Each April, it's the same routine—players are paraded out, and their NFL futures are determined by men in war rooms across the country. Each one is slotted into his new role, and teams all sell the notion that all of their respective futures have changed for the better with the best crop of draftees ever known to man.
Then, the regular season starts.
The media and fans start slotting each player into their preconceived roles as well. The superstar quarterbacks get shoved into the spotlight, a couple of stud linebackers rack up a ton of crooked numbers in the tackles column, and that is that.
As is often the case, there are far more rookies that are contributing to their team's success and many more that are playing well despite their team's failures. Just like teams exist outside of the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys, so there are rookies that deserve attention they will never get from the national media.
So, who are these rookies that are flying under the radar? Bleacher Report has you covered.
Bobby Massie (OT Arizona Cardinals)
This is actually a pretty great story.
Massie hasn't been flying under the radar as much as he was just tremendously terrible at the beginning of the season. He became, for many, the butt of jokes and the No. 1 reason the Cardinals were struggling. His poor play was directly throwing off the timing of the offense, and it was impossible to run anywhere near his spot on the line.
Then, Massie took a look at Pro Football Focus and saw what everyone else knew: He'd been terrible. Then, according to AZCardinals.com:
His demeanor in practice changed. He stayed after practice with offensive line coach Russ Grimm perfecting his kick step. His technique improved.
But he honed in on studying film. The approach he was taking wasn’t working and he “had to actually study my opponent.” With the reform comes about 10 hours per week of film at the practice facility and from home.
The result has been dramatic, just take a look at the ratings from PFF before and after his transformation.
What exactly has changed on the field of play? Well, the biggest difference has to be the way in which Massie has attacked pass-rushers for the past few weeks. Many linemen are taught (rightfully so) to let defensive linemen make the first move and then kickslide accordingly. If an offensive lineman overcommits before the defensive lineman shows his hand, game over.
The problem, however, was that Massie was letting defensive linemen get the first, second, third and most every move after. Because he wasn't confident, he was letting defenders into his pads and past him into the quarterback.
Take a look at this first-down pass from the Cardinals in Week 12 against the St. Louis Rams:
Massie rode Chris Long right into a pile in the middle of the field and freed up a blocking lane for the running back.
In the past, it is likely that Long would've had a clear release to the inside, and the introduction of a blitzer would've led Massie to leave one (or both). At that point, the running back would've been useless against both an inside and outside target, and the result would've been a sack or a hurry.
Will Massie's new-found work ethic hold? Only time will tell. For right now, however, he's no longer the biggest problem with the Cardinals. In fact, if he continues to play like this, he might even be part of the solution.
Ryan Broyles (WR Detroit Lions)
Many hardcore fantasy players (or dynasty addicts) know Broyles as "that guy you picked up when Titus Young started acting like a butthole." College football fans (especially those in Big 12 country) know him as one of the best receivers in NCAA history. Lions fans, mostly, know him as "that receiver we drafted right before I threw a shoe at my TV last April."
What does his quarterback think of him?
What kind of plays does Broyles make? Well, in addition to the video above, there was this little gem on Thanksgiving against the Texans:
Take a close look at the Texan lying on the ground. He's down there because he had the indignity to try and tackle the little guy.
Also, look at the down and distance. Stafford completed a pass at the line of scrimmage when it was 3rd-and-5. The technical term for what Broyles did here was, "bailed his quarterback out." Had Broyles gone down, no sane man would've blamed him; they would've thrown their turkey leg at the T.V. and shouted at Stafford for checking down.
Broyles made a play; expect Stafford to reward him in Week 13 and beyond.
Lavonte David (LB Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
From a guy extending drives to a guy who likes to end them, David is under the radar mostly because his name isn't Luke Kuechly. The latter has improved since switching to middle linebacker and is fourth in the league in tackles. David, however, has only seven fewer tackles (seventh in the league).
More importantly, tackles as a bare stat can often be misleading. While this shouldn't turn into a "bash Kuechly" paragraph (because, honestly, he's improved greatly in this regard), tackles after four or five yards already gained are essentially useless to a defense.
David is fantastic at diagnosing plays (just like Kuechly) but is better as shedding blocks and getting to the ball-carrier at or behind the line of scrimmage.
This play, in Week 10, is representative of what David has done all season. Here, he sheds a one-on-one block and brings Ryan Mathews down for a three-yard loss. The next play was an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-13 and then a punt.
Don't get me wrong, David is still a rookie and still gets caught up in traffic, but if you're looking for a big reason that the Buccaneers' rush defense has gone from worst to first in the entire NFL, look no further than their stud rookie linebacker.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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