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Kiper's Rookie Big Board: Buckeyes' class leads the way


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This edition of my ranking of the top rookies in the NFL goes through Week 15 and features three Ohio State Buckeyes in the top five.

I've also included where each player landed on my final top 300 prospects listbefore the 2016 draft.

Here are the parameters, same as always:

  • This is a measure for all games this season -- not just last week.

  • Total snap count matters. Staying on the field is a measure of value.

  • Positional value matters, but overall performance and impact on the team matter more.

  • Relative value matters. I ask: Would this player be a starter on most teams or on a good team?


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1. Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Previously ranked: 1 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 114

Second in Total QBR (81.5). Second in touchdown-to-interception ratio (20-4). Third in passer rating (103.2). Fourth in yards per attempt (7.93) and completion percentage (67.7). Prescott just keeps performing, and now he's a Pro Bowler as a rookie. He might get a third shot at the Giants, the only NFL team he has lost to (twice), in the playoffs.

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2. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Previously ranked: 2 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 8

Elliott leads the league in rushing yards (1,551), carries (310), yards before (935) and after contact (616) and rushing first downs (88). Before the draft, I said the former Buckeye was one of the best running back prospects to enter the league in the past decade, but I didn't think he'd be this good in Year 1. Elliott is deserving of his Pro Bowl spot.

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3. Jack Conklin, OT, Tennessee Titans

Previously ranked: 3 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 4

Tennessee, led by a much-improved offensive line, is No. 3 in the league in rushing yards per game (144.7), and quarterback Marcus Mariota has been sacked 17 fewer times than he was last season (18 this season). The right tackle Conklin is going to have a long career in the NFL.

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4. Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers

Previously ranked: 4 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 2

Bosa, who has 7.5 sacks since his debut in Week 5, had a case for a Pro Bowl spot. That's how good he has been. He's unblockable at times, creating havoc off the edge. In my predraft evaluation, I said the high-motor Bosa had a very high floor. He's going to be a star.

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5. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

Previously ranked: 5 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 67

Thomas, the third Buckeye in the top five of the Rookie Big Board, has far surpassed my expectations for Year 1 in the NFL. He has improved as the season has gone along and still has a ways to go before he reaches his ceiling. He leads the Saints in catches (76) and is tied with Brandin Cooks with eight touchdowns.

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6. Cody Whitehair, C, Chicago Bears

Previously ranked: 6 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 57

When I scouted Whitehair before the draft, I thought he would need to move away from tackle and play guard or center in the NFL. I thought he could be an immediate starter on the interior. Now he has thrived in the middle of the Bears' offensive line, after they initially slated him at guard and then moved him over after signing Josh Sitton. In the second round, Chicago picked up a guy who can start for many years.

 
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7. Tyreek Hill, WR/KR/PR, Kansas City Chiefs

Previously ranked: 9 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: NR

Hill had really come on as a receiver before he was shut out in Week 15's loss to the Titans. He had one touch on offense: a 68-yard touchdown run. Hill has 547 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns for the season, plus two rushing TDs. He also makes an impact in other places; he's a stellar returner and has two kickoff return TDs.

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8. Keanu Neal, S, Atlanta Falcons

Previously ranked: 13 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 50

Neal has adjusted quickly to the speed of the league after missing the first two games of the season because of a knee injury. He's making plays all over the field. He has four forced fumbles and 97 tackles, which lead the Falcons. I rated Neal as my No. 3 safety before the draft.

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9. Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears

Previously ranked: 8 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 80

If it weren't for Elliott, we might be talking more about Howard, who is eighth in the league in rushing yards (1,059) and fourth in yards per carry (5.0). Howard is not a speedster -- he ran a 4.59 40-yard dash at his pro day -- but he shows good patience and can break tackles. I rated the Hoosier, who was picked in the fourth round, as my No. 4 running back before the draft.

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10. DeForest Buckner, DE, San Francisco 49ers

Previously ranked: 7 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 9

Buckner has been one of the 49ers' most consistent defenders this season. He has five sacks and 69 tackles in 846 defensive snaps, which lead the team. At 6-foot-7, 300 pounds, Buckner has a unique combination of power and length, and he's still developing his pass-rushing skills.

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11. Chris Jones, DL, Kansas City Chiefs

Previously ranked: 11 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 51

The Chiefs eased Jones into their rotation to begin the season -- he didn't play more than 37 snaps until Week 9 -- but his playing time and production have steadily improved. He has two sacks and 23 tackles from the interior of the Kansas City defense. At 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, the athletic Jones has several traits that teams want in a big-time defensive tackle: He's fast off the ball, shows good leverage and is extremely strong.

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12. Deion Jones, ILB, Atlanta Falcons

Previously ranked: 17 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 49

The 6-foot-1, 222-pound Jones is undersized, but he can play the pass well in the middle of Atlanta's defense. He has three interceptions, including a 90-yard pick-six in a Week 3 win over the Saints. He's second on the team in tackles -- behind fellow rookie Keanu Neal -- with 87.

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13. Leonard Floyd, OLB, Chicago Bears

Previously ranked: 12 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 14

Almost all of Floyd's seven sacks have come since Week 7 (he had a half-sack in Week 1). An outstanding pass-rusher prospect, he has the potential for double-digit sack seasons, especially if he can continue to add bulk. He marries above-average length with the speed to pursue the ball anywhere on the field.

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14. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Previously ranked: NR | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 3

Ramsey has to get credit for immediately stepping in and becoming the Jaguars' No. 1 cornerback. It's a tough job to match up with every teams' top receiver, and Ramsey has improved immensely throughout the season. He still gets beaten at times, but he's battling. Ramsey is a tremendous talent, but the one knock on him coming out of Florida State was his lack of ball skills -- he had only one interception in his final two seasons for the Seminoles -- and he added his first NFL pick in a Week 15 loss to the Texans.

Second-round pick Sterling Shepard has quickly become one of Eli Manning's top targets. Al Bello/Getty Images nyg.png?w=110&h=110&transparent=true

15. Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants

Previously ranked: NR | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 43

The Giants' offense isn't humming like it has in recent years, but don't blame Shepard, who has stepped in and become a solid No. 2 option as a rookie. He has 62 catches for 653 yards and eight touchdowns.

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16. Jatavis Brown, ILB, San Diego Chargers

Previously ranked: 16 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 248

Brown missed four games after suffering a knee injury in Week 8, and he has been eased back into the lineup since then. But he has been great filling in for the injured Manti Te'o. After earning the award for MAC Defensive Player of the Year at Akron, Brown was a fifth-round pick. He had 11.5 sacks last season for the Zips, and he has three for San Diego this season. He has also forced two fumbles.

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17. Brian Poole, CB, Atlanta Falcons

Previously ranked: 19 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: NR

Poole, who played at Florida with first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III, is the first undrafted rookie on the Big Board. He has six pass breakups, a sack and two fumble recoveries as the Falcons' nickelback.

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18. Hunter Henry, TE, San Diego Chargers

Previously ranked: NR | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 54

Henry, who has dealt with a knee injury and a concussion so far, has at least one catch in 12 of the 13 games he has played this season. My No. 2-ranked tight end in the draft, Henry has 32 catches for 435 yards and seven touchdowns.

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19. Taylor Decker, OT, Detroit Lions

Previously ranked: 10 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 17

Decker has had a couple rookie moments, but he has flashed All-Pro potential at left tackle. I thought he'd be better as a right tackle, but the upside has always been there. He has a long frame (6-foot-7), and he's strong and athletic.

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20. Tavon Young, CB, Baltimore Ravens

Previously ranked: 20 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 85

I loved Young's competitiveness before the draft, and he has become a starter for the Ravens after impressing in a part-time role to begin the season. The fourth-round pick doesn't have ideal size (5-foot-9, 177 pounds), but he has some speed and lateral quickness. Young, my No. 10 cornerback before the draft, has two interceptions this season.

Karl Joseph, who is dealing with a turf toe injury, could miss at least another game. EPA/JOHN G. MABANGLO oak.png?w=110&h=110&transparent=true

21. Karl Joseph, S, Oakland Raiders

Previously ranked: 15 | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 13

After playing no defensive snaps in Weeks 1 and 2, Joseph took over as the Raiders' starting strong safety in Week 3. With ball skills and a physical edge, Joseph brings a fear factor to the defense as an explosive, controlled hitter. A toe injury has forced the No. 14 overall pick to miss the past two games, but he has 60 tackles and an interception this season.

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22. Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars

Previously ranked: NR | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 108

Ngakoue started the season with four sacks and three forced fumbles in the Jags' first four games, but the third-round pick out of Maryland has leveled off a bit. He's up to six sacks and four forced fumbles this season, and he has an interception.

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23. Noah Spence, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Previously ranked: NR | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 42

Spence has 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles while playing 467 snaps in the Bucs' defensive end rotation. He has top-10 talent, size (6-foot-2, 251pounds) and athleticism, but he fell to the second round because of major red flags from his time at Ohio State. Spence could end up being a steal for Tampa Bay.

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24. Tyler Boyd, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Previously ranked: NR | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 45

Boyd has been a reliable option for the Bengals. He is third on the team in catches (50), targets (74) and receiving yards (539). He has just one touchdown and hasn't been a big-play threat -- his longest catch is for 30 yards -- but this has been a promising rookie season for the second-round pick.

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25. James Bradberry, CB, Carolina Panthers

Previously ranked: NR | Final 2016 Big Board rank: 103

The Panthers picked Bradberry in the second round to take over for Josh Norman -- Bradberry even took Norman's No. 24 -- and he has shown improvement after some early struggles. He has one interception. Turf toe caused him to miss three games in the middle of the season.

Next in line

Malcolm Mitchell, WR, New England PatriotsRonnie Stanley, OT, Baltimore RavensBlake Martinez, ILB, Green Bay PackersJoe Thuney, OG, New England Patriots; Ryan Kelly, C, Indianapolis ColtsJavon Hargrave, DL, Pittsburgh SteelersRobby Anderson, WR, New York Jets.

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49 minutes ago, Vandy said:

Wow, this is like having 3 1st round picks. Most folks don't realize how good our drafting has been the past few years...

pretty cool that Poole (nice rhyme huh lol) is ranked as an UDFA over his first round drafted former teammate. guess he chose the right one to follow.

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2 minutes ago, WiscoFalcon said:

It's clear that the former draft blunders had more to do with Mike Smith and NOT TD, because TD has been dominant since Quinn got here. 

Yep. Liked Smitty, but his talent evaluation, system complication on D sucked and we never would've reached the final frontier, Super Bowl Nirvana.

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