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Top 25 NFL Rookies Heading into Week 10

Dan HopeContributor IIINovember 17, 2016

Top 25 NFL Rookies Heading into Week 10

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    Giovani Bernard is one of multiple running backs to move up the Rookie Rankings this week.
    Giovani Bernard is one of multiple running backs to move up the Rookie Rankings this week.Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

    More than halfway through the NFL season, it has started to become clear who the candidates for the NFL Rookie of the Year awards will be. Yet while some of the top rookies in the draft class have made big impacts for their teams all season and are jockeying for award position, some others are still emerging as standouts, and they are doing so quickly as the second half of the season moves into full swing.

    Some of the biggest Week 9 rookie performances came from running backs. Mike James of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the league’s leader of the week with 158 rushing yards, while the Green Bay Packers' Eddie Lacy was not far behind with 150 yards.

    St. Louis Rams running back Zac Stacy and Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard, meanwhile, each scored two touchdowns and had more than 100 yards from scrimmage, including a whopping 178 from scrimmage for Stacy.

    Having come into Week 9 with just 96 rushing yards on the season, James is going to need to string together some more impressive performances to work his way onto Bleacher Report’s NFL Rookie Rankings. Lacy, Bernard and Stacy, however, are all among those who moved up the list this week after standing out over the course of the weekend.

     

    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.

Honorable Mentions

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    Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

    Listed in previous weeks as our “Dropouts from Last Week’s Rankings” section, the four players who fell out of the top 25 this week are all truly deserving of honorable mentions for their work this season.

    They lost their spots on the rankings partly due to subpar Week 9 performances, but it was largely due to other rookies simply emerging ahead of them.

     

    Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets

    Last Week: No. 22

    Smith has been statistically unimpressive this season, and that was never more true than in Week 9, where he completed just 8-of-19 passing attempts for 115 yards.

    Yet although those numbers were uninspiring, he led the New York Jets to a victory over the New Orleans Saints, one of the NFC’s top teams. Also, for the first time in four games, he finished the contest without throwing an interception.

    With a quarterback rating of 71.0 that ranks 30th among qualifying NFL starting quarterbacks (behind Matt Schaub, Chad Henne and Christian Ponder, among others), Smith has certainly played like a rookie at the position, and he fell out of the rankings this week as a result. That said, the Jets are in playoff position at 5-4, and a big reason for that has been their upgrade at quarterback from Mark Sanchez to Smith.

     

    Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

    Last Week: No. 23

    Patterson continued to be a minimal factor in the Minnesota Vikings offense, catching just three passes for 13 yards in Week 9 against the Dallas Cowboys, but he had another strong day returning kickoffs, gaining 105 yards on four returns. He leads the NFL with two kickoff return touchdowns and an average of 36.7 yards per kickoff return.

     

    Kenny Stills, WR, New Orleans Saints

    Last Week: No. 24

    Kenny Stills has been a dynamic, big-play receiving weapon for the New Orleans Saints this season, but he has not yet emerged as a consistent target for Drew Brees and the New Orleans passing offense.

    Stills has caught three passes in each of his last three games, but he only gained 35 receiving yards against the New York Jets in Week 9. Nonetheless, his 22.6 yards per reception stands out as the best among all qualifying NFL wideouts, and his 362 receiving yards (gained on just 16 receptions) rank sixth among all NFL rookies this season.

     

    Micah Hyde, CB, Green Bay Packers

    Last Week: No. 25

    Hyde has made his biggest impact this season as a special teams standout, and that continued to be the case on Monday night versus the Chicago Bears.

    While Hyde only played 11 snaps on defense for the Packers, according to Pro Football Focus, he made one of the game’s biggest plays happen when he knocked the ball out of Bears linebacker Blake Costanzo’s grasp on an onside kick recovery. He then went after the loose ball and nearly recovered it before it was eventually scooped up by Packers teammate Jamari Lattimore for a play that helped push the team to an early third-quarter lead.

25. Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins

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    Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 21

    Jordan Reed may be as much of a wide receiver as he is a tight end, but nonetheless, he leads all rookies with 38 receptions and all rookie tight ends with 425 receiving yards in just seven games played.

    A non-traditional flex tight end who makes up for his lack of size with shiftiness, route-running and strong hands, Reed has seemingly emerged as the No. 2 receiving threat on the Washington offense.

    Reed had another solid game Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, catching four passes for 37 yards and also picking up 18 yards on a run off of a pitch. He has caught 30 passes for 369 yards in San Diego’s last five games alone.

    As long as Reed can continue finding ways to get open, he should continue to be a major factor in a Washington offense that is fairly thin on weapons outside of No. 1 wideout Pierre Garcon.

24. Earl Wolff, SS, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: NR

    The secondary continues to be a point of weakness for the Philadelphia Eagles, but the team has benefited from the emergence of fifth-round pick Earl Wolff as a solid starting safety.

    Wolff lacks the flashy measurables of an early round draft pick at safety, but he is a technically sound player who has shown he has the ability to step in. He has been an active playmaker against both the run and pass, compiling 43 tackles and five passes defensed (one interception) thus far this season.

    Wolff has been up and down in pass coverage, allowing 20 receptions for 333 yards and two touchdowns, according to PFF, but that is typical for any rookie defensive back. He is coming off of a strong performance in Philadelphia’s Week 9 victory over the Oakland Raiders, in which he had five tackles, two pass deflections and did not allow a single catch.

23. Kyle Long, RG, Chicago Bears

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 20

    As an interior offensive lineman, Kyle Long’s contributions are more likely to be overlooked than those of many of the other top rookies in the 2013 draft class, but he has been a promising upgrade to an improving Chicago Bears offensive line this season.

    A steady if not spectacular presence, Long’s play has had its ups and downs. He has allowed 19 total quarterback pressures in eight games, giving him cumulative PFF grades of minus-1.8 overall and minus-4.9 as a pass-blocker for the season.

    Nevertheless, with only two sacks allowed this year and playmaking ability as a run-blocker, the No. 20 overall pick has paid immediate dividends for an offensive line that was one of the NFL’s worst in 2012. The long, athletic Bears guard has star potential if he can continue to polish his game.

22. Aaron Dobson, WR, New England Patriots

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Last Week: NR

    Like the New England Patriots offense as a whole, wide receiver Aaron Dobson is quickly hitting his stride after a slow start to the season.

    A big, explosive downfield threat, Dobson had a breakout performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, finishing the game with season highs of 130 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Both of his touchdowns—a beautiful adjustment to a 17-yard back-shoulder throw tight to the left sideline and an 81-yard touchdown also up the left sideline, during which he torched Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor on a catch-and-run—were worthy of making the postgame highlight reels.

    While the returns of tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola from injury are rightfully drawing attention as catalysts to what was a struggling Patriots offense, the emergence of Dobson as a legitimate deep threat on the outside may be just as significant.

    Dobson is fourth among NFL rookies with 454 receiving yards, and he is tied for third with 31 receptions and four receiving touchdowns. His production should only continue to increase if he continues to show that he can get open downfield and catch the ball consistently.

21. Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta Falcons

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Last Week: NR

    While most rookie cornerbacks tend to struggle starters (just ask New York Jets first-round pick Dee Milliner), Desmond Trufant has started every game at the position for the Atlanta Falcons this season and has been both a solid presence and a playmaker.

    Trufant has been very consistent, recording exactly one pass defensed in every game this season, while he has not allowed more than 53 receiving yards in any single game. He has only allowed 0.96 yards per coverage snap this season, which ranks him third among NFL rookie cornerbacks and 15th among all NFL cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their teams’ snaps this season.

    Trufant does not fit the "shutdown cornerback" label yet, but he has been able to match up against top receivers and hold his own. He has not been suffering bad beats this season, has played on both sides of the field and is looking like a sure starter in the Atlanta secondary for many years to come.

20. Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams

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    Michael Thomas/Getty Images

    Last Week: NR

    St. Louis Rams running back Zac Stacy has been fantastic since taking over the team’s starting running back job in Week 5. In his past five games alone, Stacy has rushed for 471 yards, compiled 562 total yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns.

    With starting quarterback Sam Bradford out for the season with a torn ACL, Stacy has become the key offensive player for the Rams. As both a runner and receiver out of the backfield, his role is increasing every game.

    He is a reliable back who has great vision, hits holes confidently and catches the ball well. Stacy likely fell to the fifth round of this year’s draft because he lacks explosive measurables and is not known as a big-play runner, but he is looking like a steal for St. Louis thus far.

    If he continues to take on a heavy workload and put up the big numbers that he has recently (two triple-digit rushing games the past two weeks), he should continue to work his way up the NFL Rookie Rankings.

19. Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys

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    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 18

    After catching nearly everything that came his way in his first seven games with the Dallas Cowboys, rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams has only caught four passes on 17 targets in his last two games, as defenses have started to game plan against him.

    Even so, the third-round pick has continued to make big plays down the field and has looked like a great investment as a No. 2 wide receiver opposite Dez Bryant. While Miles Austin has not caught a pass for the Cowboys since Week 3 as he battles a hamstring injury, Williams has stepped into his starting role and has given the Cowboys a secondary wideout who can stretch the field.

    Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, in which Williams only had 33 receiving yards, was his first game without a receiving touchdown since September. Even so, he ranks second among NFL rookies with 477 receiving yards, seventh with 28 receptions and is tied for third with four receiving touchdowns. He is also tied for second among rookie wide receivers with eight receiving gains of 20 yards or more.

18. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 14

    DeAndre Hopkins’ statistical production has been stunted by inconsistent quarterback play in Houston, but he has still looked like a strong No. 2 wide receiver opposite Andre Johnson.

    Hopkins has shown the ability to make big plays on the ball this season, whether that be by winning at the catch-point against coverage or running strong routes to get open. He has also seemed to gain some rhythm with new Texans starting quarterback Case Keenum in his past two games.

    Hopkins’ Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign has faded in the past five weeks, as he has caught three or less passes in each of his past five games, but it is not dead yet. He remains tied for third among NFL rookies with 470 receiving yards on 31 receptions and is tied with Terrance Williams for the second-most receiving gains of 20 yards or more among NFL rookies with eight.

17. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

    Last Week: No. 19

    With Chris Cook inactive due to injury against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Xavier Rhodes received his second start of the season in Week 9, and he rose to the occasion. He allowed just five receptions for 22 yards on 42 coverage snaps and finished the game with six tackles.

    While Rhodes has only started two games, he has been on the field for a majority of snaps all season as one of the Minnesota Vikings’ top three cornerbacks. He has done a very good job of using both his physicality and athleticism to match up against wide receivers this season, and he has been one of the most reliable rookie cornerbacks in the league.

    With just 0.77 yards allowed per coverage snap, Rhodes ranks fifth among all NFL cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their teams’ snaps. He has also been very solid in run support, and with seven tackles against the run, he is tied with Desmond Trufant for the second-most among rookie cornerbacks this season.

    Rhodes has not made a lot of plays on the ball this year, 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.

16. Nickell Robey, CB, Buffalo Bills

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 12

    The Buffalo Bills relied upon additional safeties more than three-cornerback sets against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9, and as a result, slot cornerback Nickell Robey had one of his quietest games in weeks, playing just 18 total snaps on defense.

    Even so, Robey’s presence certainly made an impact on this game. He was only credited with one tackle, but it was a big one, as he laid out Chiefs receiver Dexter McCluster immediately after a short catch for a third-down stop short of converting a 3rd-and-3.

    He also caught a break, however, when he and Aaron Williams collided in the slot to leave McCluster wide open deep late in the first half, but McCluster dropped what should have been a deep-ball catch and potential touchdown catch-and-run.

    Nonetheless, the undrafted rookie has been one of the NFL’s best slot cornerbacks this season. He has surrendered just 0.70 yards per coverage snap, leading all NFL rookies and sitting third among cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their teams’ snaps this season. He also has eight total passes defensed.

15. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, New Orleans Saints

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 11

    Kenny Vaccaro has been a playmaker all over the field for the Saints defense this year, and his game seems to be progressively improving over the course of his rookie season. Even in a Week 9 loss to the New York Jets, Vaccaro made plays in run defense, pass coverage and as a blitzing pass-rusher, finishing the game with five total tackles, one pass defensed and two quarterback hits.

    Vaccaro’s versatility—both in the different spots he can line up on the field and in the roles he can occupy in various positions—has made him a huge asset to the Saints defense this season. He has lined up everywhere from safety to slot cornerback to linebacker this season, and he has recorded 42 total tackles, five passes defensed (one interception) and three total tackles for loss (one sack).

    Vaccaro’s playmaking was not reflected in his grades on Pro Football Focus early in the season, but he has received his two best game grades of the season (1.5 versus Buffalo Bills in Week 8, 1.3 versus Jets on Sunday) in his past two games. He has continued to play just about every snap for the Saints defense and has looked well worth the No. 15 overall selection the Saints used to draft him.

14. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers

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    Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 17

    Keenan Allen may have fallen to the third round of the 2013 draft because of injury concerns and a lack of top speed, but he has been able to make up for his deficiencies by attacking the football, running strong routes and utilizing his quickness. Given the early results of his rookie season, it looks like he could be a steal for the Chargers offense.

    Allen has already emerged as the top playmaker in San Diego’s receiving corps, including an eight-reception, 128-yard performance against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, highlighted by a 16-yard touchdown. In only seven games played, Allen leads all rookie wide receivers with 34 catches for 527 yards.

    Excluding the Chargers’ Week 7 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Allen has had at least 100 receiving yards and has caught a touchdown pass in three of his last four games. The team's passing offense has been resurgent this season, and while Philip Rivers has played much better, Allen has been another reason for the unit’s leap forward.

13. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 15

    The Dallas Cowboys desperately needed strength and stability at the center position heading into the season, and even though Travis Frederick was panned as one of the worst picks in the 2013 NFL draft as the No. 31 overall selection, he has been exactly what Dallas needed at this position.

    Frederick had a great game as both a pass- and run-blocker against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. He did not allow a single quarterback pressure and received a cumulative 2.3 grade from PFF for his dominance in both pass protection and run-blocking.

    All in all, Frederick has the ninth-best cumulative PFF rating (4.9) among NFL centers this season, including the fourth-best run-blocking rating. He has also only allowed two quarterback sacks on the season.

12. Marcus Cooper, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 13

    The Kansas City Chiefs have one of the strongest top trios of cornerbacks in the NFL, and the emergence of rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper has had as much to do with that as the play of starters Sean Smith and Brandon Flowers has.

    The Buffalo Bills decided to try to pick on Cooper on Sunday, and he took advantage of that questionable decision by recording three pass breakups, including one that knocked away a touchdown pass from Bills wide receiver Robert Woods in the end zone. Cooper also stripped the ball from Bills wide receiver T.J. Graham that was recovered by Tamba Hali and returned for an 11-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

    Although he has come off the bench, for the most part, Cooper is tied for the NFL lead with 14 passes defensed this season. Even with those playmaking opportunities, he has also been consistent in locking down his opponents, with an average of 14.6 coverage snaps per reception allowed that leads all rookie cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their teams’ snaps. 

11. Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 9

    With the Arizona Cardinals on a Week 9 bye, Andre Ellington did not have an opportunity to follow up his breakout performance from Week 8. He put up 162 yards from scrimmage against the Atlanta Falcons during a week where four other rookie running backs stole the spotlight.

    That said, Ellington has made a big statement in the first half of the season that makes him one of the league’s top Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates. Even though he only has 65 total touches in eight games, he ranks fourth among all rookies with 531 yards from scrimmage thanks to an average of 8.3 yards per touch.

    Ellington’s workload should continue to increase after his impressive first half of the season. If he can continue to perform well as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield while handling a greater workload, the explosive playmaker will remain near the top of the rookie rankings.

    With dynamic receiving ability and an impressive receiving skill set out of the backfield, Ellington is looking like a major steal as a sixth-round draft pick.

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

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 8

    After being forced to move to left tackle for the San Diego Chargers in Week 7, D.J. Fluker moved back to his more natural position at right tackle in Week 9 with King Dunlap back in the lineup on the left side of the offensive line.

    Fluker has been unspectacular as a pass-blocker in each of his past two games, allowing four quarterback pressures in each contest, but he has had a solid season in that capacity, allowing just two quarterback sacks in seven games. He has also been an upgrade with his power and strength as a run-blocker on the edge of the line of scrimmage.

    Fluker’s cumulative PFF rating of 4.3 ranks as the NFL’s best among rookie offensive tackles this season.

9. Alec Ogletree, OLB, St. Louis Rams

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 6

    With just one tackle for loss and one pass defensed over his past three games, Rams weakside linebacker Alec Ogletree has been relatively quiet after starting the season with several big plays. Even so, he continues to be one of the most active playmakers on the Rams defense.

    Through nine games, Ogletree has 59 tackles (three for loss), three forced fumbles and five passes defensed, including an interception that he returned 98 yards for a touchdown. He has been an inconsistent player, however, who also has 10 missed tackles and has allowed 32 receptions for 381 yards in coverage.

    Ogletree has certainly made his share of game-changing plays as a rookie, which keeps him in the top 10 of these rankings, but he needs to start polishing the flaws in his game that the big plays have not overshadowed.

8. Larry Warford, RG, Detroit Lions

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 7

    Larry Warford has yet to give up a sack through the first eight games of his rookie season. The 6’3”, 333-pound right guard has been an excellent pass-blocker this season, allowing just 10 quarterback pressures while also exerting his power as a solid run-blocker.

    Warford’s cumulative PFF rating of 7.7 is the best of any rookie offensive lineman this season.

    As the Detroit Lions come out of their Week 9 bye locked in a three-way tie atop the NFC North, they will need to be firing at all cylinders to win a division title. The Lions will need their offensive line to continue providing strong pass protection from quarterback Matthew Stafford, and whether Warford can continue his first-half success will be key in that effort.

7. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Last Week: No. 16

    After gaining just 86 yards from scrimmage in his previous two games versus the Detroit Lions and New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard needed a big performance to keep himself near the top of the Offensive Rookie of the Year race, and he delivered on Thursday Night Football versus the Miami Dolphins in Week 9.

    Bernard still has a limited workload, but he took advantage of the 13 touches he received, gaining 104 yards and scoring two touchdowns. His impressive night included a run that will almost certainly go down as one of the best plays of the year, as he turned what should have been a tackle for loss into a 35-yard touchdown run (see video) by making multiple defenders miss with his speed and quickness.

    Bernard is not one of the best between-the-tackles runners in the rookie class, and he is not being used much in that capacity by the Bengals, but he has shown a dynamic skill set as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield throughout his rookie season.

    Bernard is the only NFL rookie with six touchdowns scored this season, and his 628 yards from scrimmage rank second among rookies.

6. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 5

    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 had another strong game in Week 9 against the Atlanta Falcons, recording three defensive stops and two quarterback hurries. Those are impressive numbers for a nose tackle whose main responsibilities are filling gaps and occupying blockers.

    He has been a major presence in the middle of the Carolina defense all season, especially against the run. He has recorded 23 total tackles and a cumulative run defense rating of 11.3 from PFF that ranks him third among all defensive tackles in the NFL this season.

    Lotulelei has also been solid when on the field as a pass-rusher, as PFF credits with him with 12 quarterback pressures (one sack) in 187 pass-rush snaps.

    Lotulelei played 38-of-50 snaps on the Panthers defense Sunday, his highest percentage this season.

5. Tyrann Mathieu, FS/CB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

    Last Week: No. 4

    Week 9 was a quiet week for Tyrann Mathieu, but only because the Arizona Cardinals had a bye week. There is nothing quiet about the “Honey Badger,” both on and off the field.

    Focusing specifically on his play this year, Mathieu has been a difference-making defensive back in the Cardinals secondary. Doing everything from covering deep to playing up at the line of scrimmage, he has made an impact in every area he has played this season. He has only started six games but has played a major role in all eight games, splitting time between free safety and slot cornerback.

    Mathieu’s 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. For his recent efforts, Mathieu was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for October.

4. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers

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    Last Week: No. 10

    Few doubted going into his rookie season that the 5’11”, 230-pound Eddie Lacy would have success running the ball with power between the tackles for the Green Bay Packers, but he may be catching some by surprise with how complete his game has looked this season.

    Lacy had a fantastic performance against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football in Week 9, rushing for 150 yards on 22 attempts, including a 56-yard run that set up a one-yard touchdown run on the subsequent play.

    On a team that has lacked a feature back for years, he has been exactly what the Packers offense needed. Since returning from a concussion in Week 5, Lacy has gained at least 97 yards from scrimmage in each of his five games since, making plays between the tackles through contact but also on outside runs and as a receiver out of the backfield.

    Leading all rookies with 596 rushing yards and 674 yards from scrimmage, Lacy has emerged as the favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Furthermore, he was already named Offensive Rookie of the Month for October.

    He ranks fourth among all NFL running backs with 85.1 rushing yards per game.

3. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Buffalo Bills

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 3

    Kiko Alonso has not made as many big plays in the past few weeks as he did in the first part of the season, but nonetheless, he has consistently been a leader and standout player on the Buffalo Bills defense.

    Nine games into his rookie season, Alonso has still played every defensive snap for the Bills this year. He is a true every-down linebacker who has been strong as both a run defender and when dropping into coverage. He is vital to the team's defense as its play-caller and middle linebacker.

    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 continues to stand out as one of the top Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates.

    He is third in the NFL with 89 total tackles this season and is one of eight players with four interceptions this year. He also has eight total tackles for loss (two sacks), including one stuff and one sack in Week 9 against the Kansas City Chiefs, and he has at least one tackle for loss in each of his last five games.

2. Eric Reid, FS, San Francisco 49ers

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 2

    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.

    Coming out of San Francisco’s Week 9 bye and going into the second half of his rookie season, he has a chance to seize the Defensive Rookie of the Year award if he can continue to make big plays and be a coverage upgrade at free safety.

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

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 1

    Sheldon Richardson has really come along as a rookie interior defensive end for the New York Jets opposite fellow standout Muhammad Wilkerson, and he continued to be productive against the New Orleans Saints in Week 9, recording four total tackles and three quarterback pressures.

    Richardson has been one of the NFL’s most productive defensive linemen this season. His 41 total tackles rank second in the NFL among interior defensive linemen, only behind Buffalo defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. He also has 6.5 total tackles for loss (2.5 sacks), 19 total quarterback pressures and one forced fumble and one 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 sixth-best cumulative PFF rating (14.6) among 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL, 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.

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