Could it get much closer at the top? This week was the longest and hardest I’ve had to think on for who to put at the No. 1 spot, with several players making the kind of legitimate cases that have me going backwards and forwards.
As it is, the incumbent Jet Sheldon Richardson remains ahead of the rest, but I can tell you now that a repeat of Week 9 in the next slate of games will ensure that his reign comes to an end in seven days.
That’s because the guys behind him are really starting to find their feet. We’ve got backs making defenders miss, defensive tackles dominating linemen, and some rookie-on-rookie crime from one wide receiver.
1. Sheldon Richardson, DE, Jets: +14.8
Our sixth-ranked 3-4 defensive end on the year graded in the green again, with his work in the run game the chief reason, but the size of those grades aren’t as big as they were earlier in the year. Still, he needs a lot of credit for playing consistently enough that his lowest grade is a -0.2.
2. Star Lotulelei, DT, Panthers: +13.4
It’s hard to see Lotutlelei ever being the kind of player that gets the credit he deserves. He won’t put up big sack numbers but his work in the run game can’t be understated. Against the Falcons that included another three defensive stops.
3. Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals: +12.7
At times completely mesmerizing, he was the chief architect of the Miami Dolphins going missed tackle mad on Thursday Night Football. His touchdown was the obvious highlight, but he hit the hole with some authority and looks set, health permitting, for an increased role that will only help his chances of reeling in the top two.
4. Marcus Cooper, CB, Chiefs: +10.5
The biggest surprise of the year. Cooper has got beaten for a couple of big plays, but with two picks, eight pass break-ups and a crucial forced fumble this week he’s also made his share of them. Gone past the stage now where I can hold his snap count against him, though I’m eager to see how he does against better opposition.
5. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Bills: +5.9
He’s not the complete package, but at the same time he’s already one of the top coverage linebackers in the league. Given how hard it is to adjust from college to the pros that’s a testament to the natural talent of the Bill.
6. Larry Warford, RG, Lions: +7.7
Slips down the rankings by virtue of not playing. You snooze you lose after all. A bounce-back performance next week with some big run blocking will help his chances no end.
7. Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers: +7.8
Even with one of the ugliest drops you’ll see all year Allen was still a beast as he worked over David Amerson. Ended his big day with 128 yards and a touchdown and is up to 11th in our pure receiver rankings.
8. Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers: +7.7
A losing efforts perhaps but another strong showing from Lacy against the Bears. Nine broken tackles is good work regardless of who you are. If the injury to Aaron Rodgers proves serious we could see an even bigger workload for him.
9. Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Cardinals: +7.2
The dynamic Honey Badger got some time to rest up, but when you play two roles as he does you’re never far from the ball and as such will get his chance to reclaim what was his soon enough.
10. Eric Reid, S, 49ers: +5.4
One of three rookies on a bye week this round of games that as a result saw others move past him. No big deal Eric, just go out there next week, make some plays and watch yourself rise back up the rankings.
D.J. Fluker, RT, Chargers: He didn’t play badly this week, but somebody had to make room for his teammate Allen and he was the man.
Five to Watch
Travis Frederick, C, Cowboys: That was the best Frederick has looked. Not only did he earn a positive grade in the run game but he was even better in pass protection.
Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins: The more he makes plays the harder it becomes to not find a spot for him in the Top 10.
Desmond Trufant, CB, Falcons: In a really bad year for Atlanta Trufant has been perhaps the biggest bright spot.
Zac Stacy, RB, Rams: It won’t be long before he cracks the main list. Just needs to increase the sample size to get there.
Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals: Returns from a bye week and it could be his role that determines whether he can get ahead of others.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled