Evaluation Of The 2016 Rookie Classes

The Collective Bargaining Agreement is structured in such a way that teams have inexpensive and exclusive control over players during their first four accrued seasons, before they can earn unrestricted free agency. Now that most of the players on 2016 rookie classes have done so, let’s take a look how those incoming players as a whole did, and look at classes that contributed the most and least on the basis of snap counts, and then see how many of those players got vested veteran contracts during this offseason.

If you wish to see all rookie classes, visit OTC’s Rookie Class Evalaution page here, and learn about the methodology behind this project here.

Overall Performance

The average snap index from the 2016 draft classes came in at around 10.3, the second highest since 2011. This indicates that this was a strong draft as far as playtime contribution goes. But more remarkable is that the median was far and away the highest since 2011, at almost 10.9. As we’ll see soon, there was a higher standard than usual for teams to meet, and the ones that did not meet it missed the mark considerably.

Top 5 2016 Rookie Classes By Snap Indices

1. Baltimore Ravens (16.868)

10 players with vested veteran contracts (plus 1 pending), 3 of which were extensions (plus 1 pending)

Ozzie Newsome was the leader of the class once again, starting off this haul with All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and finding franchise tagged edge rusher Matt Judon in the 5th round. Most of the rest of the drafted players have found homes as vested veterans, either with the Ravens or elsewhere. Finally, Baltimore landed three solid UDFAs in Michael Pierce (now with the Vikings), Patrick Onwuasor (now with the Jets), and most notably Matt Skura, who as a RFA still has one more accrued season to go–and to potentially add to the Ravens’ snap index to increase their lead even further.

2. Atlanta Falcons (15.751)

8 players with vested veteran contracts (plus 1 pending), 2 of which were extensions (plus 1 pending)

Their drafted players were solid from top to almost bottom, with Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, Austin Hooper, De’Vondre Campbell, and Wes Schweitzer all logging at least half and up to over three quarters of the available snaps. Neal and Jones are still with the team, while the other three signed deals elsewhere that will likely refill Atlanta with compensatory picks in 2021. UDFA Brian Poole also contributed on a similar snap count ratio, and Sharrod Neasman played over 70% of special teams snaps in 2019.

3. Green Bay Packers (14.813)

7 players with vested veteran contracts (plus 1 pending), 1 of which was an extension (plus 1 pending)

The drafted players excelled on their own with the likes of Kenny Clark, Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell. But what really elevated Green Bay’s contribution from this rookie class was their UDFAs. A total of 10 UDFAs contributed at least a few snaps to the cause, with Geronimo Allison leading the way in playing more than a quarter of the available snaps and earning a vested veteran contract with the rival Detroit Lions.

4. Dallas Cowboys (14.775)

6 players with vested veteran contracts, 4 of which were extensions

The Cowboys may not come in at the top on a pure snap count basis, but on the quality of the snaps it’s difficult to find a rookie class that was better in 2016. Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, and Anthony Brown have all earned extensions, and above all was the landing of Dak Prescott in the 4th round, who is now in contract negotiations to earn a lucrative quarterback contract while on the franchise tag. Maliek Collins also contributed greatly and is now with the Raiders. Finally, because Smith missed an accrued season his rookie season due to a devastating injury in his final college game, in 2020 he’ll still have a season of snaps to contribute to the cause that could later on move the Cowboys ahead of the Packers to 3rd on this list.

5. Cleveland Browns (14.181)

7 players with vested veteran contracts, 3 of which were extensions

Once again, this is a classic Browns false positive effort in which they collected a lot of draft picks, but failed to get the type of long lasting contribution they’d hope to get. Joe Schobert and Rashad Higgins were the only players to play out their entire rookie contracts on the Browns, and Higgins is the only player from this class remaining. Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib found pass rushing success, but not much of it on the Browns, while Corey Coleman was a 1st round wide receiver bust and Cody Kessler was once again not the answer at quarterback.

Bottom 5 2016 Rookie Classes By Snap Indices

1. Arizona Cardinals (1.886)

1 player with a vested veteran contract

How bad was this rookie class? By snap count contribution, it is guaranteed to be the worst rookie class from 2011 to 2018. Yes, even though the 2017 and 2018 rookie classes still have a quarter to half of snaps left to contribute, all 64 of those classes have already contributed more than the 2016 Cardinals class. Arizona got into this mess by rolling the dice on the talented but troubled Robert Nkemdiche in the 1st round, and the dice came up snake eyes. At least the draft capital the Cardinals started with didn’t go completely to waste–they traded their 2nd rounder to New England for All-Pro edge rusher Chandler Jones.

2. Buffalo Bills (3.644)

2 players with vested veteran contracts

1st rounder Shaq Lawson was the only player to finish his rookie contract with the Bills, who had his 5th year option declined and left for division rival Miami. 2nd rounder Reggie Ragland missed his entire rookie season to injury and then was shipped off to Kansas City. 3rd rounder Adolphus Washington and UDFA Reid Ferguson (the only UDFA Buffalo got contribution from) were the only other two players to last more than one season in Buffalo. This rookie class also includes quarterback Cardale Jones, who was taken four picks after Prescott.

3. Minnesota Vikings (5.600)

4 players with vested veteran contracts

The only players in this rookie class to play more than a quarter of the available snaps were Mackensie Alexander and the disappointing 1st round wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. UDFA contribution was also limited, with the only meaningful contribution coming from fullback CJ Ham.

4. Washington Redskins (6.221)

3 players with vested veteran contracts, 2 of which were an extension

The top and bottom of the drafted players contributed dreadfully, that top being yet another disappointing wide receiver in Josh Doctson, and the mercurial Su’a Cravens, who was shipped off to Denver. One of the two “extensions” also deserves a major asterisk here: while Kendall Fuller did ultimately sign a vested veteran contract with the team that drafted him, half of his non-vested time in the league was spent in Kansas City, as he was traded to the Chiefs as part of Washington’s very unlucky trade for Alex Smith.

5. San Francisco 49ers (6.277)

4 players with vested veteran contracts, 1 of which was an extension

Trent Baalke’s last stand in San Francisco went about as poorly as you’d expect. DeForest Buckner was the only player to contribute significantly, and he has now been traded to Indianapolis as they hope to directly replace him with the 1st round pick they used on Javon Kinlaw. Ronald Blair is the only player from this rookie class to still remain, and he only did so on the new Four Year Qualifying contract in the 2020 CBA.

Top 10 Rookie Classes, 2011-2016

  1. 2014 Jaguars (21.483)
  2. 2014 Raiders (20.152)
  3. 2012 Rams (19.382)
  4. 2012 Seahawks (18.395)
  5. 2013 Falcons (18.381)
  6. 2012 Bengals (17.257)
  7. 2016 Ravens (16.868)
  8. 2011 Broncos (16.822)
  9. 2015 Buccaneers (16.384)
  10. 2016 Falcons (15.751)

Bottom 10 Rookie Classes, 2011-2015

  1. 2016 Cardinals (1.886)
  2. 2012 49ers (2.148)
  3. 2013 Browns (2.347)
  4. 2011 Lions (3.089)
  5. 2016 Bills (3.644)
  6. 2013 Broncos (4.487)
  7. 2011 Colts (4.570)
  8. 2013 Colts (4.604)
  9. 2013 Seahawks (4.654)
  10. 2015 Jets (4.733)