There are rookies expected to have big first years, and there are surprises. There are first-round picks who seemed like sure things and the players who seemed to come out of nowhere.
It started in Week 1 with Kareem Hunt fumbling his first carry for the Chiefs, then running all over the Patriots. It continued with the Pro Bowl-caliber play of New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore and the overall impressiveness of the Saints' rookie class.
Madden attempted to keep up with the changes as rookies emerged and excelled or struggled and stumbled. Now that the season is over, those final rookie ratings are out, and it shouldn’t be too much of a shock who ended up in the top 10, though some of the names are likely to surprise you.
T1. Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
Final rating: 88 | Launch rating: 76 | Drafted: No. 67 overall
How he earned a top rating: Kamara emerged as a rushing/receiving threat for the Saints, one of the bright young stars of the NFL and a Pro Bowler. He finished sixth in the league in total scrimmage yards with 1,554 -- 728 rushing and 826 receiving -- and did so on at least 124 fewer carries than everyone above him. His awareness jumped 20 points. His juke move really made a leap, though, going from 83 to 91, showing his elusiveness. He was the No. 2 running back in the league this year, according to Pro Football Focus.
T1. Marshon Lattimore, CB, New Orleans Saints
Final rating: 88 | Launch rating: 76 | Drafted: No. 11 overall
How he earned a top rating: Dominant play. Lattimore made the Pro Bowl with 52 tackles, five interceptions and nine passes defended. His significant bump in awareness showed, as he ended the year with an 84 rating in the category after starting at 63. The game also increased his man and zone coverage ratings by six points each and jumped his press rating four points. Lattimore was ranked as the No. 4 corner in the NFL by PFF, so it’s possible that his final rating could be a little lower than it should be.
T1. Tre'Davious White, CB, Buffalo Bills
Final rating: 88 | Launch rating: 78 | Drafted: No. 27 overall
How he earned a top rating: Madden underestimated White's awareness to start the season, giving him a 68 at launch and an 88 in the final rating. It also gave him a bit of a bump as the year went along in both man and zone coverage. In man, he started at an 85 and ended with a 90, while he started with a 78 and ended at an 84 in zone. Madden seemed to nail his press coverage rating, though, as it started and ended the season at 86. That’s about right for a player who had 18 passes defended and four interceptions as a first-round pick and was named the No. 3 cornerback in the NFL by PFF.
T4. Reuben Foster, MLB, San Francisco 49ers
Final rating: 86 | Launch rating: 77 | Drafted: No. 31 overall
How he earned a top rating: Foster fell in the draft because of questions about his character and injury history. As a rookie, none of that mattered. He finished as the No. 4 linebacker in the league, according to PFF, and had 72 tackles despite missing six games. Most of his jump came in the last half of the season, as he had a 78 rating in Week 9 and finished at 86. His block-shedding was a big jump, as he started the year as a 77 and finished at an 87. His play recognition also improved from 71 to 84.
T4. Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns
Final rating: 86 | Launch rating: 83 | Drafted: No. 1 overall
How he earned a top rating: When healthy, Garrett was as advertised coming into the league. It’s why his rating didn’t take that big of a jump -- he was in a good spot at launch. He missed five games because of injury and finished with a respectable 31 tackles, seven sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, and he saw his biggest gains in the last three weeks, when his real-life play began to pick up too. His play recognition improved from 70 to 76, which helped the overall rating bump. He didn't have the big leap others did in part because of his start and in part because of his play, for which PFF rated him the No. 12 edge rusher.
T4. Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Final rating: 86 | Launch rating: 75 | Drafted: No. 86 overall
How he earned a top rating: Hunt emerged as a guy to watch with his season-opening performance, and he did not disappoint. He led the NFL in rushing with 1,327 yards, barely holding off Todd Gurley (1,305). Hunt's 4.88 yards per carry were fifth in the league (fourth among running backs and third among non-Saints). His awareness, as expected, jumped 21 points. His speed ratcheted up three and his acceleration two. Simply put: Developers underestimated him at launch. His elusiveness finished the season up 12 points, and his ball carrier vision increased six. His trucking rating went up six, too. The No. 4 running back by PFF made an impression on the league from the start, and it’ll be interesting to see how Madden handles his rating for next season.
7. Marcus Williams, FS, New Orleans Saints
Final rating: 85 | Launch rating: 75 | Drafted: No. 42 overall
How he earned a top rating: Safeties can sometimes be hard to judge because their roles are so different on every team, but Williams was a difference-maker in his first season. He had 71 tackles and four interceptions, including two in the regular-season finale against Tampa Bay. All four of his picks came in NFC South games. Of all the players listed so far, his name has the least star power. He was rated by PFF as the No. 12 safety and ended up in the top 10 among rookies because of his last three weeks of the regular season, in which he went from a 79 overall to an 85. Quite a big jump.
T8. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Final rating: 84 | Launch rating: 81 | Drafted: No. 4 overall
How he earned a top rating: Like Garrett, Fournette basically did what was expected of him -- and in some cases got overshadowed by Kamara and Hunt. Fournette was a 1,000-yard back with 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns. He caught 36 passes for 302 yards, had the seventh-most carries in the league and had the eighth-most yards. PFF didn’t think as highly of Fournette, grading him as the No. 31 halfback in the NFL. But he was exactly what was needed by the Jaguars, a surprise playoff team headed to the AFC Championship Game. As far as Madden, he had better ball carrier vision than at launch (up five points) but wasn’t as elusive (down four points). His juke move also went up two.
T8. John Johnson III, SS, Los Angeles Rams
Final rating: 84 | Launch rating: 74 | Drafted: No. 91 overall
How he earned a top rating: Johnson had 71 tackles and one interception this season along with five pass breakups. He saw an uptick in his usage beginning in Week 5 and had pass breakups in three of his last four games. PFF graded him as the No. 17 safety in the league. His awareness, like all his other grades, shot up from a 64 to an 80, but he really took a large jump in the second half of the season. In Week 9, he was a 78 overall with a 71 awareness rating, but he finished the season at an 84 overall and 80 awareness. His man and zone coverage also made strides in-season, finishing with an 80 in man and an 86 in zone after starting at a 73 and 79, respectively.
T8. Ryan Ramczyk, RT, New Orleans Saints
Final rating: 84 | Launch rating: 78 | Drafted: No. 32 overall
How he earned a top rating: Rated as the No. 8 tackle by PFF, Ramczyk blocked for both Kamara and Mark Ingram, two of the top five players in the NFL in yards per carry this season. His awareness jumped eight points. The game had his pass-blocking pretty spot on, starting at 82 and finishing at 83, and made him a better run-blocker, starting at 80 and finishing at 86.
The next 10:
Where the QBs finished:
Rookies who could break out next year:
Note: These are in no particular order. Only players with an overall rating of 75 or lower were considered.