NFL's most-improved players in every category imaginable

ByPRO FOOTBALL FOCUS via <a href="" title="ESPN" class="espn_sc_byline">ESPN </a>
January 10, 2017, 8:21 AM

&#151; -- After grading every player on every play over the course of the regular season, the Pro Football Focus analysis team has identified the most improved in several categories, from second-year players on both sides of the ball to overall passer and many more:

Second-year player on offense

Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers

Gordon struggled as a rookie in 2015. He averaged 3.5 yards per carry, ended with less than 500 total rushing yards and fumbled six times in 184 carries. Though Gordon still averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry this season (3.9), he gained 2.5 of them after contact (up from 2.2 as a rookie), scored 10 times and put the ball on the ground only twice, with 70 more carries (254).

Runner-up:? Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders

Second-year player on defense

Landon Collins, S, New York Giants

As a rookie, Collins played 56.0 percent of his snaps lined up deep in the secondary as a free safety, and it was ugly. But in his second season, he was there on 36.7 percent of his snaps, and he was used far more as a box weapon. His 46 defensive stops are eight more than the next-best safety, and he either picked off or broke up 10 passes.

Runner-up:? Markus Golden, OLB, Arizona Cardinals

Overall passer

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Last season was something of an anomaly for Luck. He was playing poorly, then got hurt, then was badly injured before being shut down for the year. He had the best season of his career in 2016, with a PFF grade of 92.4, which is four points higher than his previous best in 2014.

Runner-up: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Overall runner

Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins

Miami's season got on track when the Dolphins started riding Ajayi, becoming a power running team. Ajayi led all runners in average yards per carry after contact (3.5), more than Todd Gurley managed in total yard average. Ajayi broke 58 tackles as a runner -- 11 more than the next-best mark -- and did so despite being just ninth in carries.

Runner-up:? Bilal Powell, New York Jets

Overall wide receiver

Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders

Cooper dropped 18 passes on 87 catchable targets last season. On the exact same number of catchable targets this season, he dropped only four. The rest of Cooper's numbers improved only marginally, but he displayed far better hands in his second season. He remains a dangerous weapon for the Raiders' passing attack, flashing much of the playmaking ability that helped make him the No. 4 overall pick in 2015.

Runner-up:? Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings

Pass protector

David Bakhtiari, OT, Green Bay Packers

Bakhtiari was already a good pass protector last season, but he was arguably the league's best in 2016. He allowed just 20 total pressures, despite pass blocking for a quarterback who held the ball on average longer than every other QB in the league after Tyrod Taylor. The Packers' investment in?Bakhtiari looks wise.

Runner-up: Marcus Gilbert, Pittsburgh Steelers


Marcus Cannon, OT,? New England Patriots

The return of longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has done wonders for the New England line, and no player enjoyed a greater improvement than Cannon. The right tackle's PFF run-blocking grade jumped to 87.3 from 68.1, and the Patriots had nearly 500 more rushing yards than last season.

Runner-up:? Matt Paradis, Denver Broncos

Run defender

Danny Shelton, NT, Cleveland Browns

Shelton's rookie season in 2015 was far from great, recording mediocre grades and only 19 defensive stops. But this season, that number jumped to 39; only Damon Harrison?(49) had more.

Runner-up:? Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

Edge rusher

Vic Beasley , Atlanta Falcons

As a rookie, Beasley had just 42 total pressures and four sacks. In year two, he finished the regular season with 56 total pressures and a league-leading 15.5 sacks. He had four multiple-sack games and recorded pressure in all 16 games.

Runner-up:? Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills

Interior rusher

Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals

Campbell has been a top-level interior presence for a while, but he really stepped up his pass rush in 2016, recording three more sacks, five additional pressures and three extra batted passes on fewer pass-rushing snaps than a year ago.

Runner-up:? Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons

Coverage linebacker

Paul Posluszny, Jacksonville Jaguars

In 2016, Posluszny somehow became the linebacker he once was. Over the past four seasons, his average PFF grade has been 48.1, but this season, he finished with 88.4 and a spot on PFF's second team All-Pro team. He cut down his average receptions allowed from 11.1 a year ago to only 9.4 this season and allowed 74.1 percent of targets to be caught, down from 80.7 a year ago.

Runner-up:? Jordan Hicks, Philadelphia Eagles

Man-coverage cornerback

Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs

Peters had eight interceptions as a rookie last season, but he also allowed eight touchdowns and almost 1,000 receiving yards. He was a gambler who lost as often as he won. In 2016, he allowed only three scores and some 300 fewer yards, while still picking off six passes.

Runner-up:? Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants

Deep-ball thrower

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

It was a career year for Ryan, who had a league-high 136.1 quarterback rating on throws targeted 20-plus yards downfield. He was 32-of-63 on such throws, with three drops from his receivers. He was also the only quarterback to not throw a single interception on a deep ball in 2016. This comes after a season in which he threw more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (three) on deep balls.

Runner-up:? Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

Passer under pressure

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Rodgers had 153 attempts under pressure this season, and he managed a ridiculous 12-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on such passes. Fourteen other starting quarterbacks threw more interceptions than touchdowns when faced with pressure this season. Rodgers' passer rating under pressure jumped more than 20 points from 2015.

Runner-up:? Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings

Overall passing accuracy

Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

After finishing 17th in 2015 with an adjusted completion percentage of 73.2, Tannehill made quite the leap to sixth overall (77.4 percent), before hurting his knee in December. It's not as if he was drastically changing the throws he was asked to make, either, in coach Adam Gase's offense; Tannehill's depth of target dropped only slightly, from 8.9 in 2015 to 8.2 this season.

Runner-up:? Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

Running quarterback

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Stafford's propensity to scramble didn't change much from 2015 to 2016, but his effectiveness certainly did. Last season, he had 26 runs past the line of scrimmage for 171 yards (6.6 yards per carry), while this season he scrambled 27 times for 213 yards (7.9 yards per carry). He also had four broken tackles, after only two in 2015.

Runner-up:?Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills

Breaking tackles/extending runs

Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins

No starting running back was tougher to bring down this season than Ajayi. He led all backs with 58 broken tackle and 3.5 yards after contact per attempt. Both figures were tops by a good margin. His 75.5 elusive rating is the fifth best for a running back in the past 10 years.

Runner-up:? Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns

Catching the ball out of the backfield

David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

This one is easy. Johnson led all backs in receptions (80), yards (879) and broken tackles (27) in one of the most-impressive receiving years from a running back PFF has ever graded. He nearly doubled his output from a season ago in each of those categories. Even with the volume he had, Johnson still somehow ended up fourth in yards per reception (11.0).

Runner-up:? Devonta Freeman?and? Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons

Deep-ball receiver

Rishard Matthews, Tennessee Titans

In his final season with the Dolphins, Matthews saw just three catchable passes thrown his way on passes 20 yards or further downfield. He caught all three of them for 115 yards and two touchdowns. He saw 11 catchable deep passes thrown his way this season, catching them all for 388 yards to rank seventh in the league.

Runner-up:? Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks

Slot receiver

Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys

Beasley picked up 406 yards from the slot in 2015, averaging 1.15 yards per route run with two drops and five touchdowns. This season, his yardage rose to 647 yards, his yards per route run to 1.88 (the ninth-best mark in the league) and his drops stayed at two.

Runner-up:? Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints

Contested catches

Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle Seahawks

Graham's first season in Seattle was solid, if not up to the standards we had come to expect from his prolific time in New Orleans with Drew Brees. This season, highlighted by that incredible performance against Buffalo, when he had two touchdowns with defenders draped over him, his PFF grade rose from 80.6 to 85.0.

Runner-up:? Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders

Despite his playmaking ability, Cooper gave the Raiders cause for concern as a rookie, dropping 18 of the 87 catchable passes thrown his way in 2015. After ranking second-to-last in drop rate in 2015, he finished 28th best in his second year in the league, dropping only four of the 87 catchable passes thrown his way.

Runner-up:? Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers

Slot cornerback

William Gay,?Pittsburgh Steelers

In 2015, Gay allowed 0.84 yards per coverage snaps and a reception once every 10.5 coverage snaps from the slot. He allowed even fewer this season, giving up 0.61 yards per coverage snap, the second-best mark in the league next to Chris Harris Jr., and a reception just once every 10.9 coverage snaps from the slot.

Runner-up:? Nickell Robey-Coleman, Buffalo Bills

Hybrid defender

Landon Collins, S, New York Giants

No player in the league made the improvement from his rookie season to his second year the way Collins did. His missed tackles dropped from 15 to 12, while his tackles resulting in a defensive stop climbed from 32 to 46, all of which contributed to his PFF rating rising from 58.0 to 92.1.

Runner-up:? Tony Jefferson, S, Arizona Cardinals

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