"The Ravens were ravaged by injuries on both sides of the ball, but the losses of several key veterans gave their young guys plenty of opportunities to play as rookies. Although Breshad Perriman was part of that poor bill of health -- the rookie didn't play a single snap due to knee issues -- the Ravens' offense looks brighter going forward with Javorius Allen and Maxx Williams in place as core youngsters. Allen racked up 867 total yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns as a versatile RB1. He is a nice complement to Justin Forsett. Williams is a productive pass catcher between the hashes. He still needs to master the nuances of route running, but has the tools to grow into a Pro Bowl-caliber playmaker. On defense, Carl Davis and Za'Darius Smith flashed potential as energetic defenders with non-stop motors. Smith, in particular, showed exceptional promise in registering 5 1/2 sacks as a situational rusher. If he can continue to add moves to his repertoire, Smith could fill a void as a disruptive playmaker off the edges. Grade: B"
"The Bengals' roster is so loaded that Marvin Lewis has the luxury of bringing along his rookies slowly. Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher essentially redshirted in 2015, with each player seeing limited action outside of special teams and jumbo formations. Learning on the sidelines should help them succeed when they are given the opportunity to crack the lineup. P.J. Dawson and Josh Shaw played sparingly as backups but anchored the Bengals' special teams as valuable contributors. If they continue to grow this offseason, both players should occupy bigger roles on defense next season. Mario Alford barely saw any action as a wide receiver, but his explosive speed could make him a valuable WR4 down the road. Grade: C"
"Constant turnover at the top of the Browns' organizational flow chart has prevented the team from having the stability and continuity needed to build a championship squad. However, the franchise has assembled some talented players in recent years. Danny Shelton enjoyed a solid rookie campaign as a run stopper. He finished the season with 36 total tackles and flashed impressive athleticism as an active nose tackle, but he needs to make his mark as a pass rusher to be a three-down player in today's NFL. Nate Orchard quickly earned his way onto the field as an energetic pass rusher off the edge. Despite limited opportunities to rush the passer in favorable situations, Orchard tallied three sacks, a pick and a forced fumble in his rookie campaign. Xavier Cooper worked his way into the rotation as an interior disruptor (19 tackles and 1.5 sacks). And Charles Gaines carved out a role as a sub-defender. Offensively, Duke Johnson eclipsed 900 scrimmage yards (379 rushing, 534 receiving) as a versatile playmaker out of the backfield. He could see his numbers surge in 2016, as Hue Jackson revamps the offense to put the Browns' top weapons in the best positions to succeed. Cameron Erving was a bit of a disappointment as a part-time starter. The rookie lacked the strength to handle power players at the point of attack and his inconsistent footwork allowed opponents to run past him like a turnstile at the line of scrimmage. Grade: C+"
"The Steelers are well-positioned to continually make runs at the AFC title for years to come behind an electric offense that features a young nucleus on the perimeter. However, the defense needs to make steady improvement for Pittsburgh to eventually hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Mike Tomlin attempted to upgrade the unit by going heavy on defenders in the 2015 draft. Bud Dupree looks like a keeper as a designated rusher off the edge. Dupree not only exhibits explosive first-step quickness, but he has a non-stop motor that allows him to register sacks on extra effort. With Dupree also displaying enough athleticism and versatility to set the edge as a run defender or drop into the flat in coverage, the Steelers have a hybrid defender with the tools the wreak havoc. Senquez Golson and Doran Grant were expected to bolster the secondary with their energetic games, but the young cornerback tandem failed to contribute in Year 1. Golson spent the entire season on the sideline nursing a shoulder injury, while Grant honed his skills on the practice squad before earning a late-season promotion to the 53-man roster. Anthony Chickillo participated in seven games, but he failed to really make his mark as a rotational player. Offensively, the Steelers added Sammie Coates and Jesse James to a loaded lineup, which is why neither player made much of a contribution as a rookie. Although both players flashed potential in limited action, the Steelers hope to get more from the young pass catchers down the road. Grade: C-"
While it is much too soon to make any final judgments on the rookie classes after one season, the Ravens rookies earning the early advantage is encouraging. It is impressive that the Ravens were able to edge out their divisional competitors in Brooks' rookie grading when first round draft pick Breshad Perriman did not suit up for a single game.
In a season that saw the Ravens decimated by injuries up and down the roster, the playing time and experience afforded an opportunity to the rookie class, which was a legitimate silver lining. Za'Darius Smith, Javorius Allen, Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle all showed playmaking ability in their first professional seasons and are poised to take the next step in development during their second season. If Perriman can overcome his knee issues to become the vertical threat he was drafted to be, and Carl Davis finds enough consistency to crack the Ravens deep defensive line rotation, the rest of the AFC North should watch out for a quick Ravens resurgence.