With all 32 back in camp, much attention will be paid to the rookie class of 2012 and their ability to contribute this year. One position where rookies can immediately step in and make an impact is the RB spot. While rookies tend to get worked in slowly at many positions – QB, WR, LB to name a few – rookie RB’s are often thrust into starting spots or given big part-time roles. Here are the top 25 all time heaviest workloads by percentage of their team’s rushing offense for rookie RB’s:
Since 1970, 54 RB’s have had 50% or more of their team’s rushing attempts, though only 4 (Edgerrin James, LaDanian Tomlinson, Curtis Martin and Eric Dickerson) had more than 75%.
Perhaps a sign of the weakness of the 2011 crop of rookies, or the league-wide shift to RB rotations, only 9 2011 rookies had more than 10% of their team’s total rushing attmepts:
Chances are, 2012 rookie Trent Richardson will easily surpass 2011 rookie leader DeMarco Murray’s 40.2% of Dallas’ rushes. The other early picks, Doug Martin, David Wilson, Isaiah Pead and LaMichael James all figure to be in rotational or situational roles and none are good bets to top the 50% mark barring injury to their team’s other RB’s.
The top of the 2011 draft has yielded a number of impact players. In fact, each of the top 7 picks – Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith – looks to be a star in the making. Conversely, the 2005 draft yielded perhaps the worst top 10 picks in any NFL draft in history. However, the 2011 San Francisco 49ers playoff run might provide some redemption for an otherwise putrid crop of players. Here’s a quick look at each of the members of the worst top 10 in history:
1. Alex Smith – QB – 49ers
The much maligned Smith is finally having a breakout year of sorts (which I touched on in October). He ended 2011 with the 9th best passer rating (90.7) – better than Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers (among others). His completion percentage (61.3) was good for 12th best – slightly better than both Eli Manning and Matt Schaub. His interception % (1.1) was best in the league – even better than Aaron Rodgers. Smith also led the league with 6 game winning 4th quarter come-from-behind drives. Not a bad year for a guy who many still regard as a flop. To be fair to Smith’s detractors, there was plenty to bash about the 49ers’ QB coming into this season. In his first 6 years, Smith had completed only 57% of his passes and had thrown more INT’s (53) than TD’s (51). However, with a quality offensive mind in Jim Harbaugh coaching the 49ers and an offensive scheme that minimizes Smith’s chances of making a mistake, Smith has blossomed into a quality NFL QB. Whether he can repeat his 2011 performance next year remains to be seen, but his heroics against the Saints have all but guaranteed another year (at least) in San Francisco.
2. Ronnie Brown – RB – Dolphins
Talented, but injury-prone, Ronnie Brown has had only one 1,000+ yard season – rushing for 1,008 in 2006. Only twice in 7 years has Brown managed to play in all 16 games and in 6 years with the Dolphins he averaged less than 12 games played per season. However, when he was healthy, he was pretty good – averaging 4.3 yards per carry and catching roughly 30 passes per season out of the backfield. Still, it’s tough to view him as a success as the #2 overall pick in the draft. Brown was disappointing as a backup in Philadelphia and was nearly traded to Detroit in-season (before Jerome Harrison’s brain tumor derailed the deal). It’s likely Brown will be playing elsewhere in 2012.
3. Braylon Edwards – WR – Browns
Like Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards only has one 1,000 yard season under his belt in an underwhelming 7 year career (2007). For his career, he’s averaged 48 receptions and 760 yards per year. Not terrible, but not particularly good for a guy selected this highly. In his defense, Edwards has often been saddled with terrible QB’s (Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Mark Sanchez) but his attitude, off-field issues and seemingly constant nagging injuries have also played a role in his mediocrity. Edwards is currently unemployed and recovering from an injury. He is likely to find work next season, and it’s possible he could re-establish himself as a quality receiver if he lands in the right spot.
4. Cedric Benson – RB – Bears
Sub-par both on and off the field, Benson has more arrests since entering the league than he does quality seasons. In 7 years in the league, Benson has three 1,000 yard season (2009-2011) but only once in the last 5 years has he exceeded 4.0 yards-per-carry. Since 2000, there have been 46 RB’s with 1,000+ rushing attempts. Only 3 – an ancient Emmitt Smith (3.77), the forgettable Anthony Thomas (3.73) and broken down Eddie George (3.37) have a worse yards per carry than Cedric Benson (3.77). In his three years with the Bears, Benson only managed 1,593 yards spread over 3 seasons. Benson will most likely be looking for a new team in 2012.
5. Cadillac Williams – RB – Buccaneers
The 2005 Offensive Rookie Of The Year, Williams’ career was altered by back to back seasons with knee injuries in 2007 and 2008. After starting his career pretty well (1,178 yards in his rookie season), he hasn’t topped 850 yards since. 2011 was the first time since his rookie season where Williams had better than 4.0 yards per carry (although only on 87 carries with the Rams). It’s unclear as to whether or not the Rams will want Williams back, and he might struggle to find a job next season.
6. Adam Jones – DB – Titans
“Pacman” Jones had character issues coming into the league in 2005, but his behavior in the NFL has been even worse than expected. Jones got off to an inauspicious start by holding out – refusing to sign a contract which had protections for the Titans in case Jones’ off-field issues manifested themselves in his professional career. Between being drafted in April of 2005 and playing his first game on September 11th of the same year, Jones was arrested (in July) and had another confrontation with police (in early September). By the time his second season rolled around, Jones had been arrested a couple more times in 2006 and then again before his 3rd season in early 2007 – after which he was suspended for a year. His 2006 season was quite impressive – he returned 3 punts for TD’s and picked off 4 passes including one returned for a TD. After being shipped off to Dallas in 2008, Jones was quickly suspended in his new city after a hotel altercation. Jones was out of the league in 2009 and has been mediocre since joining the Bengals in 2010. He’s probably not in Cincinnati’s long-term plans.
7. Troy Williamson – WR – Vikings
A bit of an odd pick at the time, Williamson had risen up draft boards a lot in the time between the scouting combine and draft due to his impressive speed (4.32 40 yard dash). While he was fast, he was bad at mostly everything else – running routes, catching passes, returning kicks and the Vikings gave up on him after three poor seasons. In his time with Minnesota, Williamson had just 79 receptions for 1,067 yards in 49 games in 3 seasons. They traded him to the Jaguars for a low draft pick and he had just 8 catches in Jacksonville over 2 seasons. He’s out of the league and likely finished.
8. Antrel Rolle – DB – Cardinals
Coming into 2011, Rolle was probably the most successful of the 2005 Top 10. He’s a two-time Pro Bowl safety, after moving over from CB in 2008. While he might not be worth the 5 year $37M contract he signed with the Giants in 2010, he’s one of the better safeties in the league – although his play is probably best categorized as “solid” as opposed to “superlative”. He will be patrolling the Giants secondary for a few more years unless New York decides that he isn’t worth the $20M or so remaining on his contract.
9. Carlos Rogers – DB – Redskins
Rogers, a current member of the 49ers and enjoying his best season ever as a pro, was not a particularly bad player for Washington. However, he wasn’t the type of impact player you hope to land in the top 10. An above average (but not spectacular) cover corner with little play making ability, Rogers only tallied 8 INT’s in 6 years with Washington. Coming into the 2011 season, there were 11 defensive backs from the 2005 draft who had more interceptions than Rogers. Compare that to the 6 he hauled in in 2011, and it’s no wonder that some Redskins fans are a bit annoyed with Rogers’ new found hands. He is a free agent at the end of the year and there could be a number of teams interested. However, one would think that he is likely to re-up with the 49ers based on his success with the team.
10. Mike Williams – WR – Lions
Most people who follow the NFL closely are familiar with Mike Williams’ story. The former USC standout, who sat out a year after being deemed ineligible for the 2004 draft, was the 3rd straight top 10 pick that the Lions spent on a WR. Despite the two previous WR’s (Charles Rogers, Roy Williams) not working out, Williams managed to top them in incompetence with his poor performance and worse work ethic. He was reportedly lazy, often late for team meetings and got out of shape to the point where he looked more like an underweight offensive tackle than an overweight WR. Williams spent just 2 years in Detroit, catching 37 passes for 449 yards before being dumped. He then fizzled out in Tennessee and Oakland and was out of the league for 2 years before enjoying a minor 1 year renaissance in Seattle under his former college coach Pete Carroll. Williams battled injuries and spotty performance this year and his future is in question. He will probably stick with the Seahawks for another year or two.
All in all, the 2005 Top 10 was littered with under-performers and bad character guys. Furthermore, it’s possible (likely?) that at least half of these guys will be out of the league for good after training camp cuts next summer. While a 49ers Super Bowl championship would bring some redemption for this group, it will most likely remain one of the worst and most underachieving top groups in NFL Draft history.