Top 10 NFL rookies entering Week 12

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott maintains his hold at the top of the rookie list, while teammate Dak Prescott closes the gap.

| 7 months ago
Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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.

Michael Thomas

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.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I’m a Bears and Howard fan but definitely not part of the “don’t draft a running back high crowd”. Their celebration is going to look a bit silly if Elliot wins ROY although I expect they would just dismiss that as a flukey aberration.

    • Nelson Cobb

      Dude, Darren McFadden put up 1,000 yards last year in basically half a season behind that Oline. Any RB they drafted was bound to win ROY. CJ Prosise 3rd round, Devonta Booker 4th round, Jordan Howard 5th round, Rob Kelley UDFA, and hell, 3 of those guys are sporting a better YPC average right now than Elliot running behind much worse Olines, especially Howard. There’s plenty of evidence to support why you should wait until the mid rounds for RB’s these days. Look at David Johnson, 3rd round pick. Tevin Coleman, 3rd round pick. Devonta Freeman, 4th round pick. Jay Ajayi, 5th round pick. Thomas Rawls, UDFA. Le’Veon Bell was even a mid 2nd round pick. I’m not saying Elliot is a bad RB or anything, he is a fantastic back, but put any of those guys behind that Oline, and they’d likely be leading the league in yards right now.

      • crosseyedlemon

        First off we need to eliminate any mention of offensive lines from this discussion since no running back regardless of when he is drafted can succeed without blocking. You can toss names around if you want but the issue isn’t really about individual players but rather the impact and importance of the run game. The don’t draft high crowd clearly believe the running back position is less important than several other positions but I’m far from convinced of that. Certainly you can overcome the weakness at RB if you have a Tom Brady or totally dominating defense but there are usually about 28 teams that don’t fall into that category.

      • Bill.h

        100% jordan howard is the best RB in the league

  • Johnny U.

    carson wentz is overrated

    • John E

      Dumb fuck

    • Morpheus

      Go back to sleep fam.

  • VfJ

    Ryan Kelly and Cody Whitehair are going to be Pro Bowl caliber Centers for a decade.

  • Peter Borell

    Rashard Robinson should be on this

  • Michael James

    How does Artie Burns grade so far? I know he shouldn’t be in the top-10, but it seems he really played well over the last few weeks.

  • Flavor Blade

    Elliot has a great line put he also runs with precognition. When you combine that with great measurables you have a rare back. 1,800 to 2,000 for multiple seasons as a reasonable projection depending on play calling. Top 5 pick justified. 3rd or 4th round great picks are 1,200 yard backs.

    I thought this years DT draft would make a stronger statement. Told you so on Treadwell. Thomas is better. I caught Ramsey hiding from D. Henry too.

    Strong safety class.

  • josh schreiner

    where is Tyreek Hill at on this list?

  • Devin

    Leonard Floyd or Cody whitehair should be in here

    • Bill.h

      true #beardown