Many teams have plans for their rookies: where they need to improve, what they need to show in practices, when they’ll play. Teams try to not rush rookies into the lineup, especially playoff-bound ones.
But for 49ers linebacker Chris Borland and Bengals running back Jeremy Hill, they’ve been forced into critical spots for their respective teams. And not only have they filled in unexpectedly well, but they’ve proved they should have been playing much, much sooner.
Rank-(LW) – Team
1-(1) Minnesota Vikings
While Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t turned his polish into production yet, but he’s shown he can handle an NFL offense. His blocking up front (outside of John Sullivan) needs to play much better. Anthony Barr was active as a pass rusher against the Bears, but it didn’t slow down Jay Cutler and the Beras offense.
2-(2) St. Louis Rams
Tre Mason is officially the lead back for the Rams, seeing all but four rushes in the team’s upset win over the Broncos. He wasn’t always decisive, but he’s clearly got the talent level needed.. Greg Robinson played really poorly on the day, and didn’t let the passing game get into any rhythm. His worst game yet as a starter. Aaron Donald was neutralized a bit by the Broncos defense, but the rest of the defensive line played at a remarkably high level.
3-(3) Buffalo Bills
Sammy Watkins grabbed just four passes on seven targets, and was once again stifled by his own team’s offense. On a poor day offensively for the Bills, Seantrel Henderson actually had some strong points, and had arguably his best game as a Bill. Preston Brown continues to be a reliable linebacking presence, getting work on all three downs.
4-(5) Arizona Cardinals
John Brown may be developing into the team’s most featured offensive weapon. He finished with five catches and 69 yards, but it’s the way they use him that is remarkable. Just a year ago, he was finishing his senior season at Pittsburg State. Deone Bucannon played well vs. the run, but did a great job of stifling Eric Ebron in the mid-field.
5-(4) Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars were on bye. Expecting more out of Blake Bortles, seeing his connection with Marqise Lee especially.
6-(6) Cleveland Browns
In the Browns weekly game of running back roulette, Isaiah Crowell was named the lead back over Terrence West. The good news for both, however, is that Ben Tate will no longer be taking carries away from either of them. Joel Bitonio kept up his strong play next to Joe Thomas, and linebacker Chris Kirksey struggled on the interior of the defense, especially in the run game.
7-(7) New York Giants
Andre Williams carries were reduced to just two after a handful of unimpressive weeks as the team’s starter. Odell Beckham has become the team’s best receiving threat, and arguably the best rookie receiver. He frustrated every level of the 49ers defense. Weston Richburg had another poor game, particularly as a run blocker.
8- (11) San Francisco 49ers
Carlos Hyde received just 9 carries for 25 yards on 22 snaps. He hasn’t cut enough into Frank Gore’s carry total yet. Bruce Ellington didn’t see a snap. Chris Borland has from fill-in linebacker to one of the NFL’s best inside players. His play has changed the confidence this unit plays with. Aaron Lynch had another plus game as an edge rusher, including 7 hurries .
9-(14) Cincinnati Bengals
Jeremy Hill had another monstrous game without Giovani Bernard in the lineup, putting up 150 yards for the second time in three games. He’s earned the lion’s share of carries when Bernard returns to the lineup. Darqueze Dennard played well in limited slot coverage snaps.
10-(8) Carolina Panthers
Kelvin Benjamin had a huge bounce-back game after some productive yet lackluster performances in the prior weeks. Finishing with nine catches and a touchdown, he repeatedly abused 2013 first-rounder Desmond Trufant, who played well otherwise. Kony Ealy has begun to earn more and more snaps, but didn’t make an impact against the Falcons.
11-(23) Tampa Bay Bucs
Mike Evans lead the team in receiving again this week, but this time in a big way: with 209 yards. He had two catches over 50 yards. He’s making his late case to be the league’s best rookie receiver.
12-(9) Oakland Raiders
Derek Carr’s accuracy was an issue, but he’s started to make better decisions and be more on time, including under pressure. It’s a step forward for the quarterback hoping to earn his starting job in 2015. Khalil Mack had another big performance in the run and pass game, finishing with three tackles but multiple pressures and an overall consistent disruption of Phillip Rivers.
13-(10) Green Bay Packers
Davante Adams wasn’t used as much as previous weeks, as the team opted for more tight end looks, bur still reeled in two grabs. HaHa Clinton-Dix played nearly every snap for the Packers, but struggled in recognition and timing in coverage, and needs to hone in on his mid-field responsibilities more.
14-(12) Baltimore Ravens
Coming off a bye, the Ravens will likely keep CJ Mosely as a featured piece in their front seven and use him more as a pass-rusher.
15-(17) Miami Dolphins
Ja’Wuan James has struggled in the last two games since being moved over to the left side, especially in pass protection. Jarvis Landry continues to emerge as the most reliable receiving option in the offense, including in the redzone.
16-(15) Philadelphia Eagles
Another week with Mark Sanchez, another big game for Jordan Matthews, who is clearly the target he’s most comfortable with. Matthews should continue to be the team’s second most productive receiver in the offense with Sanchez.
17-(16) Dallas Cowboys
Zach Martin will need to continue to be dominate for the Cowboys this year, as the team is coming off a bye.
18-(18) Tennessee Titans
Zach Mettenberger played really well for the Titans, and did enough for them to win. His strong arm and quick development in this offense has shown. He just needs time to settle in and feel comfortable in an NFL pocket Taylor Lewan played ver well, especially as a pass-blocker, and limited the pressure Mettenberger felt. Bishop Sankey saw just 23 snaps and 11 carries. Despite being the lead back, he’s certainly not featured very much.
19-(28) Houston Texans
Alfred Blue took the lead back role with Arian Foster out, and received 37 of a ridiculous 51 rushing attempts on the day for the Texans. He played at a very high level, breaking out four 10+ yard runs. Jadeveon Clowney finally got to make his presence felt, but didn’t do too much on the 40 snaps he received.
20-(13) Chicago Bears
Kyle Fuller has regressed back to an inconsistent rookie after a breakout early season set of performances, but he’s not often targeted (just twice against Bridgewater). Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson’s snaps fluctuate too much to consider them impact rookies.
21-(19) New Orleans Saints
Brandin Cooks saw five catches for fifty yards against the Bengals and was probably the most dangerous player on the field for the Saints. However, that will be the final game for Cooks, as he’s now been placed on injured reserve.
22-(20) Pittsburgh Steelers
Ryan Shazier remained out. Martavis Bryant didn’t find the endzone, and was limited to just two receptions. He’s come back to Earth after a pair of huge games a few weeks back.
23-(21) Atlanta Falcons
Jake Matthews lead another week of struggles for the offensive line, and he’s turning into a huge let down for the Falcons. Head coach Mike Smith needs Matthews to step up if he hopes to keep the offense successful and keep his job.
24-(22) Washington Redskins
Cornerback Bashaud Breeland struggled mightily against Mike Evans, allowing one of his touchdowns and getting beat multiple times throughout the game.
25-(24) Denver Broncos
Bradley Roby played just 26 snaps and didn’t see a lot of action other than letting Kenny Britt catch a 63 yard touchdown.
26-(25) New York Jets
Coming off the bye, the Jets need to get Jace Amaro more involved and see what they have in safety Calvin Pryor.
27-(26) Seattle Seahawks
Justin Britt had a great game two weeks ago, but struggled mightily against the Chiefs. That’s to be expected, though, as Kansas City boasts one of the best pass-rushing duos in the NFL. After seeing an increase in his snaps, Kevin Pierre-Louis saw just three against the Chiefs.
28-(27) Detroit Lions
Eric Ebron played 33 snaps for the Lions, and struggled mightily to get free at all. He had four catches, but nothing down the field and limited the offense if anything. Kyle Van Noy saw seven snaps.
29-(29) New England Patriots
Dominique Easley had his best game as a pro, working laterally at a very high level and providing major help to the Patriots plus-run defense all game, which was key for their win over Luck and the Colts.
30-(30) Indianapolis Colts
Jack Mewhort was adequate, but certainly didn’t help much to get the run game going. Donte Moncrief is the team’s third best receiver, but his snaps targets aren’t reflecting that yet.
31-(31) San Diego Chargers
Jason Verrett and Jeremiah Attaochu have been hurt for the Chargers.
32-(32) Kansas City Chiefs Zach Fulton had a solid game as the team’s right guard, and every week he remains consistent puts him closer to a starting job next year. DeAnthony Thomas has begun to get more work in the offense, and had a 10-yard catch along with three runs for 22 yards.