Best NFL rookies for every SEC team in 2015
With the 2016 NFL Draft just two weeks away, we took a look back at the 2015 draft to determine the best NFL rookie from each SEC program last season.
Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders: The No. 4 pick in the draft, Cooper led all NFL rookies in catches (72) and receiving yards (1,070) and added 6 touchdowns on his way to making the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Honorable mention goes to New York Giants safety Landon Collins, a second-round pick who made an NFL rookie-leading 112 tackles.
Darius Philon, DE, San Diego Chargers: Five Razorbacks were drafted last year, but Philon is the only one who saw any NFL action, making five tackles in eight games. Philon’s fellow Arkansas draftees were Trey Flowers, Martrell Spaight, Tevin Mitchel and A.J. Derby, most of whom battled injuries in 2015.
Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Carolina Panthers: The fifth-rounder had 45 carries for 183 yards and a TD in seven games for the NFC champs last season. Honorable mention goes to fourth-rounder Angelo Blackson, a defensive end who made 15 tackles while appearing in all 16 games for the Tennessee Titans.
Matt Jones, RB, Washington Redskins: The third-rounder rushed 144 times for 490 yards and 3 TDs. He had 19 carries for 123 yards and 2 TDs — all season highs — in a 24-10 win over the St. Louis Rams in Week 2.
Offensive lineman Max Garcia warrants honorable mention for appearing in 15 games — starting five — for the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.
Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams: The 10th pick of the draft parlayed his 2015 success — 229 carries for 1,1o6 yards and 10 TDs — into second team All-Pro Status, a spot in the Pro Bowl and the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. He became the second Rams rookie — after Eric Dickerson in 1983 — to rush for at least 1,000 yards and 10 TDs.
Among drafted former Bulldogs, WR Chris Conley (17 catches for 199 yards and a TD in 16 games) and ILB Ramik Wilson (20 combined tackles in 10 games) contributed for the Kansas City Chiefs. CB Damian Swann, a fifth-rounder, had 22 tackles for the New Orleans Saints.
Za’Darius Smith, LB, Baltimore Ravens: A fourth-round selection, Smith had 5.5 sacks — which was third among NFL rookies — and 30 tackles last year. Worthy of honorable mention is former Wildcats teammate Alvin (Bud) Dupree — the 22nd pick of the draft — who finished right behind Smith among rookies with 4 sacks and added 26 tackles as an outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Kwon Alexander, MLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The fourth-rounder finished third among rookies with 93 tackles and tied for third with 2 interceptions in just 12 games. (He was suspended for the final four.) He also added 3 sacks.
In 14 games in 2015, third-rounder Danielle Hunter finished with 6 sacks, behind only Redskins DE Preston Smith’s rookie-leading eight. Hunter also added 33 tackles and forced a fumble to earn honorable mention.
Mitch Morse, C, Kansas City Chiefs: The second-rounder, who started 15 games at center, gets the nod here, but he also had plenty of competition. Seventh-rounder Marcus Murphy was a big contributor on special teams for the Saints last season, returning 28 punts for 361 yards and a TD, and he added 12 kickoff returns for 300 yards.
Markus Golden, the 58th pick of the draft, had 31 tackles and 4 sacks. First-rounder Shane Ray had 20 total tackles and 4 sacks in 14 games while helping the Broncos reach and win Super Bowl 50.
Preston Smith, DE, Washington Redskins: In addition to his rookie-leading 8 sacks, the second-rounder finished second among them with 3 forced fumbles. He also added 35 tackles.
Fellow second-rounder Benardrick McKinney made 63 tackles for the Houston Texans to earn honorable mention.
Senquez Golson, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers: The only Rebel drafted in 2015, the second-rounder did not play last season after undergoing shoulder surgery. But he signed a four-year rookie contract worth $4 million, with $2.2 million guaranteed.
A.J. Cann, OG, Jacksonville Jaguars: The third-rounder played in 14 games last season, starting 13. Fourth-round selection Mike Davis gets honorable mention after rushing 35 times for 58 yards and making 7 catches for 36 yards for the San Francisco 49ers.
Matt Darr, P, Miami Dolphins: For the first time in 52 years, no Volunteer was drafted in 2015, but Darr made the most of his free-agent opportunity. He averaged 47.6 yards on 92 punts — putting 30 inside the 20.
Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Cincinnati Bengals: The 21st pick of the draft appeared in 5 games last season. Honorable mention goes to OG Jarvis Harrison, who was drafted in the fifth round by the New York Jets.
Andrew East, LS, Oakland Raiders: The undrafted long snapper signed with the Silver and Black earlier this month.