10 – 15
15. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay
After a slow start to the year, Lacy broke out in week 3 and 4 against Baltimore and Detroit. He did just enough down the stretch to help his team reach the playoffs. He had a terrific game against the Cowboys, a game that he helped Green Bay win – a win that turned out to be necessary to the Packers’ playoff berth. If the team was anything worse than 8-7-1, it would not have made the playoffs. Lacy rushed for over 1,100 yards, leading all rookies, and proved his worth during the time that Aaron Rodgers was out.
14. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego
I’m putting Allen ahead of Lacy because he was pretty much the only Chargers’ receiver who made a significant impact last season, while Lacy’s big games only came against porous run defenses. For a third round pick, that’s not bad at all. Allen was one of the reasons for Philip Rivers’ bounce-back season; he easily created space and gave Rivers an easy target to throw to. If Malcolm Floyd comes back next year, he’ll take some of the pressure off Allen and draw some double-teams, which would lead to Allen having a more prolific season than he did last year.
13. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis
Hilton has essentially been Andrew Luck’s security blanket for the last two years. When Reggie Wayne Went down in 2013, Hilton picked up the slack and became Luck’s favorite target for the last ten games. Hilton is small, but his speed is what sets him apart from other receivers. His breakout game against the Texans showed how polished his routes are and how easy he makes getting open look. If Reggie Wayne isn’t healthy to start the year, expect Hilton to be number one on the depth chart in front of Hakeem Nicks.
12. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Buffalo
Alonso burst onto the scene as a rookie in Buffalo. He was easily the best rookie linebacker last season (better than the four linebackers drafted ahead of him — Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Manti Te’o, and Kevin Minter). He was third in the league in tackles with 159, and he had four interceptions to go along with that. I’m not sure how he wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl in the first place.
11. Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Cincinnati
After off-field issues caused Burfict to be undrafted, he’s turned things around in the NFL. He led the league in tackling last year with 171 combined tackles. He picked up a lot of slack in the second half of the season when Geno Atkins went down with an ACL tear. I thought he should’ve been a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He’ll be in line for a massive contract extension next offseason, maybe even later this offseason.
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