To add some context to OTC’s Rookie Class Evaluation, here’s a look at the best 12 rookie classes from 2011-2014. The class’s Snap Index is indicated in parentheses, and links to each rookie class are contained within the number of vested veteran contracts and extensions were secured from the class.
1. 2014 Jaguars (21.483)
Perhaps the 2017 Jaguars’ playoff run should not have been as surprising when looking at this rookie class. The quality of the play of Blake Bortles may be under heavy debate, but he at least emerged as a four year starter on his rookie contract. Bortles was also bolstered by a center in Brandon Linder and three receivers who all played more than half of the available snaps in Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, and Allen Hurns—and that’s even with Robinson suffering a season ending injury early in 2017. This rookie class also secured two solid defenders in Aaron Colvin and Telvin Smith. Among the Jaguars’ 9 draft picks, only one (their last one in 7th rounder Storm Johnson) failed to earn a vested veteran contract.
2. 2014 Raiders (19.626)
This rookie class may have saved the job of GM Reggie McKenzie, and may be still saving it today with the return of Jon Gruden. Out of it they got a starting quarterback (Derek Carr), edge rusher (Khalil Mack) and guard (Gabe Jackson) who all played at least 89% of the snaps under their rookie deals. They also got more defensive help in Justin Ellis and TJ Carrie, and could have bolstered the contribution even more had they not given up on Shelby Harris, who is now with their archrival in the Broncos.
3. 2012 Rams (18.979)
Your first thought may be that this rookie class is unfairly weighted due to getting extra high draft picks from the Robert Griffin III trade. But that only explains part of the story. To go along with the likes of Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, and Greg Zuerlein among the draftees, the Rams also found three contributors among the undrafted in Rodney McLeod, Johnny Hekker, and Cory Harkey.
4. 2012 Seahawks (18.392)
The second of two consecutive rookie classes that led to the meteoric rise of the Seahawks under John Schneider, the crown jewels are of course Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner. Seattle also got significant contribution from JR Sweezy, Bruce Irvin, and Jeremy Lane among the drafted, and from Jermaine Kearse and DeShawn Shead among the undrafted.
5. 2013 Falcons (18.247)
A quietly excellent rookie class, the Falcons started by securing two starting cornerbacks with their first two picks in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. In the rest of the class they got some depth contributions from Levine Toilolo and Kemal Ishmael, and among the undrafted they found a starting right tackle (Ryan Schraeder) and inside linebacker (Paul Worrilow).
6. 2011 Broncos (16.822)
John Elway’s first rookie acquisition as a GM was Super Bowl 50 MVP and likely Hall of Famer Von Miller. He followed it up with two more players (Rahim Moore and Orlando Franklin) who started at least three-quarters of available snaps on their rookie contracts, and continued it with two tight end finds later in the draft in Julius Thomas and Virgil Green. This stellar introductory rookie class for Elway ends with the acquisition of Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. in undrafted free agency.
7. 2011 Browns (15.672)
Wait, a Browns rookie class makes the top ten? Yes, indeed, the 2011 Browns rookie class got a heavy amount of snap counts. You may argue that some of these snaps were not high quality, and indeed, players like Greg Little and Jason Pinkston really skew this. On the other hand, there were players like Jabaal Sheard, Jordan Cameron, Buster Skrine, and Craig Robertson who were able to parlay their rookie contract snaps into vested veteran deals. The key, of course, is that none of them came via extensions from the Browns.
8. 2011 Seahawks (15.532)
And here’s the first of those two monster Seahawks rookie classes. This one was actually quite poor in the first three rounds, with only first rounder John Carpenter being a regular contributor. But the third day of the draft was of course outstanding with the selections on defense of Richard Sherman, KJ Wright, Byron Maxwell, and Malcolm Smith. The cherry on top of this class was finding Doug Baldwin as an undrafted free agent.
9. 2012 Browns (15.230)
Wait, two Browns rookie classes make the top ten? Much like 2011, this was a class in which the Browns failed to retain any of the talent they obtained. But unlike 2011, the 2012 class is more of an example of the Browns actually drafting well. Yes, Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden were major busts that contributed little, but they followed them up with a 100% snap count starter in Mitchell Schwartz, and also got some contribution in the later rounds of the draft from John Hughes, Travis Benjamin and Billy Winn. Then, among the undrafted they found Tashaun Gipson, who soon emerged as a regular starter. And here’s the shocker: this snap count index could go up even higher despite being six years ago. That’s because it also includes Josh Gordon, taken in the supplemental draft. The reason why is that he has accrued only two seasons due to multiple suspensions—and in those two seasons he averaged around 80% of snaps in a high quality matter. Should Gordon be able to return to that lofty level, this Browns rookie class could rise all the way to 6th on this list in the future.
10. 2013 Lions (15.213)
This rookie class may have been what it took to finally dig the Lions out from regular bottom feeders to at least respectable mediocrity. They got two starters on defense in Ezekiel Ansah and Darius Slay that are still with the team today, as well as some more contribution from Devin Taylor. On offense, they got a part of their running back squad in Theo Riddick, and a starting guard in Larry Warford. They even got their punter (Sam Martin) in this rookie class.
11. 2012 Vikings (15.155)
Though the Vikings got no UDFAs of note from this rookie class, their draft picks were solid from start to almost finish. Among their nine draft picks, only the last one (Trevor Guyton) failed to complete his rookie contract. Among the other eight, Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith are of course the highest contributors, with four others (Josh Robinson, Jarius Wright, Rhett Ellison, and Robert Blanton) all contributing at least 37% of available snaps throughout their rookie contracts.
12. 2014 Packers (14.711)
A Ted Thompson rookie class barely makes the top twelve. This effort garnered Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Davante Adams, and Corey Linsey among the drafted players, and four UDFAs contributed to some extent on their rookie deals in Green Bay.