EJ Manuel is near the top of the rankings after leading the Buffalo Bills to a win in Week 2.
The second week of the NFL season was a big one for rookies around the National Football League.
Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins put together a game-winning performance with five big catches between the team’s game-tying and winning drives in an overtime victory over the Tennessee Titans.
Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel also led his team to victory, completing a game-winning touchdown pass with two seconds remaining to beat the Carolina Panthers. Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu earned a win against the Detroit Lions with a crucial tackle short of the sticks on a fourth-down reception by wide receiver Nate Burleson.
Hopkins, Manuel and Mathieu are among the rookies who make up our top 25 in this week’s rankings. Many big names did not fare as well as that trio, causing them to slide or drop out of the rankings altogether. However, several others put together strong Week 2 performances and are recognized as such with moves up or into this week’s slideshow.
Note: Advanced statistics and snap counts were found using Pro Football Focus’ premium statistics database. A subscription is required to access the database.
Washington Redskins cornerback David Amerson was torched by the Green Bay Packers in Week 2.
Robert Alford, CB, Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: No. 12
In a game in which St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford threw 55 passes, Alford saw a significant increase in playing time, but he also got picked on more than he did in Week 1. According to PFF, Alford played 55 total snaps and was targeted with five passes, on which he gave up four receptions for 48 yards, including an 18-yard reception by Austin Pettis and a six-yard Tavon Austin touchdown.
David Amerson, CB, Washington Redskins
Last Week: No. 14
Amerson was a bright spot for the Redskins’ struggling defense in Week 1 but a liability in Week 2. With a minus-5.5 rating, Amerson was rated by PFF as the NFL’s worst cornerback of the week. He allowed four receptions for 126 yards.
Joseph Fauria, TE, Detroit Lions
Last Week: No. 21
After making some key receiving plays in Week 1, Fauria did not catch any passes in Week 2.
Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: No. 22
Frederick was on the losing end of a challenging battle with a rising star in Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe. Frederick allowed two sacks and two quarterback hurries in the Cowboys loss Sunday according to PFF.
Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams
Last Week: No. 23
Austin had a solid Week 2 performance, catching six passes for 47 yards and two touchdowns, but he has yet to emerge as a big-play threat. He has also been surprisingly ineffective as a runner and punt returner, gaining just 14 total yards on six combined touches in those capacities Sunday versus the Atlanta Falcons.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
Last Week: No. 24
Lacy gained 10 yards on his first carry Sunday versus the Washington Redskins, but suffered a concussion on the play and did not return to the game.
Luke Joeckel, RT, Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: No. 25
The No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft continued to surprisingly struggle versus the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. According to PFF, Joeckel has given up two sacks and five quarterback hurries in just two games.
Last Week: NR
A little-known player who didn’t even see the field for the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1, Joplo Bartu’s inclusion on this list may leave you saying, “Who?”
Bartu had a breakout performance Sunday versus the St. Louis Rams, however, and he may now be in position to start for the rest of the season.
Kroy Biermann and Sean Weatherspoon both left the Falcons’ Week 2 game early with injuries, and the Falcons turned to Bartu, an undrafted rookie out of Texas State, to fill in. Bartu filled in admirably, finishing the game with six solo tackles, including two tackles for loss.
Biermann was placed on season-ending injured reserve Monday, and Weatherspoon was placed on injured reserve with a return designation Tuesday. Those injuries leave the Falcons’ linebacker corps very thin, but they open a window of opportunity for Bartu, who is now listed as a starter on the Falcons’ unofficial depth chart.
Last Week: NR
The Baltimore Ravens needed someone to step up and emerge as their No. 2 wide receiver after they traded Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers, then Jacoby Jones suffered an MCL sprain in the team’s season opener versus the Denver Broncos. Through the first two weeks of the season, undrafted rookie Marlon Brown has done a decent job taking on the role.
Brown has caught four passes, including one touchdown reception in each of the Ravens’ first two games, for a total of 110 yards. While Brown is no Boldin, he is a big, physical receiver who is running solid routes and looking like a strong undrafted find with his immediate production and consistency.
Last Week: No. 9
Lane Johnson had a strong debut versus the Washington Redskins, but he struggled mightily against Dwight Freeney and the San Diego Chargers pass-rushers in Week 2.
He was flagged twice for illegal formation penalties in the Eagles’ 33-30 loss, including one that nullified a 37-yard touchdown pass. He also allowed two quarterback hits and two quarterback hurries.
Johnson has huge upside, and he is already showing his ability to dominate as a run-blocker. His plus-4.3 run-blocking rating from PFF is the NFL’s best through two weeks. The Eagles need him, however, to become more consistent as a pass protector and cut down on penalties.
Last Week: NR
Ezekiel Ansah has become an immediate factor in a three-man defensive end rotation for the Detroit Lions and is making a presence by getting into the backfield and making plays.
Ansah has four tackles, including a half-sack, through two games, but has seven total pressures in just 46 pass-rushing snaps. He has also been a strong presence against the run and ranks as PFF’s No. 17 overall 4-3 defensive end through two weeks.
Ansah still has a long way to go to live up to his billing as a No. 5 overall pick, and the success he had in Week 2 came against one of the NFL’s worst left tackles (Levi Brown of the Arizona Cardinals) along a talent-loaded defensive line. That said, he is performing very well for a player who came into the league with just three years of playing experience.
Last Week: NR
Cordarrelle Patterson was a first-round pick because of his big-play ability. He showed that immediately against the Chicago Bears in Week 2 by taking the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown, as can be seen in the slide video.
Patterson has played only 11 offensive snaps through the first two weeks, but he has caught three passes for 24 yards in that limited action. His kickoff return touchdown stands out as one of the biggest plays by a rookie this season.
His talent should translate to offensive production soon enough, but his solid special-teams play earns him a spot in the rankings going into Week 3.
Last Week: NR
The New Orleans Saints needed to find a big nose tackle to anchor their shift to a 3-4 defense, and it appears they may have found the player they needed, third-round pick John Jenkins.
A 346-pounder with rare athleticism for his size, Jenkins is a huge player with huge potential. He has made a difference in the middle of the Saints defensive line in the first two weeks, making five total tackles while tallying four hurries.
Jenkins won’t be a sack specialist, but if he is holding a solid presence in the middle of the line of scrimmage and pushing the pocket to bring some pressure, he can be exactly what the Saints need to firm up the middle of their defense.
Last Week: NR
Xavier Rhodes is starting out as the Minnesota Vikings’ No. 3 cornerback, but he is already shutting his opponents down like a starter.
Rhodes had a terrific performance against the Chicago Bears, allowing just one reception against him—a screen pass that went for -2 yards—in 30 coverage snaps.
Rhodes has allowed only 0.45 yards per coverage snap (five receptions for 31 yards in 69 coverage snaps), which ranks third among all NFL cornerbacks who have played at least 50 coverage snaps. At a position where rookies are often targeted and exposed, Rhodes has been very solid and is coming off a great performance against a top NFL team.
Last Week: No. 15
Kyle Long has not been nearly as good in the regular season as he was during his fantastic preseason. Specifically, the athletic offensive lineman has struggled as a pass-blocker. He gave up five quarterback hurries in the Chicago Bears game against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, according to PFF.
Long does have immense potential, however, and he is at least providing an upgrade to an offensive line that was among the NFL’s worst last season. He had a very difficult matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, and he graded out well (plus-2.6) as a run-blocker by PFF versus the Vikings.
As Long gains experience, his flashes of brilliance could turn into consistent standout play.
Last Week: No. 7
The right side of the Bears offensive line, which is led by two rookie starters, was dominated by Minnesota Vikings defensive ends Brian Robison and Everson Griffen in pass protection on Sunday. Jordan Mills, who has been a very pleasant surprise as a fifth-round pick and starting right tackle, had a “welcome to the NFL” performance.
Mills gave up one quarterback hit and four quarterback hurries, while he also struggled in the ground game. He had an overall rating of minus-2.4 from PFF for the game.
Still, one bad game is not going to bounce Mills off this list altogether. He won the starting right tackle job with his strong preseason performance and he has yet to give up a sack in two games. He also has the second-best overall PFF rating of any rookie offensive tackle behind Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari.
Last Week: No. 11
Kenny Vaccaro made a big playmaking spark in Week 1 versus the Atlanta Falcons, but his Week 2 performance was more of a struggle.
He made five tackles but did not make any big plays. He struggled in pass coverage, finishing the game with a team-worst PFF rating of minus-2.1 in coverage.
Nonetheless, Vaccaro’s presence on the Saints is clear. He has played every single defensive snap for the team through the first two weeks of the season. His 10 tackles rank third on the team.
Although his game is still plagued by inconsistent play, Vaccaro is an emerging impact player on the back end of the Saints’ 3-3-5 defense.
Last Week: NR
Giovani Bernard hasn’t taken the starting running back job for the Cincinnati Bengals from BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but it appears to be only a matter of time. As Bernard showed the nation on Monday Night Football in Week 2, he is a much more dynamic back than Green-Ellis, who will be a difference-maker as both a runner and receiver.
Bernard received only nine touches in Monday’s game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he made the most of them. He gained 38 yards on eight carries, including a seven-yard touchdown run through contact in the first quarter. He showed his receiving skills and open-field quickness on his only catch of the day, which he took 27 yards to the end zone for a touchdown.
With his ability to make plays in the open field, Bernard provides a perfect complement to Green-Ellis, who is a physical between-the-tackles runner but lacks explosion. But if Bernard continues to perform well, it will soon be Green-Ellis complementing him.
Last Week: No. 20
The Pittsburgh Steelers stuck to their trend of not starting rookies with Jarvis Jones, but for only one week. After Jones made two tackles for loss off the bench in the Steelers’ season opener, he was promoted ahead of Jason Worilds to the starting lineup for Monday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
Jones continued to be a playmaker off the edge for the Steelers in Week 2. He did not get credited with any tackles for loss, but many of his eight total tackles came at or near the line of scrimmage. He was credited with a hit on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
Jones’ game is not spectacular in any one area, but he has great instincts and a knack for making plays in the backfield. He has been used as a pass-rusher, run-defender and in pass coverage and should be quickly on his way to becoming an every-down player for the Steelers.
Last Week: No. 1
After leading the New York Jets to a victory in his NFL debut, quarterback Geno Smith fell apart against the New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football in Week 2.
In a game the Jets lost by only three points, Smith was unable to make the plays in the fourth quarter to lead his team to victory. He threw interceptions on three of the Jets’ final four drives and had many bad throws throughout a night where he completed just 15 of his first 35 attempts.
Although Smith did not get much help from his receivers, a majority of the incompletions were a result of him missing his throws. He threw for 214 yards and made a 16-yard running play with his legs, but he also showed hesitancy in the pocket on a night where he took three sacks.
Many rookie quarterbacks have had far worse starts in past seasons than Smith, who earned the top spot in the rankings after his Week 1 performance. That said, his poor play cost the Jets a chance to win a close game on Thursday, and he is going to have to bounce back strong and play better for his team to have any chance to contend.
Last Week: No. 18
Playing in a high-pressure position opposite Darrelle Revis, one would expect rookie Johnthan Banks to have many balls thrown his way. Instead, Banks has provided consistently solid coverage, and opponents have steered mostly clear of him through the first two weeks of the season.
Banks has been targeted only five times in 77 coverage snaps. Among cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their teams’ coverage snaps, Banks’ rate of 15.4 coverage snaps per target ranks as the league’s second-highest.
Banks has given up four catches on those targets but only 38 yards, with no catches of longer than 11 yards. He ranks among the top seven in NFL cornerbacks with at least 50 percent of coverage snaps with 0.49 yards per coverage snap and 19.3 coverage snaps per reception.
Banks has not made any big plays yet this season, but he has six tackles and has been about as good as the Buccaneers could have expected their second-round pick to be thus far.
Last Week: No. 13
Another offensive rookie to shine for the Cincinnati Bengals on the Monday night stage versus the Pittsburgh Steelers was tight end Tyler Eifert.
Eifert showed his downfield playmaking ability when he got open on a deep seam route, made a catch and used his speed to burn the defense for a 61-yard gain that set up the team’s first touchdown of the game.
While he showed his big-play ability on that touchdown, the Bengals’ first-round pick has immediately emerged as one of the team’s top offensive playmakers. He ranks second on the team with 113 receiving yards and third with eight receptions.
With the ability to use Eifert in two-tight-end offensive sets, both as an in-line tight end or flexed out like a wide receiver, the Bengals offense becomes even more dynamic and versatile. He looks like he is on track to quickly emerge as one of the NFL’s best players at his position.
Last Week: No. 8
Through the first two weeks of the season, Detroit Lions right guard Larry Warford has looked like an immediate upgrade over Stephen Peterman on the team’s offensive line.
Warford has played all of the Lions' offensive snaps through the first two weeks and has not given up any pressures on quarterback Matthew Stafford. Although the massive yet explosive guard is known best for his powerful run-blocking, he has performed very well in pass protection to start the season.
Pro Football Focus has graded Warford with an overall rating of plus-3.4 through the first two weeks of the season, which is the best for any offensive lineman in this year’s rookie class.
Last Week: No. 19
In the Arizona Cardinals’ Sunday victory against the Detroit Lions, third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu did exactly what the Cardinals drafted him to do: make big plays.
As previously mentioned, Mathieu made a clutch open-field tackle for a fourth-down stop that sealed the game for the Cardinals. He also had six total tackles, including a tackle for loss, and a pass deflection.
Lining up as the Cardinals' nickel slot cornerback, Mathieu was on the field for 54 of 60 snaps Sunday. He has not been a lockdown cornerback, allowing four receptions in each of his first two games. However, as long as he continues to make big plays, he will be the Cardinals’ No. 3 cornerback and eventually get promoted to the starting lineup either at cornerback or free safety.
Last Week: No. 16
The Buffalo Bills defense has been on the field for a whopping 174 snaps in its first two games, and rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso has been on the field for all but one of them. Alonso is certainly considered to be a three-down cog for the Bills defense already.
Alonso is the leader and play-caller of the linebacker corps, and his playmaking ability has certainly been on display in the team’s first two games.
This was especially true Sunday versus the Carolina Panthers, when he led the team with nine solo tackles, made an interception on the team’s first defensive series and sacked the quarterback on the game’s final play as time expired to clinch victory.
While quarterback EJ Manuel will be remembered most for his game-winning touchdown pass, Alonso is quickly becoming the quarterback of the Bills defense. He played a prominent role in the team’s first win of the year and has made himself one of the top candidates for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Last Week: No. 17
No rookie linebacker, and arguably no other rookie defensive player, has been a more impactful playmaker for his defense through the first two weeks of the season than Alec Ogletree of the St. Louis Rams. Playing alongside James Laurinaitis as a three-down player, Ogletree has shown his ability to make big plays everywhere from the backfield to dropping back into coverage.
Ogletree leads the Rams with 15 tackles, including one tackle for loss, and he also has a forced fumble and two pass deflections. He still must become more sound and polished in every aspect of his game, but it is clear that he can use his athletic range to consistently be around the ball and make plays on it.
The Rams needed Ogletree to provide a playmaking spark, and they appear to be getting what they were looking for from their second first-round pick.
Last Week: No. 10
Including the preseason, Caleb Sturgis has made every field goal he has attempted in an NFL uniform. He extended that career-starting streak to 13 on Sunday versus the Indianapolis Colts by making his only field goal attempt of the day from 54 yards at the end of the first half. He also added three successful extra points in the Dolphins’ 24-20 victory over the Colts.
Sturgis’ accuracy has been impeccable thus far in his NFL career, and he is showing that he can make kicks from long distance. As long as he remains perfect and continues drilling kicks, he will be high in these rankings.
Last Week: No. 6
Before leaving the game with a concussion, rookie free safety Eric Reid was one of the few bright spots for the San Francisco 49ers in a 29-3 shellacking at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.
Reid played a deep ball over the middle perfectly to catch his second interception in as many weeks. He was consistently in position in pass coverage while he was in the game, and he showed his ability to thump as a hitter and made two total tackles.
Unfortunately, Reid left Sunday’s game late in the first half with a concussion and did not return. Fortunately, he is expected to be back for Week 3 after showing no concussion symptoms on Monday, according to the 49ers’ official Twitter account.
The 49ers will exercise precaution with Reid and ensure that he has fully overcome his concussion prior to playing him Sunday, but even though his second game of the season was cut short, he earned a top-five ranking with how well he has played.
The loss of All-Pro free safety Dashon Goldson was certainly viewed as a big loss for the 49ers, but thus far, Reid has done a great job filling in his shoes. He makes big hits like Goldson while possibly providing an upgrade in coverage.
Last Week: No. 4
Quarterbacks are often judged by the plays they make or fail to make when the game is on the line. Buffalo Bills rookie EJ Manuel certainly passed that test Sunday versus the Carolina Panthers by leading his team to a game-winning touchdown drive in the final 1:38 of the contest.
Manuel made his fair share of mistakes Sunday. He fumbled and then threw an interception on back-to-back possessions between the third and fourth quarters, and what would have been a game-sealing interception on the Bills’ final drive had it not been for a pass interference penalty against Panthers inside linebacker Luke Kuechly.
What made Manuel’s performance Saturday particularly impressive was the poise and composure he showed in bouncing back from those mistakes. He never looked rattled, and when the game was on the line, he had the confidence to make the plays his team needed him to make.
Following the nullified interception, Manuel scrambled for a nine-yard gain before going out of bounds at the 2-yard line. On the next play, he completed a touchdown pass to the left rear corner of the end zone for Stevie Johnson that gave the Bills a 24-23 lead with just two seconds left to play.
Manuel had an up-and-down performance overall versus the Panthers, completing 27 of 39 passing attempts for 296 yards. Thus far, however, his rookie season is defined mostly by his effort to lead his team to an impressive comeback victory in the two-minute offense Sunday.
Last Week: No. 3
Only two weeks into his first NFL season, Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is already looking like one of the league’s best players at his position. Thus far, he has been exactly the interior run-stuffing, pocket-pushing force the Panthers expected him to be from the nose tackle position.
A nose tackle’s impact is typically measured in how he frees up his teammates to make plays more than his own statistics, and Lotulelei has certainly been able to do that by occupying blockers and closing gaps. That said, he also already has seven tackles on his own, including two for loss.
With a plus-7.6 overall rating, PFF grades Lotulelei as the NFL’s third-best defensive tackle through two weeks, behind only Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh and Dallas’ Jason Hatcher. He also ranks second with a plus-5.9 run defense rating, which is second to Damon Harrison of the New York Jets. His overall rating is the best of any rookie at any position in the NFL.
The Panthers hadn’t had an impact player at the defensive tackle position since Kris Jenkins’ departure following the 2007 season, but it looks like they have one now in Lotulelei.
Last Week: No. 2
For as great as Star Lotulelei has been, he may not even be the best rookie interior defensive lineman of the first two weeks of the NFL season. The player on the other side of the debate is Sheldon Richardson, whom the Jets chose one pick ahead of Lotulelei as the first interior defensive lineman off the board in this year’s draft.
Richardson has been an immediate difference-maker on the Jets’ defensive front. He has been an active, disruptive player at the line of scrimmage who can penetrate into the backfield and make an unusually high number of tackles on his own for an interior defensive lineman.
Playing primarily as a five-technique defensive end but also as a three-technique defensive tackle, Richardson has tallied 12 tackles with two for loss in the first two weeks of the season. He also hurried New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady three times in Week 2, according to PFF.
Richardson’s 12 tackles ties him with San Francisco’s Justin Smith, Buffalo’s Kyle Williams and New England’s Tommy Kelly for the most in the league among interior defensive linemen.
Last Week: No. 5
Even as Tennessee Titans cornerbacks Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner covered him tightly, Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was able to leap above his competition and make spectacular plays to lead his team to a victory Sunday.
Similarly, his spectacular performance was enough for Hopkins to leap to the top of the rankings, even against strong performances from Richardson, Lotulelei and Manuel. More than any other rookie through the first two weeks of the season, Hopkins has shown the ability to put the team on his back and make plays for his team in the clutch.
Hopkins leads all rookie receivers with 12 catches for 183 yards, and many of those have been challenging catches that required him to make tough adjustments against coverage. That was certainly true in the big plays he made Sunday, including his 25-yard catch in overtime that set up another difficult grab in the end zone for the game-winning 3-yard touchdown.
For more on Hopkins, check out a full breakdown of his game-winning performance.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.