On Thursday, Mel Kiper used his ESPNinsider platform on espn.com to tantalizingly tease his Top 15 Rookie Rankings (plus five more "next up" rookies, for a Top 20) with one whole game of NFL results in the books.
I was granted a sneak peek at his list by an associate of mine with ESPNinsider access, and I'll share the list with you here.
My interest rested in not only seeing where the Saints' top pick Kenny Vaccaro landed, but also where Kiper the piker placed other rookies the Saints considered choosing (or players we thought the Saints should have chosen).
First, though, here's a bit from his intro that appears on the free side of the damn paywall...
This year, Insider has me ranking the rookies. So I'll take a stab, but here are a few things to remember:
• For Week 1, the sample size is extremely small, so I'm matchup context matters.
• Positional value matters, but overall performance and impact matter more.
• Total snap count matters. If a guy is used all the time, he wasn't just used for good matchups.
So like always, I went play-by-play through every game. Here's a start, and in two weeks I'll be back to line them up again. By then, I'm sure things will look different.
And here's his list (with his full text on certain players of interest to me):
There are easier ways to find your way in the NFL than to line up at free safety on a day when Aaron Rodgers is the opposing quarterback, constantly using his eyes to try to get you not just on the wrong foot, but into the wrong zip code. But Reid held up extremely well to start his career. Only three passes were completed near him, he picked off one and had another called back on a penalty. He showed great closing speed when catches were made in front of him, and he finished with five tackles. He also looked good on special teams, an area I'm always looking at for rookies. If you didn't think Reid was the best this week, just remember the context -- first game, replacing a veteran in Dashon Goldson, and facing Rodgers. Reid stepped in and rose to the occasion in a game that had far more intensity than your typical Week 1 matchup. Remember, this is a guy the 49ers actually traded up for. So far, so good.
Before you say I have the wrong Atlanta cornerback and that Robert Alford was the better rookie, check the snap counts. Trufant started his first game, was a guy Drew Brees had to be looking to exploit, and didn't even come off the field. Alford was great but saw about half the snaps because he was used in nickel situations. I was really impressed with Trufant's instincts and toughness. This kid plays with confidence. He did an excellent job in coverage -- Brees didn't pass for more than 50 yards throwing in his direction -- and also proved to be a solid tackler. Trufant is a complete corner with a Pro Bowl future.
He always makes himself a part of the play. Sheer hustle led to Mathieu's saving a TD late in the first quarter when he dislodged the ball from Rams TE Jared Cook, after making up about 20 yards on a play in which he wasn't even covering Cook, and the Cardinals recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchback. Cook scores, and it's not as close as it ended up. While Mathieu was called for a pass interference penalty and had a few soft tackle attempts, he looked good, and I counted just one pass caught thrown at him as the primary person in coverage. Maybe my buddy Jon Gruden was right, and the Honey Badger belonged in Round 1.
6. Geno Smith, QB, Jets
7. Robert Alford, CB, Falcons
He came through with an impressive pass breakup early in the game, then followed it up with a pick late. The important thing is Alford looked like anything but a rookie against Brees and the Saints. He didn't get as many snaps because he worked more out of the sub packages in obvious pass situations, but he was never a liability. Despite the result, the Falcons have to be pleased with early returns with their two corner picks.
10. EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills
He didn't come through with any difference-making plays, but he flashed his tremendous athleticism on a number of occasions, and finished the game with seven tackles, which was tied with Mathieu for most by any rookie in Week 1. He also started for what should be a strong defense. As this kid gains seasoning, he's only going to get better.
Maybe this is a little high for Jones, who didn't get the start, but I really liked what I saw in his limited time. I had him with at least partial credit for a pair of stops behind the line of scrimmage. I think as he sees more time, Pittsburgh will see how disruptive he can be. The Steelers are known to bring young defenders along slowly as they pick up the scheme, but Jones should see his share of action.
15. Kiko Alonso, LB, Bills
* * *
So there he is, dead last among all the spotlighted rookies on Kiper's rankings after Week One. Check Kiper's criteria, check what he says about other DBs on the list, and let me know your over-reaction to this value ranking of KV (Why didn't Mel pile on with the "Vaccaro's a cheap-shot punk-ass hothead" groundswell?) I'd also be interested in seeing your hyperbolic response to Kiper's notes on the pass rushers the Saints were also interested in who were still on the board in the first round when the Saints chose Vaccaro instead.
Follow-up question: Who do you think was the top rookie in Week One? State your case!