NFL Rookie Top 25 Rankings for Week 4

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIISeptember 25, 2013

NFL Rookie Top 25 Rankings for Week 4

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    New York Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson (No. 91) moved up this week, while Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (No. 3) fell.
    New York Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson (No. 91) moved up this week, while Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (No. 3) fell.Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    The acclimation process is a continuing one for the 2013 NFL rookie class, and it showed in Week 3. Many rookies who made last week’s rookie rankings and/or were early draft picks struggled in their third games of the season.

    The week started out with two rookie right tackles and top-four draft picks—Eric Fisher of the Kansas City Chiefs and Lane Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles—who both struggled mightily on Thursday Night Football. Many rookies had tough weeks, including Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel, who completed less than 50 percent of his passes in a loss to the New York Jets.

    The biggest play of the week by a rookie may have been made by Tennessee Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter, who caught a game-winning 34-yard touchdown pass to beat the San Diego Chargers. Hunter, however, has not yet made his case for our ranking, as that was his first catch of the season.

    Which rookies who made big plays had the body of work to move up and establish themselves in higher spots in this week’s Top 25? Check out the slideshow to find out.

    Note: Advanced statistics and snap counts were found using Pro Football Focus’ premium statistics database. A subscription is required to access the database.

Dropouts from Last Week’s Rankings

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Jordan Mills, RT, Chicago Bears

    Last Week: No. 17

    Winning the Bears’ starting right tackle job as a rookie fifth-round pick was impressive, but Mills is looking more and more like a rookie fifth-round pick each week. He has been struggling as a pass-blocker, giving up 11 combined pressures over the past two weeks.

    Lane Johnson, RT, Philadelphia Eagles

    Last Week: No. 23

    Johnson drew a tough matchup in Week 3 against an emerging elite player in Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston. It turned out to be a “Hey Rookie, Welcome to the NFL” moment for Johnson, who Houston beat for 4.5 sacks.

    Marlon Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens

    Last Week: No. 24

    Brown was mostly a non-factor in the Ravens’ 30-9 victory over the Houston Texans, catching just two passes for six yards.

25. Barkevious Mingo, OLB, Cleveland Browns

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    Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: NR

    After missing the Browns’ season opener, Barkevious Mingo has two sacks in as many games. Coming off the bench as a situational pass-rusher, the rookie rush linebacker is making an immediate impact.

    After seeing only 25 snaps in his debut versus the Baltimore Ravens, he played 54 snaps Sunday in the Browns’ victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Working primarily as a pass-rusher, he has already recorded five total pressures in two games, according to PFF.

    Mingo has six total tackles, and even if he does not end up in a starting role this season, he should continue to see increased playing time. The key to staying in the rankings will be continuing to get after opposing quarterbacks.

24. Dion Jordan, DE, Miami Dolphins

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Last Week: NR

    Dion Jordan has only played approximately 25 percent of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps (57-of-227) through three weeks. He has made a significant impact, however, in his limited role.

    The Dolphins are using Jordan primarily as a situational pass-rusher, and he is flourishing in the role. He has one sack and eight total quarterback pressures in just 46 passing snaps. Those numbers give Jordan a pass-rush productivity number of 15.2, the NFL’s best of any 4-3 defensive end to play at least 10 passing snaps this season, according to PFF.

    Jordan has not shown much yet as a run defender. That said, if he continues his pass-rushing excellence and continues receiving greater shares of playing time, he will move up the rankings quickly.

23. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: Dropout

    Cowboys center Travis Frederick dropped off the list after Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe got the better of him in Week 2. Frederick bounced back in a big way against the St. Louis Rams and earned a spot in the rankings.

    Frederick was able to dominate the middle of the St. Louis Rams defensive line and finished the game with a PFF rating of 3.5, the second-best rating of any NFL center in Week 3.

    The Cowboys interior line shuffled around Sunday, as right guard Brian Waters was worked into the lineup in the second half, while starting guards Ronald Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau were shaky. Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray still had a 175-yard rushing day, in large part due to Frederick’s strong play in the middle.

    After giving up six quarterback pressures in the first two weeks, Frederick did not give up any to the Rams.

22. Joplo Bartu, OLB, Atlanta Falcons

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    Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 25

    When Kroy Biermann and Sean Weatherspoon were both placed on injured reserve last week, Joplo Bartu suddenly became a starter on the Falcons defense. After a strong effort in relief in Week 2, Bartu continued to play well in Week 3 against the Miami Dolphins.

    Bartu only had three tackles in 55 snaps, but his game did include a half sack and a pass deflection. The undrafted rookie out of Texas State performed admirably while leading all Falcons linebackers in snaps for the game.

    Weatherspoon is eligible to return in Week 11 should he be recovered from his sprained foot, but Bartu is in line to continue starting in Weatherspoon’s place until then. The Falcons will hope he can continue to play at the high level he has early in his rookie season.

21. Johnthan Banks, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 12

    Johnthan Banks had the benefit of lining up against fellow rookies when the Buccaneers played the New England Patriots on Sunday, but he struggled against them.

    Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins (neither of whom is in the rankings yet) both had their best games of the season thus far Sunday, and both of them beat Banks on multiple occasions.

    Overall, Banks is off to an impressive start. He stepped into a starting outside cornerback role immediately. He ranks 14th in yards per coverage snap among NFL cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their team’s defensive snaps.

    That said, the Buccaneers have quickly fallen into a hole, and Banks will need to bounce back and be at his best to give his team a strong chance to win its first game of the season Sunday versus the Arizona Cardinals.

20. John Jenkins, NT, New Orleans Saints

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    Last Week: No. 20

    Nose tackles aren’t known for piling up statistics, and Saints rookie John Jenkins is unlikely to become an exception. That said, the third-round pick has looked thus far to be an answer to the team’s need for a nose tackle to anchor its three-man front.

    The athletic 346-pounder has recorded seven total tackles in three games—a solid number for a nose tackle.

    Jenkins did not record any quarterback hurries in Week 3, according to PFF, but his ability to provide a solid presence in the middle on all three downs makes him very valuable in the Saints’ new defensive scheme.

19. Larry Warford, RG, Detroit Lions

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 10

    Larry Warford is an upgrade at right guard for the Lions after Stephen Peterman last season. Since a promising start, however, the 333-pound mauler has been struggling in run-blocking, which is considered to be the strength of his game.

    Warford has been very solid as a pass-blocker. He has not yet allowed a sack in three games.

    As a run-blocker, however, Warford needs to do a better job taking advantage of his size, power and relative athleticism. His combined run-blocking rating from PFF over the past two weeks has been minus-3.8.

    Warford has a solid hold on the starting right guard job in Detroit, but he can move back up toward the top 10 if his run-blocking can catch up with his strong pass protection.

18. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 22

    The Lions added Ezekiel Ansah to be a defensive playmaker, and he has been exactly that. He made a big impact on Sunday, coming up with two sacks against the Washington Redskins.

    Ansah may not have been as impressive of a pass-rusher as his statistics would imply. According to Bleacher Report’s Ryan Riddle, neither of Ansah’s sacks “involved him beating a blocker.”

    Nonetheless, Ansah is taking advantage of his explosive athleticism right away and has already generated 11 total tackles and 10 quarterback pressures through three games as a result.

    Ansah has been a rotational player through the first three games of the season, but he will see increased playing time after Jason Jones was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a ruptured patellar tendon. More playing time will give Ansah an opportunity to continue moving up the rankings but could also test him and expose his flaws.

17. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

    Last Week: No. 21

    Cordarrelle Patterson hasn’t seen consistent and significant playing time on the Minnesota Vikings offense yet, but he is a playmaker when he has opportunities. Although he saw limited time Sunday versus the Cleveland Browns, Patterson led the Vikings with 49 receiving yards.

    One week removed from a highlight-reel 105-yard kickoff return touchdown, Patterson had the Vikings’ three longest gains of the day versus the Browns. He made the most of his receiving yards on a challenging 37-yard catch of an underthrown ball by Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, while he had two kickoff returns for 30 and 29 yards, respectively.

    Patterson still has to find his consistent role within the Vikings offense, but his ability to create plays with his athleticism and open-field running ability makes him a dangerous threat. Considering the lackluster performance this season of quarterback Christian Ponder, the Vikings need guys like Patterson who can create their own big plays.

16. Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 11

    Tyler Eifert’s impressive rookie campaign lost some steam Sunday when he caught just one pass for seven yards against the Green Bay Packers. Still, Eifert is one of the most NFL-ready playmakers and has been the best tight end thus far in the rookie class.

    He has nine receptions for 120 yards in his NFL debut, the most among rookie tight ends through three games. He must continue to improve as a blocker, however, to receive increased playing time while sharing repetitions with veteran tight end Jermaine Gresham.

    If Eifert is going to make any serious push at the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, he is going to have to hasten his production and become a stronger blocker—but he is already providing another weapon for the Bengals’ passing offense when he is on the field.

15. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

    Last Week: No. 19

    Even when starting cornerback Chris Cook left Sunday’s game versus the Cleveland Browns with a groin injury, Xavier Rhodes remained the Vikings’ No. 3 cornerback as Marcus Sherels took Cook’s spot in the lineup. Nonetheless, Rhodes has been terrific when he has been on the field, which has been an outside cornerback in nickel or dime packages.

    Rhodes had some issues with surrendering big plays during his career at Florida State, but his only issue thus far with the Vikings has been giving up short passes in front of him. He has given up seven receptions but for only 46 yards.

    That turns out to be just 0.42 yards per coverage snap, which leads all NFL cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps this season.

    At a position where rookies are often victimized for big plays, Rhodes’ consistency at shutting those opportunities down thus far is strikingly impressive.

14. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    Last Week: No. 14

    Consistently making plays around the line of scrimmage, Jarvis Jones has been one of the few bright spots for the Steelers during their 0-3 start to the season.

    With five total tackles against the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football, including three within two yards of the line of scrimmage and one on special teams, Jones has 15 total tackles this season.

    Jones has not made any spectacular plays and does not have any spectacular traits, but he stole the starting right outside linebacker job away from Jason Worilds with reason. He is an instinctive player with a knack for making plays around the line of scrimmage, and he can both rush the passer or drop into coverage on passing downs.

13. Kyle Long, RG, Chicago Bears

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    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

    Last Week: No. 18

    Kyle Long has had an up-and-down start to his regular season after a dominant preseason. That said, he is coming off a strong Sunday Night Football performance versus the Pittsburgh Steelers and is PFF’s highest-rated rookie offensive lineman this season.

    Long did a very good job leading the way up front for the Chicago running game Sunday and finished with an impressive 2.8 rating from PFF, the best on the Bears offensive line by a significant margin.

    Long has had his ups and downs as a pass-blocker, but he has given up zero sacks through three games. All in all, Long is taking advantage of his athleticism, strength and lineage, and has been not only the NFL’s best rookie offensive lineman, but arguably the strongest point on the Chicago offensive line.

12. EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    Last Week: No. 4

    EJ Manuel turned more heads than any rookie in Week 2 when he led the Bills to a 24-23 victory over the Carolina Panthers on a game-winning drive in the final two minutes of regulation. Aside from that clutch drive, however, Manuel has largely looked like a rookie quarterback.

    This was especially true in Buffalo’s 27-20 loss to the New York Jets in Week 3, a game in which Manuel completed just 19 of 42 passing attempts.

    Although he threw for 243 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions against the Jets, Manuel failed to establish a consistent rhythm passing the ball and threw numerous passes that were erratically inaccurate. He looked uncomfortable in the pocket throughout the game and took eight sacks.

    Overall, Manuel has shown the tools to be the franchise quarterback the Bills expect him to be, but he has also shown the expected inconsistency of a rookie signal-caller. He remains a top candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year but needs to bounce back strong from his losing effort in Week 3.

11. Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets

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    Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 13

    Geno Smith won Sunday’s AFC East battle of rookie quarterbacks versus EJ Manuel, and he also moves ahead of Manuel on this week’s rankings. While Smith has yet to put together a signature drive like Manuel has, he has led his team to two victories in three weeks and was the better of the two rookie quarterbacks in Week 3.

    Smith threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns versus the Bills on Sunday, while he also ran for 14 yards on four attempts—most notably on an eight-yard first-quarter touchdown run. While he threw two interceptions and was, like Manuel, inconsistent with his accuracy, he made the plays necessary for the Jets offense to score enough points to win the game.

    Smith’s completion percentage (53.9) is low, and his interception total (6) is high through his first three games, but he has shown playmaking ability with his strong arm and complementary athleticism.

    If Smith can cut down on his errors and hit his passes with more consistency, he could quickly become the franchise quarterback the Jets were looking for when they selected him in Round 2.

10. Alec Ogletree, OLB, St. Louis Rams

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    Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 7

    Alec Ogletree led the Rams in tackles for a third consecutive week to start the season in their 31-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Even in a game where the Rams defense struggled, the first-round pick continued to be an impact playmaker.

    Ogletree has been a three-down player for the Rams defense from the get-go and has recorded 22 tackles, two pass deflections and one forced fumble already this season. His overall PFF rating for the season is actually negative (minus-2.5), but the rangy athlete is making his impact felt immediately on the Rams defense.

    Ogletree has played all but six defensive snaps in the Rams’ first three games, and whether he sustains his impact will play a crucial role in the team’s defensive efforts throughout the season.

9. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, New Orleans Saints

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    Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 16

    The Saints continued to see immediate results from first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro versus the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Vaccaro recorded his first career interception, which he returned 29 yards, and had seven total tackles in New Orleans’ 31-7 victory.

    Vaccaro has played every Saints defensive snap through three weeks and has lined up all over the field on the back end of new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s scheme. He has been a very active defender, recording 17 tackles through three weeks. He hasn't given up any plays longer than 16 yards in pass coverage.

    The Saints defense has made immediate progress this season with Ryan leading the way. And one reason for that progress has been Vaccaro, who has stepped in impressively for a rookie to an every-down, impact-player role.

8. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Last Week: No. 15

    Giovani Bernard’s emergence as a dynamic weapon in the Bengals offense continued Sunday versus the Green Bay Packers, when Bernard gained 50 yards and a touchdown on 10 rushing attempts along with 49 yards on four receptions.

    Bernard is a terrific athlete who has immediately shown his ability to extend plays in the open field by making defenders miss or leaping through contact, like he did on his lunging three-yard touchdown shown in the slide video.

    His playing time in the Cincinnati offense has increased each week, as he provides a more explosive and multifaceted game as a runner and receiver out of the backfield than starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis. With the ability to break any touch for a big gain, Bernard is a player opposing defenses will have to account for every time he is on the field.

    Bernard has 194 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns on 28 touches through his first three games of his NFL career.

7. Eric Reid, FS, San Francisco 49ers

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 5

    After leaving the 49ers’ Week 2 game versus the Seattle Seahawks early with a concussion, Reid came back Sunday versus the Indianapolis Colts and looked no worse for the wear, even though the game turned out to be a losing effort for San Francisco.

    Reid tallied five tackles and his third pass defense in as many games on Sunday. He played all but two defensive snaps and gave up just one catch for seven yards in coverage, according to PFF.

    Trading up to select Reid with the No. 18 overall selection in this year’s draft continues to look like a smart move for the 49ers. He has filled Dashon Goldson’s shoes effectively thus far and looks to be a prime candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

6. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 3

    Star Lotulelei recorded the first sack of his NFL career on Sunday in the Panthers’ 38-0 rout of the New York Giants. For a Carolina defense that needed an impact player from the defensive tackle position going into the offseason, it has found exactly that in Lotulelei.

    Because he only played in 25 of his team’s snaps Sunday, Lotulelei did not make as much of an impact as a run defender as he did in the team’s first two games. Nonetheless, Lotulelei already has nine tackles through three games, a solid number for a nose tackle who has played just 108 snaps thus far.

    Lotulelei’s role shrunk down the stretch, in part because of the Panthers’ lead, but he remains well on track to be a top Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate and an impact player for Carolina. He already looks like one of the NFL’s best defensive tackles just three games into his career.

5. Caleb Sturgis, K, Miami Dolphins

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    Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 6

    Dating back to the beginning of the preseason, Caleb Sturgis has made the first 15 field goals he has attempted in a Miami Dolphins uniform. He was on the money once again Sunday, converting 50- and 46-yard field-goal attempts that played a crucial role in Miami’s 27-23 victory against the Atlanta Falcons.

    Sturgis also made three extra points against the Falcons and did not have any of his kickoffs returned. Kickers are often seen as reaches when they are selected in the fifth round, but Sturgis certainly looks well-worth the investment thus far.

4. Tyrann Mathieu, CB/FS, Arizona Cardinals

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 9

    The Cardinals took a chance when they selected Tyrann Mathieu with their third-round pick (No. 69 overall) in this year’s draft. So far, it looks like their chance is paying off in a big way.

    Mathieu did not play any college football in 2012 after being kicked off the LSU team for off-field trouble, but he has shown no signs of rust or bad behavior early in his rookie season. Playing as a slot cornerback and at free safety, Mathieu has become an immediate difference-maker in the Arizona secondary.

    Like he was at LSU, Mathieu has continued to be a big-play machine for the Cardinals so far this season. Even in a loss to the Saints in Week 3, Mathieu made a big play when he intercepted a pass in the end zone early in the second half.

    With 10 total tackles in Sunday’s game, Mathieu was all over the field and making plays against the Saints offense. He has been a very active playmaker for the Cardinals—even though he has come off the bench in all three games thus far—with 23 tackles, a forced fumble and two pass defenses.

3. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Buffalo Bills

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

    Last Week: No. 8

    While EJ Manuel’s rookie season took a step back on Sunday, the Bills’ top defensive rookie continued to shine in the team’s loss to the New York Jets.

    Kiko Alonso has played all 257 defensive snaps through Buffalo’s first three games for a reason. He is a strong run defender who has racked up tackles in run defense, including eight on Sunday. But he is also very good at dropping back into coverage and playing the ball.

    For the second consecutive week, Alonso intercepted a pass, this time returning it 32 yards to set up the Bills at the opposing 12-yard line—the offense failed to put together a touchdown series and settled for a field goal. He did not give up any catches in coverage, according to PFF.

    Alonso leads all rookies with 27 total tackles and two interceptions, and he is immediately making a strong case to lead the Defensive Rookie of the Year race.

2. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 1

    There wasn’t much that went well for the Texans in their 30-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, but first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins continued to perform well.

    While he didn’t lead the Texans to victory like he did against the Tennessee Titans one week earlier, he led the Texans in receiving for a second consecutive week with six receptions for 60 yards.

    Hopkins leads all rookie wide receivers with 18 catches for 243 yards, including four receptions of 20 or more yards.

    The big, physical wideout’s ability to adjust to the football and make plays on the ball in the air will allow him to overcome defensive adjustments to his game. That said, he could face his toughest test yet in Week 4, when he will have to go up against the big, physical cornerbacks of the Seattle Seahawks.

1. Sheldon Richardson, DE/DT, New York Jets

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    Last Week: No. 2

    After two weeks in the runner-up spot, New York Jets interior defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson climbs to the top of this week’s rookie Top 25. All along, Richardson has been as good as any rookie in the NFL this season, and he deserves to be recognized as such.

    Richardson has been an immediate starter and difference-maker for the Jets defense this season. He brought consistent pressure up front Sunday versus the Buffalo Bills to help lead the team’s eight-sack performance, including one sack of his own.

    With rare penetration skills for an interior defensive lineman, Richardson already has 16 tackles and four tackles for loss for the Jets through three games. Even on plays where he does not record any statistics, his presence is often felt by his ability to push the pocket and/or occupy blocks.

    Richardson only played 41 of 87 snaps versus the Bills on Sunday, but he made the most of his opportunities. He helped lead a defensive effort that made EJ Manuel uncomfortable and stifled the Bills’ running game—though Richardson’s premature celebration on what ended up being a 59-yard run by Fred Jackson was a low-light of the week on ESPN’s “C’Mon Man!” segment on Monday Night Countdown.

    Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

    Follow @Dan_Hope