Top 25 NFL Rookies Heading into Week 12
As the NFL season started hitting its stretch run in Week 11, many of the league’s first-year players seemed to hit the “rookie wall,” but the cream of the crop continued to stand out.
Many of the players who have been staples of Bleacher Report’s NFL Rookie Rankings this season had down weeks in Week 11, but there weren’t many prime candidates to move up and take their spots.
Some of the week’s best rookie performances came from rookie quarterbacks who have only played partial seasons: Mike Glennon (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), EJ Manuel (Buffalo Bills) and Matt McGloin (Oakland Raiders) all led their teams to somewhat-surprising victories this week.
Some of the best, however, continued to come from players like New York Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, San Francisco 49ers free safety Eric Reid and Detroit Lions guard Larry Warford, all of whom have been standouts week in and week out this season.
Note: All advanced statistics and snap counts, unless otherwise noted, were found using Pro Football Focus’ premium statistics database (subscription required).
Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: No. 24
Sunday’s ugly loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers marked the first game this season in which Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant did not record any passes defensed. Overall, Trufant has been a very solid but not exceptional starting cornerback.
Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams
Last Week: Honorable Mention
As mentioned last week, Tavon Austin will be in the top 25 if, coming out of the Rams’ Week 11 bye, he can build upon his Week 10 performance in which he led the team to a victory over the Indianapolis Colts by scoring three touchdowns and putting up 314 all-purpose yards. He is not in the top 25 yet because he had just two touchdowns and 223 yards from scrimmage in the first nine games of his rookie season.
David Bakhtiari, LT, Green Bay Packers
Last Week: Honorable Mention
David Bakhtiari’s minus-8.5 rating as a run-blocker is the third worst this season among offensive tackles who have played 50 percent or more of their teams’ snaps, but he has been a steady pass-protecting left tackle, even since quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with injury. He has not allowed any sacks in his last six games.
Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: NR
Expectations were fairly low when Mike Glennon took over as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ starting quarterback in Week 4, but he has progressed well over the course of his rookie season and has been arguably the best rookie starting quarterback to this point. The Buccaneers have won their last two games, and Glennon’s progression has been a key factor. He had his best game yet against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, completing 20 of 23 passing attempts for 231 yards and two touchdowns.
Kawann Short, DT, Carolina Panthers
Last Week: NR
Overshadowed by aptly named fellow Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short has also made an impact in a rotational role this season. He had an impressive performance against the New England Patriots on Monday night, recording two tackles, two quarterback pressures and a forced fumble.
25. Paul Worrilow, ILB, Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: NR
Paul Worrilow still needs to become a more sound all-around player, but he has earned the Atlanta Falcons’ starting middle linebacker job by being an incredibly productive defender in recent weeks.
A rangy athlete who takes runners down well, Worrilow has 54 total tackles in his last three games alone. On a defense that has been awful for the most part, Worrilow has quickly taken a starring role as its most active playmaker.
Worrilow needs to become more consistent with his angles to the ball and improve in pass coverage, but his tackle statistics alone indicate that he is using both his athleticism and effort to be consistently around the ball. The Falcons need that level of activity from the middle linebacker position, which they had lacked prior to Worrilow’s emergence.
24. Kenny Stills, WR, New Orleans Saints
Last Week: No. 21
Kenny Stills has made plenty of big plays in his rookie season, but he has yet to become a consistent factor in the New Orleans Saints offense. He leads the league with an average of 22.4 yards per reception, but with only 20 catches in 10 games, he barely even qualifies to be ranked in the statistic.
Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers was one of Stills’ least-impactful games of the season. He caught just one pass for 11 yards.
Stills has certainly been a difference-maker when he has made plays on the ball—17 of his 20 catches have been for first downs, five have been for 20 yards or more and four have been touchdowns—but he remains a splash player and not one of New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees’ go-to receiving options.
23. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: No. 18
Xavier Rhodes played a season-low 27 snaps Sunday, and he didn’t play particularly well during them. He gave up the Seahawks’ longest passing play of the day when he was beaten by Doug Baldwin for a 44-yard reception.
With only two passes defensed in 10 games, Rhodes has not been a big-play defender this season, and he has been in and out of the starting lineup. Overall, however, he has been a solid coverage cornerback, allowing just 0.92 yards per coverage snap, the 11th-best average among NFL cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their teams’ snaps.
With fellow cornerback Josh Robinson out four to six weeks with a sternum fracture, Rhodes could end up back in a starting spot for the rest of the season. He needs to bounce back from some shaky recent performances, but he remains one of the best rookie cornerbacks in the league this year.
22. Aaron Dobson, WR, New England Patriots
Last Week: No. 22
Aaron Dobson has emerged as the weapon the Patriots needed on the outside of their passing offense and expected to get when they drafted him in the second round of this year’s NFL draft.
Dobson had a fairly quiet performance in New England’s loss to the Carolina Panthers on Monday night, catching four passes for just 38 yards on seven targets. Overall, he ranks fifth among all rookies with 35 receptions and 492 receiving yards.
Dobson needs to become a more consistent catcher of the football—his nine drops are tied for the second most among all NFL wide receivers—but he is likely to remain a key part of the New England passing offense down the stretch.
21. Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams
Last Week: No. 23
Since taking over as the St. Louis Rams’ lead running back in Week 5, Zac Stacy has been consistently productive. Even though he has only played in eight games and saw just one carry for four yards between his first two games, he ranks third among all rookies with 634 yards from scrimmage, including 537 rushing yards.
Before St. Louis’ Week 11 bye, Stacy averaged 88.8 rushing yards per game over his six-start stretch.
Stacy is not necessarily going to make many dazzling plays, but he is a reliable back on all three downs who can catch the ball well. His vision and toughness make up for the lack of explosive measurables that dropped him to the fifth round of the NFL draft.
20. Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: No. 20
Terrance Williams’ production was on a downward trend prior to the Dallas Cowboys’ Week 11 bye, but he has been a big-play receiver while spending most of the season as the No. 2 wideout opposing Dez Bryant in the Dallas lineup.
Williams is tied for the lead among rookies with five receiving touchdowns, all of which have come in his last six games. He also ranks fourth among all rookies with 498 receiving yards, which he has compiled on just 29 receptions.
Williams has only caught five passes on 22 targets in his past three games, but he has shown throughout his rookie season that he can track the ball well downfield and use that skill to make big plays happen in the red zone and deep. He has been a strong addition to the Dallas offense as a rookie.
19. Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins
Last Week: No. 17
A promising run for Washington rookie tight end Jordan Reed as both a pass-catcher and run-blocker took an unfortunate hit in Week 11 when he suffered a concussion in a loss against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The NFL’s rookie leader in receptions caught only one pass for 12 yards Sunday, the first time all season that he caught fewer than three passes in a game. Overall, Reed has 45 receptions for 499 yards and three touchdowns this season.
When healthy, Reed has been Washington’s second-best receiving option this season behind Pierre Garcon. He has also exceeded expectations as a run-blocker, where he has been solid and proved himself capable of being an every-down player.
Reed’s concussion should make him questionable at best for Washington’s next game, though he does have the benefit of one extra day to potentially recover, as the Redskins do not play until Monday night.
For an offense that has failed to live up to expectations this season, losing Reed for any period of time would be significant. It would also be unfortunate for Reed, who has been the NFL’s best rookie tight end this season, albeit a non-traditional, flex tight end.
18. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, New Orleans Saints
Last Week: No. 16
Kenny Vaccaro has been a mainstay on the field for the New Orleans Saints defense as a rookie, so his absence was certainly noticeable when he missed their game Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers with a concussion.
The Saints defense still had a great performance without Vaccaro, holding the 49ers to 196 offensive yards to lead New Orleans to victory. Still, the Saints had to rely on a number of other rotational defenders to fill the multi-faceted role Vaccaro has played this season.
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). His play has progressed over the course of the season, and he has made an impact in run support, in pass coverage and as a blitzing pass-rusher.
17. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
Last Week: No. 14
DeAndre Hopkins had his worst statistical performance of the season Sunday, catching only one pass for seven yards in the Houston Texans’ loss to the Oakland Raiders.
With 38 receptions for 546 yards and two touchdowns, Hopkins has had a solid season, yet one that's been underwhelming given the potential he has shown to make plays with his route-running and physicality. His statistical inconsistency, however, has also been a result of poor quarterback play from Matt Schaub and Case Keenum.
Hopkins has made his share of very impressive receptions this season. He has been a key piece of the Houston offense and ranks second among all rookies in receiving yards and fourth in receptions. He also made the big plays that gave the Texans one of their only two wins of the year.
A season that looked like a potential Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign at first, however, no longer appears to be that.
16. Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: No. 10
Andre Ellington received no shortage of attention Sunday, but it was not for his performance. Unfortunately for the rookie running back, the most memorable part of his game against the Jacksonville Jaguars was when Jacksonville defense end Jason Babin ripped out one of his dreadlocks on a tackle.
Sunday was that kind of day for Ellington. Having come into the game averaging 7.2 yards per carry, he had a surprisingly bad performance against one of the NFL’s worst teams, running for only three yards on nine attempts.
Ellington has been a big playmaker this season, both as a rusher and receiver, but his season has been inconsistent, both in his performance and in the number of touches he has received. While he has been the Cardinals’ best running back, he has not yet been given the opportunity to show he can carry the load.
Nonetheless, Ellington still ranks fourth among rookies with 617 yards from scrimmage, and he still averages 6.9 yards per touch this season.
15. Alec Ogletree, OLB, St. Louis Rams
Last Week: No. 15
Another big playmaker but inconsistent performer has been St. Louis Rams outside linebacker Alec Ogletree, and in his case, it has been to extremes.
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 team's snaps this season. His 10 missed tackles are the sixth most among 4-3 OLBs in the league.
Coming out of the Rams’ bye week, Ogletree will be looking to bounce back from what may have been his worst game of the season against the Indianapolis Colts. Though he had five total tackles and a batted pass in that game, he allowed a whopping nine receptions for 155 yards in coverage.
14. Marcus Cooper, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: No. 8
Marcus Cooper has blown expectations away in his rookie season after he was released prior to the start of the year by the San Francisco 49ers and picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs. He finally looked like a rookie—and one that was barely drafted and failed to make the roster of the team who selected him—on Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos tested Cooper consistently in coverage, and he failed the test. This was specifically the case when he was matched up against Demaryius Thomas, who beat Cooper for a total of 115 yards on four receptions.
For his struggles throughout Sunday’s game, Cooper received the worst PFF rating (minus-5.8) of any NFL cornerback in Week 11.
While Cooper played horribly under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football this week, he should not be criticized too harshly for his struggles against one of the league’s best passing offenses.
Even though teams have chosen to target him more than Sean Smith and Brandon Flowers this season, Cooper has held his own in coverage. He has taken advantage of the playmaking opportunities being thrown at often, as he is tied for third in the NFL with 14 passes defensed.
13. Kyle Long, RG, Chicago Bears
Last Week: No. 25
Kyle Long makes a big jump in the rookie rankings this week not because he did anything spectacular in Week 11—or at any point this season—but because he has been one of the league’s most consistently performing rookies, which showed in a week where many of the top rookies had down performances.
Long’s season has had its ups and downs, but for the most part, he has been a solid pass-protector and an effective run-blocker. He has been an immediate upgrade for the Chicago Bears and their rebuilding offensive line at right guard.
There have been better rookie offensive linemen this season than Long, but he has lived up to expectations for a first-year player while showing the potential to develop into one of the NFL’s best players at his position.
Long allowed only one quarterback pressure Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens and has only allowed two sacks this season.
12. D.J. Fluker, OT, San Diego Chargers
Last Week: No. 9
For the second time this season, the San Diego Chargers turned to D.J. Fluker to move from right to left tackle with King Dunlap out of the lineup with an injury. But while the team’s trust in Fluker and his ability to make that transition is admirable, he did not perform well at left tackle on Sunday in a loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Fluker really struggled in pass protection Sunday, allowing one sack and six total pressures. The game was arguably his worst of the season in both pass and run blocking, and it made a clear statement Fluker is not ready (and may never be a good fit) to play left tackle in the NFL.
That said, Fluker has been an immediate upgrade at his regular starting position of right tackle, where he is having a strong rookie season. He was put into a tough spot in Week 11 but has certainly been an asset to the Chargers offense this year.
11. Nickell Robey, CB, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: No. 19
Darrelle Revis, who is widely considered to be the NFL’s best cornerback, is the only cornerback in the league this season who has played at least 50 percent of his team’s snaps and allowed fewer yards per coverage snap than Nickell Robey.
Robey, an undrafted rookie, has been an immediate asset to the Buffalo Bills defense as a slot cornerback. Although he has played in a situational role in nickel and dime defenses, he has been exceptional in coverage, allowing just 0.63 yards per coverage snap and only one reception per every 13.3 coverage snaps.
Robey has made plays on the ball this season with eight passes defensed, and he has also been a playmaker in run defense and against screen passes, with four tackles for loss. He has played in less than 55 percent of Buffalo’s snaps this season, but has played very well when he has been on the field.
10. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers
Last Week: No. 13
Breakout rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen has been underwhelming in his past two games, with just 86 receiving yards on seven combined catches. Even so, Allen still leads all rookies with 613 receiving yards on 41 catches.
An aggressive attacker of the football who runs quick routes and has good size, Allen has emerged as a key player on the San Diego Chargers offense.
Some draft analysts considered Allen to be a steal as a third-round draft pick, and so far, it appears his supporters were correct. That said, the Chargers will be looking for Allen to bounce back from two unexceptional performances down the stretch as they attempt to bounce back from a three-game losing streak and remain in the playoff hunt.
9. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: No. 12
Travis Frederick has gone from widely panned first-round pick to one of the NFL’s best centers as a rookie.
He has utilized his strength and toughness to be one of the league’s best run-blocking centers, while he has been very good in pass protection, allowing just two sacks and 11 total quarterback pressures in his first 10 games, including none in his last three games.
Coming out of the Dallas Cowboys’ bye week, PFF rates Frederick as the league’s 10th-best center. He has provided stability to an offensive line that came into a season desperately needing it.
8. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: No. 11
Even though his touches have remained limited, Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard has continued to be productive when he has had the ball in his hands.
Bernard gained 45 yards on 10 carries and 41 yards on four catches against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Those numbers were enough for Bernard to re-seize the league lead among rookies with 809 yards from scrimmage.
Bernard has done well as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield, averaging 5.6 yards per touch this season while scoring seven touchdowns. With the quickness to make defenders miss but also the strength to bounce off contact, Bernard is a tough player to stop in the open field.
Bernard remains one of the league’s prime candidates to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
7. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
Last Week: No. 5
Eddie Lacy had his least-productive full game of the season Sunday against the New York Giants, rushing for only 27 yards on 14 carries as the Green Bay Packers lost their third consecutive game.
While Lacy did drive through contact for a four-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, a 16-yard catch-and-run was his only play of the day of more than five yards. But although he was bottled up by the Giants on Sunday, the physical downhill runner has shown the ability to make plenty of big plays this season.
Lacy no longer leads all rookies in yards from scrimmage, but he still does hold rookie leads with 696 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. He must show that he can avoid hitting the “rookie wall,” however, as his production has dipped in each of his past two games.
Lacy, who is likely still the leading candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, ranks seventh among qualifying NFL running backs with 77.3 rushing yards per game.
6. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers
Last Week: No. 7
Star Lotulelei has been dominant when at his best this season, and that was the case once again on Monday night against the New England Patriots.
Although he played fewer than half of the game’s snaps, Lotulelei picked up four stops in just 14 plays against the run. He also had a sack and even showed he could drop into coverage on one play.
Lotulelei is outside of the top five because his playing time has remained limited, but he has been a big difference-maker when he has been on the field this season, whether that be as a run-stopper or interior pass-rusher. PFF rates Lotulelei as the NFL’s 14th-best defensive tackle this season.
If he can develop his stamina and endurance to where he can play at the same high level with an increased number of snaps, Lotulelei can be one of the NFL’s elite players at his position.
5. Larry Warford, RG, Detroit Lions
Last Week: No. 6
He may be overlooked because of the position he plays, but if the Offensive Rookie of the Year was truly to be awarded to be the best rookie who plays on the offensive side of the ball, it should, at least thus far, go to Detroit Lions right guard Larry Warford.
Warford has been absolutely dominant this season, looking like he should have been the top-10 selection at guard in a year when two other guards did go in the top 10 of the draft.
PFF rated Warford as having his best game of the season Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, giving him a 5.9 overall rating for the game, the second best of any guard in Week 11. Overall, PFF rates Warford as the fourth-best guard in the league this year.
Warford has been fantastic in pass protection: He has yet to allow a sack this season and has only given up 10 total quarterback pressures. He has also been terrific as a run-blocker, using his power and size to drive his opponents off the line of scrimmage.
4. Tyrann Mathieu, FS/CB, Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: No. 4
Continuing his hybrid role as a nickel slot cornerback and free safety, Tyrann Mathieu had another strong performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11. He recorded five tackles and only allowed two catches for 17 yards in 42 coverage snaps.
Mathieu played all but one snap in Sunday’s game, which has been the case in each of his last three games. He has been a mainstay on the field for the Cardinals and has made plays with his playing time.
His statistics for the season include 61 total tackles (58 solo, five tackles for loss, one sack), six passes defensed (two interceptions) and one forced fumble.
3. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: No. 2
Going into the Buffalo Bills’ Week 12 bye, middle linebacker Kiko Alonso still has yet to miss a snap this season. He has been a mainstay, a leader and a difference-maker for the Buffalo Bills defense.
Alonso ranks second in the NFL with 112 total tackles, while he has recorded at least one tackle for loss in each of his last eight games. Although he has not recorded any passes defensed since having four interceptions in the first three weeks of the season, he has continued to play well in coverage.
Alonso is the play-caller for the Bills defense, and he plays far more like a veteran than a rookie. The athletic, aggressive linebacker has risen as a star in Buffalo, and he is a top candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
2. Eric Reid, FS, San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: No. 3
While Eric Reid has frighteningly suffered two concussions this season, he has yet to miss a game. Excluding the two games he left due to those concussions, he has been a mainstay on the field, missing no more than three snaps in any of San Francisco’s other eight games.
Reid has not just been an ironman on the field, but also a consistently productive playmaker. After leaving the 49ers’ Week 10 game early with his second concussion, he looked no worse for the wear Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, picking up six total tackles and recording a pass deflection while being consistently solid in pass coverage.
San Francisco’s transition from an AP All-Pro to a rookie has had no negative impact on its defense, as Reid has been an upgrade in coverage and is still solid as a hitter on the back end. Reid has recorded 46 total tackles, defended seven passes (three interceptions), recovered two fumbles and allowed just 0.50 yards per coverage snap.
If Reid can stay healthy, he is a top candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
1. Sheldon Richardson, DT/DE, New York Jets
Last Week: No. 1
Even in a game the New York Jets lost by 23 points to the Buffalo Bills, Sheldon Richardson continued to assert himself as the NFL’s best rookie.
He recorded nine total tackles, which was enough to move him into a tie with Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus for the lead in total tackles (50) among interior defensive linemen this season. With a tackle for loss and quarterback hurry each in Sunday’s game, Richardson also improved his season totals to eight tackles for loss and 20 quarterback pressures.
Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson have emerged as arguably the NFL’s best interior defensive line combination, and Richardson has looked every bit worth the No. 13 overall pick the New York Jets used to select him.
He has recorded fantastic statistics for a 3-4 defensive end, but even on plays where he has not made a stop himself, he has often 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 sixth-best PFF rating (18.4) 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.
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