Top 10 NFL rookies entering Week 12
While the Dallas Cowboys’ star running back has a firm grip on the Rookie of the Year award at this point, another rookie runner makes the list for the first time this season. Jordan Howard has been one of the best pure runners in the NFL since taking over as the Bears’ lead back in Week 4. His emergence leads credence to the “don’t draft running backs high” crowd, as Howard was selected in the fifth round last spring. With the pace Elliott is setting this season, though, no back is catching him in these rankings this year.
1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys
Our highest-graded running back in the league—not just among rookies—Ezekiel Elliott has performed as advertised. I’ve run out of superlatives to talk about the former Buckeye’s dominance at this point. Elliott is on pace for 1,001 yards after contact this season; no back has broken 1,000 yards after contact in our charting since Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, and Alfred Morris each did so in 2012.
2. Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys
One might look at Dak Prescott’s two total interceptions this season and assume he’s been an ultra-conservative game manager. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as Prescott is also third in the league in yards per attempt (8.2). The rookie out of Mississippi State continues taking calculated shots down the field, completing 57.3 percent of his targets over 10 yards this season. To put that in perspective, Matt Cassel completed 58.3 percent of all his passes a season ago. The Cowboys are in good hands.
3. Jack Conklin, RT, Titans
The right tackle gave up his first and second sacks of the season against the Colts on Sunday, but two plays out of 71 doesn’t define a game or season. Jack Conklin remains PFF’s top-graded right tackle on the year, just edging out New Orleans’ Zach Strief. Conklin is on pace to surrender just 30 total QB pressures this season; his predecessor, Byron Bell, allowed 44 a year ago.
4. Joey Bosa, DE, Chargers
The bye week for Joey Bosa gives us some time to contextualize his hot start. His pass-rushing grade through his first six games is higher than any other player we’ve graded in the past 11 seasons—higher than Von Miller, Chandler Jones, J.J. Watt, Khalil Mack, and Aldon Smith. It’s been quite the start for the third-overall pick.
5. Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles
After a red-hot start to the season, the No. 2 overall pick has looked much more like a rookie lately. After only one turnover-worthy throw through the first three games of the season, Carson Wentz has 14 over the last seven games. After his last disastrous outing against the Seahawks, Wentz drops out of the top-three on this list for the first time.
6. Chris Jones, DT, Chiefs
Two hits, five hurries, and a batted pass. Chris Jones is giving the Chiefs something they haven’t had in almost 10 years: a viable, every-down interior pass-rusher. They’ve been chalked with run stuffers for the better part of a decade, but Jones is looking to change that. He only has one fewer pressure than teammate Dontari Poe, despite 159 fewer pass-rushing snaps
7. Michael Thomas, WR, Saints
Week 11 saw a nice bounce-back game for Michael Thomas, who caught all five of his targets for 68 yards. Of receivers with at least 50 targets, Thomas is sixth in catch rate (77.8) and ninth in quarterback rating (111.9). No other rookie wideout comes close to the former Buckeye’s production so far.
8. Jordan Howard, RB, Bears
On a per-carry basis, it’s very possible that the Bears running back has been more impressive than the presumed Rookie of the Year, Ezekiel Elliott. Howard is second among all backs in yards after contact per attempt (3.5), and sixth in broken tackles (27), despite being 17th in attempts (131). The only concern so far is Howard’s six drops on 25 catchable passes.
9. Karl Joseph, S, Raiders
Deep safety is traditionally a position that has one of the most difficult transitions to the NFL, with the reason being that success at the position relies so much on mastery of a defense, reading route combinations, and taking proper angles. Those all change drastically from college to the pros, making what Joseph has done so far even more impressive; the former Mountaineer has done it while playing almost 60 percent of his snaps lined up deep, and is the 18th-highest-graded safety.
10. Hunter Henry, TE, Chargers
Another Charger coming off a bye, Hunter Henry still owns a top-10 receiving grade among tight ends, and isn’t even seeing full-time snaps. He’s only played 64.7 percent of San Diego’s offensive snaps so far this season, as he cedes playing time to veteran Antonio Gates. If that changes down the stretch, Henry could push even higher in these rankings.