He has very strong hands to torque and turn OTs, and his motor never stops. He looks like a legitimate double-digit sack artist. There are times when he loses sight of the ball, but he's been a force for a struggling Saints defense.
Peters' 2015 stats (8 games): 38 tackles, 11 passes defensed, 3 interceptions, 1 touchdown.
Darby's 2015 stats (7 games): 34 tackles, 14 passes defensed, 2 interceptions.
OK, I cheated. I originally pegged Peters for this spot, but after studying more of Darby, I've decided to split my vote. Both of these young corners are playing at a very high level. Peters is very physical in press coverage and shows outstanding route recognition down the field. Darby has displayed excellent recovery speed and ball awareness. I'd like to see both convert more breakups into interceptions in the second half of the season.
2015 stats (7 games): 49 tackles, 1 sack, 7 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble.
It's rare that a rookie almost single-handedly carries a defense to a win, but that was the case with Alexander at Atlanta last Sunday. He generated two turnovers (one forced fumble and one interception) against an offense that was moving the ball up and down the field. Alexander was made to play in this defense. He has shown outstanding range, instincts and versatility. He's never going to be a thumper inside, but he can improve in taking on blocks.
THREE MOST DISAPPOINTING ROOKIES
2015 stats (inactive every game): N/A.
He wasn't without flaws on college tape, but I thought Humphries was the most physically gifted tackle prospect in the draft. I expected him to start right away for the Cardinals, but he landed in doghouse of the head coach as a result of revolting play in practice and the preseason. He needs to reclaim the trust of the organization in the offseason.
2015 stats (7 games): 4 receptions, 49 yards, 0 touchdowns.
The Parker buzz was building during the early portion of the offseason, but unfortunately, he suffered an injury and missed a lot of time. He has been in and out of the lineup this fall and made very little impact. I expected him to be a strong possession receiver and dynamic red-zone threat. That has yet to happen.
2015 stats (8 games): 103 carries, 382 yards (3.7 ypc), 0 touchdowns; 18 receptions, 93 yards; 3 lost fumbles.
Gordon hasn't been terrible, but his paltry YPC and ball-security issues have been disappointing. I didn't think he was running very hard earlier in the year, but that has improved lately. The offensive line is a mess in San Diego, which hasn't helped matters. I preferred Gurley during the draft process, but I thought Gordon was very close in talent. So far, that gap is much wider than I anticipated.
THREE ROOKIES ON THE RISE
2015 stats (7 games): 42 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 pass defensed.
All he did was make plays at UCLA -- and that has continued with the Vikings. He is outstanding in coverage and excels at flowing, filling and tackling in the hole. Kendricks looks more and more comfortable each game and should challenge for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
2015 stats (6 games): 101 carries, 406 yards (4.0 ypc), 1 touchdown; 16 receptions, 82 yards, 1 touchdown.
Now that he's healthy, Yeldon is making a big impact on a youthful Jaguars offense. He is patient, a runner who picks and slides before bursting up field. He excels at pulling through tackles. Yeldon's pad level is never going to be ideal, but he can work on running a little lower to the ground. He's poised for a big second half of the season.
2015 stats (4 games): 25 receptions, 419 yards, 2 touchdowns.
Over the last few weeks, we've seen Diggs emerge as a legitimate go-to guy for Teddy Bridgewater. He battled injures at Maryland, but has regained the explosiveness he displayed as a freshman. Diggs has provided several big plays and continues to refine his route running. He'll be a key piece in the Vikings' playoff push.
THREE ROOKIES ON THE SHELF
The Jaguars are loaded with young skill talent on the offensive side of the ball, but they are in need of more dynamic playmakers on defense. Fowler was supposed to fill that void, but unfortunately, he was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury in minicamp. I'm already looking forward to seeing how he will fit into this Gus Bradley scheme in 2016.
I was really excited to watch White line up opposite Alshon Jeffery in the Bears' attack, but he's yet to take the field -- and at the moment, it appears he might not play at all this season. White isn't polished, but his raw speed, physicality and ball skills will perfectly compliment the other veteran pieces in place in this offense. He'll face added pressure next season, due to the outstanding play of fellow draftee Amari Cooper.
The Ravens were desperate for receiver help following the departure of Torrey Smith. The lack of deep speed at the position led to the selection of Perriman in the first round. He was one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft class. Some personnel guys loved him ... and others, not so much. Unfortunately, we haven't had a chance to see what he can do because of a nagging knee ailment. The recent injury to Steve Smith Sr. leaves Joe Flacco with very limited options in the passing game.
2015 stats (7 games): 85.6 passer rating, 58.6 completion percentage, 1,648 yards (235.4 ypg, 7.8 ypa), 10 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 14 sacks; 24 rushes, 91 yards (3.8 ypc), 2 touchdowns; 1 fumble lost.
The play of Winston has been about what I expected. He's had a couple heavy-turnover games, but he's also produced several big-time throws while leading his team to road victories. He can make every throw, and he's shown the ability to extend plays without taking many sacks. Winston's a clunky athlete, but he's been very effective running the ball when necessary. He is going to have more hiccups in the second half of the season, but looks every bit the part of a future franchise quarterback.
2015 stats (5 games): 93.2 passer rating, 64.0 completion percentage, 1,239 yards (247.8 ypg, 7.7 ypa), 9 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 19 sacks; 10 rushes, 72 yards (7.2 ypc); 4 fumbles lost.
I don't think I've ever seen a more impressive debut by a rookie signal caller. He absolutely carved up the Bucs in Week 1 with excellent decision-making and quick, precision passing. He has showcased the ability to maneuver inside the pocket and deliver the ball accurately both underneath and to intermediate routes. Mariota has struggled with his deep-ball accuracy and ball security in the pocket (fumbling the ball five times, losing four). It will be interesting to see how he progresses after returning from his knee injury. It's not ideal to lose your head coach/play caller before you've played your sixth professional game.
TOP THREE ROOKIE CLASSES
(NOTE: Click on each team name for the full rookie class.)
The top honor goes to the Bucs because their draft haul has produced legitimate Offensive (Jameis Winston) and Defensive (Kwon Alexander) Rookie of the Year candidates, as well as two starting offensive linemen (Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet). It looks as though they found their franchise quarterback -- and that alone is enough to hand them the top spot at this point in the season.
Despite not getting much contribution from their first-round pick (Trae Waynes), the Vikings' draft class has been excellent. Stefon Diggs has far outplayed his draft slot (146th overall) and looks like a future No. 1 receiver, while Eric Kendricks has been ultra-productive and should be in the Rookie of the Year conversation at the end of the season. Rookie RT T.J. Clemmings has been up and down, but flashes some dominant play in the run game.
It's hard to ignore the defensive debacle against the Giants, but the Saints have seen their rookie defenders play at a high level. Hau'oli Kikaha has provided consistent pass rush and Stephone Anthony is a rangy, athletic presence at the linebacker spot. First-round pick Andrus Peat saw some playing time before hurting his knee. He's still very much a work in progress.