It’s never too early to look at the individual award races, so we bring you the very first Race for Rookie of the Year. Last year’s battle came down to the wire and we’re hoping for the same competitive race for 2013.
Unlike the traditional Rookie of the Year voting, we’re looking beyond just the skill players on offense and top tacklers on defense. With the benefit of our unique PFF grades, any first-year player is fair game.
Let’s take a look at the early front runners.
1. Robert Alford, CB, ATL (+2.3)
Despite getting drafted a round later, many analysts like Alford better than teammate Desmond Trufant, and he’s making them look smart after his Week 1 performance. Though he only played 38 of the team’s 69 snaps, he made a great break on the ball for an interception and tipped away another pass on his four targets. His +2.0 coverage grade ranks fifth among cornerbacks in the early going.
2. Star Lotulelei, DT, CAR (+2.8)
Lotulelei was very disruptive in the running game picking up three stops and grading at +1.2. Though the stat line only shows one pressure, he had another negated due to a penalty and he forced a holding with a quality bull rush. He even showed his athleticism by tracking down a screen pass from behind for a short loss. Strong overall game for Lotulelei.
3. Sheldon Richardson, 3-4 DE, NYJ (+2.3)
There were a lot of question marks about Richardson’s fit within the Jets’ scheme and many expected to see an interior pass rush specialist, at least to start his career. Instead, Richardson flashed top-notch run stopping ability and he’s carried it into the regular season with a +4.5 run grade including three stops. We’d like to see him do more as a pass rusher as his only pressure was an unblocked sack, but Richardson was a major factor in holding down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ running attack in Week 1.
4. Jordan Mills, OT, CHI (+3.4)
Much has been made about the Bears starting two rookies on the right side of their offensive line, and while right guard Kyle Long has the draft status and preseason headlines, it was Mills who shined in Week 1. He surrendered one hurry on his 35 pass block attempts and added a strong performance in the ground game grading at +1.1.
5. Lane Johnson, OT, PHI (+3.1)
The second right tackle to make the list, Johnson was just a notch below Mills as he gave up three hurries on 34 drop-backs for a -0.7 pass block grade. It was in the ground game that Johnson did his best work as he continuously sealed Redskins’ defensive ends and helped open holes for RB LeSean McCoy’s 184 rushing yards.
6. E.J. Manuel, QB, BUF (+1.9)
Last year’s Rookie of the Year race was littered with quarterbacks, and while we won’t see that in 2013, Manuel had an impressive start as the lone QB torch-bearer to this point. He executed Buffalo’s game plan efficiently, making few mistakes and coming through with some big throws throughout the game. His progression will be one of the league’s top storylines this season.
7. Larry Warford, G, DET (+2.9)
Warford’s fine work in the running game earned him a +2.2 grade and despite the stat sheet showing a perfect day in pass protection, a penalty-negated hit keeps his pass blocking grade at +0.8. That’s not too shabby for 46 drop-backs as the third-round pick continues to impress.
8. David Amerson, CB, WAS (+1.3)
Amidst the offensive barrage that was the Philadelphia Eagles, Amerson quietly had a strong night as he only gave up one catch for 8 yards on his four targets, including one pass defensed. Combined with his strong preseason showing, Amerson may be a weekly fixture on this list.
9. Tyler Eifert, TE, CIN (+1.4)
Playing 41 of the Bengals’ 59 snaps, Eifert caught all five of his targets for 47 yards including two forced missed tackles. Throw in a sturdy run blocking effort and it was a strong overall debut for Eifert.
10. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, HOU (+1.3)
A strong start in the Hopkins’ quest to fill the role of No. 2 wide receiver in Houston. He caught five of the six balls thrown his way for 66 yards, including a 30-yarder on a crossing route. The Texans used him all over the formation as he lined up in the slot on 36 of his 63 snaps, so look for him to get plenty of opportunities every week.
Five to Watch
Tavon Austin, WR, STL: Should continue to be a threat to touch the ball in creative ways every week, Austin caught six passes for 41 yards while forcing one missed tackle.
Sharrif Floyd, DT, MIN: Notched a positive grade against the run and batted a pass as rusher. Played 44 snaps as part of the Vikings’ defensive line rotation.
Tyrann Mathieu, CB, ARZ: Had some great battles with Austin and showed his infamous playmaking ability with a forced fumble. If the big plays continue, he could sneak into the Top 10.
Eddie Lacy, RB, GB: Poor run blocking and a fumble made for an ugly stat line, but Lacy made some things happen on his own and added a 31-yard reception on a screen.
T.J. McDonald, SS, STL: Played all 71 of the Rams’ snaps while going largely unnoticed in the passing game. That’s often a good thing for a safety.
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