Watkins, Carr, Mack top 'Midseason All-Rookie Team'

Welcome to Around The NFL's "Rookie Watch" series, a week-by-week journey ranking this year's promising collection of first-year players.

Rookies bring hope to all 32 teams. In recent years, we've seen Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck immediately shake up the landscape on offense, while draft picks spent on J.J. Watt and Robert Quinn turned vanilla defenses into trouble for opponents.

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

We've taken a broad look at the entire class after Week 1 and Week 2, ranked the running backs and first-year quarterbacks, unveiled our early picks for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, examined this year's top undrafted rookies and took a peek at some of this year's rookie disappointments.

Coming out of Week 8, it's time to roll out our Midseason All-Rookie Team.


Quarterbacks:Blake Bortles will be a star in time, but Carr has been the most impressive rookie to date. Earning rave reviews for his poise under pressure, Carr's big arm has opened up opportunities downfield in a way Matt Schaub never could. He remains a work in progress on a bad team, but Carr doesn't kill the Raiders with wild throws into coverage. ... Bortles has a cannon and plus mobility -- I struggled leaving him off this list -- but the Jaguars arm has thrown a league-high 12 picks in just five starts. ... Teddy Bridgewater is next on my list.

Running backs: Oliver has been a revelation for the Chargers. The undrafted back already ranks second in rushing yardage among rookies despite barely playing before Week 5. The Darren Sproles comparisons are obvious, but he's bigger than Sproles and can plow between the tackles or bust it outside. Also an X-factor through the air in the screen game, Oliver is drawing rave reviews from Chargers general manager Tom Telesco for his leadership, work ethic and preparation. ... We've liked McKinnon since summer. With two 100-yard outings over the past five games, he's given the Vikings life on the ground post-Adrian Peterson.

Pass-catchers: We aren't including a tight end on this list. Jace Amaro has been the best of a bland bunch, but we'd rather keep an extra receiver and power this offense with an array of four-wideout sets. After all, the deepest class of pass-catchers in eons has fully delivered. ... Benjamin is a big-framed, gritty wideout who looms as a matchup nightmare for lone cover men. ... Watkins has come into bloom with back-to-back dominating performances. He's everything the Bills could have hoped for. Cooks leads all rookies in catches while Brown brings speed that defenses can't contain.

Blockers: People kill Cleveland for passing on a wideout in the second round of May's draft, but Bitonio is Pro Bowl material. He's played every snap at guard and been a rock since Day 1. ... Martin hasn't missed a snap, either, helping to anchor a Cowboys line that might be the NFL's finest. ... The Titans can feel good about Lewan's development over the past month.


Linemen: Don't look for a defensive end on this list. No rookie position group has been more disappointing: Dee Ford is barely playing; Stephon Tuitt and Kony Ealy are works in progress; Demarcus Lawrence has yet to suit up. ... Not the case at tackle, though, where Donald has played out of his mind against the run. The Rams behemoth is a legitimate Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate and "the best we've faced all year," per Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson.

Outside linebackers:Mike Pettine called Khalil Mack the reason Cleveland couldn't rush the ball on Sunday. The rookie's run-stopping grade is twice as high as the next best player at his position, per Pro Football Focus. He hasn't generated numbers as a pass-rusher, but Mack's rapid development is a much-needed victory for Oakland's embattled front office. ... As Gregg Rosenthal noted on the latest podcast, Barr makes "wow" plays on a weekly basis and continues to see his role grow with each outing.

Inside linebackers: His coaches saw veteran-like qualities in Mosley early in the summer. Now his teammates are calling him the next Ray Lewis. Second behind just Luke Kuechly with 38 stops on the year, Mosley has been a plug-and-play gem from Day 1. ... I'm saving a spot here for Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh's lightning-quick inside 'backer who lost a big chunk of the year to injury, but has plenty of time to make up for it.

Secondary: The Bears have won three games; Fuller directly impacted two of them. He struggled against the Packers and Patriots, but the heir apparent to Charles Tillman also became the first player in 20 years to notch three picks and two forced fumbles in his first three NFL tilts. ... Currently battling a shoulder injury, Verrett thrived early as a subpackage defender and ranks as the draft's most complete corner. ... The Packers gave Clinton-Dix more to do each week before his first start in Week 7 against the Panthers. ... I'm not naming a second safety after Rex Ryan said of Calvin Pryor: "He hasn't had the impact, necessarily, that I think all of us had expected."

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Week 8 game. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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