'What if' we projected the top 100 rookies?

May, 1, 2009
5/01/09
9:50
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The folks at whatifsports.com wait eagerly for the draft, because only with rookies lined up with teams can they begin work on their projections for the season.

Draft day signifies the beginning of one of our busiest times of the year as we work on our comprehensive, full-season preview. For the preview, we project stats for every single player and team in the league by simulating each game on the schedule 10,000 times. Coming up with statistical inputs is relatively easy for veteran players as most tend to play to a predictable performance trend as they age and take on different roles.

Rookies present the biggest challenge. To come up with statistical inputs for rookies, we run a very complex set of algorithms that factors collegiate performance, role in college, strength of collegiate competition, "measurables," likely NFL role, previous performance of a similar player in that NFL role for this coaching staff and trends of similar rookies in the past. This gives us the player's projected ratio stats (expected yards per carry, completion percentage, etc.), as well as his forecasted usage for the upcoming season. From there, we can compare all rookies based on who we think will make the biggest positive impact for his new NFL team in his first year. The Top 100 from this ranking are listed below.

We have done pretty well with this approach. Leading into the 2008 season. Last season's ranking is located here. As you can see, not only did this methodology correctly rank first round draft choices like Jonathan Stewart, Jerod Mayo, Jake Long and Sedrick Ellis among the top ten, it helped to point out some steals like Steve Slaton, Charles Godfrey, Matt Forte, Trevor Scott, Jamaal Charles and Cliff Avril.

Here's how they ranked AFC South rookies:

98. Jaimie Thomas, OL, Indianapolis
97. Terrance Taylor, DT, Indianapolis
91. Sen'Derrick Marks, DT, Tennessee
84. Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee
70. Jarett Dillard, WR, Jacksonville
65. Fili Moala, DT, Indianapolis
54. James Casey, TE, Houston
46. Antoine Caldwell, OL, Houston
41. Austin Collie, WR, Indianapolis
29. Eben Britton, OL, Jacksonville
26. Eugene Monroe, OL, Jacksonville
20. Connor Barwin, DE, Houston
18. Brian Cushing, LB, Houston
12. Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis

And just one in the top 10.

8. Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee
Tennessee is another team in desperate need of a go-to wide receiver. The Titans have not had a wideout eclipse 750 yards since Derrick Mason in 2004. In 2008, Justin Gage led the way with 651 yards on just 34 catches. Britt, who has prototypical size and athleticism for the position, should be the long-term answer for the Titans. With an excellent running game and a veteran quarterback, he has a good chance of breaking out this season. In the latter weeks and in the playoffs, look for Britt to become an intimidating weapon for Kerry Collins.

The highest picks from each team that didn't make the cut: Jacksonville third-round defensive tackle Terrance Knighton; Indianapolis third-round cornerback Jerraud Powers; Tennessee third-round corner Ryan Mouton; Houston fourth-round safety Glover Quin.

We'll keep an eye out for those projections, coming in mid-June.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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