Top 25 NFL Rookies Heading into Week 8
Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed, Buffalo Bills cornerback Nickell Robey and New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith were among the rookies who continued making bigger names for themselves in Week 7 of the NFL season.
An emerging weapon on the Redskins offense, Reed had a breakout performance on Sunday by catching nine passes for 134 yards and a touchdown against the Chicago Bears.
Robey has been solid as a slot cornerback for the Bills all season, but he was at his best on Sunday, making plays on the ball for a 19-yard interception return touchdown and three total passes defensed against Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Smith, meanwhile, continued the Jets’ alternating win/loss pattern this season by leading Gang Green to an overtime win over its biggest rival, the New England Patriots.
Robey and Smith have been overshadowed by teammates Kiko Alonso and Sheldon Richardson, respectively, who have arguably been the NFL’s top two rookies this season. Reed, on the other hand, had what was easily his best performance of the season to date.
All five of those players are among the 25 who make up this week’s Bleacher Report NFL Rookie Rankings.
Note: All advanced statistics and snap counts, unless otherwise noted, were found using Pro Football Focus’ premium statistics database. A subscription is required to access the database.
Dropouts from Last Week’s Rankings
Robert Woods, WR, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: No. 19
The chemistry Robert Woods had developed with fellow rookie quarterback EJ Manuel has not yet emerged with Thad Lewis, who is filling in for Manuel while the rookie recovers from an LCL sprain in his left knee.
With Lewis at quarterback in Buffalo’s past two games, Woods has caught just five passes for 33 yards on 10 total targets.
Barkevious Mingo, OLB, Cleveland Browns
Last Week: No. 23
Barkevious Mingo has had some very impressive flashes in his rookie season, but he still has a long way to go in his all-around development.
He is inconsistent as both a pass-rusher and run defender, and he is back in a situational role off the bench with Jabaal Sheard back healthy and in the starting lineup.
John Jenkins, NT, New Orleans Saints
Last Week: No. 24
Third-round pick John Jenkins has immediately emerged as the top nose tackle on the New Orleans Saints’ depth chart, but when the Saints transitioned away schematically from the 3-4 defense in Week 6 against the New England Patriots, he did not see the field much (only 19-of-88 snaps).
Coming out of the bye week, it will be interesting to see the Saints utilize Jenkins more, and if so, if he can start making the big impact that he did earlier this season in the middle of the New Orleans defensive line.
25. Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins
Last Week: NR
As mentioned in the introductory slide, Reed had a breakout game Sunday versus the Chicago Bears. He led all tight ends in the NFL in Week 7 with his nine receptions and 134 yards.
Reed is a non-traditional, flex tight end who makes up for what he lacks in size with shiftiness, route-running and strong hands. He did a great job of finding openings in the Bears defense on Sunday, making plays and catching every pass that was thrown his way.
Following Sunday’s game, Reed leads all rookie tight ends with 26 receptions and 298 receiving yards.
Potentially emerging as the No. 2 receiving threat in the Washington offense behind wideout Pierre Garcon, Reed will move up these rankings quickly if he continues to play as well as he did in the Redskins’ win on Sunday.
24. Sam Martin, P, Detroit Lions
Last Week: No. 20
Sam Martin’s first three punts were all downed within the 20-yard line on Sunday, but his fourth and final punt of the game set up a game-winning field goal for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Punting from the 23-yard line with the game tied at 24 apiece and less than a minute to play in regulation, all Martin needed to do was punt the ball high and deep to likely force the Bengals to settle for overtime. Instead, Martin shanked the punt out of bounds for just 28 yards, giving the Bengals prime field position at the 49-yard line, which allowed them to complete two passes and send in Mike Nugent to kick a 54-yard game-winner.
While Martin will take some blame for the Bengals’ loss due to his mistake, that shouldn’t overshadow all he has done well thus far this season. He has the NFL’s fourth-best averages in both yards per punt (48.2) and net yards per punt (42.9), and he has downed nine of his last 18 punts inside the 20 after struggling to do so early in the season.
If he can continue to punt the ball well and bounce back from his costly mistake, Martin should work his way back up the rankings.
23. Joseph Fauria, TE, Detroit Lions
Last Week: No. 21
Few players have more anomalistic stat lines in the NFL than Detroit Lions tight end Joseph Fauria. The undrafted rookie has caught only eight passes for 81 yards, but he leads all rookies with five receiving touchdowns.
As I noted last week, Fauria has become a major red-zone playmaker for the Lions, as his combination of size (6’7”, 255 lbs.) and athleticism makes him very difficult to defend as a receiver.
He has not been a consistent source of production for the Lions offense, however. In Sunday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, he was targeted four times in 31 snaps but caught just one pass for 15 yards.
He is officially the No. 2 tight end on the Lions’ depth chart after Tony Scheffler was released on Monday, so his role should continue to increase in the Detroit offense. For now, though, he holds a spot in these rankings due to the big scoring plays he has made.
22. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: No. 22
Xavier Rhodes only played 35 snaps in an ugly Minnesota Vikings loss to the New York Giants on Monday Night Football, but he held his own in coverage when he was on the field. Though he was targeted six times, he allowed just two receptions for 14 yards, according to PFF.
The No. 3 cornerback on the Vikings defense has had his ups and downs, but overall, he has been as steady as any player at his position among the rookie class. Allowing just 0.77 yards per coverage snap, he ranks eighth among all cornerbacks (second among rookies) who have played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps this season.
Not much has gone well for the 1-5 Minnesota Vikings this season, but the play of Rhodes, who has been credited with 15 tackles and two passes defensed, has at least been promising, if not stellar.
21. Caleb Sturgis, K, Miami Dolphins
Last Week: No. 8
Last week, I wrote that coming out of the bye week, Caleb Sturgis had to prove that he could bounce back from a costly miss against the Baltimore Ravens, when he badly shanked a 57-yard field goal attempt wide left that could have forced overtime in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
He failed to do so against the Buffalo Bills, missing his only field goal attempt of the game wide right from 51 yards out.
Sturgis had a string of perfection going until his miss in the final minute of the Dolphins’ Week 5 contest, making his first 10 field goals of the year. He had to get back in the groove, however, coming off of back-to-back misses.
In his defense, both of his misses were from more than 50 yards out, and he already has two field goals of more than 50 yards this season. That said, the Dolphins will be expecting more reliability from their rookie kicker, especially considering that the man he replaced, Dan Carpenter, has missed only one field goal for the Buffalo Bills this year.
20. Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England Patriots
Last Week: No. 16
Inconsistency continued to define Kenbrell Thompkins’ season on Sunday against the New York Jets. One game removed from a game-winning 17-yard touchdown reception against the New Orleans Saints, Thompkins only caught two passes for 16 yards against the Jets.
Thompkins has shown his potential on his share of big plays this season, but with only 23 catches on 54 targets, he has the NFL’s sixth-lowest catch percentage among wide receivers who have played at least 25 percent of their teams’ offensive snaps.
However, the undrafted rookie is second on the Patriots with 334 receiving yards, and he leads the team with four touchdowns and six receiving plays of 20 yards or more. If he can make more plays on passes thrown his way, he is a potential star.
19. Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: NR
While Terrance Williams’ season has been defined at times by head-scratching mistakes, he has emerged over the past four weeks as a key playmaker in the Dallas Cowboys offense.
Williams has 380 receiving yards and three touchdowns this season, including one touchdown catch in each of the past three games. He has consistently tracked the ball well downfield and has shown the ability to separate from coverage with his speed and route-running.
With 24 receptions on 28 targets this season, Williams has the NFL’s best catch percentage among all receivers who have played at least 25 percent of their teams’ offensive snaps.
With Miles Austin battling a hamstring injury, Williams has emerged as a quality, dynamic No. 2 receiving threat opposite Dez Bryant.
18. Marcus Cooper, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: No. 17
With Brandon Flowers back healthy and in the lineup after missing the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 6 game versus the Oakland Raiders with a knee injury, Marcus Cooper was taken out of the starting lineup but still saw 33 snaps of game action against the Houston Texans.
He gave up two catches for 23 yards on three targets, but he had another solid performance, for the most part, which included a pass deflection. He has 11 passes defensed for the season, all of them coming in his last four games, which is more than the 10 receptions he has allowed this season.
Cooper has been arguably the best cornerback among this year’s rookie class, which is quite an accomplishment for a player who was the third-to-last pick in the 2013 draft and was released prior to the start of the season by the San Francisco 49ers.
Featuring Cooper as the third cornerback behind Flowers and Sean Smith, the Chiefs appear to have one of the NFL’s best cornerback trios in the league.
17. Kyle Long, RG, Chicago Bears
Last Week: No. 12
Kyle Long has been a steady if not spectacular presence for the Chicago Bears this season. The long, athletic guard has been inconsistent, but he has still been a strong point along Chicago’s rebuilt offensive line.
Long allowed his second sack of the season against the Washington Redskins, according to PFF, but he had an otherwise decent game, finishing with an overall rating of -0.3. Thus far this season, Long’s overall rating of minus-0.5 ranks 27th among the 60 guards who have played at least 50 percent of their teams’ offensive snaps.
The No. 20 overall pick of the 2013 draft was one of the most heavily-scrutinized selections in the draft’s aftermath, but Long has outperformed expectations and has been one of the best rookie offensive linemen in the league.
16. Nickell Robey, CB, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: NR
Nickell Robey’s lack of size (5’8”, 165 lbs.) may limit him to playing slot cornerback in the NFL, but he is proving that his size shouldn’t have caused him to go undrafted. Robey has cemented his spot in the nickel defense for the Buffalo Bills, and he already looks like one of the NFL’s best slot cornerbacks.
Robey has been dominant in coverage, allowing just 0.59 yards per coverage snap this season. While he is small, he uses his quickness and physicality to stay on receivers and has good skills to make plays on the ball.
On Sunday, he made his biggest play on the ball this season with his 19-yard interception return for a touchdown on Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s first pass of the game. He has done a great job breaking on passes to intended receivers and has six total passes defensed this year.
With a player who could be their slot cornerback for years to come, it appears the Bills found an undrafted gem in Robey.
15. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers
Last Week: No. 18
The San Diego Chargers passing offense has been resurgent this season, and while Philip Rivers has played much better, one reason for the unit’s leap forward in 2013 has been the play of third-round pick Keenan Allen.
Allen has 23 receptions for 369 yards and two touchdowns in his last four games alone, and he ranks second among all rookies with a total of 26 receptions for 399 yards on the season.
He lacks top speed but makes up for it by attacking the football, running strong routes and utilizing his quickness. Given the early results, it looks like the Chargers got a steal by selecting Allen in Round 3.
14. Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets
Last Week: No. 14
A roller-coaster season for Geno Smith and the New York Jets—in which they have yet to have back-to-back wins or back-to-back losses—continued on Sunday when the Jets defeated the New England Patriots in overtime. The 30-27 win was also another up-and-down game for Smith.
Smith had two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) and accounted for 265 total yards. However, he also completed just 17-of-33 passing attempts, threw an interception that was returned 79 yards and fumbled twice, though both of those fumbles were recovered by his own team.
His play has come with its ups and downs all year. He ranks 27th among NFL starting quarterbacks with a 74.3 quarterback rating and has thrown the league’s third-most interceptions (11), but ranks 15th in the NFL with 1,679 yards of total offense.
Nonetheless, Smith did enough for his team to win another game on Sunday, and he is keeping the Jets in serious playoff contention, something Mark Sanchez likely could not be doing. Even as he overcomes his mistakes, he has been the most impressive rookie quarterback in the NFL this season.
13. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, New Orleans Saints
Last Week: No. 10
Kenny Vaccaro had a Week 7 bye to put a break into his up-and-down but highly active rookie season in which he has played all but six defensive snaps for the Saints.
Vaccaro has been used everywhere this season—from safety to slot cornerback to linebacker—and he has made an impact. He has 33 total tackles, three passes defensed (one interception) and a sack.
Vaccaro is already a player who opponents must account for on every snap. He has the ability to do everything from playing center-field safety to attacking the line of scrimmage as a blitzer, and he will make even more plays if he becomes more consistent and technically sound.
12. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: No. 9
PFF’s highest-rated run-blocking center coming into Week 7, Travis Frederick finally had a bad game Sunday versus the Philadelphia Eagles.
He graded out as the league’s second-worst run-blocking center (minus-3.5 rating) for the week, even though he was going up against a Philadelphia run defense that ranks just 16th in the NFL. He did not allow a sack but gave up two quarterback hurries, according to PFF.
Frederick has had two bad games this season, with the first coming against Dontari Poe and the Kansas City Chiefs, but he has had a very good rookie year overall. He has provided much-needed stability in the middle of the Cowboys’ offensive line, and his overall rating of 1.5 is the third-best among all rookie offensive linemen this year.
11. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
Last Week: No. 15
After a disappointing three-game stretch, Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins bounced back nicely on Sunday versus the Kansas City Chiefs, even in a game where Case Keenum was the starting quarterback. Hopkins caught only three passes in the game but gained 76 yards.
Hopkins’ big plays on Sunday included burning Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith up the left sideline for a 29-yard touchdown and making a catch between a coverage window of Smith and safety Eric Berry for a 35-yard gain. After being mostly shut down in the past three weeks, Hopkins showed his ability to get open and make plays downfield once again.
Hopkins’ production has been adversely affected by poor quarterback play in Houston, but he remains a top-notch No. 2 wideout opposite Andre Johnson. He has shown that he can make plays, even with an unproven quarterback leading the offense.
He still leads all rookies with 28 receptions and 416 receiving yards.
10. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
Last Week: No. 25
I was told last week that Eddie Lacy should be higher on the power rankings, and I listened. Although Lacy has only played in four full games this year due to a concussion, he is already making it clear that he is the feature back the Packers need to lead their ground game.
In his past three games since returning from injury, Lacy has been terrific, accounting for 330 yards from scrimmage on 75 touches. Even though he has only played in five games and was concussed on his first carry against the Washington Redskins, he still leads all rookies with 352 rushing yards on 83 attempts.
Lacy ranks 14th among qualifying NFL running backs with 4.2 yards per carry and 13th with 70.4 rushing yards per game. A physical between-the-tackles runner with great size (5’11”, 230 lbs.) and deceptive quickness, Lacy is a bell cow who can run through contact but also take runs to the outside in order to gain additional yardage.
The late second-round pick has been the best pure runner of any rookie in this year’s class, and if he can continue to produce consistently and stay healthy, he should continue to work his way up the rankings.
9. D.J. Fluker, OT, San Diego Chargers
Last Week: No. 11
When King Dunlap suffered a concussion and Mike Remmers suffered a high ankle sprain in the same Week 6 contest, the Chargers were left with no choice but to move rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker to the left side of the line heading into Week 7.
Considering that Fluker had not played left tackle since high school, he impressively held his own.
While he allowed four quarterback pressures in the game, according to PFF, he did not allow any sacks. In fact, he fared better in his adjustment from right to left tackle—the more difficult switch—than No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher has done in his move from left to right tackle thus far for the Kansas City Chiefs this year.
Fluker has been very good at right tackle this season, and the Chargers would certainly prefer to keep him there. If Dunlap and Remmers are not expected to be back after the Chargers’ bye week, however, they will seek to continue developing him as a left tackle and see if he can translate his well-rounded game to the left side of the line for the foreseeable future.
Overall, Fluker grades out as the NFL’s 30th-best offensive tackle and the best rookie offensive tackle this season with a 3.4 overall grade from PFF.
8. Larry Warford, RG, Detroit Lions
Last Week: No. 6
Detroit Lions right guard Larry Warford still has not given up a sack through his first seven games of the season, but against a star-studded Cincinnati Bengals defensive line, guys like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap pushed Warford into his worst game yet of his rookie season.
After allowing just three quarterback pressures in Detroit’s first six games, he allowed six total pressures (two hits, four hurries) on Sunday, according to PFF. His pass-blocking has been unexpectedly strong this season, but the speed and power of the Bengals’ defensive line seemed to overwhelm Warford in Week 7.
Nonetheless, he has been one of the NFL’s best guards this season and should bounce back from his bad game. He is tied for 12th among all NFL guards with a 5.6 overall PFF rating, which is also the best overall rating for any rookie offensive lineman in the league.
7. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers
Last Week: No. 13
Carolina Panthers nose tackle Star Lotulelei bounced back in a big way Sunday after a few quiet performances.
Lotulelei once again showed his ability to wreak havoc as both a run defender and interior pass-rusher against the St. Louis Rams, finishing his Week 7 game with six total tackles, including two for loss, and three quarterback pressures.
He took advantage of his matchup against a weak crop of Rams guards (Chris Williams, Harvey Dahl and Shelley Smith), but nonetheless, his combination of size (6’2”, 315 lbs.), power and explosive quickness make him a challenge for any offensive lineman to handle when he is at his best.
Lotulelei hasn’t been a mainstay on the field or consistently dominant this season, but he has recorded five total tackles for loss and has the 12th-best overall rating from PFF of any NFL defensive tackle this season.
6. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: No. 7
Giovani Bernard was not utilized frequently by the Cincinnati Bengals versus the Detroit Lions on Sunday, and he only ended up with 59 yards on 12 touches. Nonetheless, Bernard’s body of work this season, as both a runner and receiver, has made him one of the league’s most dynamic young offensive weapons.
A quick back who bursts into holes with great acceleration and vision, makes defenders miss in the open field and also possesses the ability to run through contact, Bernard has emerged as a playmaker as an outside runner, a receiver and even as an inside runner.
Even though he has not been consistently used in a heavy workload by the Bengals this season, Bernard leads all rookies with 497 yards from scrimmage on 92 touches, and he also has four touchdowns.
He is a player whose big-play ability and versatility makes him someone whom opposing defenses must account for every time he is on the field, regardless of down and distance. He is a leading candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
5. Alec Ogletree, OLB, St. Louis Rams
Last Week: No. 5
Although he played all 62 defensive snaps of Sunday’s game versus the Carolina Panthers, St. Louis Rams outside linebacker Alec Ogletree had possibly his quietest game of the season to date. That’s not to say that Ogletree had a bad game—he had five tackles including one for a 2-yard loss—but he did not make the big plays we have been accustomed to seeing from him this season.
Ogletree has been a difference-maker for the Rams all season long. He has 51 tackles (three for loss), three forced fumbles and four passes defensed, including an interception that he returned 98 yards for a touchdown.
The weakside linebacker has had his ups and downs this season—he has been credited with eight missed tackles and has allowed 24 receptions for 260 yards—but his explosive big-play ability has overshadowed his mistakes. If Ogletree can continue making big plays for the rest of the year, he is a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
4. Tyrann Mathieu, FS/CB, Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: No. 4
Tyrann Mathieu relinquished the starting free safety job back to Rashad Johnson in Week 7, and he had possibly his least impactful game of the season in his move back to slot cornerback. He played a season-low 38 defensive snaps, had a season-low two tackles and recorded no passes defensed.
All of that said, he still made some difference in the Cardinals’ loss to the Seattle Seahawks, especially as a blitzer. He was used as a pass-rusher five times, and he recorded quarterback pressures on three of those five plays, according to PFF.
Mathieu has been used in a wide variety of ways this season, playing both safety and slot cornerback, while he does everything from covering deep to playing up at the line of scrimmage.
He has made an impact in every area he has played this season, which shows in his 42 total tackles (41 solo, five for loss, one sack), three passes defensed (one interception) and one forced fumble.
3. Eric Reid, FS, San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: No. 3
The San Francisco 49ers’ transition from an AP All-Pro to a rookie at the free safety position has been remarkably seamless this year thanks to the impressive debut campaign of Eric Reid.
Reid has been both stable and a big-play defender for the 49ers defense this year. He did not make any big plays on Sunday versus the Tennesee Titans—recording four tackles and no passes defensed—but he continued to be a steady presence in the San Francisco secondary in the 49ers’ 31-17 win.
He has made no shortage of plays on the season, as he is credited with 31 tackles and five passes defensed, including three interceptions. Allowing just 0.43 yards per coverage snap this season, Reid has been a steady presence in pass coverage.
2. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: No. 2
Kiko Alonso has looked more like a rookie in his past two games than he did earlier in the season, but nonetheless, the Buffalo Bills middle linebacker is having an outstanding season.
Alonso is a leader who does it all for the Bills defense. He immediately took on the responsibility of having the green dot on his helmet, signifying him as the defensive play-caller who relays calls from the coaches to his teammates. Furthermore, he has played every defensive snap in Buffalo’s first seven games.
The Bills shouldered Alonso with some heavy responsibility going into his rookie season, but he has proven to be far more than just capable of handling the responsibility. He has flourished in his role, tallying 70 total tackles (third-most in the NFL) and four interceptions (tied for the most in the NFL).
Given those numbers, Alonso actually had a quiet game for his standards in Week 7 versus the Miami Dolphins, posting only four total tackles (one for loss). Alonso typically does a great job of being around the football constantly and getting in proper position to make tackles, but he did not do this as much against Miami.
Nonetheless, Alonso has far exceeded expectations as the No. 46 overall selection in the draft, and he may well be the favorite to follow in the footsteps of Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
1. Sheldon Richardson, DE/DT, New York Jets
Last Week: No. 1
While Kiko Alonso may have the flashiest statistics of any rookie, New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson is putting up excellent numbers as an interior defensive lineman. He has been the dominant snap-to-snap rookie in the league and is already establishing himself as one of the league’s best players at his position.
Playing as a 5-technique defensive end/3-technique defensive tackle in the Jets defense, Richardson has 35 total tackles this season, the most of any interior defensive lineman and the third-most of any defensive lineman in the NFL. Those numbers include 6.5 tackles for loss (2.5 sacks), and he also has a forced fumble and a pass deflection on the season.
With Richardson, however, it is about more than just the numbers at a position where statistics do not tell the whole story. Even on plays where he is not making a stop himself and recorded a tally on the stat sheet, he is using his quickness, size (6’3”, 294 lbs.) and strength to disrupt by penetrating the line of scrimmage and/or occupying blockers.
Richardson recorded five tackles in the Jets’ 30-27 overtime win against the New England Patriots, all the while playing a season-high total of 74 snaps. He was consistently disruptive, as he has been all season, and has proven to be consistently problematic to block on a defensive line that also includes Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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