Predicting the Top Rookie Performer at Every Position

As the NFL seems to have more and more immediately productive rookies with each passing season, there will likely be first-year players at every position who make an impact on the field in 2015.

Predicting who those rookies will be before any of them have even played in preseason games is a difficult task, as evidenced by my predictions from last year at this time. While I was correct in projecting that Teddy Bridgewater would be the top rookie quarterback and Aaron Donald would be the best defensive tackle, some of my other prognostications—like Kyle Van Noy being the best outside linebacker over Khalil Mack, and Justin Gilbert being the best rookie cornerback—look laughable in retrospect.

Ultimately, there will be hyped-up rookies who fail to live up to expectations and just as many rookies who emerge as surprise standouts. Still, it’s not as if there is no basis to predict who the best first-year players will be. After all, the league’s 32 teams already had to make their own predictions, hypothesizing which players could bring the most value to their teams at each position in advance of the 2015 NFL draft.

Pre-existing talent plays a big role in how much success each player is able to attain as a rookie, but so too does the situation each player is drafted into. Now that we know what teams the 2015 draft prospects will be starting their careers with—and at least have a preliminary idea of where they stand on their teams’ depth charts—it becomes more reasonable to surmise which first-years will stand out above the rest at each spot on the field.

The players highlighted in each of the following slides reflect my projections for which rookies will put together the best seasons in 2015.

These projections take into account not only when each player was drafted, but what translatable skills each has and how much playing time each is expected to receive in 2015. Some players who could project to have the best long-term careers at their positions were not chosen here because of conditions that could affect their rookie seasons, including the rosters around them, injuries and areas in which they need to develop.

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