Ryan leads the way in strong rookie class
After breaking down 11 weeks of game film, Scouts Inc. runs down the top 25 active rookies.
This has been an amazing year for rookies in the NFL, and many of them have made a huge impact. After looking at 11 weeks of game film, Scouts Inc. takes another look at the top active rookies in the NFL. Some of the rankings may surprise you.
Top 25 Impact Rookies No. Rookie 1. QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Franchise quarterbacks are hard to find, but the Falcons have found their future star. Ryan is a smart player who has done a nice job making decisions when attacking the opposing team's back end. He has shown great maturity and flashes of a big-time arm, but he needs to play with more consistency on the road.
2. RB Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
He has been very impressive as a change-of-pace back opposite RB LenDale White. Johnson is a very versatile player who contributes in sub and regular packages. He is a powerful inside runner with the speed and quickness to get on the edge of the defense as an outside runner. He's an explosive playmaker who has been one the major keys to the Titans' success.
3. LB Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots
He has been a highly productive three-down player in the Patriots' system. Mayo has natural athletic skills, range and a knack for being around the football both in the box and out in space. He was all over the field in Week 11 against the Jets and he has easily positioned himself to be the defensive rookie of the year.
4. WR Eddie Royal, Denver Broncos
He has done a great job of giving the Broncos a solid No. 2 receiver opposite WR Brandon Marshall. Royal is a smart, instinctive player who understands route concepts, has very good functional play speed and tremendous hands. He knows how to get open and has added value as a dynamic return specialist.
5. RB Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
He has been a versatile three-down player who has natural vision and instincts. Forte has the speed to press downhill holes with good lateral quickness, balance and control. He has taken a lot of pressure off QB Kyle Orton.
6. WR DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
He is an explosive player who finally gives the Eagles' perimeter a third-level dimension. Jackson plays bigger than his listed size (5-foot-10) with enough functional play strength to gain separation off his release. He also has the speed to attack all levels within the structure of the Eagles' West Coast passing attack.
7. QB Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
He is an intriguing young player who is the quarterback of the future in Baltimore. Flacco has a very strong arm that can attack all three levels in the passing game. He is mobile in the pocket. Flacco has come along way with his timing and rhythm in the passing game.
8. OT Jake Long, Miami Dolphins
He has been very impressive playing the most critical position on the offensive line, especially as a rookie. He has been very effective as a run-blocker and does a great job protecting the back side of his quarterback. He is a tough, smart, competitive football player with excellent traits.
9. OT Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos
He has been a very consistent player within the Broncos' zone-blocking schemes. Clady is very athletic with those long arms that allow him to get into defenders quickly. He is a very sound technician with excellent quickness, balance and control.
10. RB Steve Slaton, Houston Texans
He has been impressive in the Texans' running game, which has taken the pressure off the quarterback. Slaton is a versatile back with three-down value. He has played bigger than his listed size (5-foot-9) with explosive speed and natural jump-cut ability.
11. RB Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
He has been a solid addition to the Panthers' power running game. Stewart is a big back with a great combination of quickness, speed and power. He is an explosive player who has the strength to wear defenses down. However, he is only a two-down back and must continue to improve as a receiver and blocker.
12. DE Chris Long, St. Louis Rams
He has been somewhat unnoticed playing on a really bad team. However, Long is relentless and has an outstanding motor. He has strong active hands to get separation from blockers with finishing speed. Long has all the intangibles you look for when building the core of your defense.
13. OT Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs
He is another rookie starting in the NFL at the most critical position on the offensive line. He is very athletic with good size, quickness and long arms. He can bend and play with leverage as a run-blocker.
14. SS Chris Horton, Washington Redskins
Horton was not on my original top-20 list and that had a lot to do with the position he plays. However, I went back into the film room and realized that the Redskins found themselves a steal in the seventh round. He is an instinctive player who has a knack for being around the ball.
15. OT Jeff Otah, Carolina Panthers
He is a big, powerful tackle who has improved the right side of the Panthers' offensive line. Otah is a big man who can be hard to get around in pass-protection schemes. He can shock defenders with his strong hands and long arms. He is also very effective as a run-blocker when creating movement and space in the running game.
16. RB Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys
He has explosive, game-changing speed and is a threat to score anytime he touches the rock. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett must find a way to get him more involved in the offense when he returns from his hamstring injury. He is a very good change-of-pace back opposite Marion Barber.
17. RB Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions
One of the few bright spots in Detroit has been the play of Smith. He's a good, young back with three-down value. He has very good speed and power. Smith has fit easily into the Lions' zone-running schemes.
18. TE John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks
With all the injuries at the skills positions in Seattle, Carlson leads the team in receptions. He has shown good blocking ability in the run game, and he is a natural athlete with good hands and route-running ability. Carlson is particularly good at finding the soft spots in underneath zones.
19. RB Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
He has been a versatile player who has contributed in both regular and sub offensive groupings. Rice is a good north-south runner who can be very effective running between the tackles. He displays a good low center of gravity and runs with power.
20. CB Aqib Talib, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He is a physical corner who has fit well in Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 system. Talib is a natural athlete with size, long arms and ball skills. He has a good knack for the playing the ball with his back to the quarterback.
21. RB Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
He is an explosive athlete with a lot of versatility within the structure of any offense. McFadden has the speed to strike from anywhere on the field, but has been bothered by a toe injury that has affected his playing time.
22. DT Sedrick Ellis, New Orleans Saints
He is a disruptive young player who contributes in both regular and sub packages. Ellis has shown a good interior push when rushing the passer and improved his technique as a run defender before injuring his knee and missing time. He has all the intangibles to develop into a front-line starter for years to come.
23. TE Dustin Keller, New York Jets
He is a very athletic tight end who can cause a lot of mismatches when aligned outside on the perimeter. He is a natural route runner with good hands and run-after-catch ability.
24. DE Kendall Langford, Miami Dolphins
He is an under-the-radar player in the the Dolphins' 3-4 defense. He is not an ideal starter at this point in his development, but he will be in time.
25. RB Tim Hightower, Arizona Cardinals
He has replaced Edgerrin James in the starting lineup as a three-down back. Hightower has good run vision, quickness, power and instincts. He has deceptive speed and a nose for getting the ball into the end zone.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
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