The Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots lead the NFL with six consecutive playoff appearances. Both teams generally avoid free agency and build strictly through the draft. Conversely, the Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tend to be very active in free agency and have been three of the least successful NFL franchises in recent years.
The obvious conclusion here is that building through the draft is generally a better strategy than purchasing teams via free agency. But a team cannot build through the draft unless they draft the correct players. It has only been half a season, but some rookies from the 2014 draft class have already made considerable positive impacts in their first NFL season.
If the season ended today, chances are Dallas Cowboys guard Zack Martin would win Rookie of the Year. His presence on the right interior of Dallas’ already formidable offensive line has been a major contributing and enabling factor in the success of Dallas’ run game. Without Martin, DeMarco Murray would not have the success he has had this year. Martin is the most dominant rookie offensive lineman since Joe Thomas in 2008.
The 2014 draft was ripe with receiving talent—arguably more so than any other draft before it. The first receiver drafted was Sammy Watkins, who went fourth overall to the Buffalo Bills. Watkins has scored five touchdowns in 2014, including a clutch game-winner against Minnesota a few weeks ago. He has been injured in some capacity for most of the season, which is a bit disconcerting, but it has not hedged his productivity.
After Watkins, there is Kelvin Benjamin (alias “Megatron, Jr.”) for Carolina, who has struggled with drops, but led Carolina’s receiving corps with seven touchdowns.
Some other rookie wideouts deserving of mention are Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, who, despite playing for an awful Jacksonville team, have given Jags fans (and Blake Bortles) reason to look forward to the coming years. Odell Beckham of the Giants missed the beginning of the season with a lingering hamstring issue, but has been impossible to cover since returning four weeks ago. Mike Evans for the Bucs and Brandin Cooks of the Saints have given NFC South defensive backs legitimate cause for concern, as both have shown scary potential in their rookie seasons.
Jarvis Landry (Dolphins), Jordan Matthews (Eagles), John Brown (Cardinals), and Martavis Bryant (Steelers) also have the potential to be stars of the future, but there just is not enough time to discuss all of them.
The leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year is Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley. Mosley is fourth in the league in tackles with 90, and in one season, he has done what Arthur Brown before him could not, and that is to simply begin to fill the gigantic shoes of Ray Lewis.
If an awards category for special teams rookie of the year existed, the undisputed winner would be Arizona Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro. Catanzaro had not missed a field goal until this past week against St. Louis. He is now 17 of 18, and is a large part of Arizona’s incredible first half of the season.
These are just a few names to watch over the next decade of NFL football, and there are many more yet to be noticed. Perhaps more so than ever, the NFL is bursting with young, exciting talent.
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