Best NFL rookie from each SEC school in 2014
With the 2015 NFL Draft less than a month away, we took a look back at the 2014 draft to determine the best NFL rookie from each SEC program last season.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Baltimore Ravens: Mosley was a first-round pick by the Ravens last season, and many saw him as the man tasked with replacing Ray Lewis as the Ravens’ starting inside linebacker. And Mosley didn’t just thrive in that role, he dominated in it. He logged 133 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble on the year, earning Pro Bowl honors in the process.
Chris Smith, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars: Smith was only a fifth-round pick, but he showed flashes of a bright future in the NFL with three sacks and a forced fumble on the season. Center Travis Swanson was taken in the third round by the Detroit Lions, but he only started five games as the Razorbacks’ other impact rookie last year.
Tre Mason, RB, St. Louis Rams: There’s an argument to be made for fellow Auburn draftee Greg Robinson, who was taken second overall in the draft by the Rams and started 12 games at offensive tackle, but Mason’s emergence in the second half of the season was one of the more pleasant storylines surrounding the Rams’ 2015 season. He rushed for more than 750 yards in only 12 games and averaged better than 4.0 yards per carry in addition to scoring three touchdowns as a growing threat in the St. Louis offense.
Dominique Easley, DT, New England Patriots: Easley wasn’t exactly an impact player on the Patriots’ defense, but he did record 10 tackles, his first career sack and his first career interception in 11 games as a Patriot. However, he was also chosen from one of the Gators’ weakest draft classes in recent memory, which certainly contributed to his spot on this lift.
N/A — No Georgia rookie recorded stats last season. The Bulldogs had two players selected in the 2014 draft: tight end Arthur Lynch and quarterback Aaron Murray, but neither appeared in a game last year.
Avery Williamson, LB, Tennessee Titans: Williamson followed in the footsteps of former UK linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan in finding a way to make an early impact as a late-round draft pick. The Wildcats’ only draftee a year ago set a Titans franchise record for tackles in a season by a rookie with 58, and he has become one of the foundational pieces on Tennessee’s roster as it rebuilds from last season’s 2-14 disaster.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants: After reading this, do us a favor and go check out the stats posted by Jeremy Hill and Jarvis Landry last season. Those two were among the most exceptional rookies of the entire draft class, but there was simply no competing with Beckham’s rookie campaign. He caught 91 passes for more than 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 12 games as a rookie. He also made this catch:
Gabe Jackson, G, Oakland Raiders: Last year’s Conerly Trophy winner as the best collegiate football player from the state of Mississippi, Jackson was the only MSU player taken in the draft when he went to Oakland in the third round. He started 12 games last season and is expected to begin the 2015 season as a starter as well.
E.J. Gaines, CB, St. Louis Rams: Gaines, a sixth-round pick, stunned the league with his impressive rookie season. He logged 70 tackles, a fumble recovery and a pair of interceptions while playing a major role on the Rams’ defense, and he served as a valuable cover corner in matchups against players like Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Crabtree. He’s expected to take on an even larger role in his second year this fall.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Indianapolis Colts: The Rebels’ leading receiver from 2013, Moncrief made the most of his opportunity to play with Andrew Luck in the Colts’ high-powered passing offense. He hauled in 32 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns in his debut season, and finished sixth on the team in receptions and fourth in yards.
Bruce Ellington, WR, San Francisco 49ers: Ellington was the only other Gamecock taken in last year’s draft after Jadeveon Clowney was taken first overall, and considering Clowney logged just seven tackles and no sacks upon missing most of his rookie season with a knee injury, Ellington is the default choice here. He caught only six passes for 62 yards last season, but did find the end zone twice to make an impact for the Niners.
Ja’Wuan James, OT, Miami Dolphins: James was a first-round pick by the Dolphins last year, and he lived up to that billing in starting all 16 games for Miami as a rookie. He faced a daunting situation in serving reinforcements following the Richie Incognito-Johnathan Martin saga that stripped apart the Dolphins’ offensive line, but he flourished as a pivotal piece in the offense right away, helping Miami amass an 8-8 record at season’s end.
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Had it not been for Beckham’s other-worldly rookie season, Evans would have been considered the best rookie wideout in the draft. Much like he did at A&M, he asserted himself as a dominant deep threat and an unbeatable matchup in jump ball situations. He used his size and strength to his advantage in amassing more than 1,000 yards on only 68 catches. And like his college career, he found the end zone often, scoring 12 touchdowns last season as the most dynamic member of the Bucs’ offense.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: It didn’t take long for the best Vanderbilt Commodore in recent memory to find a role in Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia. The lengthy wideout caught 62 passes for 872 yards and eight touchdowns for the 10-6 Eagles, ranking second on the team behind Jeremy Maclin in catches, targets, yards and touchdowns. His 13 yards per reception were third on the team but second among players with at least 10 receptions.