Top 25 NFL Rookies Heading into Week 17

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIDecember 25, 2013

Top 25 NFL Rookies Heading into Week 17

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    Eddie Lacy continued to make his case for Offensive Rookie of the Year on Sunday.
    Eddie Lacy continued to make his case for Offensive Rookie of the Year on Sunday.Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    As the holiday season comes to an end, so will the NFL regular season, as all 32 teams will take the field Sunday for their Week 17 games.

    For rookies looking to win Rookie of the Year awards or affirm their standing as key players for their respective teams going into the 2014, Week 17 will be the final step of the inaugural season for many.

    The end of the NFL season has taken on many different shapes for various members of the rookie class. Some might already be looking ahead to the playoffs, while others might be a part of teams fighting for a playoff spot or simply working toward its future with the postseason out of sight. And while a few rookies have brought themselves to the forefront of Rookie of the Year races, there have been others who have faltered down the stretch or suffered unfortunate injuries.

    Next week, we will wrap up the rookie season here at Bleacher Report by looking at the top 50 rookies. For this week, numerous rookies have still worked their way in and out of the top 25, which constitutes the current B/R NFL Rookie Rankings.

    Note: All advanced statistics and snap counts, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Pro Football Focus' premium statistics database (subscription required).

Honorable Mentions

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    Micah Hyde kept the Green Bay Packers alive late in Sunday's loss with a 70-yard kickoff return.
    Micah Hyde kept the Green Bay Packers alive late in Sunday's loss with a 70-yard kickoff return.Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys

    Last Week: NR

    Williams played a big role in keeping Dallas’ playoff hopes alive with a 51-yard catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter against Washington, helping to set up the Cowboys’ game-winning touchdown later on in that same drive.

    With four receptions for 84 yards on Sunday, Williams has 697 receiving yards on the season (the third-most among NFL rookies) and five touchdowns on 43 receptions.

    Lane Johnson, RT, Philadelphia Eagles

    Last Week: NR

    The Philadelphia Eagles dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in their Sunday Night Football win against the Chicago Bears, and Johnson was no exceptioneven if he was the weak link of the offensive line in allowing three quarterback pressures.

    Johnson has had an up-and-down year as a pass-protector, allowing 55 total quarterback pressures this season, but his play has improved over the course of the year.

    Micah Hyde, CB, Green Bay Packers

    Last Week: NR

    Hyde has had a strong season as a situational slot cornerback and special teams playmaker, and Sunday may have been his best game yet.

    He had six tackles, one pass deflection and only allowed one catch in 24 coverage snaps, but his biggest impact came as a returner. He had 183 total return yards, including a 70-yard kickoff return in the game’s final two minutes that set up a potential game-tying touchdown drive, which got the Packers as the 1-yard line before the end of regulation.

Dropouts from Last Week’s Rankings

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Kyle Long, RG, Chicago Bears

    Last Week: No. 21

    While it was a great Sunday night for the Philadelphia Eagles offensive line, it was a rough night for the Bears’ blocking unit, especially for the two rookies on the right side of the line.

    Long, who has been struggling quite often down the stretch, had one of his worst games of the season, as he was beaten into the backfield on many occasions throughout the game.

    Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams

    Last Week: No. 22

    Tavon Austin has made some huge plays in the second half of the season, including four plays of 50 yards or more, but he has not been consistently productive at any point this season. He has been unable to be consistent over the last two weeks, as he has been held out with an ankle injury.

    DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans

    Last Week: No. 23

    The Denver Broncos rank 28th in the NFL with 258.6 passing yards allowed per game, but that didn’t help DeAndre Hopkins in the Houston Texans’ 37-13 loss Sunday. Hopkins, whose season has been marred by inconsistent quarterback play, caught just one pass for eight yards on Sunday.

25. Justin Pugh, RT, New York Giants

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    Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 20

    Justin Pugh had his hands full with one of the NFL’s best defensive lines when the New York Giants played the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Pugh allowed five quarterback hurries, marking the third consecutive game in which he has allowed at least four quarterback pressures.

    Pugh’s recent struggles have pushed him to the back of the Rookie Rankings, but his overall body of work as a rookie offensive tackle has been impressive. He has been a solid force at right tackle on an otherwise shaky offensive line.

    Pugh has the best overall PFF rating (1.2) among rookie offensive tackles who have started all 15 of their teams’ games this season.

24. Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: Dropout

    One of the reasons Pugh had trouble with the Detroit Lions pass-rush was that he had to go up against fellow rookie Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, who bounced back from a weak performance on Monday Night Football in Week 15 to make a big impact for Detroit in Week 16.

    Ansah was credited with three tackles and four total quarterback pressures, including one sack. Sunday was not a good day overall for the Lions, as a loss eliminated them from playoff contention, but Ansah continued to show his potential for greatness.

    Overall, Ansah has eight sacks this season, three more than any other rookie. Though inconsistent in both capacities, he has been the most productive edge rusher of any rookie and has done a good job setting the edge and making stops as a run defender.

23. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

    Last Week: No. 19

    Xavier Rhodes has been one of the best outside cornerbacks among NFL rookies this season, but he has missed each of the Vikings’ last two games with an ankle injury.

    With fellow starting cornerbackJosh Robinson also out due to injury, Rhodes’ absence had a clear impact on the Minnesota defense on Sunday, as Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton torched the Vikings’ backup cornerbacks for 366 passing yards.

    When Rhodes has been in the lineup, he has been Minnesota’s most consistent cornerback this year. Overall, Rhodes has allowed just 1.02 yards per coverage snap this season, which is the second-best average among rookie cornerbacks who have played at least 60 percent of their teams’ coverage snaps.

22. Logan Ryan, CB, New England Patriots

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Last Week: NR

    New England Patriots rookie cornerback Logan Ryan has progressed very impressively over the course of the seasonimpressively enough that he has gone from being a backup and fill-in starter to a legitimate starter, even when New England’s top four cornerbacks are all active.

    Ryan has had some very good games in recent weeks, but his performance against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday was his best yet. He intercepted two passes, had three total passes defensed, played all but two defensive snaps and allowed no receptions.

    Ryan has played consistently well in coverage, allowing just 0.95 yards per coverage snap, the 11th-best average among all NFL cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of their teams’ coverage snaps. He has also been a big playmaker on the ball, intercepting five passes and defending 10 total passes in his last nine games, including four interceptions and seven total passes defensed in his last five games alone.

21. Kawann Short, DT, Carolina Panthers

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Last Week: Honorable Mention

    Kawann Short has been overshadowed this season by fellow Carolina Panthers rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (more to come), but he has arguably played just as well.

    This was especially true on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, when Short had one of his most productive games of the season, recording four tackles and pressuring Saints quarterback Drew Brees five times.

    Short has been a rotational 3-technique defensive tackle off the bench, but he has played more than half of Carolina’s defensive snaps in each of the past three weeks. With 33 total quarterback pressure, he has been the Panthers’ best interior pass-rusher this season, while he has also been a very solid run defender with 29 total tackles.

    Overall, PFF ranks Short 15th among all NFL defensive tackles with an overall rating of 14.7.

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

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    Last Week: No. 24

    After a three-week stretch at left tackle took D.J. Fluker out of his stride for most of the second half of the season, the rookie right tackle has gotten his groove back in his last two games. He was dominant in a win against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, allowing no quarterback pressures while receiving a season-high PFF rating of 3.0.

    His rating was hurt by two false starts in Sunday’s game, but he was otherwise at his best, as it was his first game of the entire season in which he was not considered responsible for allowing any pressures on the quarterback.

    Fluker has had his ups and downs this season, especially as a pass protector, but he has been a key addition to the San Diego Chargers offense nonetheless. He has played more than 1,000 snaps as a starter all season, been a strong run-blocker and looks like a long-term fixture for the Chargers on the right side of their offensive line.

19. Paul Worrilow, ILB, Atlanta Falcons

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 17

    Paul Worrilow has had outstanding production this season for an undrafted rookie middle linebacker. However, his last two games have not gone particularly well, as PFF has ranked him among the NFL’s four worst middle linebackers in each of the past two weeks, including with a minus-3.4 rating Monday against the San Francisco 49ers.

    Worrilow only had five tackles, his second-lowest total since entering Atlanta’s starting lineup, while the Atlanta run defense had a rough night overall, allowing San Francisco for rush for 199 yards.

    While Worrilow has shown all season that he can be a difference-maker around the line of scrimmage, most of his tackles in the last two weeks have been well downfield. He did have a better game in coverage against the 49ers, however, allowing just one reception for nine yards.

    Nonetheless, Worrilow has been a great revelation for the otherwise struggling Falcons this season. He leads Atlanta with 114 total tackles and has carved out a key role for himself in the Falcons’ starting defensive lineup.

18. Nickell Robey, CB, Buffalo Bills

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 25

    Nickell Robey has been a big playmaker for the Buffalo Bills all season as a slot cornerback. He has not always been great in coverage, but he has frequently made plays as a blitzer, screen defender and run-stopper around the line of scrimmage.

    Robey was at his best, especially in the latter capacities, in Buffalo’s shutout win on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. He was used as a blitzing pass-rusher six times, and he brought successful pressure on five of those six snaps, including two sacks.

    Robey also had another tackle for loss on a run in the middle of the backfield. He broke up a screen pass to Mike Wallace with a textbook hit and allowed no catches in 30 coverage snaps.

    Even though he has been beaten deep on a number of occasions this season, he has still allowed just 0.88 yards per coverage snap, thanks to mostly excellent work in slot coverage. His impact plays have included 10 passes defensed, nine total tackles for loss and a 19-yard interception return in Buffalo’s first win against the Dolphins in Week 7.

17. Alec Ogletree, OLB, St. Louis Rams

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    Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 18

    Through his ups and downs, St. Louis Rams outside linebacker Alec Ogletree has made plays all season. He continued to do so in Sunday’s win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, recording eight total tackles, two forced fumbles, a half-sack and three quarterback pressures.

    Following his big game on Sunday, Ogletree ranks third among all NFL defenders this year with six forced fumbles. He also leads the Rams with 109 total tackles, while he has recorded 11.5 total tackles for loss and 10 passes defensed, including one interception that he returned 98 yards for a touchdown in Week 6.

    Ogletree has allowed more receptions (71) than any other 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL this season, and only two 4-3 OLBs have missed more tackles than his 17, so there are clear areas in his game that he needs to improve going forward.

    Even so, his sideline-to-sideline range and penchant for making big plays should make him a key player on the St. Louis defense for many years to come.

16. Tyrann Mathieu, FS/CB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 11

    Tyrann Mathieu’s season came to an end after he tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee in Week 14, but had he remained healthy, he would have been one of the top candidates for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

    Splitting time between slot cornerback in nickel packages and free safety in base packages, Mathieu had been productive wherever he lined up on the field and showed the range to cover ground quickly by making plays all over the field.

    Mathieu finished his rookie season 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.

    Mathieu, whose play seemed to suffer no ill effects from sitting out the 2012 college football season following his dismissal from LSU, had been a playmaker for the Cardinals all year in every capacity, from deep coverage to run support and even as a blitzing pass-rusher. The Cardinals will certainly hope to have him healthy for the start of the 2014 season, as he immediately proved how much of an asset he could be to the Arizona defense.

15. Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta Falcons

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 13

    Desmond Trufant had a quiet game on Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers, which, for the most part, is a good thing at the cornerback position. He recorded no tackles nor passes defensed, but he only allowed two receptions for 25 yards, both to Anquan Boldin.

    Trufant did make some noise for the wrong reason on Monday, when he laid out Boldin with an unnecessary cheap shot, though he was lucky not to be penalized for doing so.

    Overall, Monday was not one of the better games this season for Trufant, who has recored 16 passes defensed this season. Still, he has started all 15 of Atlanta’s games and has allowed just 1.09 yards per coverage snap, making him the most reliable outside cornerback among NFL rookies this season.

14. Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 16

    Andre Ellington tied his season-high by receiving 17 touches on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. As a result, he played a key role in leading the Cardinals to an upset victory in Seattle against a team with the league’s best home record and No. 1 defense in terms of total yards allowed.

    While Ellington’s 4.3 yards per carry on Sunday came well short of his season average of 5.7, he still led the Cardinals with 72 yards from scrimmage. He still leads the NFL in yards per carry among qualifying rushers this season, while he moved up to fifth among rookies with 981 yards from scrimmage.

    With very good open-field vision and quickness, Ellington is at his best when he has the opportunity to make plays in space, and he has had those opportunities as both a rusher and receiver. He has been a big-play runner, leading all rookies with eight runs of 20 yards or more this season.

    Ellington has not always been a consistent source of offense this season, but he has at least 60 total yards in each of his last four games. Even before that, his big-play ability added a new dimension to the Cardinals backfield.

13. Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 15

    For the second time, Zac Stacy has had back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances after running for 104 yards on a season-high 33 carries on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While he only averaged 3.2 yards per carry, he showed that he could hold up through a heavy workload on the heels of a season in which he has already received more than 200 carries.

    Stacy has four triple-digit rushing games this season, and he is in good position to rush for quadruple-digits on the season as he heads into Week 17 with 958 rushing yards this season. That is good for 13th in the NFL and second among all rookie running backs.

    Stacy ranks fourth among all rookies with 1,046 total yards from scrimmage and is tied for second among all rookies with eight touchdowns scored.

    Though there have been a few running backs who have stood out more than Stacy, he has had a fantastic season for a fifth-round pick. He has shown all season that he can handle a heavy workload, all the while bouncing off of contact frequently to extend runs and be a leader for the St. Louis offense.

12. Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 12

    Little has been stable for the Dallas Cowboys this season, as they go into Week 17 needing a win against the Philadelphia Eagles to make the postseason. However, the play of rookie center Travis Frederick has been. An immediate impact run-blocker and a very steady pass protector, Frederick has made a major difference in the improvement of the Dallas offensive line this season.

    Frederick has not always been great in pass protection as a rookie, but he has still allowed just 20 total quarterback pressures this season, including just one in Dallas’ Week 16 win against the Washington Redskins.

    As a run-blocker, he has consistently opened holes up front and driven defenders off the line, and he has the second-best PFF run blocking rating (16.6) of any NFL center this season as a result.

    The Cowboys’ scoring offense is tied for third in the NFL with 417 points, and Frederick has played a factor in Dallas’ offensive success.

11. Kenny Vaccaro, SS, New Orleans Saints

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 9

    Tyrann Mathieu’s season-ending injury opened the door for Kenny Vaccaro to potentially finish the season as the top rookie defensive back, but like Mathieu, he unfortunately suffered a season-ending injury in Week 16 when he fractured his ankle in New Orleans’ loss to the Carolina Panthers.

    That does not take away from the impact Vaccaro has made by doing a little bit of everything for the Saints defense this season.

    Vaccaro has lined up at both safety spots, slot cornerback and linebacker this season. He was a key player in run support on the back end, while he could also make an impact as both a cover safety or as a blitzer as a pass defender.

    Vaccaro was productive all season, even recording two tackles, including one for loss, in just 12 snaps before leaving with his season-ending injury on Sunday. His play really improved over the course of the season, and he finished his year with 79 total tackles, six passes defensed and five quarterback pressures.

10. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

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    Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

    Last Week: No. 14

    Making impact plays as a returner, receiver and rusher, Cordarrelle Patterson has really blossomed over the second half of the season into the triple threat the Minnesota Vikings drafted him to be with the No. 29 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.

    Patterson continued to make a big impact on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals with 205 all-purpose yards. He only caught three passes for eight net yards, but he gained 54 yards on three rushing attempts, including a 35-yard touchdown run. As a kickoff returner, he continued to excel, averaging 35.8 yards per kickoff return on four returns.

    An explosive athlete with fantastic speed but also dynamic open-field quickness, Patterson has been the NFL’s best kickoff returner all season with a league-leading average of 33.6 yards per return.

    Patterson started slow as an offensive contributor but has really come along in recent weeks. He has scored an offensive touchdown in each of his last four games (two rushing, two receiving) and has at least 50 yards of offense in his four of his last five games.

    By starting to consistently make plays on both offense and special teams, Patterson not only leads all rookies but ranks third among all NFL players with 1,884 all-purpose yards this season.

9. Eric Reid, FS, San Francisco 49ers

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 7

    San Francisco 49ers free safety Eric Reid gave up one of the game’s biggest plays on Monday Night Football when he was beaten to the end zone by Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White for a 39-yard Matt Ryan touchdown pass over his head.

    To be fair to Reid, the pass he allowed was a perfectly-thrown strike by Ryan, but Reid has been giving up more plays in coverage down the stretch than he had been early in the season. Though he has been an upgrade in coverage over 2012 AP All-Pro Dashon Goldson, he ranks just 40th among NFL safeties in yards allowed per coverage snap (0.62).

    Still, Reid has been a playmaker, both in coverage and around the line of scrimmage. He was the latter on Monday, picking up three total tackles and his first quarterback hit of the season on his lone blitz rush on Ryan.

    For the season, Reid has 67 total tackles, 10 passes defensed (four interceptions) and two forced fumbles. Though his Defensive Rookie of the Year candidacy has likely passed him by, he had big shoes to fill and has done so more than adequately.

8. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 8

    Star Lotulelei might not be living up to his first name every week during his rookie season, but he has still been a major upgrade in the middle of the Carolina defensive line and a major reason why the Panthers defense has emerged as one of the NFL’s best units.

    Lotulelei had two tackles and one quarterback pressure on Sunday, but, as has been the case all season, his contributions in Carolina’s win against the New Orleans Saints went well beyond his statistical production. Though he is not an every-down player for the Panthers defense, he consistently occupies blockers with his size and strength and helps free up his teammates to make the plays that get them on the box score.

    With 21 quarterback pressures on the season, he has had solid production as an interior pass-rusher, but the strength of his play has come in run defense. He ranks second among all rookie defensive linemen with 40 total tackles, including nine tackles for loss. His run-stop percentage of 13.3 (29 stops in 218 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.

    Overall, PFF ranks Lotulelei as the NFL’s 14th-best defensive tackle with a cumulative rating of 15.9, and specifically as the fiftth-best run defender among defensive tackles.

7. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 6

    Giovani Bernard has made as many big plays as any rookie offensive playmaker, but he has not been the most consistent.

    Both of those statements held true Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. He had one of the highlights of the weekend when he made multiple defenders miss to turn a screen pass into a 41-yard gain. Otherwise, he was held to just 26 yards on his other 14 touches.

    Combining very good speed and quickness with the strength to bounce off contact, Bernard has been an effective playmaker as both a rusher (673 yards, 4.3 yards per carry) and receiver (463 yards, 9.1 yards per catch). He ranks third among all rookies with 1,136 yards from scrimmage and is tied for second among rookies with eight touchdowns scored.

    Bernard has not had as much consistent production as his rookie counterparts more likely to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, but he has added a new dimension to the Cincinnati backfield this season and will continue to be a key player for the Bengals as they transition into the postseason.

6. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Last Week: No. 10

    The Offensive Rookie of the Year award race may be a two- or three-man race heading into Week 17, but Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is making a strong late surge.

    Bell had his best game of the season on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, rushing for a season-high 124 yards on 26 carries, including a one-yard rushing touchdown with just 1:25 remaining in the game that proved to be the game-winning score.

    Sunday was Bell’s first triple-digit rushing game of his career, though thanks to his regular additional contributions as a receiver out of the backfield, it was his third game in the last four weeks with 100 or more total yards and his eighth straight game with at least 80 total yards.

    He did have one blemish in Sunday’s game with his first fumble of the season, but he more than made up for it. He has been the most productive offensive skill position rookie in the NFL in recent weeks, and he has worked his way up to second among all rookies with 1,163 yards from scrimmage, while he is also tied for fifth among rookies with seven touchdowns scored.

    A fixture on the field as a runner, receiver out of the backfield and pass-protector, Bell is quickly looking like a steal of a second-round pick for Pittsburgh.

5. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Buffalo Bills

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 5

    With just one week left in the NFL regular season, Kiko Alonso’s streak of playing every defensive snap for the Buffalo Bills this season remains in tact. That is impressive in and of itself, as is the fact that Alonso has 145 total tackles while serving as the defense’s on-field play-caller.

    Alonso had a fairly quiet game with just three solo tackles against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, and his big-play production has tailed off in recent weeks. Still, his constant presence on the field shows how important he has been in his first season in Buffalo, as do his total tackles (fourth-most in the NFL), 13 tackles for loss and five passes defensed.

    Alonso needs to become more consistent in the angles he takes in run defense, but through his overall production and constant presence on the field, he has shown the upside to be one of the league’s best middle linebackers for many years to come.

4. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    Last Week: No. 2

    Keenan Allen has only caught eight passes for 114 yards in his past three games, but five of those receptions have been for touchdowns.

    The Chargers have won each of those three games, and Allen’s 30 points scored have certainly played a significant role. While his overall receiving production has dropped off—he has only caught five passes on 12 targets between his last two games, while he has not been able to match his five games with 100 or more receiving yards from earlier in the season—his catches have been timely and important.

    Allen also made an impact as a punt returner on Sunday, though he had an up-and-down day in that capacity, as he returned one punt for 28 yards but also had a muffed punt.

    Even with his dip in overall receiving production in his past three games, Allen still has a massive lead among all rookies with 66 receptions, 957 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns. Those numbers also rank him sixth among all rookies in yards from scrimmage and tied for second in touchdowns scored.

3. Larry Warford, RG, Detroit Lions

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 4

    Not much has gone well for the Detroit Lions in the past three weeks. They have lost each of their last three games and, as a result, have fallen from first place in the NFC North to third place. eliminating them from playoff contention. Still, through it all, rookie right guard Larry Warford has continued to excel.

    In a 91-yard rushing game for Lions second-string running back Joique Bell against the New York Giants on Sunday, his running lane of choice proved to be behind Warford, who made key blocks throughout the game and finished the game with a 2.4 PFF rating, easily the best mark along the Lions offensive line.

    Though Warford was tagged with allowing one quarterback pressure on Sunday, he ranks third among all NFL guards who played at least 50 percent of their teams’ snaps with a 98.2 pass blocking efficiency rating. He has allowed no sacks and just 15 total quarterback pressure in 632 pass-blocking snaps this season.

    Warford has excelled as both a pass- and run-blocker throughout his rookie season, and he is ranked by PFF as the NFL’s fourth-best guard with a 20.9 cumulative rating. He is unlikely to win Offensive Rookie of the Year because of the position he plays, but he would be well-deserving if voting for the award gave more credence to offensive linemen.

2. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: No. 3

    Statistically, Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy has been the most productive offensive skill-position player in the NFL.

    After rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sundayeven though an ankle injury limited him to just 15 carrieshe holds a significant lead among all NFL rookies in yards from scrimmage (1,354) and touchdowns (10).

    Lacy has not only been the NFL’s most productive rookie running back, but also one of its most productive running backs of any experience level. He ranks eighth league-wide with 1,112 yards from scrimmage and tied for third with his 10 rushing touchdowns.

    A big, bruising tailback who supplements his size and strength with good burst and quickness, Lacy is the leading candidate to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. If he can come up big and carry the Packers to a Week 17 victory against the Chicago Bears to earn a playoff berth, he might run away with the award.

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

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    Last Week: No. 1

    If there has been one consistent thing about this year’s rookie class, it has been New York Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson dominating the line of scrimmage and making big plays.

    Week 16 against the Cleveland Browns was not one of Richardson’s better games of the season, as he had to leave the game briefly with a shoulder injury and was flagged for two penalties. He was still very productive, though, recording six total tackles to increase his season total to 76, the most among all NFL defensive linemen.

    Richardson has 15.5 total tackles for loss this season and is ranked by PFF as the NFL’s fifth-best 3-4 defensive end with a 29.0 cumulative rating.

    Richardson has the best PFF rating of any rookie in the league. He has been statistically productive all season and has also freed up his teammates to make plays by occupying blockers with his size, strength and explosion. He should be a clear choice for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

    Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.