Top 25 NFL Rookies Heading into Week 11
One of the most intriguing aspects of monitoring the rookie class over the course of the NFL season is that even 10 weeks into the year, there are rookies having breakout performances to help lead their team to victories.
The most obvious example of that in Week 10 was St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin, who went from a disappointment to a player to watch in the course of just one week. After putting up just 207 receiving yards and scoring just two total touchdowns in his first nine games of the season, Austin led the Rams to a shocking 38-8 victory over the Indianapolis Colts by not only scoring 81- and 57-yard receiving touchdowns, but also returning a punt 98 yards for a score.
Because of his lack of production in the first nine weeks of the season, Austin does not crack the top 25 of Bleacher Report’s NFL Rookie Rankings yet, but he is certainly on the radar as an honorable mention. See who else improved their standing in the following slides, and who Austin and others on the outside looking in are chasing for recognition.
Note: All advanced statistics and snap counts, unless otherwise noted, were found using Pro Football Focus’ premium statistics database (subscription required).
Earl Wolff, SS, Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: No. 24
Earl Wolff has been very solid since taking over the strong safety role in the Philadelphia Eagles starting lineup, compiling 45 total tackles and four pass deflections. He is expected to miss multiple weeks with a knee injury, however, general manager Howie Roseman said Monday (h/t Philly.com).
Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams
Last Week: NR
As discussed in the intro slide, Austin had the most spectacular performance of any rookie in Week 10, scoring three touchdowns and compiling a whopping 314 all-purpose yards—the eighth-most in a single game by any rookie since 1960, according to Pro Football Reference. If the No. 8 overall pick can build upon his performance and prove it was not a fluke, he should soon end up in the top 25.
Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets
Last Week: Honorable Mention
Austin’s collegiate quarterback at West Virginia, Geno Smith, has had a very up-and-down season, yet has played well enough to have the New York Jets in playoff position coming out of their Week 10 bye.
He has been statistically unimpressive, with a 71.0 quarterback rating that ranks 29th among the 33 qualified quarterbacks. But he should work his way back into the top 25 if he can cut down on his interceptions and keep the Jets in the playoff hunt.
Michael Bowie, RT, Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: NR
A little-known seventh-round pick out of Northeastern State, Michael Bowie has emerged as a surprising strength of the Seattle Seahawks offensive line at right tackle. He has started eight consecutive for Seattle at RT and has a cumulative PFF rating of 4.9, which ranks as the best among all rookie offensive tackles.
David Bakhtiari, LT, Green Bay Packers
Last Week: NR
Put in a very difficult spot to start the season as the Green Bay Packers left tackle as a rookie, fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari has steadily progressed and been a very solid pass protector on the Green Bay offensive line. Though he needs to get stronger as a run-blocker, he has not allowed a sack in any of his last five games.
25. Kyle Long, RG, Chicago Bears
Last Week: No. 23
Kyle Long has been solid if unspectacular throughout the season for Chicago, and that continued to be the case in Week 10.
Though the Bears did not have much success running the football in a loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Long was solid in pass protection, allowing no sacks and only three quarterback pressures in a game where Jay Cutler and Josh McCown had 49 combined passing attempts.
He has had an up-and-down season as both a pass- and run-blocker. He has allowed 22 total quarterback pressures for the season, but only two sacks. He has played a key role in the improvement of the Chicago offensive line, and the line should continue to get better as Long also gets better with experience.
24. Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: No. 21
Desmond Trufant has recorded a pass defense in each of the Atlanta Falcons’ first nine games, and for the first time this past week against the Seattle Seahawks, he recorded two.
Trufant did not have his best game on Sunday, allowing 80 yards on three receptions in a game the Falcons lost 33-10, but he has been a steady, consistent presence throughout the season. While making plays on the ball in every game, he has only allowed 1.12 yards per coverage snap, which ranks him 23rd among the 68 cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their teams’ coverage snaps.
Trufant does not fit the "shutdown cornerback" mold yet, but he has been able to match up against top receivers and hold his own, as one of the league’s top rookies at his position.
23. Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams
Last Week: No. 20
While Tavon Austin was the star among St. Louis rookies in Week 10, Zac Stacy has been much more consistent since becoming the Rams’ lead back in Week 5.
Stacy had his least impressive game of the past six weeks on Sunday, gaining just 68 yards on 28 total touches for a measly average of just 2.4 yards. That said, he has averaged 88.8 rushing yards over the past six weeks and ranks third among all rookies with 634 total yards from scrimmage.
He is a reliable back who has great vision, hits holes confidently, and catches the ball well. Stacy likely fell to the fifth round 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.
He needs to bounce back after St. Louis’ Week 11 bye to hold his spot in the Rookie Rankings, but his solid, consistent game makes him a good bet to do so.
22. Aaron Dobson, WR, New England Patriots
Last Week: No. 22
Aaron Dobson will come out of the New England Patriots’ bye week looking to sustain the built-up momentum from recent weeks.
After setting career highs with 130 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9, Dobson ranks fifth among rookies with 454 receiving yards and is tied for fourth with four receiving touchdowns.
Dobson’s biggest problem has been his hands, as he is tied for the league lead with nine drops. But he has emerged as a significant downfield playmaker. If he can continue with his big plays and decrease his dropped passes, he should continue to be productive as one of Tom Brady’s primary targets.
21. Kenny Stills, WR, New Orleans Saints
Last Week: Honorable Mention
Although Kenny Stills has only touched the ball 20 times this season, he has made as many big plays on offense as any rookie. That continued to be the case Sunday night against the Cowboys, a game in which Stills caught three passes—including a leaping, 52-yard deep-ball touchdown.
Stills has four receiving touchdowns in his past four games and leads all qualifying receivers with an average of 23.0 yards per reception. On a unit known for its big-play offense, Stills has proven himself to be a dangerous deep weapon.
The No. 144 overall pick in the draft, Stills is looking like another steal for the New Orleans offense.
20. Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: No. 19
Terrance Williams’ production has dipped over his past few games, but even so, the third-round pick out of Baylor has continued to make big plays down the field.
Williams only caught one pass against the Saints Sunday night, but it was a 21-yard touchdown. He was, however, targeted on five passes.
Nonetheless, Williams has been a very solid No. 2 for the Cowboys since Miles Austin went down with a hamstring injury in Week 3. He has caught five TDs in his past six games, which ties him for the league lead, and ranks third among rookies with 498 receiving yards.
19. Nickell Robey, CB, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: No. 16
Buffalo Bills slot cornerback Nickell Robey has been fairly dominant in coverage this season, ranking second among all NFL corners who have played at least 50 percent of their teams’ coverage snaps by only allowing 0.65 yards per coverage snap.
He is a role player who has played less than half of Buffalo’s defensive snaps in each of its past two games, but he has made a big impact when on the field, shutting down his opponents for the most part while making plays on the ball (eight passes defensed and one interception). He has also been a solid tackler with 18 total tackles, including three for loss.
Robey has been a fantastic acquisition as an undrafted rookie and looks capable of having a long NFL career as a slot cornerback.
18. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: No. 17
Like fellow first-round pick Desmond Trufant, Xavier Rhodes may not yet have earned the “shutdown corner” label for the Minnesota Vikings, but he has already emerged as a solid starter.
The athletic, physical Rhodes has been among the Vikings’ top three cornerbacks all season, and has performed very solidly for a rookie at a tough position. With only two passes defensed this season, he has not made a lot of plays on the ball, but his consistency in coverage is what counts.
17. Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins
Last Week: No. 25
Not much has gone right for the Washington Redskins this season, but the emergence of rookie third-round pick Jordan Reed as Washington’s No. 2 receiving playmaker behind Pierre Garcon has been a bright spot.
Reed leads all rookies with 44 receptions and all rookie tight ends with 487 receiving yards.
He is coming off of a very strong game in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings. While he continued to make plays in the passing game with six receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown, he also had a terrific showing as a run-blocker, finishing the game with a 3.1 PFF rating in that capacity.
A non-traditional flex tight end with impressive shiftiness, route-running and strong hands, he may already be exceeding expectations as a blocker as well.
16. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, New Orleans Saints
Last Week: No. 15
The New Orleans Saints were without one of the mainstays of their defense for much of the second half of their game against the Cowboys in Kenny Vaccaro. The rookie safety suffered a concussion and is expected to miss the crucial Week 11 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.
Vaccaro’s injury is an unfortunate blow for the Saints, as they will be missing a player who has done everything from make plays in coverage, provide run-support help, and contribute in the pass rush.
Vaccaro has lined up everywhere from safety to slot cornerback to linebacker this season, and he has recorded 45 total tackles, six passes defensed (one interception) and three total tackles for loss (one sack). He has been a difference-maker whose play has seemed to progress over the course of his rookie year.
15. Alec Ogletree, OLB, St. Louis Rams
Last Week: No. 9
Though Alec Ogletree has made a number of plays for the St. Louis Rams defense this season, he has struggled in coverage and in tackling consistently.
With 64 total tackles, three forced fumbles and six passes defensed, including an interception that he returned 98 yards for a touchdown, Ogletree has been a difference-maker for the Rams defense.
On the other hand, he has allowed more yards per coverage snap (1.84) than any other 4-3 outside linebacker who has played at least 25 percent of his teams’ snaps this season. He has the sixth-most missed tackles (10) of any 4-3 OLB.
Even in a 30-point win for the Rams, Ogletree may have had his worst game of the season Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. Though he had five total tackles and a batted pass, he allowed a whopping nine receptions for 155 yards in coverage.
14. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
Last Week: No. 18
After three lackluster games, DeAndre Hopkins has re-emerged as one of the top offensive playmakers in the rookie class as he has developed rhythm with new Houston Texans quarterback Case Keenum.
A big, strong wideout who is physical at the catch-point and runs strong routes, Hopkins caught six passes—his most since Week 3—against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday for 69 yards.
Hopkins ranks fourth among all NFL rookies with 37 receptions and second with 539 receiving yards.
13. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers
Last Week: No. 14
Keenan Allen leads all rookies with 568 receiving yards on 38 receptions, and he has emerged as a key player in the San Diego Chargers offense.
He may have fallen to the third round of the 2013 draft because of injury concerns and a lack of top-end speed, but he has been able to make up for his deficiencies by attacking the football, running strong routes and utilizing his quickness.
Allen had a quiet game Sunday against the Denver Broncos, catching four passes for 41 yards, but he was still the Chargers’ second-leading receiver. He has been and should continue to be a weapon for the San Diego offense going forward and is already looking like a draft steal.
12. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: No. 13
The Dallas Cowboys offense did not have a good day on Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints, but rookie center Travis Frederick continued his solid play. He gave up zero quarterback pressures for his third consecutive game.
Frederick did not have one of his better run-blocking nights against the Saints, but he still rates as the NFL’s fourth-best run-blocking center this season. He has also been effective as a pass-blocker, allowing just 11 quarterback pressures in 10 games this season, while he has an eight-game streak of allowing no sacks.
Frederick has been one of the NFL’s best rookie offensive linemen, and despite the doubts some had (including me), he has looked well worth the first-round pick the Dallas Cowboys used to draft him.
11. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: No. 7
Giovani Bernard received a season-high 22 touches in Cincinnati’s overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. But with 95 yards on those touches, his 4.3 yards per touch was a season-low.
It is encouraging to see Bernard’s workload increasing, and he had a productive game, highlighted by an 18-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
Even with a workload that has fluctuated throughout Cincinnati’s first 10 games, Bernard has been productive as both a runner and receiver, and he ranks second among all rookies with 723 yards from scrimmage.
With quickness and the ability to run through contact, he is a dangerous player as both a situational rusher and receiver out of the backfield. Bernard leads all rookies with seven touchdowns scored this season.
10. Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: No. 11
Andre Ellington has only seen more than 13 total touches in a game once this season, but he has been dynamic when he has had opportunities to make plays. With a total of 604 yards on 78 total touches, Ellington has averaged 7.2 yards per carry and 9.0 yards per reception.
On Sunday against the Houston Texans, Ellington did not quite duplicate his 162-yard performance from his previous game against the Atlanta Falcons, but he still managed 73 yards on 13 touches.
With explosive burst, quick cutting and an ability to bounce off contact and continue to gain yardage (his 3.5 yards after contact per attempt lead all NFL running backs who have played at least 25 percent of their teams’ snaps), Ellington is a threat to turn any touch into a big gain as either a runner or receiver.
He ranks fourth among all rookies in yards from scrimmage and has scored three touchdowns.
9. D.J. Fluker, RT, San Diego Chargers
Last Week: No. 10
D.J. Fluker had a disappointing game in Week 10, allowing six quarterback pressures, but he does not deserve to be punished in these rankings for those issues in pass protection. Why? Fluker’s struggles came against one of the NFL’s best defensive players, Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, who makes just about everyone he faces look bad.
Considering his competition, Fluker’s game could have gone worse. Overall, he has been a solid right tackle for the Chargers this season. He has been an upgrade at the position in both pass protection and with power as a run-blocker.
Fluker’s PFF rating of 2.6 only ranks him 31st among the 59 NFL offensive tackles who have played 50 percent or more of their teams’ snaps this season.
8. Marcus Cooper, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: No. 12
Marcus Cooper is not a full-time starter for the Kansas City Chiefs, but the rookie cornerback, claimed after being waived by the San Francisco 49ers prior to the start of the season, has impressed.
The Chiefs had a Week 10 bye, but from Week's 4-9 (he only played 14 total snaps in the first three weeks of the season), he was one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks.
Even though he only started three of those six games, he is tied for the NFL lead with 14 passes defensed this season—including two interceptions—while he also has a forced fumble and has returned a fumble for a touchdown.
Cooper has been consistent in coverage, allowing just 0.95 yards per coverage snap and with an average of 14.6 coverage snaps per reception. Cooper has a cumulative rating of 10.0 from PFF, which ranks him tied with Miami Dolphins veteran Brent Grimes as the NFL’s fifth-best cornerbacks.
7. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers
Last Week: No. 6
Star Lotulelei had one of his worst games of his rookie season against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. He was credited with only one tackle, played 30 of 57 snaps on the Panthers defense and received a rating of minus-3.3, his lowest of the season.
Nonetheless, Lotulelei’s play at defensive tackle has helped the Panthers defense emergence as one of the league's best. He needs to improve his conditioning to be a three-down player, but when he is in the game, he is a difference-maker as both a run-stopper and interior pass-rusher.
He leads all NFL defensive tackles with a 13.4 run-stop percentage (plays resulting in no gain or loss for the offense per total number of snaps in run defense).
6. Larry Warford, RG, Detroit Lions
Last Week: No. 8
Nine games into his career, Detroit Lions right guard Larry Warford has yet to allow a sack. He has been the best rookie offensive lineman in the NFL this season, providing consistently strong play in both pass protection and run blocking.
Thanks to his efforts, the Lions offense ranks in the top seven in both yards and points per game. After allowing no quarterback pressures in Week 10 against the Chicago Bears, Warford was named as a nominee for the NFL’s Pepsi NEXT Rookie of the Week Award.
The Lions lead the NFL with 10 sacks allowed this season, and Warford’s consistently strong play in pass protection has been a huge reason for that. With a cumulative PFF rating of 9.0, Warford is the Lions’ best offensive lineman, the best rookie offensive lineman and the league’s eighth-best guard.
5. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
Last Week: No. 4
Not much went well for the Green Bay Packers in their 27-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. With 84 yards from scrimmage on 26 total touches, Eddie Lacy had his least productive game since returning from a concussion in Week 5.
Of course, if Lacy is still gaining 84 yards on his worst day, he is doing very well in his rookie season.
Although he has only played in seven full games this year, he leads all rookies with 758 yards from scrimmage. He has become a core player on the Packers offense, especially with quarterback Aaron Rodgers sidelined with a fractured collarbone.
A big, strong runner who can fight for yardage through contact between the tackles or bounce it outside, Lacy has been reliable all season. The leading candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Lacy ranks fifth among qualifying running backs with 83.6 rushing yards per game.
4. Tyrann Mathieu, FS/CB, Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: No. 5
Tyrann Mathieu has become a mainstay on the field for the Arizona Cardinals defense, working as the team’s slot cornerback in nickel packages. He takes over as free safety when the Cardinals do not have a slot cornerback on the field.
Regardless of where he has been lined up, Mathieu has been a playmaker. With seven tackles and a pass deflection against the Houston Texans on Sunday, he continued to make plays all over the field.
A jack of all trades for the Cardinals defense, Mathieu does everything from deep pass coverage to run support and blitzing against quarterbacks, and he has made plays in every capacity. His statistics for the season include 56 total tackles (53 solo, five tackles for loss, one sack), six passes defensed (two interceptions) and one forced fumble.
3. Eric Reid, FS, San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: No. 2
When the San Francisco 49ers play the New Orleans Saints in Week 11, both teams could be without their first-round rookie safeties. Like Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid suffered a concussion in the third quarter of his Week 10 game, which puts his status in question for Sunday’s game.
Reid only had one tackle in 38 snaps in San Francisco’s loss to the Carolina Panthers, but the season has been a great one overall for the rookie. A strong run-supporter and fluid in coverage, Reid has been a capable replacement for Dashon Goldson, an AP All-Pro for the 49ers last season.
Reid’s statistics for the season include 40 total tackles, six passes defensed (three interceptions) and two fumble recoveries. He has allowed 0.40 yards per coverage snap this season and has been a playmaker.
If Reid can stay healthy, he is a top candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
2. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: No. 3
Kiko Alonso has played every snap in the Buffalo Bills’ first 10 games, and even though the team has struggled, Alonso has been productive. He ranks second in the NFL with 99 total tackles this season. Nine of those tackles have been for loss, including two sacks, and he also has four interceptions.
Alonso wears the green dot on his helmet as the team’s defensive play-caller, and his leadership combined with his consistently strong play has made him a true mainstay and every-down player for the Bills defense.
Big, athletic and physical, Alonso has thrived, and he has looked like a steal of a second-round draft pick. He is one of the top candidates to be the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
1. Sheldon Richardson, DE/DT, New York Jets
Last Week: No. 1
The New York Jets did not play in Week 10, but Sheldon Richardson remains the most impressive rookie in the league. He has also been one of the best players at his position (3-4 defensive end).
Richardson ranks fourth in the NFL among interior defensive linemen with 41 total tackles. He has 6.5 total tackles for loss (2.5 sacks), 19 total quarterback pressures and one forced fumble and pass deflection.
On many plays where he has not made a stop himself, he has used his quickness, size (6’3”, 294 lbs) and strength to disrupt opponents by penetrating the line of scrimmage and/or occupying blockers.
He has the eighth-best PFF rating (14.6) among 3-4 defensive ends, and he also holds the best PFF rating of any rookie position player in the league.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.