The halfway mark of the NFL season is a common time for the top rookies to be arbitrarily crowned with midseason Rookie of the Year awards. But it’s also a point where those who actually vote on the end-of-season awards are likely starting to consider who the top candidates to receive their Rookie of the Year votes will be.
Even in the eighth week of the NFL season, there were still candidates emerging, including Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington, who makes his debut in Bleacher Report’s NFL Rookie Rankings this week after an 154-yard rushing performance versus the Atlanta Falcons.
With each of the following 25 players still having eight or nine games left on their regular-season schedules, it’s too early to count any of them out of the Rookie of the Year races.
The players who make up this week’s NFL Rookie Rankings have displayed significant playmaking ability in their first half-seasons and have already emerged as important players on their rosters.
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.
Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England Patriots
Last Week: No. 20
Kenbrell Thompkins has had some big moments for the Patriots this season, but his inconsistency continued Sunday when he did not catch a single pass against the Miami Dolphins. Thompkins has only caught eight passes for 77 yards in his past four games, and he has been outperformed by fellow Patriots rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson in recent weeks.
Caleb Sturgis, K, Miami Dolphins
Last Week: No. 21
After making his first 10 field-goal attempts of the season, Caleb Sturgis hasn’t looked like the same kicker since missing what would have been a game-tying 57-yard field goal against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5. Sturgis has missed four of his last five field-goal attempts, including a miss from 46 yards out and a blocked 39-yard attempt against the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Joseph Fauria, TE, Detroit Lions
Last Week: No. 23
Joseph Fauria still leads all rookies with five receiving touchdowns this season, but he has not been able to build upon his red-zone production. He continues to play a very limited role in the Lions offense and went without a catch for the fourth time this season versus the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
Sam Martin, P, Detroit Lions
Last Week: No. 24
Ranking fourth in average yards per punt (48.5) and tied for fourth in net yards per punt (42.5), Sam Martin has been one of the NFL’s best punters this season. He still has to improve at punting with a short field—he has only 10 punts inside the 20-yard line but seven touchbacks—but his booming leg should have a long future in Detroit.
Last Week: NR
One of two rookies to score a return touchdown on Sunday Night Football this week (more to come), Micah Hyde answered the bell for the Green Bay Packers—who ultimately won Sunday’s game 44-31—in the second quarter by returning a punt 93 yards for a touchdown.
Hyde’s punt return touchdown was the first score of his career, but he was already having a solid rookie campaign. He has seen playing time as the Packers’ dime cornerback and has been a staple on special teams for the Packers.
He has not been great in coverage, allowing an average of 1.8 receiving yards per coverage snap, but he has been a playmaker in run defense and on kickoff coverage, compiling 25 total tackles through his first seven games. He also recorded a strip-sack against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6.
Hyde’s role on defense could decrease, as Casey Hayward, who made his season debut on Sunday after missing the Packers’ first six games with a hamstring injury, works his way back up Green Bay’s depth chart. Nonetheless, he has made a very good contribution thus far for a fifth-round draft pick.
Last Week: NR
Kenny Stills hasn’t yet become a consistent factor in the New Orleans Saints offense, but he has certainly emerged as a big-play threat in his rookie season.
He had two huge plays in the Saints’ 35-17 victory against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. In the second quarter, he took advantage of a blown coverage by the Bills defense and went all the way to the end zone on a 69-yard catch-and-run. In the fourth quarter, he scored the final touchdown of the game when he made a leaping grab against tight coverage in the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown.
In the Saints’ previous game, Stills had a 34-yard touchdown against the New England Patriots. Also, in New Orleans’ season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, he set up the Saints in the red zone with a 67-yard catch-and-run.
Stills has only caught 13 passes this season but has averaged a whopping 25.2 yards per reception. He has emerged as the Saints’ No. 2 receiving playmaker behind Marques Colston, and his big plays should serve as reason for quarterback Drew Brees for start throwing the ball to him on a more regular basis.
Last Week: NR
Cordarrelle Patterson set an NFL record against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night when he returned the game’s opening kickoff for a touchdown from nine yards deep in the end zone. At 109 yards, the play was the longest kickoff return in NFL history.
Patterson would be the clear-cut choice at kickoff returner on a midseason All-Pro team. He is the only player in the NFL with two kickoff return touchdowns and has a league-best average of 39.1 yards per kickoff return (703 yards on 18 returns).
For one reason or another, Patterson has yet to emerge on offense, with just 13 receptions for 133 yards this season. The explosive speedster and dynamic open-field runner earned himself back into the Rookie Power Rankings nonetheless by setting a record and furthering his case for already being the NFL’s best kickoff returner.
Last Week: No. 14
The wild roller-coaster that has been the New York Jets’ season continued in Week 8, and it wasn’t kind to the them or rookie quarterback Geno Smith. The Jets suffered a defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals by a 40-point margin, in part due to Smith's poor play.
Smith threw two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns by Bengals defenders, while he threw for just 159 passing yards on 30 attempts.
The rookie quarterback has certainly had growing pains this season, highlighted by his 13 interceptions and six fumbles compared to just 10 total touchdowns (eight passing, two rushing).
However, Smith has made some big plays to lead the Jets to wins this season, and it is unlikely that the Jets would be a 4-4 team at the halfway point if they still had Mark Sanchez as their quarterback, so he still holds a spot in these rankings. But if the Jets want to start stringing together wins, they need Smith to be more consistent and less mistake-prone.
Last Week: No. 25
Jordan Reed’s nine-catch, 134-yard game against the Chicago Bears in Week 7 was a tough act to follow, but he did so admirably against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, catching eight passes for 90 yards to lead the Washington Redskins in receiving for a second consecutive game.
A non-traditional, flex tight end who makes up for his lack of size with shiftiness, route-running and strong hands, Reed is quickly emerging as a key playmaker on the Washington offense.
He has caught 26 passes for 332 yards in his last four games. In just six games played, he leads all rookies with 34 receptions for the season, and he leads all rookie tight ends with 388 receiving yards for the season.
The season has not gone as expected for the Redskins and their offense, but Reed is starting to give it a nice boost of rookie talent.
Last Week: No. 17
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’s Bears did not play in Week 8, but with an overall grade of minus-0.5 from PFF, he ranks 29th among the 58 NFL guards who have played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps this season.
The Bears will be looking for continued improvement from Long, who has shown flashes of greatness but has played inconsistently, especially as a pass-blocker. Nonetheless, one of the most heavily scrutinized selections in this year's draft has outperformed expectations and has been one of the best rookie offensive linemen in the league through the first half of the season.
Last Week: No. 22
Xavier Rhodes is not yet a starter in the Minnesota Vikings secondary, but he has been a playmaker as Minnesota’s No. 3 cornerback throughout the first half of his rookie season.
A physical cornerback, Rhodes has been very solid in run support, especially on Sunday night versus the Green Bay Packers, when he recorded seven tackles. He has also held up consistently well in coverage, allowing just 0.81 yards per coverage snap, which ties him for ninth among all NFL cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps this season.
Rhodes has not made a lot of plays on the ball, as he has recorded only two passes defensed in seven games, but he has been an asset on the field with his consistent and technically sound play.
Last Week: No. 19
Terrance Williams did not have one of his best games on Sunday versus the Detroit Lions, making just two receptions on 10 targets after coming into the game with the league’s best catch percentage among receivers who had played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps. Still, he made a big impact on a day where quarterback Tony Romo completed less than half of his passes by turning one of his two catches into a 60-yard touchdown.
Even with his share of rookie mistakes, Williams has quickly emerged as a No. 2 receiver and a vertical threat opposite Dez Bryant in the Cowboys offense. He leads all rookies with 444 receiving yards, is tied with two other rookies for the most receiving gains of 20 yards or more (seven) and has caught a touchdown pass in each of his last four games.
Williams moved into the starting lineup thanks to a hamstring injury to veteran wideout Miles Austin, but with his impressive play thus far, he is making a serious case to remain in the lineup even when Austin is healthy. With Austin’s career seemingly on its downside, Williams offers more upside and downfield explosiveness.
Last Week: No. 15
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.
In his four most recent games prior to San Diego’s Week 8 bye, Allen caught 23 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns. He ranks third among all rookie receivers with 399 receiving yards this 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 found a key playmaker for their offense and got a steal by selecting Allen in Round 3.
Last Week: No. 6
Giovani Bernard seemed to be destined to take over for BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the Cincinnati Bengals’ feature back with some of his impressive performances early in the season, but Cincinnati’s last two games have displayed otherwise, as Bernard’s workload and production have dipped significantly.
As the Bengals put up 402 yards of offense and scored 49 points against the New York Jets on Sunday, Bernard was largely a non-factor, gaining just 27 yards on six touches. One week earlier against the Detroit Lions, Bernard had another quiet performance, gaining just 59 yards on 12 touches.
Bernard has been a dynamic playmaker in limited work this season, utilizing his quickness in the open field to make defenders miss and making plays as both a runner and receiver. He has not impressed Bengals coaches enough to earn a larger role in the Cincinnati offense, however, and he has not been able to gain consistent yardage as a runner.
He ranks second among rookies with 524 yards from scrimmage and has scored four touchdowns (two rushing, two receiving) this season, but his stock is down after his past two games.
Last Week: No. 12
Travis Frederick does not play a flashy position, but the center continued to be a solid presence in the middle of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line in Week 8 against the Detroit Lions.
Frederick has been steady as a pass-blocker, allowing just two sacks and 11 total quarterback pressures in eight games, including no quarterback pressures on Sunday. In the ground game, he is tied for third in the NFL with a cumulative PFF rating of 5.0 in run-blocking this season.
The Dallas Cowboys desperately needed stability in the middle of their offensive line, and they have gotten that from their No. 31 overall pick thus far. His 2.6 overall rating is PFF’s third-best among rookie offensive linemen this season.
Last Week: No. 11
DeAndre Hopkins’ production has been adversely affected by poor quarterback play in Houston, but he has still proven himself to be a top-notch No. 2 wideout opposite Andre Johnson.
Even as the Texans offense has revolved between quarterbacks Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates and Case Keenum this season, Hopkins has shown that he can make plays. The Texans had a Week 8 bye, but he ranks second among all rookies with 416 receiving yards this season on 28 receptions (third-most among NFL rookies).
Hopkins has had some disappointing games after a hot start to the season, and he has to prove that he can continue to get open and not be stifled by coverage due to his lack of explosive speed. If he can continue to make big plays on the ball and make up for his athletic limitations with his physicality, route-running and ball-tracking, he should continue to be one of the league’s best rookies.
Last Week: No. 18
Playing as the No. 3 cornerback in Kansas City since Brandon Flowers returned from injury, Marcus Cooper has been a stellar addition to the Chiefs’ dominant defense thus far this season. Originally a seventh-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers but released prior to the start of the season, the Kansas City waiver claim has been arguably the best rookie cornerback in the NFL this year.
Playing primarily on the outside when he checks into the game, Cooper ranks third among all NFL cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their teams’ snaps with only 0.73 yards allowed per coverage snap. He also ranks fifth in the league with an average of 16.9 coverage snaps per reception allowed.
Cooper leads all rookie cornerbacks in both of those categories. He also leads all rookies and is tied for fourth in the NFL with 11 passes defensed this season, even though he played sparingly in Kansas City’s first three games of the season. Two of his pass defenses have been interceptions.
It may have taken him a second opportunity to stick with an NFL team, but he has certainly taken advantage of that opportunity and has become an important player on a flourishing defense.
Last Week: No. 16
An undrafted rookie out of USC, Nickell Robey has arguably been the NFL’s best slot cornerback this season. His lack of size (5’7”, 165 lbs.) has not stopped him from becoming a staple when covering inside receivers in Buffalo’s nickel defense.
Robey is allowing just 0.74 yards per coverage snap this season, which ties him for fourth-best among all NFL cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps. He has been especially good in the slot, allowing just 0.55 yards per coverage snap in 172 snaps covering receivers on the inside.
One week after returning an interception 19 yards for a touchdown on his opening series versus the Miami Dolphins, Robey had another big performance against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
While he was beaten twice going into the end zone on a 42-yard touchdown reception on Kenny Stills and 15-yard reception on Lance Moore, his coverage was actually solid on both plays, as Saints quarterback Drew Brees simply threw his passes perfectly.
On the better end of the equation, Robey was credited with two pass breakups and two tackles for loss, as he continued to show his ability to break on short passes in order to knock the ball out or bury screen receivers in the backfield.
Robey has been incredibly successful for an undrafted rookie thus far this season, and he is proving that he should not only have been selected but selected in the early rounds of the draft for his ability to make plays in slot coverage.
Last Week: No. 13
Playing all but seven total snaps in the New Orleans Saints’ first seven games, Kenny Vaccaro has become an immediate staple of a resurgent defense under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in New Orleans. He is coming off one of his best games of the season against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
He proved his ability as a big-play defender Sunday, breaking beyond the line of scrimmage twice for tackles for loss and breaking up a pass on the back end with a hit. He was beaten on a 13-yard touchdown catch by Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson, but he was able to get in a hit in an effort to pop the ball out as Johnson came down with the catch.
Vaccaro has suffered from inconsistent play all season, but the Saints have had faith in their rookie to make plays in a wide variety of spots on the field. Vaccaro has been used everywhere this season—from safety to slot cornerback to linebacker—and he has recorded 37 total tackles, four passes defensed (one interception) and three total tackles for loss (one sack).
Last Week: No. 10
Eddie Lacy is a strong runner, especially between the tackles, who has quickly emerged as a feature back for the Green Bay Packers.
Lacy leads all rookies with 446 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on 112 rushing attempts. He has only played in five full games this season, but has accounted for at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his last three games, including 94 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries and 18 yards on four receptions Sunday night versus the Minnesota Vikings.
Lacy has only one run of 20 yards or more and is unlikely to emerge as a big-play threat, but he ranks 10th in the NFL with 74.3 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.
Last Week: NR
Andre Ellington received the first start of his NFL career Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. He certainly took advantage of his opportunity, leaving little doubt that he is the Arizona Cardinals’ best running back.
Highlighted by an 80-yard touchdown run, Ellington averaged 10.3 yards per carry on 15 carries in Arizona’s win against Atlanta.
Sunday was the first time this season that Ellington received more than seven carries in a game, but in limited action, the sixth-round pick’s explosive ability to make significant gains has been par for the course. Even though he only has 65 total touches in eight games, he leads all rookies with 531 yards from scrimmage, thanks to an average of 8.2 yards per touch.
Ellington ranks third among all rookies with 333 rushing yards, but he is also second among rookie running backs with 198 receiving yards. All of this has come in a limited role, at least until he moved into the starting lineup Sunday.
If he can continue his impressive production as his role expands, Ellington could be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. With dynamic receiving ability and impressive receiving skill out of the backfield, he is looking like a major steal as a sixth-round draft pick.
Last Week: No. 9
While most of the rookie starters at offensive tackle have struggled in the first half of the NFL season, D.J. Fluker of the San Diego Chargers has been very solid at right tackle.
Fluker has been both an effective pass-protector, allowing just two sacks thus far this season, and a solid run-blocker. His cumulative PFF rating of 3.4 ranks 27th among all NFL offensive tackles who have played at least 50 percent of their teams’ snaps, and it is the best mark among all rookie offensive tackles.
His most impressive performance of his rookie season may have been in Week 7 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, when he held his own after injuries forced the Chargers to move him from right to left tackle.
It remains unclear whether Fluker will have to remain at left tackle coming out of the Chargers’ Week 8 bye, but even though he gave up some pressure on the left side in his debut there, his ability to step in at this spot was impressive after he played right tackle throughout his collegiate career at Alabama.
Overall, he has looked every bit worth the No. 11 overall pick that the Chargers used to select him.
Last Week: No. 8
Larry Warford has yet to give up a sack through the first eight games of his rookie season, and according to PFF, he is tied with teammate Dominic Raiola for the second-most snaps played by an offensive lineman this season without being responsible for a sack.
The 6’3”, 333-pound guard has also been solid as a run-blocker, and he has the sixth-best cumulative PFF rating of any guard in the NFL this season (7.7), which also ranks as the best cumulative rating for any rookie offensive lineman.
After a down year in 2012, the Detroit Lions are playing like a playoff team once again, and one reason why has been the team's rookie upgrade at right guard.
Last Week: No. 5
St. Louis Rams outside linebacker Alec Ogletree has been relatively quiet in his last two games with just seven combined tackles, but he has still been one of the most impactful defensive playmakers of the rookie class thus far.
Through his first eight games of the season, Ogletree has 53 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, as he has been credited with eight missed tackles and has allowed 27 receptions for 288 yards. That said, his explosive big-play ability has overshadowed his mistakes, and he has become a more steady all-around player as the season has progressed.
Last Week: No. 7
The Carolina Panthers have been in need of a difference-maker at the defensive tackle position for years, and it appears they found exactly what they needed by drafting Star Lotulelei with the No. 14 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Lotulelei has been a major presence in the middle of the Carolina defense, especially against the run. He has 20 total tackles and four tackles for loss, and he has the third-best cumulative PFF rating against the run among NFL defensive tackles this season.
He has also been a solid pass-rusher with one sack and 10 total quarterback pressures through his first seven games.
Lotulelei has played less than 60 percent of the Panthers’ defensive snaps this season, but all in all, the 6’2”, 315-pound, powerful and explosive nose tackle has been the difference-maker the Panthers thought they were drafting.
Last Week: No. 4
Splitting time between safety and slot cornerback in Week 8 against the Atlanta Falcons, defensive back Tyrann Mathieu continued to be a game-changer in the Arizona Cardinals secondary. In recording seven tackles and coming up with two passes defensed, including an interception, Mathieu had arguably his best game yet of his rookie season.
He was not used at all as a pass-rusher, something he has done frequently this season, but he was very good in both run defense and coverage.
Doing everything from covering deep to playing up at the line of scrimmage, Mathieu has made an impact in every area he has played this season. His statistics for the season include 49 total tackles (47 solo, five tackles for loss, one sack), five passes defensed (two interceptions) and one forced fumble.
Last Week: No. 2
Kiko Alonso has not been quite as spectacular in his past few games as he was during the first quarter of the Buffalo Bills’ season. But through eight games, the rookie middle linebacker still has yet to leave the field for a single defensive snap.
Alonso is consistently around the ball, is tied for second in the NFL with 81 total tackles and remains tied for the league lead with four interceptions. He also has five tackles for loss this season, including one in each of his last four games.
Big, athletic and physical, Alonso has been every bit the middle linebacker the Bills expected to get when they selected him with the No. 46 overall pick in the 2013 draft. He has been a leader and the primary play-caller for the Bills defense this season as a rookie, making his consistent production all the more impressive.
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 Eric Reid's impressive first season.
Playing both as a center fielder in deep coverage but also as a key player in run support on the back end, Reid has confidently and effectively taken on a big role in the San Francisco defense this season.
He has been both reliable and a big playmaker, providing stability but also playing on the ball in coverage while coming up and making plays against the run.
Reid has 39 total tackles and six passes defensed, included three interceptions, for the season. He has played more than 90 percent of San Francisco’s defensive snaps this season and has been steady in coverage, allowing just 0.43 yards per coverage snap.
Last Week: No. 1
Sheldon Richardson had his least impressive performance of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, but his body of work for the year has been too impressive for anyone else to unseat him from the top spot of this week’s NFL Rookie Rankings.
Two tackles is not typically a particularly low number for an interior defensive lineman, but that number from Richardson’s game in Week 8 was his first game below three total tackles this season.
He ranks third among all interior defensive linemen with 37 total tackles (behind Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus of the Buffalo Bills, who have 38 apiece), including 6.5 total tackles for loss (2.5 sacks). He also has a forced fumble and a pass deflection this season.
Even with those fantastic numbers, it is about more than just the numbers at a position where statistics do not tell the whole story. On many plays where he has not made a stop himself, he has used his quickness, size (6’3”, 294 pounds) and strength to disrupt opponents by penetrating the line of scrimmage and/or occupying blockers.
He has the fifth-best cumulative PFF rating (13.9) of any 3-4 defensive end in the NFL this season, and he also holds the best cumulative PFF rating of any rookie in the league.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.