Watching the Arizona Cardinals, you saw that there were two rookies that had a huge impact -- Tyrann Mathieu and Andre Ellington. Because of those two players, the Arizona have the highest graded rookie class in the league, according to an ESPN Insider article written by Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus.
Their rookies had a collective +34.3, which was +3.0 more than the second place team in the Detroit Lions.
The Cardinals don't jump off the page, especially when you consider they lost their presumed starting left guard (and first-round pick) Jonathan Cooper in the preseason. But a couple of late-round picks stepped up and made an immediate contribution, none more than Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Tyrann Mathieu. The "Honey Badger" had the tricky task of playing safety in Arizona's base package (236 snaps) while moving to the slot in nickel coverage (525 snaps). But he excelled in both roles before ending up on injured reserve. Besides Mathieu, the team got excellent play from Andre Ellington and his 5.5 yards per carry. His work in the open field was a real difference-maker.
The team also got some positive impact from undrafted players Jaron Brown and Tony Jefferson, both of which had positive grades for the season.
What is interesting, at least in thinking of the actual draft class, it wasn't even that great of a year for the draftees. Yes there were Ellington and Mathieu. But Jonathan Cooper missed the season. Kevin Minter only played one defensive snap. Earl Watford didn't play at all. Ryan Swope retired from football before the season began. D.C. Jefferson was cut. Stepfan Taylor had a positive impact, but almost all of the team's rookie grades came from Mathieu and Ellington.
Is the Cardinals grade skewed by the absence of Cooper? Perhaps. What do you make of the ranking?