And so we’re in the home straight. Just one more week of action for our rookies to convince us they should be our rookie of the year.
In truth this race has lacked some of the truly top-end performances we saw from some quarterbacks last year or Von Miller the year before. But what it’s lacked in the elite category it’s more than made up for with a number of excellent showings that mean plenty of players are in contention heading into Week 17.
Could Sheldon Richardson hold onto the top spot for another week? Let’s find out…
On the Lead Lap…
1. Sheldon Richardson, DE, Jets: +29.0
Hanging on by a thread. Anyone of the four at the top has a big claim to being the top dog and at the moment our fifth-ranked 3-4 defensive end is just a hairs length in front by virtue of his exceptional work in the run game.
2. Larry Warford, RG, Lions: +22.4
It continues to amaze that Warford had to wait until the third round to hear his name called. Even if he doesn’t get any better than this, the Lions have hit the jackpot with our second-ranked right guard on the year.
3. Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers: +16.2
You often hear how hard it is for receivers to come in and make an immediate impression in the NFL. Well Allen is bucking that trend and the third-rounder is behind just seven others in our wide receiver rankings. Should crack 1,000 yards this week and wouldn’t be surprised to see to him add to his eight touchdowns.
4. Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers: +16.9
Has emerged as a workhorse in the absence of Aaron Rodgers as the Packers go into the final game of the season with their destiny in their own hands. Can’t ask for much more than that, and Green Bay can’t ask for much more from our third-ranked running back on the year.
5. Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals: +16.4
Quiet running the ball versus the Vikings but on two catches out of the backfield he did force five missed tackles. He’s added to that offense even if this year serves merely as a teaser.
6. Desmond Trufant, CB, Falcons: +8.6
Another solid showing from Trufant. While Robert Alford was having his problems Trufant was far more assured, if not all that tested by the 49ers. He’s a big building block for a disappointing defense.
7. Star Lotulelei, DT, Panthers: +15.9
The conditions ended up being too his benefit as the Panthers roared loud and proud in a huge victory over the Saints. Of all defensive tackles has our fifth-highest grade against the run and is a huge reason for the plaudits placed at his linebackers’ feet.
8. Kiko Alonso, LB, Bills: +8.0
Like many Bills, had a great day against Miami even if his name didn’t show up much on the stat sheet. Seeing how other rookie linebackers have struggled puts into perspective what a great year Alonso has had.
9. Travis Frederick, C, Cowboys: +14.4
Possibly the most ridiculed pick in the 2013 draft, but who’s laughing now? Frederick is our fifth-ranked center on the year and within touching distance of the top spot thanks to his +16.6 run blocking grade that is second best of all centers. The work in pass protection is something he needs to get better at but this has been a big win for the Cowboys securing him.
10. Kawann Short, DT, Panthers: +14.7
You think the rest of the NFC South is pleased about the prospect of having to deal with Lotulelei and Short in the upcoming years? They’re not. Short picked up his sixth positive grade in a row with his efforts versus the Saints.
Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Cardinals: His race is run. He’s dropped out not through performance but an injury that made him expendable to the race. That said, his year was phenomenal and if he can come back at 100% his career promises to be as well.
Five to Watch
LaAdrian Waddle, RT, Lions: Injury may have cut short his outing versus the Giants but he’s still done remarkably well this year.
Zac Stacy, HB, Rams: He’s been what the Rams needed. But going forward they’ll need even more out of him if he’s to effectively replace Steven Jackson long term.
Adrian Ellington, RB, Cardinals: Might be the most wronged rookie out there for not making this list. A true playmaker with the ball in hand.
Logan Ryan, CB, Patriots: The Patriots’ playmaking corner is up to five picks on the year and is finishing the season strong.
Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles: Limited to 13 snaps against the Bears, 2013 has been something of a slow introduction for Ertz. The good news is he’s taken what chances have come his way.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled