Rookie Meter: Patriots, Bucs impacted by rooks

Posted Dec. 28, 2010 @ 4:17 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

With a win in Week 16, the Buccaneers became the first team since the NFL merger to start 10 different rookies at some point in the season and finish with a winning record. The Bucs received a big impact from rookies, even with a few of their top picks landing on injured reserve.

Here are the teams that have gotten the most out of their rookie class this season, giving credit to teams that had impacts from multiple rookies, not just one.

1. New England Patriots
While the Pats haven't had as many guys start one game as the Bucs, they had enough regular contributors and get the edge with a 13-2 record. OLB Jermaine Cunningham, CB Devin McCourty and TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were starters for the Pats. Gronkowski and Hernandez have had prolific seasons, combining for 15 touchdown catches. McCourty is making a run for Defensive Rookie of the Year with his six interceptions. Cunningham has five tackles for loss this season. Rookie Brandon Deaderick has two sacks and fellow DL Kyle Love has one, and both have seen significant time on the D-line. LB Dane Fletcher has a sack and three QB hits, and S Sergio Brown has been a solid special-teams contributor. P Zoltan Mesko drastically improved the team's net punting average.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If you had told me the Bucs would be ranked this high on a list like this without the services of Gerald McCoy, Brian Price and Cody Grimm for most of the season, well, I wouldn't have believed you. Fourth-round WR Mike Williams had a breakout season, leading rookie receivers in every category. RB LeGarrette Blount went undrafted because of character concerns and will now finish the season as the league's top first-year back. Before injuries ended their seasons, McCoy recorded three sacks and two forced fumbles, and Grimm added 51 tackles and two picks. WR Arrelious Benn and ORG Derek Hardman have also been steady contributors.

3. St. Louis Rams

The turnaround Rams have the Offensive Rookie of the Year being protected by a rookie at left tackle. Sam Bradford is on the verge of possibly leading the Rams into the playoffs and broke the record for most completions by a rookie, and OLT Rodger Saffold has emerged as one of the top rookie O-linemen. WR Danario Alexander and TE Michael Hoomanawanui have four TD catches between them, and defensive players George Selvie, Jerome Murphy and Jermelle Cudjo have made impacts.

4. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs' secondary looks as though it will be good for a long time. Playmaker Eric Berry has four picks, including a pick-six, and CB Javier Arenas has three sacks and has been a steady punt and kickoff returner. WR-KR Dexter McCluster has been an electric returner when healthy, as well as a weapon on offense out of the backfield or the slot. TE Tony Moeaki is second on the team in receiving with 46-539-3.

5. Cleveland Browns
The Browns will also have a good secondary for a long time, thanks to the rookie tandem of the hard-hitting T.J. Ward and CB Joe Haden. Ward is the rookie leader in tackles while Haden is the rookie leader in passes defensed and is tied for the rookie lead in interceptions. The Browns also found their quarterback this season with Colt McCoy. Week 16 was a week to forget, but he has completed 63.5 percent of his passes this season and has wins over the Patriots and Saints.

6. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders didn't get the production they were expecting early on from MLB Rolando McClain, but he has come on of late. He is third on the team with 76 tackles and has five passes defensed. DE Lamarr Houston had a solid first year, recording four sacks and 11 QB hits. WR Jacoby Ford has been stellar in the return game with a league-high three kick-return touchdowns. He is also fourth on the team in receiving yards. And third-round pick Jared Veldheer has been starting at left tackle.

Honorable mention: Packers, Eagles, Colts

Now, onto the Meter.

1. Rams QB Sam Bradford (first round, first overall)
Last week's ranking: 1

Bradford not only brought his team one step closer to the playoffs with a 25-17 win over the 49ers, he may have locked up Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. The No. 1 pick had been struggling of late, but he had a big game in a must-win for St. Louis. Bradford set an NFL record for most pass completions by a rookie in a season while completing 28-of-37 passes for 292 yards and a touchdown. A good game in Seattle next week to clinch the division should be enough to give Bradford the title.

2. Lions DT Ndamukong Suh (1, 2)
Last week's ranking: 3

The for-all-intents-and-purposes Defensive Rookie of the Year has had to hold off secondary members Devin McCourty and Eric Berry. Suh did so on Sunday when he recorded five tackles and his rookie-leading ninth sack. He has 13 tackles for loss and a whopping 16 QB hits this season.

3. Buccaneers WR Mike Williams (4, 101)
Last week's ranking: 2

He didn't have huge yardage numbers, but Williams made the best of his catches. Two of his three receptions in Sunday's win went for scores. He had 44 yards receiving, putting him just 76 short of 1,000. He continues to lead rookies in every receiving category, and the big-play rookie averages just over 15 yards per catch.

4. Buccaneers RB LeGarrette Blount (undrafted)
Last week's ranking: 5

Blount had his best game while helping keep the Bucs' playoff hopes alive. He didn't find paydirt but rushed for 164 yards on 18 carries, an astounding 9.1-yard average. The bruising back will finish the season as the best rookie running back in the league.

5. Patriots CB Devin McCourty (1, 27)
Last week's ranking: 4

McCourty had a quiet game, considering his recent play, in the Patriots' win over the Bills. The corner recorded four tackles and forced a fumble on a Ryan Fitzpatrick scramble. He is tied for the rookie lead with six interceptions this season and should get a good test in the season finale from Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall.

6. Chiefs FS Eric Berry (1, 5)
Last week's ranking: 6

The Chiefs drafted Berry for his big-play abilities, and he showed that on Sunday with a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was his fourth pick of the season. He added four tackles, and his fifth tackle for loss on the year for the AFC West champs.

7. Browns CB Joe Haden (1, 7)
Last week's ranking: 9

Imagine if Haden had been starting all season, he could be battling Suh for defensive honors. The former Gator had five tackles, an interception and his first career sack on Sunday. He is tied with McCourty for the rookie lead with six picks and has 17 passes defensed this season.

8. Browns SS T.J. Ward (2, 38)
Last week's ranking: 7

The tackling machine totaled just two in Sunday's loss to the Ravens. He did record his ninth pass defensed of the season. The hard-hitting Ward has 98 tackles and four tackles for loss on the year.

9. Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul (1, 15)
Last week's ranking: 8

It was a tough afternoon for the Giants' defense in their loss to the Packers, but Pierre-Paul did his part with three tackles, including a tackle for loss. On the season he has 4½ sacks, seven tackles for loss and six passes defensed, a pretty good number for a D-lineman.

10. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (2, 42)
Last week's ranking: NR

Gronkowski and fellow rookie TE Aaron Hernandez have been swapping places at the bottom of this Meter, but "Gronk" gets the nod this week after a two-touchdown performance last week gave him nine on the year, just one behind Williams for the rookie lead. Gronkowski led the Patriots with four catches for 54 yards in Hernandez's absence and was on the field for almost every snap, helping block for an offense that rushed for over 200 yards.

On the cusp (listed alphabetically)

Lions RB Jahvid Best (1, 30)
Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap (2, 54)
Raiders WR Jacoby Ford (4, 108)
Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez (4, 113)
Raiders DE Lamarr Houston (2, 44)
Raiders MLB Rolando McClain (1, 8)
Dolphins OLB Koa Misi (2, 40)
Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey (1, 18)
Rams OLT Rodger Saffold (2, 33)
Titans CB Alterraun Verner (4, 104)