San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen is making a serious push for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
The NFL’s best rookies haven’t necessarily been the players getting the most attention or having the most team success, but a number of players have made very strong cases for Rookie of the Year awards with only four weeks remaining in the season.
While the New York Jets have lost three games in a row, defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson has continued to be a star. Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen continued to look like stars in Week 13 losses, while New Orleans Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell made moves up this week’s Rookie Rankings in losses for their teams.
On the other hand, Detroit Lions right guard Larry Warford and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant and Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei are among the players moving up the rankings this week after helping lead their teams to victories.
Each of those players are among the 25 who constitute Bleacher Report’s NFL Rookie Rankings heading into the season’s final quadrant.
Note: All advanced statistics and snap counts, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Pro Football Focus' premium statistics database (subscription required).
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: No. 19
Though he has performed very well at times, Ellington has not received a significant share of touches in the backfield this season. After combining for just 23 touches for 84 yards in his previous two games, he missed Arizona’s Week 13 game against the Philadelphia Eagles with a knee injury.
Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins
Last Week: No. 23
Reed leads all rookie tight ends with 45 receptions and 499 receiving yards this season, but he has missed Washington’s last two games after suffering a concussion against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: No. 24
Cordarrelle Patterson took advantage of his versatility with a 33-yard touchdown run against the Chicago Bears in Week 13, but he did not do much else. He only caught one pass for four yards and for the first time all season, the league’s leading kickoff returner did not return a single kickoff. He has made a number of flash plays this season but has been very inconsistent.
Marcus Cooper, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: No. 25
Marcus Cooper’s level of play has fallen sharply in the past few weeks, and he has dropped from the top 10 a few weeks back to well out of this week’s Rookie Rankings as a result. Cooper has allowed 19 receptions for 454 yards in his last three games alone.
Last Week: No. 15
Alec Ogletree has been a big-play defender and had plenty of production on the stat sheet for the St. Louis Rams this season, but his game has also been littered with flaws, especially in coverage.
A rangy athlete at the weakside linebacker position, pass coverage is supposed to be one of Ogletree’s strengths, and he has made a number of big plays in it with eight total passes defensed. He has also, however, allowed 54 receptions for 683 receiving yards in pass coverage, the most of any 4-3 OLB in the NFL according to PFF (subscription required).
He certainly struggled in that capacity Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, allowing eight receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown. Missed tackles, which he has 12 of this season, have also been a problem.
The accumulation of receptions allowed and tackles missed has caused Ogletree to drop to the back of this week’s Rookie Rankings, as he has failed to improve yet upon those weaknesses of his game.
Still, he was St. Louis’ leading tackler with 10 total tackles against San Francisco. For the season as a whole, Ogletree has 85 total tackles, six tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and a 98-yard interception return touchdown.
Last Week: NR
Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah has had his share of struggles in his rookie season and missed two games with an ankle injury, but he has really started to hit his stride in his first two games back from that injury.
Ansah has back-to-back two-sack games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers. He has come along quickly as a pass-rusher and really had his way both in that capacity and as an edge run defender against Packers rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari on Thursday.
Ansah needs to become a more consistent player and polished technician, but his raw talent and quick development has been evident this season, especially in the past two weeks. He leads all rookies with seven sacks and has recorded 24 total tackles.
Even though he remains inconsistent, he has emerged as a player who opposing offenses need to prepare for and account for his big-play ability. While ESPN’s Kevin Weidl’s comment (subscription required) that Ansah is making a “late push for Defensive Rookie of the Year” is a stretch, his game certainly seems to be headed in the right direction as the Lions hit the homestretch trying to win the NFC North.
Last Week: Honorable Mention
The New England Patriots have been turning to third-round pick Logan Ryan to take on significant playing time in recent weeks as starting cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard have each been in and out of the defensive lineup with injuries.
The rookie has taken advantage of the opportunity. Ryan has interceptions in each of his past two games, and overall, three interceptions and six passes defensed.
Ryan has played at least half of New England’s defensive snaps in six of its last seven games, and he has been consistently solid in coverage. He has allowed just 0.99 yards per coverage snap this season.
While Marcus Cooper was the Rutgers rookie cornerback who stood out for a stretch earlier this season, Ryan has since established himself as a very promising player of his own while Cooper has faltered. As well-paid but shaky veteran cornerback Kyle Arrington has continued to struggle in recent weeks, Ryan is proving he deserves to hold continued playing time with Talib and Dennard within New England’s top trio of cornerbacks.
Last Week: No. 20
After three touchdown plays of 65 yards or more in his previous two games, Tavon Austin didn’t do anything quite as spectacular in Week 13 against the San Francisco 49ers, although he did finish Sunday’s game with 112 all-purpose yards.
Austin ran the ball once for 10 yards, caught four passes for 25 yards, gained a total of 67 yards on four kickoff returns and had a 10-yard punt return. His longest play of the day was a 20-yard kickoff return.
The small speedster hasn’t been a consistent source of offensive production and has been more flash than frequent substance, but his contributions have certainly increased in recent weeks.
Overall, between his plays as a receiver, returner and rusher, Austin ranks second among all rookies with 1,086 all-purpose yards.
Last Week: No. 14
With King Dunlap out due to injury, the San Diego Chargers have started D.J. Fluker at left tackle in each of their last three games due to a lack of a better option. Their regular starting right tackle, Fluker has really struggled in making the temporary transition, and it has unfortunately been a setback to the early success of his rookie season.
Fluker has given up 18 quarterback pressures in his last three games alone. In the primary pass-protecting spot on the offensive line, Fluker has been overwhelmed and exposed.
It’s tough to blame the Chargers for making the move, as their options are essentially limited to moving either Fluker or Jeromey Clary to left tackle with Dunlap injured. But it would be in Fluker’s best interest to be moved back to right tackle, where he had been very impressive as both a pass- and run-blocker and arguably the NFL’s best developing offensive lineman, as soon as possible.
Last Week: No. 18
Kyle Long has continued to be a strong suit of the Chicago Bears offensive line, but that offensive line has also continued to be shaky.
He had a very solid game in pass protection in Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings, allowing just one quarterback pressure in 42 pass-blocking snaps. He struggled in run-blocking, however, earning a minus-2.4 rating from PFF for the second consecutive week. He was credited with Chicago’s only turnover of the game when he caught a deflected pass but then fumbled it away to the Minnesota defense.
A great all-around athlete at his position, Long is worthy of the praise that he has received from many this season, and he has shown the potential to be one of the league’s best at his position. Long’s job difficulty has increased due to the struggles of fellow rookie Jordan Mills, who has been one of the NFL’s worst starting right tackles, alongside him.
Still, as an inconsistent performer whose play has not been quite at the level of some of the top offensive line performers in the rookie class, he continues to hold a spot in the Rookie Rankings but in the back half.
Last Week: Honorable Mention
Much like his team, the play of New York Giants rookie right tackle Justin Pugh has quickly stabilized after a tough start.
Pugh has started every game on the Giants offensive line this season (11 at right tackle, one at right guard) and has a 2.1 overall rating from PFF, the best of any rookie offensive tackle who has started all of his team’s games.
He has been very steady especially as a pass-blocker, a capacity in which he has allowed no more than two quarterback pressures in any of his last five games, and has only allowed three sacks all season.
Although he was one of the least popular selections of the 2013 NFL draft’s first round, Pugh has outperformed the offensive tackles who were drafted ahead of him and emerged as an immediate upgrade on the right side of the Giants offensive line.
Last Week: No. 21
Paul Worrilow has been a tackling machine for the Atlanta Falcons since taking over the starting middle linebacker job. He has accumulated a total of 72 tackles over his last five games, has led the Falcons in tackles in all five of those games and has an ongoing four-game streak of tackles for loss after a nine-tackle game against the Buffalo Bills in Week 13.
Worrilow has looked like an undrafted rookie in some respects. He has not been great in coverage, allowing receptions on 24 of 27 passing targets. And although he has been very active and rangy as a run defender, he can still improve in taking better angles to the ball and making stronger tackles.
Nonetheless, Worrilow has been a spark and a key playmaker for a struggling defense. If he can continue to make his presence felt all over the field and be productive, he should have a long future on the Atlanta defense.
Last Week: No. 16
Although he was coming off his most productive game of the season, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes got picked on somewhat by the Chicago Bears in Week 13. He was targeted a season-high 12 times and gave up seven receptions for 98 yards, also season highs.
He did record a tackle for loss and a pass defensed against the Bears, but overall, it was one of his worst games of the season. Nonetheless, Rhodes has still been one of the most consistent cornerbacks in the rookie class, allowing just 1.07 yards per coverage snap.
Rhodes has been picked on often in his past two games, having been targeted 23 times, but he has also taken on a crucial role in the starting lineup with Josh Robinson out due to a fractured sternum. He has risen to the occasion of his expanded role and played relatively well for a rookie cornerback.
Last Week: No. 17
With only 71 yards on 20 total touches, Zac Stacy’s statistical output against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday was his second-lowest since emerging as the St. Louis Rams’ lead running back in Week 5.
Although he didn't have a great game in St. Louis’ 23-13 loss, he has been very consistent since becoming the lead back. He has averaged 86.5 rushing yards and 99.8 yards from scrimmage in his eight starts, for totals of 696 rushing yards and 802 yards from scrimmage that rank second and fifth, respectively, among rookies.
While he may not make many dazzling plays, he is a reliable back on all three downs who catches 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.
Last Week: No. 13
After being named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for November, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon took a step back in his first December start.
While Glennon completed 14 of 21 passing attempts, his same number of completions and attempts from the Buccaneers’ previous game against the Detroit Lions, he had no touchdowns and two turnovers (one interception, one lost fumble) Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. He threw for only 180 yards.
But even after a poor performance in Tampa Bay’s 27-6 Week 13 loss, Glennon still ranks as the rookie class’ top quarterback. He has an overall completion percentage of 62.8, has thrown for 1,962 yards in nine starts and has thrown 13 touchdowns with just five interceptions.
Glennon ranks 11th among qualifying NFL starting quarterbacks with a 90.3 passer rating.
Last Week: Honorable Mention
In nine games for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, running back Le’Veon Bell has been consistently productive. Though he has only averaged 3.3 yards per carry, Bell has gained at least 80 total yards in seven of his nine games and ranks third among all rookies with 847 yards from scrimmage.
With at least 18 touches in all nine of his games, Bell became an immediate key player in the Steelers offense after missing Pittsburgh’s first three games with a Lisfranc foot injury. On a team previously weak at the running back, the Steelers have utilized Bell in heavy rotation, both as a rusher and receiver out of the backfield.
Bell had one of his best games yet against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night. Showing speed, strength and receiving ability, Bell ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 16 rushing attempts while adding 63 yards on seven receptions. His 136 total yards are his second-highest total of the season.
Last Week: No. 11
Though Nickell Robey has been one of the NFL’s best slot cornerbacks as a rookie, he had a rough outing against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, especially on the Falcons’ game-tying touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter that sent the game to overtime.
He was burned for four receptions and 57 receiving yards, including a play on that drive where Falcons wide receiver Roddy White took advantage of Robey’s lack of size by knocking him over to get wide open for a 24-yard gain. Later on that drive, it was Robey who committed a costly pass interference penalty against Falcons receiver Harry Douglas in the end zone to turn a 3rd-and-goal at the 16-yard line into a 1st-and-goal at the 1.
Robey did make one nice diving pass deflection on a pass thrown behind Douglas but had an otherwise rough game in which he was targeted seven times in 37 coverage snaps.
Overall, Robey still ranks second among all NFL cornerbacks with only 0.75 yards allowed per coverage snap. Most of his success has come in slot coverage, but he could go down as one of the league’s best slot cornerbacks this year if he can bounce back from Sunday’s struggles to finish his season strong.
Last Week: No. 22
While Nickell Robey came into Sunday’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons as its highest-ranked cornerback, it was fellow rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant who stole the show. Playing an often tougher position for a rookie than Robey as an outside cornerback, Trufant had a dominant performance, not allowing a single catch throughout the game.
Trufant was the victim of a sharp juke-out by Bills running back Fred Jackson en route to a 21-yard catch-and-run touchdown, but he played an otherwise great game. He was only targeted twice by Bills quarterback EJ Manuel, and he deflected one of those two passes.
Trufant has been a strong outside starting cornerback for the Falcons all season. He has allowed just 1.05 yards per coverage snap and has shown his ball skills consistently with 14 passes defensed.
Last Week: No. 10
Travis Frederick has continued to look like a very smart late first-round pick that was once widely panned for the Dallas Cowboys. Providing a solid push as a run-blocker and stability as a pass protector, he has been a significant upgrade on an offensive line that was previously one of the league’s worst.
Frederick has allowed just three sacks and 13 total quarterback pressures in pass protection this season. Meanwhile, PFF has rated him as the league’s fifth-best run-blocking center with a cumulative rating of 7.4 in that category.
Although he may not always stand out, Frederick has been a very important addition to a team fighting for a playoff spot in the NFC.
Last Week: No. 12
Not much went well for the New Orleans Saints in their 34-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night, but one positive was the continued development and playmaking of rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro.
Vaccaro has been making plays all over the field all season, but he has been much more efficient recently. He was very active against the Seahawks, recording a season-high 10 tackles, while he was very strong in coverage, limiting his only reception allowed to a 1-yard gain.
Lining up everywhere from both safety spots to linebacker to slot cornerback over the course of the season, Vaccaro has been one of the NFL’s most productive defensive rookies. He has totaled 64 total tackles, six passes defensed and four total tackles for loss.
Last Week: No. 8
Though he has had moments of stardom, Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard has had good but often pedestrian production this season. This was mostly the case Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, where he made some plays but finished with 66 yards on 15 touches.
Though Bernard has not always received a great deal of touches, with fewer than 15 in seven of his games this season, he has been fairly productive when he has received them. He has averaged 4.4 yards per carry as a rusher and 8.2 yards per reception as a receiver.
He has taken advantage of those touches for 875 yards from scrimmage, the second-most among rookie running backs this season, while he leads all rookies with seven touchdowns scored. He can make big plays with his combination of quickness and strength, and he has had his fair share this season.
Last Week: No. 6
Almost nothing went well for the Green Bay Packers in their 40-10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, and the rushing offense was no exception.
Behind an offensive line that was consistently overwhelmed by the Lions’ talent-laden defensive line, running back Eddie Lacy was unable to find any holes throughout the game and finished the day with just 16 yards on 10 carries, with no runs of longer than four yards. He did have a 20-yard reception out of the backfield but finished with his lowest yardage total for a game he did not leave early due to injury.
Thursday’s game was a big disappointment for Lacy, but it’s tough to blame him for his lack of success. He simply didn’t have running lanes throughout the game, often met by a defender before he could even get out of the backfield.
Nonetheless, Lacy has to find a way to still make plays even if his offensive line struggles in order to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. He is still a top candidate for that award as he leads all rookies with 1,003 yards from scrimmage and 822 yards of total offense, but his candidacy took a step back in Week 13.
Last Week: No. 9
Star Lotulelei’s play has been somewhat inconsistent, and he has not been an every-down player for the Carolina Panthers, but he has displayed on many occasions that he can be absolutely dominant when at his best.
Lotulelei had one of those types of games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. In just 34 snaps, Lotulelei had three defensive stops and three quarterback pressures, including one explosive bull-rush against Buccaneers right tackle Demar Dotson that made highlight reels.
Overall, Lotulelei’s 34 tackles are the second-most for a rookie defensive lineman this season, and he has six tackles for loss. PFF ranks him as the NFL’s 14th-best defensive tackle with a 14.0 cumulative rating, while his run stop percentage of 13.5 (22 stops in 163 run snaps) ranks as the league’s best among defensive tackles.
Lotulelei needs to improve his stamina and endurance to play at his best more consistently and for more snaps in a game, but overall, he has had a huge impact on the Panthers’ defensive success this season. He leads the Carolina defensive tackle rotation and is the biggest playmaker of the group.
Last Week: No. 7
Many draft analysts thought Keenan Allen would be a steal as a third-round draft pick for the San Diego Chargers, and those draft analysts (not me) would be correct thus far. Allen has stood out among the rookie class of wide receivers this season, and he is making a serious push for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Allen has five triple-digit receiving yardage games this season, including each of his last two, both against projected AFC playoff teams in the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals. Allen has taken a significant lead among all rookies with 58 receptions and 843 receiving yards, and he has already emerged as San Diego’s best offensive playmaker.
While concerns about Allen’s speed and health pushed Allen down to the third round, he has shown plenty of big-play ability in San Diego. He has more than overcome those concerns by attacking the ball physically, running great routes and catching the ball consistently.
Allen has been a star for the Chargers this season, and there is reason to believe he will continue to be for many years to come.
Last Week: No. 4
Eric Reid hasn’t made as many big plays in recent weeks as he did earlier in the season, but even coming off a subpar game against the St. Louis Rams in Week 13, he deserves recognition among the top five rookies in the league.
Even though he allowed just one reception on six targets and had five tackles and one pass deflection, Reid received his lowest PFF grades of the season, both overall (minus-1.6) and in coverage (minus-1.3), for his game Sunday.
Nevertheless, Reid has been a strong replacement for 2012 AP All-Pro Dashon Goldson at free safety with his consistency in coverage and his ability to make plays in run support. Overall, he has recorded 56 total tackles, defended nine passes, recovered two fumbles and allowed just 0.54 yards per coverage snap.
Last Week: No. 3
Some believe Kiko Alonso to be the favorite for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and with good reason for the most part. He has not missed a defensive snap all season for the Bills, ranks second in the NFL with 125 total tackles and has become an immediate leader and play-caller for the Bills defense.
Still, Alonso hasn’t always been the “legend” Bills fans have made him out to be, and for as good as his season started out, his play has not the progressed the way some of the other top rookies have.
While his snap count is incredibly impressive for a rookie middle linebacker and his total tackles show just how active a playmaker he has been, total tackles tend to be an inflated statistic for a middle linebacker.
Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons was an example of his play not quite matching up to his statistics. His numbers—13 total tackles, a pass defense and a fumble recovery that set up a touchdown—look fantastic. But on a day where the Bills run defense looked much more like it did pre-Alonso by giving up 151 rushing yards and three touchdowns to one of the league’s least prolific rushing offenses, Alonso was out of position much more often than he should have been.
Nonetheless, Alonso is still deserving of being a top candidate for the award if he can finish his season strong. Though his pass defense Sunday was his first since Week 3, he has been consistently good in coverage, and Sunday was his first game in nine weeks without a tackle for loss.
Last Week: No. 2
The Arizona Cardinals’ decision to take a chance on troubled defensive back Tyrann Mathieu in the third round is quickly looking like it may have been the smartest decision of the entire draft. Mathieu has stepped in this season to not only make big plays immediately, but he has also become a consistent performer while splitting time between two positions.
After starting the season out as a situational player, Mathieu has emerged as a player who is too good not to be on the field for the Cardinals. He continues to not only play at slot cornerback, where he excels, and in nickel and dime packages, but he also takes over at free safety on other plays.
As a result, Mathieu has played all but three snaps in his last four games, and he has excelled in doing so in run support, coverage and even in blitzing the quarterback.
While Mathieu only had two total tackles against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, he had one tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry. It wasn’t one of his better games, however, as he allowed five receptions for 43 yards and two touchdowns and was flagged for a hold that brought back an interception, though as Sports Illustrated’s Greg A. Bedard explains, he probably should not have been called for that penalty.
Either way, Mathieu’s ability to make plays on the ball and as a big hitter, while doing it consistently and from multiple positions, has made him one of the NFL’s best rookies this year.
Last Week: No. 5
A guard has never won the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and it is unlikely that will change this year, but Detroit Lions right guard Larry Warford may truly be the award’s most deserving candidate.
Warford has been nothing short of exceptional as Detroit’s starting right guard. The massive interior lineman has been dominant as both a pass protector, with no sacks allowed yet in Detroit’s first 12 games, and as a massive (6’3”, 333 lbs), powerful mauler opening holes in the run game.
While two guards actually were top-10 selections in the 2013 draft, Warford looks like he should have been one. He has been an immediate standout as a rookie and is cumulatively rated by PFF as the league’s fourth-best guard.
For more perspective on just how valuable Warford has been this season to the Lions, check out this week’s piece on Warford from Jeff Risdon, B/R’s Lions Featured Columnist.
Last Week: No. 1
Although the New York Jets as a whole are faltering their way down the standings and potentially out of the playoff race, it has been business as usual for rookie defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, who continues to prove he is the best player in this year’s rookie class.
Richardson has been incredibly productive for an interior defensive lineman, which he was again Sunday versus the Miami Dolphins, picking up five total tackles, one tackle for loss and one quarterback hurry.
Richardson, who leads all NFL interior defensive linemen with 64 total tackles, has had 23 total tackles and six tackles for loss in his last three games alone.
His cumulative rating from PFF is up to 25.0 overall on the season, the fifth-best of any 3-4 defensive end in the NFL and the best of any rookie at any position. He ranks fourth among 3-4 DEs with a 12.4 run stop percentage (31 run stops in 250 run snaps).
Richardson has looked every bit worth the No. 13 overall pick the New York Jets used to select him. He has recorded superb 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.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.