Top 25 NFL Rookies Heading into Week 15
The candidates for the NFL’s Rookie of the Year awards are narrowing as the season comes to an end, though there are still rookies doing everything they can to get noticed heading into the season’s final three weeks.
The race for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award lost one of its prime candidates, unfortunately, when Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu suffered torn anterior and lateral cruciate ligaments in his left knee during the team’s win against the St. Louis Rams.
The No. 1 player in our rookie rankings remains the favorite to win the award on the defensive side of the ball, but the offensive award remains more open. San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen continued to make a strong push in Week 14 with two touchdown receptions in a win against the New York Giants, but Detroit Lions right guard Larry Warford, Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy and Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard are all strong candidates as well.
This week’s Bleacher Report Rookie Rankings continue to delve into the top candidates in those races, while also looking at the other rookies whose play has been worthy of recognition throughout the season.
Note: All advanced statistics and snap counts, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Pro Football Focus' premium statistics database (subscription required).
Dropouts from Last Week’s Rankings
Nickell Robey, CB, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: No. 13
Though Nickell Robey has been an immediate impact player at slot cornerback for the Buffalo Bills, he has had two very rough games since the team’s bye week. He has been burned for multiple big plays, including a 38-yard touchdown to Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson on Sunday, and has allowed 57 receiving yards in each of his last two games, even though he had just 13 coverage snaps Sunday.
D.J. Fluker, RT, San Diego Chargers
Last Week: No. 21
D.J. Fluker returned to his natural position of right tackle Sunday after three rough games at left tackle, but he continued to struggle. Fluker was beaten by New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck for the Giants’ only two sacks of the game, and failed to bounce back as expected on the right side of the offensive line.
Logan Ryan, CB, New England Patriots
Last Week: No. 23
Logan Ryan was passed over in favor of some other rookies this week, but he had another solid week as a starting cornerback for the New England Patriots. He allowed just three receptions for 39 yards in 34 coverage snaps, and has a strong overall average of just 1.01 yards allowed per coverage snap.
25. Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions
Last Week: No. 24
Snow wasn’t the only thing to slow down Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Ansah was limited to 31 snaps as he suffered a shoulder injury in the second half of the game and did not return.
Ansah still recorded three tackles, including one for loss, in another strong game as a run defender. He had no sacks coming off of back-to-back two-sack games, but there were no sacks recorded for either team in the game, possibly due to the accumulated snow on the field.
It would be a disappointing setback for Ansah if his shoulder injury causes him to miss any playing time, as he already missed two games with an ankle injury, but he has been impressive on the field, especially as of late. He leads all NFL rookies with seven sacks this season.
24. Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: Dropout
Though Andre Ellington’s share of the touches in the Arizona Cardinals backfield has been inconsistent, he has been impressive enough in a limited role to continue to warrant a spot among the top 25 rookies.
Ellington was second on the Cardinals with 63 yards from scrimmage Sunday in Arizona’s win against St. Louis. Overall, Ellington ranks sixth among all rookies with 751 yards from scrimmage (487 rushing yards, 264 receiving yards) even though he has received just 114 total touches this season.
Ellington’s 5.8 yards per rushing attempt leads all qualifying NFL players, and he is one of only 11 players in the league with six rushing plays of 20 yards or more (the only one with more 20-plus yard runs in fewer attempts is Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who has eight 20-plus yard rushing plays in 71 attempts).
Ellington has only received more than 13 touches in a game once this season, but the sixth-round pick has been a big asset in a situational role.
23. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
Last Week: NR
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marlon Brown and Tennessee Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter may lay claim to this spot with the big performances each had in Week 14, but although his game has continued to have its ups and downs, Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has earned his way back into the rankings by making big plays.
Even on the NFL’s worst team with a dire quarterback situation, Hopkins has still been using his contested-catch ability to make big plays on the ball, all the while showing run-after-catch ability. One game after a 66-yard catch-and-run against the New England Patriots, he had a 46-yard receiving gain against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 14.
Although Hopkins had caught just two passes for 15 yards in the two previous games, he still ranks second among all rookies with 707 receiving yards on 44 receptions.
It is quite reasonable to believe that if Hopkins was playing with a better quarterback, his numbers could be significantly better, and they have already been quite solid for a rookie receiver.
22. Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: No. 15
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their fourth game in five weeks Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, but it wasn’t because their quarterback played well this time. Instead, Mike Glennon had his worst game of the season yet, completing just nine of 25 passing attempts for 90 yards with two interceptions.
Glennon threw two touchdowns but was erratic for the most part Sunday. Only four of his completions were for more than five yards.
The Buccaneers have built some serious late-season momentum even though they are already eliminated from playoff contention, but Glennon’s momentum toward a longshot Offensive Rookie of the Year died Sunday.
He has been the best rookie quarterback overall this season, completing 60.6 percent of his passing attempts for 2,052 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He still needs to bounce back from Sunday’s performance in the next three weeks to prove he should be the long-term starting quarterback in Tampa Bay.
21. Alec Ogletree, OLB, St. Louis Rams
Last Week: No. 25
If Alec Ogletree got the message that he was going to fall off the rookie rankings with another poor performance, the St. Louis Rams outside linebacker responded well Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
Ogletree had a team-leading nine total tackles with two tackles for a loss (one sack) Sunday. Perhaps more importantly given his recent struggles in coverage, he only allowed 16 receiving yards on three receptions.
Ogletree has had trouble with allowing receptions and missed tackles all season, and those problems didn’t go away in Week 14. His 699 receiving yards allowed on 57 receptions are still the most among 4-3 OLBs in the league, while two missed tackles brought his total in that category to 14 on the season.
Still, Ogletree has evidently been a difference-maker for the Rams this season. He ranks second on the Rams with 94 total tackles and has eight total tackles for loss, eight passes defensed (one interception returned 98 yards for a touchdown) and four forced fumbles.
20. Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams
Last Week: No. 16
Is Zac Stacy hitting the proverbial “rookie wall?” After compiling at least 78 total yards in each of his first five starts for the Rams, he has 71 or fewer in three of his last four starts.
Stacy hit a low point Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, picking up just 22 yards on 17 total touches, well below his season average of more than 4.2 yards per touch. The ability he has shown to bounce off contact and extend runs all season was not there Sunday, as the Cardinals bottled him up throughout the game.
Stacy still ranks second among all rookies with 721 rushing yards, and fifth among all rookies with 824 yards from scrimmage, but his season is taking a sharp downward turn after a terrific start. While one Rams rookie has started to take off in recent weeks (see next slide), Stacy will be looking to get back on track in St. Louis’ final three games.
19. Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams
Last Week: No. 22
Tavon Austin was a top-10 pick because of his big-play ability. That big-play ability has really started to show up over the past four weeks, in which he has four plays of 50 yards or more, including a 56-yard run against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Austin has not received consistent offensive touches—he only had one rush and one reception on Sunday—but he is continuing to show he can make big plays with the ball in his hands. Overall, including his four kickoff returns for 95 yards and one punt return for one yard, Austin had 161 all-purpose yards on Sunday.
Overall, Austin ranks second among all rookies with 1,247 all-purpose yards, and it is clear that he is starting to hit his stride as a playmaker with the ball in his hands.
18. Justin Pugh, RT, New York Giants
Last Week: No. 19
The New York Giants had a rough 37-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers Sunday, but right tackle Justin Pugh continued to be steady. Though he did allow four quarterback pressures, he allowed no sacks for a fourth consecutive game and received a 1.1 run blocking rating from Pro Football Focus for the game.
Pugh has started all 13 of New York’s games at right tackle and has a 4.8 overall rating from PFF, the best of any rookie offensive tackle who has started all of his team’s games.
He has only allowed three sacks this season. Overall, he has been the most solid player on an otherwise shaky Giants offensive line. He has outperformed the offensive tackles who were drafted ahead of him.
17. Kyle Long, RG, Chicago Bears
Last Week: No. 20
The Chicago Bears offense absolutely had its way with the Dallas Cowboys defense on Monday night, scoring on each of its first eight possessions. The entire offense, including right guard Kyle Long, was in sync.
Long’s play has been up and down all season, but he was moving well and having his way for the most part Monday.
Long has shown the potential to be one of the league’s best at his position, has only allowed two sacks this year and has played well for the most part despite the struggles of fellow rookie Jordan Mills at right tackle alongside him. He has a negative overall rating for the season (minus-1.7) from PFF, but has looked like a very solid investment overall by the Chicago Bears with the No. 20 overall pick.
16. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: No. 17
After allowing seven receptions for 98 yards to the Chicago Bears in one of his worst games of the season, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes bounced back in a big, much-needed way in Week 14. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury in the process.
Rhodes had a terrific game when he was on the field against the Baltimore Ravens. Although he was targeted seven times, he only allowed two receptions for 20 yards while he was credited with three passes defensed. He also had a forced fumble and recorded three tackles.
Unfortunately, Rhodes is expected to miss “a few weeks”—which at this point could easily mean the rest of the season—according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. This would be a big loss for the Vikings secondary, as he has been their most consistent cornerback this season.
Overall, Rhodes has allowed just 1.02 yards per coverage snap this season, which ties him with Atlanta’s Desmond Trufant for the best average among rookie cornerbacks who have started all of their team’s games on the outside.
15. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: Dropout
Cordarrelle Patterson had flashed potential all season and made some big plays, but had not been consistently productive in any way on offense. In Week 14, the Minnesota Vikings wide receiver finally had the breakout game his supporters had been waiting for, making big plays on both offense and special teams for a whopping 258 all-purpose yards.
Patterson’s biggest play came with less than a minute to go in regulation, when the explosive playmaker used his speed, vision and quickness in the open field to turn a screen pass into a 79-yard, go-ahead touchdown (see video). Though the Vikings defense ended up giving up a game-winning touchdown in the subsequent 41 seconds, Patterson made a tremendously clutch play for his team.
That play was the biggest of Patterson’s season to date, and it was not all he did Sunday. He came into the game with a season-high of 54 receiving yards but caught a total of five receptions for 141 yards against the Ravens defense. The league’s leading kickoff returner also had a strong day in that capacity, gaining 111 yards between four kickoff returns, while he also gained six yards on a running play.
The Vikings drafted Patterson with the potential to take Percy Harvin’s role as the “X-factor” in their offense, and he turned that potential to production Sunday. Patterson made it clear how much of a difference-maker he could turn out to be in what was nearly a game-winning effort.
Patterson leads all NFL rookies this season with 1,629 all-purpose yards.
14. Paul Worrilow, ILB, Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: No. 18
If there was an award given to the league’s best undrafted rookie, Atlanta Falcons inside linebacker Paul Worrilow would be taking the driver’s seat given Nickell Robey’s recent struggles.
For all the attention Kiko Alonso (more to come) has gotten for his tackling production, Worrilow has been just as productive since taking a spot in the Falcons’ starting lineup. Worrilow has 99 tackles in his nine starts, and was right on his average Sunday with 11 total tackles against the Green Bay Packers.
His tackles total included one sack, while he also recorded his first pass deflection of the season.
Total tackles are an admittedly overrated statistic, and like the aforementioned Alec Ogletree, he has had his fair share of issues with missed tackles (11) and coverage lapses. That said, his quick development into an every-down player and his consistent activity and production on the field have been impressive.
He has displayed great athleticism and range as a defender, and has been a top playmaker on an otherwise struggling defense. If he can continue to develop, he has the potential for greatness.
13. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: No. 14
Le’Veon Bell has not been consistent in breaking big plays or gaining more than a few yards per carry, but he has been consistent in taking on a workload and putting together production out of the Pittsburgh backfield. He has gained at least 80 total yards in each of his last six games and in eight of his 10 total starts.
He had exactly 80 total yards Sunday in a loss to the Miami Dolphins, a game in which he did not break any of his 20 touches for longer than 10 yards.
His reliability, nonetheless, is something the Steelers did not previously have at the running back position. He has made plays as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield, making him a very capable three-down back.
Although he missed Pittsburgh’s first three games with a foot injury, he ranks third among all rookies with 936 yards from scrimmage.
12. Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: No. 12
Desmond Trufant was not as dominant Sunday against the Green Bay Packers as he was one week earlier against the Buffalo Bills, but he continued to be solid as he has consistently been all season.
Trufant allowed four catches to Packers receivers but only for 30 combined yards. He recorded five total tackles, including one for a two-yard loss.
Trufant did not record any passes defensed Sunday, but he still ranks second among all rookies in that capacity with 14, all the while allowing just 1.02 yards per coverage snap.
Though it has been a highly disappointing season for the Atlanta Falcons, they should be feeling good about their decision to select Trufant in the first round, as he has quickly established himself as a strong starter at cornerback.
11. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: No. 11
Monday night’s loss by the Dallas Cowboys brought a return of more of the inside pass-rush pressure that had characterized opposing defenses against the Cowboys' interior offensive line last season. Center Travis Frederick was not at his best in pass protection, allowing two hurries up the middle.
That said, he was at his best as a run-blocker, at least in the analytical minds of Pro Football Focus. He received a 4.0 run blocking rating—his highest rating of the season in a category he had already been consistently strong in—for his effort in leading DeMarco Murray and Joseph Randle to a combined 199 rushing yards against the Chicago Bears defense.
Frederick has been overall solid in pass protection, allowing just three sacks and 16 total quarterback pressures this year, while PFF has cumulatively rated him as the league’s second-best run blocking center.
Overall, Frederick has been a very valuable piece of the Cowboys offense this season and a major upgrade to an interior offensive line that has stabilized significantly this season.
10. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, New Orleans Saints
Last Week: No. 10
Kenny Vaccaro has proven to be a difference-maker lining up everywhere from both safety spots to slot cornerback to linebacker, and his play has really improved over the course of the season.
He continued to play well in an impressive win for the New Orleans Saints against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night, recording seven total tackles and one quarterback hurry, while allowing just 24 receiving yards even though he was targeted 10 times.
Vaccaro has been a mainstay on the field for the Saints all season long, and ranks third on the team with 71 total tackles. He has recorded six total pass defenses (one interception), five total tackles for loss, five quarterback pressures and one forced fumble.
9. Tyrann Mathieu, FS/CB, Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: No. 3
Tyrann Mathieu’s rookie season was going as well as anyone could have hoped through his first 13 games. After a collegiate career littered with off-field trouble that ended with his dismissal from the LSU football team in 2012, he had stayed out of trouble and become a big playmaker at both the free safety and slot cornerback positions for the Arizona Cardinals defense this season.
Mathieu was having another decent Sunday, including a pass deflection, until it and his season both came to an end when he suffered the aforementioned knee injury.
Before the season-ending injury, Mathieu was making a serious push for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He has made plays all over the field this season, finishing his year with 68 total tackles, nine passes defensed (two interceptions), six total tackles for loss (one sack) and one forced fumble, all the while allowing just 0.90 yards per coverage snap.
Losing Mathieu, who had emerged as one of the stars of Arizona’s defense and had played all but three snaps in his previous five games, is a significant blow to a team fighting to keep its playoff hopes alive at 8-5.
8. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers
Last Week: No. 7
Not much went well for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, but unsurprisingly, rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei had a solid game, recording two tackles with one for loss and a quarterback hurry.
Lotulelei has had an up-and-down season, but overall he has shown the ability to be one of the league’s elite defensive tackles for years to come. He has not been an every-down player for the Panthers, indicating a need to improve his endurance and stamina, but he has flashed dominance as both a run-stopper and interior pass-rusher.
Overall, Lotulelei’s 36 tackles are the second-most for a rookie defensive lineman this season, and he has seven tackles for loss. His run stop percentage of 13.7 (24 stops in 175 snaps against the run) ranks as the league’s best among defensive tackles who have played at least 50 percent of their teams’ snaps against the run.
7. Eric Reid, FS, San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: No. 5
Eric Reid hasn’t made as many big plays in recent weeks as he did earlier in the season, but it would be remiss to forget about the great season he has had replacing 2012 AP All-Pro Dashon Goldson as a rookie free safety.
He had another up-and-down game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. He gave up a 39-yard touchdown reception to tight end Luke Willson, but was otherwise decent in both run defense and pass coverage, playing well enough for the San Francisco 49ers to score their biggest win of the season.
Reid hasn’t likely played well enough to keep himself in the Defensive Rookie of the Year award race, but he has certainly lived up to if not outplayed expectations on the back end of the San Francisco defense this season. He has been an effective center fielder who has allowed just 0.63 yards per coverage snap, while he has also been a solid run defender.
Reid has recorded 61 total tackles, defended nine passes and recovered two fumbles this season.
6. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: No. 9
Giovani Bernard kept himself well alive in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race with a terrific performance against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Even though he had just 16 touches, he made big plays as both a runner and receiver to post season highs of 99 rushing yards and 148 total yards.
Bernard has been used in a situational role, splitting touches at running back with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but he has taken advantage of his touches all season, averaging 5.7 yards per touch (4.7 yards per carry, 8.6 yards per reception).
His 1,023 yards from scrimmage rank second among all rookies, while his seven touchdowns scored are tied for the most among all rookies. He has used his explosive combination of burst out of the backfield, open-field quickness and strength to bounce off contact to be a playmaker all season, and he could find himself with hardware if he can finish the season with three strong games.
5. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
Last Week: No. 8
It’s close, but the only rookie running back to outproduce Giovani Bernard this season has been Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who continued his strong rookie season with 65 rushing yards, 25 receiving yards and a rushing touchdown on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
He still gave up ground to Bernard with a performance that ranks as pedestrian against a Falcons defense that has allowed an average of 133.6 rushing yards per game this season, but it was a significant improvement over his 16 rushing yards behind a struggling offensive line against the Detroit Lions one week earlier.
Nonetheless, Lacy’s consistency and reliability has been a crucial asset to the Green Bay Packers, who remain in the NFC North hunt despite their recent struggles sans quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
A big, bruising tailback who supplements his size and strength with good burst and quickness, Lacy leads all rookies with 887 rushing yards and 1,093 yards from scrimmage, while he is tied with Bernard with seven touchdowns scored.
4. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: No. 4
Buffalo Bills inside linebacker Kiko Alonso had another up-and-down game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
He made two tackles for loss to increase his total to 13 on the season, while his six total tackles were enough to remain second in the NFL in that category. On the other hand, he was out of position on a number of running plays, including an 80-yard touchdown run by Bobby Rainey two plays into the game on which Alonso missed a tackle.
There have been many impressive aspects of Alonso’s rookie season, including the fact that he has played every single snap for the Bills defense through 13 games. He has been very good both against the run and in coverage, and is looking like a major steal as a second-round draft pick.
Mathieu’s injury might have moved Alonso firmly into the top two of the Defensive Rookie of the Year race. Still, if the overvalued total tackles statistic does not determine voters’ decisions, his mistakes should have cost him some ground to the top defensive player in the rookie class (more to come).
3. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers
Last Week: No. 6
Keenan Allen is quickly silencing the doubters (consider me guilty as charged) and making the league look as though it made a mistake by letting him fall to the third round of the 2013 draft. He has been little short of outstanding in recent weeks, emerging as the San Diego Chargers’ top offensive playmaker and standing out as the best wideout in the rookie class.
While Allen’s three receptions for 59 yards against the New York Giants was a significant drop-off from his 17 receptions for 230 yards over the course of his previous two games, two of those receptions were for touchdowns in the Chargers’ 23-point win.
Allen got off to a great start in the first quarter of Sunday’s game when he beat Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas deep, looked a pass into his hands and finished running to the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown. One quarter later, Allen made a play in the end zone for a four-yard touchdown.
While concerns about Allen’s speed and health pushed him 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 led the Chargers in receiving each of the past three weeks and is playing a crucial role in San Diego’s effort to remain in the hunt of the AFC’s sixth playoff spot. He leads all rookies with 61 receptions and 902 receiving yards, which also ranks him fourth among all rookies in yards from scrimmage.
2. Larry Warford, RG, Detroit Lions
Last Week: No. 2
The snow might have made for a sloppy game for most on Sunday, but Detroit Lions right guard Larry Warford continued to be at the top of his game.
Warford allowed no quarterback pressures to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, continuing upon an outstanding season as a pass-protector in which he has allowed zero sacks and just 13 total quarterback pressures.
A massive (6'3", 333 lbs), powerful mauler, Warford has also done a terrific job opening holes in the run game. He received a 1.6 run blocking rating for Sunday’s game from PFF. Altogether, PFF ranks Warford as the NFL’s fourth-best guard this season.
While two guards actually were top-10 selections in the 2013 draft, Warford looks like he should have been one.
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.
1. Sheldon Richardson, DE/DT, New York Jets
Last Week: No. 1
New York Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson has been on top of this list since Week 7, and it’s going to take a massive effort from another player or a significant collapse on his part for that to change in the next three weeks.
Richardson has been an exceptional, Pro Bowl-caliber player for the Jets defensive line as a rookie. He leads all NFL interior defensive linemen with 66 total tackles, while he has 15.5 total tackles for loss.
Richardson had a pedestrian week statistically against the Oakland Raiders in Week 14 with just two total tackles, but that does not mean he was not productive. He received a 3.3 overall rating for the game from PFF, and he had two quarterback pressures.
That has been the case for his whole season, a year in which he has consistently played well. Although his statistics have been impressive, they have not told the whole story. Richardson frequently brings penetration or occupies blockers even on plays where he is not credited with a statistic, and has been a consistent presence and problem for opposing offensive lines to deal with.
Richardson’s 28.3 overall PFF rating for the season ranks him fifth among all 3-4 DEs in the NFL, and is the best of any rookie at any position. He ranks fourth among all 3-4 DEs with a 11.9 run stop percentage (32 run stops in 270 snaps).
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.