Top 25 NFL Rookies Heading into Week 7

Dan HopeContributor IIIOctober 16, 2013

Top 25 NFL Rookies Heading into Week 7

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    San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen makes his season debut in Bleacher Report's NFL Rookie Rankings after a breakout performance on Monday Night Football versus the Indianapolis Colts.
    San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen makes his season debut in Bleacher Report's NFL Rookie Rankings after a breakout performance on Monday Night Football versus the Indianapolis Colts.Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    It’s nearly midseason in the National Football League, but careers are just beginning for the best rookies of the 2013 NFL draft class.

    As a result, new rookies are continuing to break out each week, while many other players who started promisingly are starting to show their inexperience as the season wears along.

    From Detroit Lions tight end Joseph Fauria’s three touchdowns to Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper’s five pass defenses to San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen’s 107-yard Monday Night Football performance, there were a slew of breakout rookie performances in Week 6.

    Fauria, Cooper and Allen are among the new additions to this week’s Bleacher Report NFL Rookie Rankings, while the stocks of many other rookies rose or fell, as they either made big plays or were responsible for big plays by their opponents.

    In the following slides, we’ll take a closer look at who stacks up as the league’s best first-year players heading into Week 7.


    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.

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Dropouts from Last Week’s Rankings

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Johnthan Banks, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Last Week: No. 17

    Johnthan Banks started out the year well, but he has given up more receiving yards than the week before in all five of the Buccaneers’ games this season.

    The Buccaneers will certainly need Banks to reverse that trend in Week 7, after the Philadelphia Eagles beat him for six receptions, 115 yards and a touchdown on eight targets on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus.

     

    Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions

    Last Week: No. 22

    Ziggy Ansah has made some big plays this season (three sacks, two forced fumbles), but he has not progressed much as a three-down player since moving into the starting lineup in Week 3.

    He has been graded as a -1.5 overall by PFF in each of the last two weeks, and he needs to become consistent as both a run defender and pass-rusher.

     

    Jarvis Jones, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Last Week: No. 23

    Jarvis Jones is in the same boat as Ansah. While he has made some big plays already this season, he has not made plays with enough consistency.

    Although he took the Steelers’ starting right outside linebacker job away from Jason Worilds in Week 2, he was outperformed by Worilds on Sunday versus the New York JetsJones had only two total tackles while Worilds had six, including a sack.

     

    Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

    Last Week: No. 24

    Cordarrelle Patterson has the NFL’s second-highest kickoff return average at 33.8 yards per returnsparked by a 105-yard kickoff return touchdown versus the Chicago Bears in Week 2but he has yet to emerge in the Vikings offense.

    He has caught just three combined passes for 12 yards in the Vikings’ past two games, and he has just eight total receptions for 85 yards this season.

25. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: NR

    Having suffered a concussion on his first carry against the Washington Redskins in Week 2an injury that also caused him to miss the Green Bay Packers’ Week 3 tilt versus the Cincinnati Bengals—Eddie Lacy has only played in three full games this season. Nonetheless, he still leads all NFL rookies with 61 rushing attempts and 270 rushing yards.

    Since returning from injury, Lacy has made it clear in the past two weeks that he is the real deal and could be the feature back the Green Bay Packers needed when they drafted him. Lacy has run the ball 23 times in each of the past two weeks and has averaged a total of 4.76 yards per carry for 219 rushing yards.

    A tough, powerful, between-the-tackles runner with great size but also good burst and quickness, Lacy is looking like a good fit for a Packers offense that prefers to have one running back handle the load of carries for the game, as opposed to splitting carries between multiple backs.

    Even with his missed time, he has been the best pure runner in the rookie class.

24. John Jenkins, NT, New Orleans Saints

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 15

    John Jenkins has made some big stops already this season and has looked like a solid cog at nose tackle for the New Orleans Saints’ 3-4 defense, but his past two games have been disappointing, causing his ranking to fall sharply as a result.

    Against the New England Patriots on Sunday, Jenkins’ role was reduced significantly, as he only saw 19 total snaps. He did not record any tackles or quarterback pressures versus the Patriots, and that was one week removed from recording just one assisted tackle and no pressures versus the Chicago Bears.

    A lack of statistical production should not come as a major concern, as 3-4 nose tackles typically hold blocks to allow the players around them to make plays rather than making tackles themselves. On Sunday, however, the Saints decided to factor him out of most of their defensive game plan, which significantly decreased his impact altogether.

23. Barkevious Mingo, OLB, Cleveland Browns

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    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 19

    With Jabaal Sheard out with a knee injury for the third consecutive game, Cleveland Browns rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo remained in the starting lineup against the Detroit Lions on Sunday. He had another solid performance, recording three total tackles, including one for loss, and two quarterback hurries.

    Mingo’s three sacks ties him with Ezekiel Ansah for the most among rookies this season, but that does not necessarily mean he’s been a great pass-rusher. With three sacks and 14 total pressures in 155 pass-rush snaps, Mingo’s pass-rush productivity score of 7.3 ranks just 23rd among the 26 3-4 outside linebackers who have played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps this season, according to PFF.

    In addition to becoming a more consistent pass-rusher, Mingo needs to continue developing as a run defender. He has shown his playmaking range in making 17 tackles this season, but he needs to become stronger and more technically sound against blocks to be a consistent presence against the run.

22. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 16

    Xavier Rhodes has been one of the most steady, consistent rookie cornerbacks this season. He had a rough Week 6 against the Carolina Panthers, however, suffering an ankle injury that hampered his play and eventually forced him out of the game in the second half.

    Fortunately for Rhodes, an MRI came up negative for ligament damage, according to Chip Scoggins of The Star Tribune. The injury could still keep him out or limit his play in the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 7 matchup on Monday night versus the Carolina Panthers, but he is unlikely to miss significant time.

    The No. 3 cornerback on the Vikings depth chart has done well as a cover cornerback this season. Lining up on the outside, opposite Chris Cook on most plays, Rhodes has just allowed 0.82 yards per coverage snap and has averaged more than 12 coverage snaps per reception allowed.

    Rhodes also has 11 tackles and one pass deflection this season.

21. Joseph Fauria, TE, Detroit Lions

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    Last Week: NR

    Undrafted rookie tight end Joseph Fauria has only been targeted nine times this season and has only played on 76 of his team’s 421 snaps through six games, but he has made the most of his opportunities. On just seven total catches, Fauria has five receiving touchdowns, the most among all NFL rookies.

    As I broke down earlier this week for Bleacher Report, Fauria has emerged as a red-zone playmaker for the Detroit Lions. This was especially true in Detroit’s win Sunday over the Cleveland Browns, a game in which Fauria was targeted three times and ended up with a catch in the end zone on all three plays.

    Fauria saw a season-high 24 snaps on Sunday with Tony Scheffler out due to a concussion, and his snap count could continue to rise as Scheffler’s status for the rest of the season remains uncertain, according to Kyle Meinke of MLive.com.

    When Fauria has been on the field, the 6’7”, 255-pound tight end with good leaping ability has proved to be a mismatch for opposing defenses, especially in the end zone.

    He has been a key scorer for the Lions offense this season, especially in Week 6, and he has had fun doing it with some unique celebration dances (see video).

20. Sam Martin, P, Detroit Lions

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 25

    When a team uses a draft pick on a punter, it certainly expects that punter to make an immediate impact for their team. Fortunately for the Detroit Lions, fifth-round pick Sam Martin has done that in a very positive way thus far in his first NFL season out of Appalachian State.

    Martin has been booming the ball deep downfield all season, ranking third in the league with an average of 48.9 yards per punt. He struggled early in the season at downing punts inside the 20-yard line, but he has improved steadily in that capacity over the course of the season.

    He had his best game yet against the Cleveland Browns in Week 6.

    Martin was able to limit Browns punt returner Travis Benjaminwho torched the Buffalo Bills for 179 return yards one week earlierto a net loss of 10 yards on three punt return attempts. He did a great job at pinning the Browns’ offense deep in their own territory, downing three punts inside the 20-yard line with no touchbacks.

    Drafting an unknown punter in the fifth round wasn’t a very popular choice at the time, but the Lions are looking smarter with each passing week for selecting Martin.

19. Robert Woods, WR, Buffalo Bills

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 12

    Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Woods started to find his groove and establish a rhythm with fellow rookie and starting quarterback EJ Manuel through the first five weeks of the season. But with Manuel sidelined Sunday due to a sprained LCL, Woods has fallen out of rhythm.

    Woods was targeted six times by fill-in quarterback Thad Lewis on Sunday, and he caught just two passes for nine yards.

    Woods’ poor performance may have been in part due to his unfamiliarity of playing with Lewis in game action, but it could also possibly be due in part to the fact that Bills’ No. 1 receiver Stevie Johnson was also inactive for Sunday’s game, leaving no one on the field to consistently draw coverage off of Woods.

    While Johnson’s status for Week 7 remains uncertain after missing Sunday’s game due to a back injury and personal reasons, Manuel is expected to be out at least three more weeks.

    Since Lewis will remain the starter in Manuel’s place, the Bills need Woods to quickly find chemistry with him and return to making the plays that he did during the first five weeks of the season.

    Overall, Woods has 18 receptions for 274 yards and two touchdowns this year.

18. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    Last Week: NR

    Keenan Allen had a breakout performance on the national stage Monday night, catching nine passes for 107 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown reception, in the San Diego Chargers’ 19-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

    While Allen put his talents on display for a bigger audience Monday, the promising performance wasn’t the first big game for the third-round pick. He caught six passes for 115 yards, including a seven-yard touchdown, against the Oakland Raiders in Week 5, and he has a combined total of 20 catches for 302 yards in his past three games alone.

    Allen may not have explosive downfield speed, but he has shown in his past three games that he can utilize his great hands, route-running skills and physicality to be a playmaker for San Diego’s passing offense.

    He is making a strong case for being the best wide receiver in the rookie class, and he ranks second among all rookies in receptions and receiving yards, despite catching just three passes for 30 yards in San Diego’s first three games of the season.

17. Marcus Cooper, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Last Week: NR

    The San Francisco 49ers are likely regretting their decision to release Marcus Cooper, who they selected with the third-to-last selection in this year’s NFL draft but did not keep on their 53-man roster.

    The Kansas City Chiefs, who held the top position in the waiver order going into the season, realized his potential when they claimed him after his release from the 49ers, and they are certainly reaping the rewards of that decision.

    After playing just 14 snaps in the first three weeks of the season, Cooper has played on 194 of the Chiefs’ 214 snaps in the past three weeks, including all 80 in a start Sunday versus the Oakland Raiders. He has certainly risen to the challeneg, and a player quietly released and claimed prior to the start of the season is suddenly looking like a long-term cog in the Kansas City secondary.

    Cooper has 10 passes defensed in the past three games, including five on Sunday. He has recorded interceptions in each of his past two games and has 12 tackles on the season. Overall, Cooper has averaged 17.5 coverage snaps per reception, the third-best ratio among all NFL cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps this season, and he has given up just 0.79 yards per coverage snap.

    Losing Brandon Flowers to a knee injury versus the Raiders could have been a huge loss for the Chiefs defense, but Cooper stepped up in a big way as his replacement. When Flowers is healthy, Cooper is going to be very tough to take off the field given his recent play.

16. Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England Patriots

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    Last Week: No. 21

    Kenbrell Thompkins’ rookie season has been marked by inconsistency but also by the big plays he has made over the course of the season.

    He made his biggest play of his young NFL career on Sunday, when he caught a leaping, game-winning 17-yard touchdown reception in the left side of the end zone with just five seconds remaining in the New England Patriots’ 30-27 victory over the New Orleans Saints (see video).

    On an offense lacking reliable weapons, Thompkins has been the team’s best downfield playmaker this season. The undrafted rookie has caught 21 passes for 318 yards and has a team-leading four receiving touchdowns.

    The biggest thing holding Thompkins back from being a star is his inconsistency. He has catches on less than half of his 50 targets this season, partly due to four drops.

    If he can continue making big plays like he did on Sunday, however, the undrafted rookie could be a major playmaker in the Patriots offense for many years to come.

15. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans

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    Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 11

    After an outstanding start to the season, DeAndre Hopkins’ production has cooled off significantly. He has caught only seven passes for 97 yards in his past three games, a stark drop-off from his 18 receptions for 243 yards in his first three games of the season.

    His decreasing production has certainly been due in part to the worsening play of Texans quarterback Matt Schaub (and T.J. Yates after Schaub went down with an ankle injury on Sunday versus the St. Louis Rams). That said, it seems as though opposing defenses have learned from one another in terms of how to cover Hopkins and are becoming better at neutralizing his skill set.

    Hopkins made an immediate name for himself this season by making tough, physical catches, even when covered, but he has been unable to separate consistently against outside coverage due to a lack of explosive athleticism. As teams continue to try to neutralize the physical component of Hopkins’ game, he needs to progress as a route-runner to consistently get open as a passing target.

    For this week, nonetheless, Hopkins still ranks as the NFL’s top rookie wide receiver. Even with his struggles over the past three weeks, he still leads all rookies in receptions and receiving yards.

14. Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets

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    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 9

    The up-and-down roller-coaster ride of Geno Smith’s season continued Sunday, when he threw no touchdowns and two interceptions in the New York Jets’ 19-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    One of three NFL quarterbacks who have thrown double-digit interceptions (10 for Smith) this season, Smith’s play has been as sloppy as one would expect from a rookie quarterback. Still, he is the only rookie quarterback to start all of his team’s games this season, and he has thrown for an average of 248.33 yards per game while also adding a total of 112 rushing yards.

    Smith’s 74.7 passer rating is one of the worst among NFL starting quarterbacks, but he has made big plays to lead the Jets to multiple wins this season. He has certainly shown the tools necessary to emerge as a very good starting quarterback if he can survive the early roller-coaster portion of his career.

    The Jets remain in contention with a 3-3 record, and it is unlikely that they would be in that position if Mark Sanchez was still their quarterback. Smith must cut down on his mistakes—he has also been sacked 21 times and has fumbled four times—but he has given the Jets a much-needed playmaker to lead their offense.

13. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 6

    Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei’s campaign for Defensive Rookie of the Year is fading quickly. After starting out the season as one of the league’s most dominant interior run-stoppers in his first two games, his performance has faded over his past three contests.

    He had his worst game of the seasonon Sunday versus the Minnesota Vikings, recording no stops or quarterback pressures in 34 snaps.

    Lotulelei has three tackles for loss (one sack) this season, but he has had none since the Panthers’ Week 4 bye. And while he is a starter on the Panthers’ defensive line, he has yet to emerge as a three-down player and has only played on 57.5 percent (184-of-320) of Carolina’s defensive snaps this season.

    Lotulelei has shown the combined gap-filling and penetrating ability to be a star nose tackle for many years to come in Carolina, but his stardom is not coming as immediately as it appeared it might in Weeks 1-2. He could quickly move his way back up the list, however, if he makes big plays in Week 7 versus the St. Louis Rams.

12. Kyle Long, RG, Chicago Bears

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    Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 13

    Kyle Long has been a steady if not spectacular presence on the Chicago Bears’ offensive line through the first six weeks of the season. For a team who had one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines in 2012, Long has been well worth the No. 20 overall pick the Bears used to draft him with this year.

    Long has a minus-3.5 pass-blocking rating for the season from PFF, but he has only given up one sack and two total quarterback hits. The powerful, athletic guard has been strong as a run-blocker, ranking sixth among all NFL guards with an overall run-blocking grade of 4.6 at PFF.

    One of the most-criticized selections of the 2013 NFL draft’s first round, Long has exceeded expectations thus far and appears to have a very bright future in Chicago.

11. D.J. Fluker, RT, San Diego Chargers

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 20

    While most of the first-round offensive tackles have struggled mightily this season, right tackle D.J. Fluker has been a solidifying presence where the San Diego Chargers badly needed one, both as a pass protector and run-blocker.

    Fluker has earned positive overall grades from PFF in four consecutive games (not including the Chargers’ Week 3 game versus the Tennessee Titans, which he missed due to a concussion). He has allowed just two sacks this season, and has been the best rookie offensive tackle according to PFF’s grades by a margin of 8.5 overall points.

    The Chargers still have a big long-term problem at the left tackle position, but they appear to be set for years to come at right tackle, where Fluker has stepped in from his collegiate years at Alabama and immediately played well.

10. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, New Orleans Saints

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    Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 14

    Kenny Vaccaro has his ups and downs on the field, but on the field is certainly where the New Orleans Saints have wanted the No. 15 overall pick this season.

    Vaccaro has played all but six defensive snaps for the Saints this season, tying him with Malcolm Jenkins for the most snaps played on the New Orleans defense this year.

    Vaccaro has been used everywhere this seasonfrom safety to slot cornerback to linebackerand he has made an impact. He has 33 total tackles, three passes defensed (one interception) and a sack.

    He played a season-high 88 snaps versus the New England Patriots on Sunday. He finished the game with six tackles and made a big play on the Patriots’ final drive with a hit that helped break up a pass to Patriots wideout Julian Edelman at the 1-yard linethough the Patriots ultimately scored the game-winning touchdown two plays later.

    Vaccaro did not give up a single catch in 44 coverage snaps against the Patriots, according to PFF.

9. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys

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    Aug 24, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick (70) points in the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 18

    For as much heat as the Dallas Cowboys took for “reaching” on center Travis Frederick with the No. 31 overall selection in this year’s draft, he has been one of the best rookies in the entire draft class through six weeks.

    Since getting overwhelmed by Kansas City nose tackle Dontari Poe in Week 2, Frederick has dominated each of his opponents. He has given up no sacks and just three quarterback hurries in the past four weeks and has an overall PFF grade of 8.6 for his past four games.

    Frederick has provided much-needed stability on the interior offensive for the Cowboys, while he has also graded out as the NFL’s best run-blocking center this season, according to PFF.

8. Caleb Sturgis, K, Miami Dolphins

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 8

    The Miami Dolphins had a bye in Week 6, but Caleb Sturgis, who has made 10-of-11 field goal attempts this year, has been one of the NFL’s best kickers.

    Coming out of the bye, however, Sturgis has to prove that he can bounce back from an ugly, costly miss in the Dolphins’ last game, when he badly shanked a 57-yard field goal attempt that could have forced overtime in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

    Sturgis was having a perfect season before his miss, so there is little doubt that Sturgis is capable of continuing to be one of the NFL’s best kickers. Not allowing doubts to creep into his head after his miss and a week off, however, will be the first major test of Sturgis’ mental strength in his rookie season.

7. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

    Last Week: No. 7

    Week in and week out, rookie running back Giovani Bernard has been a difference-maker for the Cincinnati Bengals offense. That continued to be the case Sunday in a win versus the Buffalo Bills, a game in which Bernard gained 100 yards on 21 total touches.

    The highlight of Bernard’s game came off of a second-quarter shovel pass, when he made multiple defenders missincluding Bills rookie phenom middle linebacker Kiko Alonso (more on him to come)en route to the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown. On that play, specifically, Bernard continued to show his outstanding open-field quickness and ability to extend catches out of the backfield into big plays.

    Bernard did not have much success running the ball out of the backfield on Sunday, though, averaging less than two yards per carry (28 yards on 15 attempts), but he made up for it with his big plays off of short passes (72 yards on six receptions).

    Bernard has scored four touchdowns (two rushing, two receiving) this season and leads all rookies with a total of 438 yards from scrimmage on 80 touches.

6. Larry Warford, RG, Detroit Lions

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 4

    The Detroit Lions rookie class is off to as strong of a start as any team’s group of rookies in the NFL, and the best among them has been right guard Larry Warford.

    Warford has not missed a single snap for the Lions this season and grades out as the NFL’s fifth-best guard this year, according to PFF.

    The third-round pick was not heralded as a pass-blocker coming out of Kentucky, but that has been his forte thus far in the NFL. He has allowed no sacks and just three total quarterback pressures through six games, and has been graded by PFF as the NFL’s second-best pass-blocking guard this year.

    Warford has been a massive upgrade at the position over Stephen Peterman for the Lions.

5. Alec Ogletree, OLB, St. Louis Rams

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 10

    Alec Ogletree has been making big plays for the St. Louis Rams all season. He made his biggest play of the season in the third quarter of Sunday’s game versus the Houston Texans, when he all but nailed the coffin shut in the Rams blowout victory by intercepting a pass at the 2-yard line and returning it 98 yards for a touchdown.

    An explosive athlete who hits hard but is also skilled in coverage, Ogletree has seemingly emerged as the star of the Rams’ linebacker corps while making no shortage of plays on the ball this season. He has a team-leading 46 total tackles, four total pass defenses and three forced fumbles this year.

    Credited by PFF with seven missed tackles and with allowing 23 receptions for 253 yards in coverage for the season, Ogletree has been very inconsistent and needs to become better in every phase of the game. That said, he has been around the ball constantly and has shown that if he can become more polished as both a tackler and in coverage, he has the potential to be an NFL star.

4. Tyrann Mathieu, FS/CB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    Last Week: No. 3

    Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu continued his playmaking ways against the San Francisco 49ers. The Cardinals came up short of a win, but Mathieu, who lined up at both free safety and cornerback, deflected a pass and made six solo tacklesfour of which PFF credited to him as stops (plays that constitute an offensive failure) and two of which were tackles for loss.

    Whether he is making plays on the ball in the air, attacking the line of scrimmage or making tackles downfield, Mathieu has been frequently involved in plays and has made his presence felt all season.

    He has had an up-and-down year in terms of pass coverage, but he was strong in that capacity for the most part against San Francisco, allowing just two receptions for 22 yards on 23 coverage snaps.

    He has 40 total tackles for the season with three total passes defensed (one interception). He also has one forced fumble and one sack.

3. Eric Reid, FS, San Francisco 49ers

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    Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 5

    Although Tyrann Mathieu continued his strong rookie campaign against the San Francisco 49ers, he was not the biggest rookie playmaker on the field Sunday. That honor went to Eric Reid, also a rookie free safety out of LSU, whose fantastic rookie season continued with the biggest game of his young career to date.

    Reid had two takeaways in the gamereturning a first-quarter interception 53 yards to set up the 49ers’ first scoring drive of the day and also recovering a fumble in the third quarter. He had a strong game overall in coverage, allowing just four receptions for 19 yards on six targets while receiving 45 coverage snaps.

    He has been both a big-play defender and a steady presence at free safety for the 49ers this season, and San Francisco has not missed a beat at the position in their transition from 2012 AP All-Pro Dashon Goldson to a rookie.

    Reid has 27 total tackles and five total passes defensed (three interceptions) for the season. He is graded by PFF as the NFL’s eighth-best safety this season with an overall grade of 4.9.

2. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Buffalo Bills

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    Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 1

    Total tackles can be a misleading statistic. While Buffalo Bills middle linebacker Kiko Alonso’s whopping 22 tackles from Sunday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals certainly stand out statistically, he may have actually had his worst game yet of his rookie season.

    Alonso was clearly as active as ever for the Bills defense on Sunday. He played every defensive snap for the sixth consecutive game, and he was in on a tackle on exactly one out of every four snaps he played. That said, not all of those tackles were good tackles, as he took some poor angles in the game and made many of those tackles downfield. He also struggled in coverage.

    Alonso has been one of the NFL’s best coverage linebackers this season, but the aforementioned Giovani Bernard proved to be his kryptonite Sunday. Bernard made Alonso look foolish when he made him miss en route to his 20-yard receiving touchdown, and Alonso gave him four receptions for 37 yards in coverage on the day, according to PFF.

    Although he drops one spot in this week’s rookie rankings, he has had an exceptional rookie season thus far, as evidenced by the fact that he leads the NFL with 66 total tackles and remains tied for the league lead with four interceptions. He has literally been an every-down player for the Bills.

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

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    Last Week: No. 2

    If the Defensive Rookie of the Year competition is to be a 16-round bout between Kiko Alonso and New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson (though Reid, Mathieu and Ogletree, among others, still have plenty of time to make their mark), Richardson was the victor of Week 6, continuing his fantastic season and moving back to the top of this week’s rankings.

    Richardson has been an incredibly disruptive presence on the Jets’ defensive line this season, and that continued in a losing effort versus the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. He consistently made plays around the line of scrimmage, finishing the day with six tackles, including one for loss.

    His consistent production has been truly outstanding for a rookie 3-4 defensive end. He has been a dominant force in run defense, leading all NFL defensive linemen this season with 30 total tackles, while PFF grades him as the third-best 3-4 defensive end in the league through six weeks.

    There has not been a long list of instant rookie stars this season, but Richardson certainly qualifies. He has made the Jets’ defensive front immediately better with his ability to penetrate, make stops on his own and pick up blocks to open up lanes for his teammates to make plays.

     

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