INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts can chalk up another quality group of rookies following the contributions from their 2019 class.
In 2018, the Colts' rookie class was historic. It fielded nine players who were either full-time starters or regular contributors, and Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard became the first pair of rookie teammates to be named First-Team All-Pros since 1965. However, the team's 2019 rookie class was sneaky good this season in its own right.
According to Pro Football Focus, Colts rookies, linebacker Bobby Okereke, cornerback Rock Ya-Sin and kicker Chase McLaughlin, were standouts in their own right, each earning a spot on PFF's 2019 NFL All-Rookie Team.
Bobby Okereke | Linebacker
Per PFF: "Okereke hasn't seen quite as much playing time as some other rookie linebackers, but when he has been on the field, no player from the class has a higher PFF grade. Okereke has been strongest in the most important area for a modern-day NFL linebacker: coverage. His 79.2 coverage grade ranks 10th among all off-ball linebackers, and though he doesn't have any official interceptions to this point, he is due for one. Okereke has dropped two interceptions and had a pick-two on a two-point conversion that won't show up on the stat sheet."
PFF's eighth-highest-graded overall rookie is also their highest-graded rookie linebacker by a mile, his 77.3 grade ranking almost 11 points higher than the next player. He wasn't just good for a rookie, though; he was PFF's No. 8 overall linebacker among those that had played at least 450 snaps.
The rookie started 8-of-16 games, totaling 58 tackles (two for loss), 1.0 sack, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovered, two pass breakups, one quarterback hit, and he intercepted and returned a two-point conversion attempt for points. Okereke only missed five tackles throughout the season, which ranked fourth fewest among qualifying linebackers.
Among rookie linebackers, Okereke allowed the second-fewest yards per reception (7.4), the third-fewest yards after catch (120) and the fourth-best opponent passer rating (102.0).
The Colts were giddy about acquiring Okereke after his selection in the third round with the 89th-overall pick. It seems like it's safe to say they are still quite satisfied with the results.
"Bobby Okereke, he's got somethin' real special in his body," Colts general manager told reporters this week. "I think you saw the flashes."
Rock Ya-Sin | Cornerback
Per PFF: "Looking at the season from start to finish, Ya-Sin hasn't had a smooth ride to a spot on the All-Rookie Team. A 55.0 coverage grade through the first nine weeks of the season set him back, but we saw improvement from the Temple product as the campaign wore on. From Week 10 through the end of the season, Ya-Sin picked up a 76.1 coverage grade while allowing just a 67.7 passer rating into his coverage. That's the kind of performance the Colts expected when drafting him in the second round, and it's what they'll look for next season."
As the Colts' first pick in the 2019 draft, Ya-Sin was thrown right into the fire. He played more defensive snaps than any other Colts player (853), and although he had some up-and-down moments, he has given the team clear reason for optimism.
Ya-Sin started 13-of-15 games and produced 61 tackles (two for loss), one fumble recovered, one interception and five pass breakups. PFF charted him as allowing 36-of-56 pass targets (64.3 percent) for 555 yards (15.4 avg.) and just 3.7 yards after catch per reception. Among all full-time NFL cornerbacks, he was tied for the eighth-most penalties (nine), but also was tied for the seventh-most "stops," which PFF considers to be failed plays by the offense. Ya-Sin also had the seventh-best tackling grade among cornerbacks (82.2).
PFF's No. 46 rookie played the third-most snaps in the NFL among rookie cornerbacks, earning the sixth-best grade, and totaling the most stops, second-most tackles, ninth-best catch rate and opponent passer rating (101.4).
"He had some really good moments, and he had some ugly moments," Ballard said about Ya-Sin. "Let me tell you what I love about this kid: he's exactly what we thought he was gonna be in terms of grit and toughness. I mean, holy crap, you line up 16 games, man, and we lined him up and asked him to play some great players. All he does is work, he just works... Good day, 'I'm gonna keep workin'.' Bad day, 'I'm gonna keep workin'. That's why he's gonna get better."
A good example is in a couple of late-season matchups in which Ya-Sin held high-end receivers DeVante Parker and D.J. Moore to zero receptions on four targets, breaking up two passes.
"I thought in the Jacksonville game, he gives up the deep shot where he got stacked and shouldn't have gotten stacked, but saying that, I thought the last part of the season he played pretty well," Ballard continued. "He was getting better and ascending. It'll be a big offseason for him. But no, we're happy with Rock. We're happy where he's going, happy how he's growing. That's hard for a rookie now, firing him in there the way that we did."
Chase McLaughlin | Kicker
The Colts had quite a few struggles in the kicking game before ultimately placing kicker Adam Vinatieri on injured reserve late in the season. With Vinatieri's injury, the Colts claimed McLaughlin off of waivers and then turned to him in Week 14 after he had already been with two other teams earlier in the season.
McLaughlin responded in a big way, converting 5-of-6 field goal attempts (83.3 percent) and all 11 extra-point attempts in four games with the Colts. He was a perfect 2-of-2 from 50-plus yards.
The Colts this week announced they had signed McLaughlin to a one-year extension, and Ballard said Thursday he's got a shot to be the team's kicker in 2020.
"Yeah, we'll see. We liked him. The 50-yarder against Jacksonville in the grass, that was a really pretty cool moment, man. I think he would've made it from about 65. But I'm happy with Chase," Ballard said. "You've gotta come in and follow Adam Vinatieri, you've got a little somethin' to ya. He's got a very calm demeanor, he's got a good process that he goes through to kick. So, we like Chase."
In 11 games as a rookie with the Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco 49ers and then the Colts, McLaughlin went 18-of-23 on field goals (78.3 percent) and 26-of-26 on extra points. He converted all three attempts from at least 50 yards.