Geno Smith made a big splash in this week's Rookie Power Rankings after leading the New York Jets to a victory in his NFL regular-season debut.
The first week of the 2013 NFL regular season is in the books, but the NFL careers of the members of the 2013 rookie class have only just begun. That said, many rookies already made big impressions in their NFL debuts.
Throughout the season, I will be ranking the league’s top 25 rookies for Bleacher Report.
I opened the series last week with preseason rankings, but this week’s rankings are brand new. While the Week 1 rankings were based on preseason performances, those performances have been moved aside for this week in favor of results in meaningful games.
While some of the top players in this week’s rankings remain the same, there are many new additions from the top to the bottom of this week’s top 25. Some of the more unsung stars of the preseason became reserves in the regular-season opener, while some higher draft picks improved upon subpar preseasons with strong debuts.
Going forward, each rookie’s entire body of work for the regular season will be considered for each week’s rankings. For this week, however, we look at the rookies who put themselves in the best positions with their performances in the season openers.
The Patriots will be looking for more from Kenbrell Thompkins in Week 2.
Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England Patriots
Last Week: No. 4
Thompkins had a solid debut for an undrafted rookie wideout, catching four passes for 42 yards, but he did not live up to expectations. Those catches came on 14 targets, as he struggled to separate from coverage and had numerous miscommunications with quarterback Tom Brady.
He should have another big opportunity to perform in Week 2 as Danny Amendola, the Patriots' top receiver, is unlikely to play versus the New York Jets with a groin injury.
Jon Bostic, ILB, Chicago Bears
Last Week: No. 6
Even though Bostic made a strong case this preseason to unseat D.J. Williams as the Chicago Bears' starting middle linebacker, he did not see a single defensive snap in the Bears' season opener versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
DeVonte Holloman, OLB, Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: No. 9
This preseason, Holloman displayed the skill set to be an asset as a coverage linebacker, but he did not see any defensive playing time for the Dallas Cowboys versus the New York Giants.
Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: No. 12
Even after a strong preseason, Michael remains buried as the No. 3 running back on the Seattle Seahawks' depth chart behind Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin.
Dwayne Gratz, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: No. 15
Gratz is out at least three weeks after suffering a high ankle sprain versus the Kansas City Chiefs.
Last Week: No. 25
Considered to be the safest and most well-rounded prospect in the 2013 draft class, Luke Joeckel is still acclimating to the NFL. The No. 2 overall pick struggled in pass protection in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ season opener, giving up one sack and four quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
It is still likely that Joeckel—who has displayed all the skills necessary to be an elite NFL offensive tackle—will work his way up the list over the course of the season.
His regular-season debut wasn't the easiest considering his matchup with Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston, who is one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing linebackers. Houston came up with six total pressures on Sunday.
The Jaguars need Joeckel to play like a No. 2 overall pick, so his debut was disappointing. He doesn’t move up the power rankings from last week as a result, but he holds his spot at the back end of the list.
Last Week: NR
With just 2.9 yards per carry and a lost fumble, Eddie Lacy had a debut performance that was more disappointing than it was impressive. That said, he took on a difficult role as the Green Bay Packers’ clear-cut feature back, and he made a number of impact plays.
While his per-carry average was disappointing, his yards per touch increases to an impressive 4.8 if you factor in his 31-yard gain off a screen pass on his only reception of the day.
Additionally, when the Packers needed him to step up in the fourth quarter, he did. On the team’s final scoring drive of the game, Lacy gained 26 yards on five carries, capping the series by jumping through the pile on a two-yard touchdown run.
The Packers didn’t run the ball again on their final two series and ultimately lost the game to the San Francisco 49ers by six points. While Lacy may not have performed as well as anticipated in his debut, he showed the potential to be the difference-making feature back the Packers have lacked for years.
Last Week: Honorable Mention
Tavon Austin hasn’t put up much statistical production yet, but the dynamic athlete has displayed flashes of his potential to be a star offensive weapon for the St. Louis Rams.
Austin’s primary fit for the Rams is as a slot receiver. With six receptions for 41 yards, he had a solid first outing as a pass-catcher against the Arizona Cardinals. He was the Rams’ second-leading receiver behind tight end Jared Cook.
He is also expected to be a playmaker as a runner and punt returner, but he did not have much success in those capacities in his debut. He lost one yard on his only run play of the game and gained only one yard on his only punt return.
He received a plus-1.4 overall rating from Pro Football Focus for his debut.
Last Week: NR
No selection in the 2013 draft was as widely panned as the Dallas Cowboys’ choice of Wisconsin center Travis Frederick with the No. 31 overall pick. He may have been a reach as a first-round selection, but he looked like a solid addition to the Cowboys offensive line in the season opener versus the New York Giants.
Frederick isn’t flashy, but he provides needed stability to the middle of Dallas' interior line. While the offensive line continued to struggle somewhat against the Giants, he looked to be a big upgrade at center over last year’s centers, Ryan Cook and Phil Costa.
The physical Frederick may be limited throughout his career as a run-blocker due to a lack of quickness and agility, but he held his own in pass protection against the Giants.
The Cowboys offensive line's rebuilding process is far from over, but at this point, Frederick looks to be a solid building block for the unit.
Last Week: NR
For most of the undrafted standouts who made the preseason rankings, the start of the regular season brought less or no playing time and therefore no place on the first regular-season incarnation of the list.
On the other hand, Detroit Lions tight end Joseph Fauria moved into the top 25 after a strong performance in his season opener.
He only played 11 snaps against the Minnesota Vikings, according to Pro Football Focus, but he made the most of his opportunity. He caught three passes for 27 yards—more than the Lions’ top two tight ends, Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, combined for in the game—including a 22-yard gain and a catch over coverage in the end zone for a touchdown.
A 6’7”, 255-pound tight end with impressive athleticism, he has the potential to develop into a real receiving weapon over the middle for the Lions. He has to become a better blocker to move up the depth chart, but his production relative to his playing time was impressive for his NFL debut.
Last Week: NR
Jarvis Jones is Jason Worilds’ backup at right outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but that didn’t stop him from making plays in the Steelers’ season opener versus the Tennessee Titans.
He came off the bench and showed his ability to make plays in the backfield, recording two tackles for loss. He played a total of 30 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
Jones' production was nearly identical to that of Worilds, who played 46 snaps and accumulated two assisted tackles, according to PFF. Jones’ PFF rating for the first game was minus-1.2, but his role in the defense should continue to grow if he keeps making plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Last Week: No. 14
Third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu hasn’t yet cracked the starting lineup for the Arizona Cardinals, but he has earned an immediate role as the team’s slot cornerback in nickel and dime packages. He had a productive debut in that role versus the St. Louis Rams.
A sure tackler, he finished the game with seven total tackles in just 42 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He has a nose for making plays on the football, and though he has yet to record his first pass breakup, consistent tackling was a good place for him to start.
On the other side of that, part of the reason he had so many tackles was that he was targeted in coverage. He allowed four receptions in just 25 coverage snaps, according to PFF. That said, he was not beaten badly at all, giving up just 36 yards and seven yards after the catch, according to PFF’s signature statistics.
The Cardinals drafted Mathieu to be a playmaker, and he showed throughout the preseason and in his regular-season debut that he can be one. He continues to be near the top of the list of defensive rookies who can be immediate-impact players.
Last Week: NR
Faced with the task of starting opposite Darrelle Revis—arguably the NFL’s best cornerback—the pressure is immediately on Johnthan Banks as a rookie. Given that opponents of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will likely steer clear of “Revis Island,” Banks should see his consistent share of targets all season.
He stepped into the tough role very capably in his debut versus the New York Jets. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just two receptions for 17 yards in 37 coverage snaps. He also had three tackles for the game.
The receiver-weak New York Jets did not present a particularly challenging matchup for Banks, but his effective presence in coverage made his debut a strong one.
If he can continue to provide consistent coverage against tougher opponents, he and Revis can quickly become one of the NFL’s elite cornerback duos. Banks was a ball hawk during his collegiate career at Mississippi State, and he should have plenty of opportunities to make plays opposite Revis.
Last Week: No. 3
From attacking the run to dropping back in coverage, it is clear first-round pick Alec Ogletree is going to be one of the St. Louis Rams’ most active defenders this season. He followed up a strong preseason with a solid debut, finishing the game versus the Arizona Cardinals tied for the team lead with seven tackles.
It wasn’t all positive for him in his debut, hence his slide well out of the top five from last week’s rankings.
He did not make any big plays against the Cardinals and finished the game with a minus-1.5 rating from Pro Football Focus. Ben Fennell of NFL Films tweeted that Ogletree “struggled” in his debut, looking “tentative” in run defense while also displaying “poor awareness in zone coverage.”
Nonetheless, Ogletree holds a solid spot in the top 25 after a strong preseason and an active debut. He played 65 snaps in the season opener, according to PFF, and he is cemented as one of the Rams’ two three-down linebackers alongside James Laurinaitis.
Last Week: No. 18
Workloads are typically increased gradually for rookie defensive players, but not for Buffalo Bills middle linebacker Kiko Alonso. The second-round pick didn’t just win the starting middle linebacker job outright; he cemented himself as a three-down player and leader of the linebacker corps.
The Bills defense was on the field for a whopping 95 snaps versus the New England Patriots, and Alonso was on the field for every one of them, according to Pro Football Focus.
He responded well to the heavy playing time. He served as the team’s defensive play-caller, tied for the team lead with nine total tackles and had a steady game in pass coverage. He also had a fumble recovery.
Alonso made some mistakes and had a surprisingly low PFF rating (minus-2.6), but he was a consistent presence in the middle of the field. He plays fast and makes plays all over the field, and he should only continue to get better as he plays a crucial role in the Bills defense.
Last Week: No. 1
The star rookie of the preseason, Kyle Long showed the potential to be a star right guard with his quick feet and efficient blocking power, but he was not as impressive in his Week 1 debut for the Chicago Bears versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
He received a minus-1.7 rating from Pro Football Focus and gave up two pressures to the Bengals defense. According to First Round Grade’s Bryan Perez, Long relied too much on his athleticism and strength in Week 1, allowing poor technique to get the best of him, which resulted in mistakes in both pass protection and run defense.
That said, he was the No. 1 rookie on the preseason rankings for a reason: He has immense potential. Although his play has been inconsistent, he is already an upgrade at right guard from what the Bears had on their interior offensive line last season.
The Bears will be looking for Long to play better in Week 2. If he can do so, he could quickly rise back up these rankings.
Last Week: NR
Drafted into a secondary in need of an overhaul, second-round pick David Amerson became an immediate starter at cornerback for the Washington Redskins. He got off to a strong start on Monday Night Football against the Philadelphia Eagles, even though it was a night where most of his team struggled to slow down Chip Kelly’s uptempo offensive.
Amerson mostly locked down his side of the field, giving up just one reception for eight yards on 31 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He lined up against Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper for the majority of the game.
Amerson’s college football career and subsequent draft stock were marred by inconsistent play in coverage, but he played consistently well on Monday. He made a nice break on a pass for the first pass deflection of his career. He was active and physical in run support and finished the game with four tackles.
His aggressive style of play can lead to mistakes, but if he can cut down on those mistakes and continue to make the most of his size, athleticism, ball skills and physicality, he could emerge as a terrific cornerback for the Redskins.
Last Week: NR
Tyler Eifert’s preseason was a bit disappointing, but that no longer matters. Against the Chicago Bears in Week 1, the Cincinnati Bengals first-round pick started to emerge as the offensive playmaker he is widely expected to become.
The 6’6”, 250-pound, athletic, sure-handed tight end caught five passes for 47 yards in his regular-season debut.
While he has yet to put his deep receiving skill on display—he caught all of his passes within nine yards, according to Pro Football Focus—he showcased his impressive open-field playmaking ability with 31 yards after the catch. He caught all five passes that were thrown his way.
Eifert was the second-leading player in yards from scrimmage for the Bengals on Sunday, behind only superstar wide receiver A.J. Green. He also had a solid game as a blocker, finishing the game with an overall rating of plus-1.4 from PFF.
Most of his value comes in his ability to get open and make plays both on the ball and with the ball in his hands, but as he started to display in the season opener, he has a skill set that will allow the Bengals to line him up in a variety of spots.
Last Week: NR
Robert Alford was not the first cornerback drafted by the Atlanta Falcons this year, and he is not the top rookie cornerback on the depth chart: Those honors both go to first-round pick Desmond Trufant. That said, second-round pick Alford has made a bigger impression than Trufant from the preseason into Week 1.
With Asante Samuel out of the lineup, Trufant ascended to the No. 1 cornerback role and had a decent game, but Samuel’s absence also opened an opportunity for Alford to play slot cornerback. He took advantage of the opportunity just as he did in the preseason, and he made a strong case for a move up the depth chart.
He had two pass deflections versus the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, one of which was an interception. His overall rating of plus-1.8 and coverage rating of plus-1.5 from Pro Football Focus were the best ratings for any rookie cornerback in Week 1.
He gave up just one reception for 19 yards on 25 coverage snaps, according to PFF. While he will have a tough time moving up a depth chart led by Samuel, Trufant and Robert McClain, he continues to make a strong case for himself with his coverage and ability to make plays on the football.
Last Week: No. 10
Needing to add a spark to their secondary, the New Orleans Saints selected Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro with the No. 15 overall pick in this year’s draft. Just one game into his NFL career, it is clear that a spark is exactly what they are getting from Vaccaro.
Vaccaro became an immediate starter alongside veteran safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins in the Saints’ 3-3-5 defense, and according to Pro Football Focus, he played every defensive snap for the Saints versus the Atlanta Falcons.
With his ability to make big plays in both run support and coverage, the Saints are immediately counting on Vaccaro to be an every-down player.
He rewarded the Saints’ faith on Sunday. He was active in his debut, leading the Saints with five tackles. He also tipped a pass away from Tony Gonzalez in the end zone, only for it to end up in Harper’s hands for an interception, as detailed by Katherine Terrell of NOLA.com.
A playmaker is what Vaccaro is and what the Saints need him to be. He showed that he can make an immediate impact on Sunday.
Last Week: No. 7
Including the Miami Dolphins’ four preseason games, Caleb Sturgis has yet to miss an NFL field-goal attempt.
After making all nine of his field-goal attempts in the preseason, he continued his consistent kicking in the Dolphins’ season opener versus the Cleveland Browns.
He attempted field goals from 45, 49 and 36 yards out, and he made all of them. He also added two successful extra points.
A kicker in the top 10? Until he misses a kick, Sturgis is likely to continue to rise up the rankings. The pressure of the NFL has showed no signs of affecting the rookie, who has consistently drilled his field-goal attempts with accuracy thus far.
Last Week: NR
Of all the offensive linemen drafted in the first round this year, Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson had the strongest debut.
He was dominant as a run-blocker on Monday night, helping open many of the holes into which the Eagles ran for 263 total rushing yards. His run-blocking rating (plus-4.2) from Pro Football Focus was the highest for any offensive tackle in Week 1 by a significant margin.
As a pass-blocker, Johnson still needs some work. He allowed a number of pressures, including one on which Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was able to leap up and swat down a backward pass from Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, which resulted in a 75-yard fumble return.
That said, Johnson did not give up a sack in Week 1, according to PFF, and he looked good overall utilizing his quick feet, great length and good power. He has the potential to be an elite offensive tackle on either side of the line, and that potential showed in his NFL debut.
Last Week: NR
The Detroit Lions had to turn to third-round pick Larry Warford to immediately fill a major hole on their offensive line at right guard. If Week 1 is any indication of how he will continue to play in upcoming weeks, the Lions did a great job of filling that hole.
The massive, mauling guard earned a plus-2.9 rating from Pro Football Focus for his performance in the season opener. His performance rated as the sixth-best of all NFL guards for Week 1.
The Lions desperately needed an upgrade at right guard this offseason, and they may well have gotten a steal with Warford. His power, coupled with surprising quickness and fluidity at 6’3” and 333 pounds, gives him the potential to be a star run-blocker and a capable pass protector.
Warford helped lead the Lions to a 469-yard offensive output versus the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1. He gave up no pressures in pass protection, according to PFF.
Last Week: No. 8
After years of struggling to build up their offensive line, the early indication is that the Chicago Bears hit well with their offensive line draft picks this year. Jordan Mills, a fifth-round pick from Louisiana Tech, is already looking like one of the steals of the draft class.
He didn’t just win the right tackle job in the preseason; he performed well enough to run away with the starting job and cost J’Marcus Webb his roster spot in the process. He continued proving himself even further on Sunday with a strong performance versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
While many offensive linemen drafted ahead of him struggled in their first games as NFL starters, Mills was rock solid. He allowed just one quarterback pressure and earned a plus-3.4 rating from Pro Football Focus, the fifth-best among all NFL offensive tackles after one week.
Throughout the draft process, he was an afterthought in an offensive tackle class full of standouts. He will no longer be flying under the radar, however, if he continues to play at the high level he has shown in both the preseason and his regular-season debut.
Last Week: No. 13
Eric Reid has big shoes to fill as Dashon Goldson’s replacement at free safety for the San Francisco 49ers, but the shoes haven’t looked too big for him thus far.
The No. 18 overall pick in this year’s draft, Reid showed immediate playmaking ability in the 49ers’ season-opening win over the Green Bay Packers. He intercepted a pass and was active in run defense, finishing the game with six tackles.
He is an effective center fielder who could, in time, prove to be an upgrade over Goldson in coverage. With strong tackling and hitting on Sunday, he also showed that he can bring a similar physicality to the game as Goldson.
On one of the NFL’s best defenses, Reid looks like an immediate fit as a starter. He played in all 63 defensive snaps for the 49ers defense on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus.
Last Week: NR
Playing in the bright lights of Monday Night Football in the final game of Week 1, DeAndre Hopkins already started making the Houston Texans look smart for drafting him in the first round.
He had a strong debut versus the San Diego Chargers, catching five passes for 66 yards. By consistently getting open and catching the ball, he put his great hands and route-running ability on display.
He made his biggest play of the game late in the third quarter, when he laid out for an impressive diving catch while coming back to the football for a 30-yard gain. That catch converted a 3rd-and-13 situation deep downfield and put the Texans in position to score a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
The Texans drafted Hopkins to be a legitimate No. 2 weapon and possession receiver opposite Andre Johnson, and that is exactly what he looked to be in the Texans’ season opener.
Last Week: No. 5
In his NFL debut against the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills rookie starting quarterback EJ Manuel showed poise and confidence, making some strong downfield throws and avoiding costly mistakes.
The final stat line for Manuel and the Bills offense wasn’t great. He threw for only 150 yards on 27 attempts and was only able to lead two scoring drives.
That said, he threw for two touchdowns and no interceptions while also showing the ability to make plays with his legs. He did make any egregiously bad throws, but when he did make mistakes, he was not rattled. Instead, he showed the composure of a veteran to move on and get back to making plays.
Manuel threw a number of impressive passes versus the Patriots, including an 18-yard fade with perfect touch over double coverage to wide receiver Steve Johnson in the end zone. Though the Bills ultimately lost the game, in large part because they could not sustain offensive drives, Manuel played well enough to win the game in a solid debut for a rookie quarterback.
Last Week: No. 11
The Carolina Panthers have been hurting at the defensive tackle position since Kris Jenkins left the franchise following the 2007 season, but it appears they may finally have a new star on the interior defensive line. Star Lotulelei, the No. 14 overall pick in this year’s draft, looked like the top-five pick many projected him to be in his NFL regular-season debut.
Although he only played 40 of the Panthers’ 66 defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, he had a very active showing when he was on the field. He finished the game with four tackles, including one tackle for loss.
He is a prototypical 4-3 nose tackle who has the size (6’3”, 311 lbs) and power to push the pocket and occupy multiple blockers, but he also has the quickness to make plays as a penetrator. He has star potential, and it already showed against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Lotulelei’s debut finished with a plus-3.3 overall rating from PFF.
Last Week: No. 2
While Lotulelei’s rookie season is off to a terrific start, the New York Jets are also looking smart for taking Sheldon Richardson, the only interior defensive lineman to be selected ahead of Lotulelei. Richardson followed up a strong preseason with a terrific debut against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He is an active defensive lineman who has shown the ability to make an unusually high number of plays on his own from the interior. Against the Buccaneers, he made seven total tackles, including a half-sack.
He has a great combination of size (6’3”, 294 pounds), quickness and power, and he takes advantage of them with a great motor and sound technique.
Given his activity on the defensive front Sunday, Richardson had the second-best run defense rating (plus-4.5) from Pro Football Focus of any 3-4 defensive end in Week 1, only behind superstar Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.
With no pressures in 31 pass-rush snaps, according to PFF, the Jets will be looking for Richardson to play better as a pass-rusher. Yet by combining with outside linebacker Calvin Pace for a sack, he has already begun to show that he can make an impact in that capacity as well.
He may be the leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year after one week, but he also may not have even been the best rookie on his team in Week 1.
Last Week: NR
Few NFL storylines received more attention this summer than the New York Jets’ quarterback competition between veteran Mark Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith. Through it all, the competition was viewed as a problematic one for the Jets, with the second-round pick failing to prove himself as a viable option to take over and start in place of the struggling incumbent Sanchez.
The competition should be over now. With Sanchez battling a shoulder injury, Smith started for the Jets in Week 1 and proved himself with a strong performance that should earn him the starting job for good.
He completed 24 of his 38 passing attempts for 256 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while he was also the Jets’ leading rusher with 47 yards on six attempts. His total offensive effort played a large role in the Jets coming up with a season-opening victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Smith made his share of mistakes, but overall, he played like a legitimate starting quarterback in his NFL debut. He led the Jets to a win in his first-ever start and made big plays both passing and running.
The Jets need a quarterback with more playmaking ability than Sanchez to have a chance to contend this season, and in his regular-season debut, Smith looked capable of being that quarterback as a rookie.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.