Mid-season NFL rookie rankings

By Peter Bailey-Wells

Nine straight months of vacation and travel sounds nice. Really nice. That’s like summer vacation times three.

That’s the life Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay live. The premier NFL Draft analysts in the known world jump on television right after the college football season ends in January and head back into the shadows at the end of the draft in April.

All told, these guys are relevant for about three months every year, but that’s not quite the case for the draftees who become players. See, Kiper and McShay talk about all these prospects as if they cease to exist after they are drafted, tending to forget that the players have to play once fall rolls around. Now, at the midpoint of the NFL season, I’m putting on my Mel Kiper hat and grading the top-five picks from this spring’s NFL draft as well as two bonus picks.

Grades are given on an A to F scale.

No. 1 pick: Jadeveon Clowney, Texans DE/LB

Clowney has played two games and recorded two tackles. He was criticized this week for surfing Instagram while sidelined by a sickness. His talent is undeniable, but so far, the No. 1 overall pick has made little-to-no impact.

Grade: D

No. 2 pick: Greg Robinson, Rams OL

Robinson has shuffled around on the Rams line, starting three games at guard but currently preparing to start Sunday’s game at left tackle. Linemen are always tough to grade because their on-field performance is difficult to quantify. That said, since Robinson was put into the starting lineup, the Rams have two division victories: one against the Seahawks and one against the 49ers. They only gave up one sack across the two games.

Grade: B

No. 3 pick: Blake Bortles, Jaguars QB

The perennial basement-dwelling Jaguars have struggled, but Bortles has proven that he isn’t totally outmatched by NFL play. He has completed 63 percent of his passes, just shy of Tom Brady and better than Russell Wilson and Matt Stafford. What’s Bortles’ downside? Brady, Wilson and Stafford have thrown 13 interceptions combined, which is the amount Bortles has thrown. He’s the NFL leader in that category. Bortles might have been rushed into the starting spot, but he’s got the physical tools to succeed eventually.

Grade: C-

No. 4 pick: Sammy Watkins, Buffalo WR

Watkins has been the best of the top-five picks thus far. He’s recovered from a broken rib and is one of the reasons the Bills’ offense is clicking. He has the 15th most receiving yards in the league and is racking up more than 15 yards per catch. He’s my pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Grade: A

No. 5 Khalil Mack, Raiders LB

The Raiders are awful. But Mack hasn’t been so bad. The rookie has 50 total tackles at the season’s halfway point and although the Raiders haven’t won a game, they have to be happy with the consistent production of Mack. He’ll be a force as he gets experience.

Grade: B+

Bonus pick No. 1: Johnny Manziel, Browns QB

Manziel hasn’t seen much of the field, except on a weird trick-play pass that was negated by a penalty. The Browns are 5-3, so it seems like waiting on Manziel might have been the right choice, especially if he can take advantage of this season to develop his knowledge of the playbook and the pace of the NFL. There’s not enough of a sample size to grade Manziel.

Grade: N/A

Bonus pick No. 2: Zack Martin, Cowboys OL

Martin has been the biggest difference-maker in this year’s draft, starting right away on a line that has put DeMarco Murray on a record-breaking rushing pace. He was drafted 16th overall and certainly has proven that the Cowboys were right to pass on hometown kid Manziel. He’s my highest-rated rookie, with Watkins a close second.

Grade: A+

Peter is a sophomore in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @pbaileywells22.