Top 10 NFL rookies entering Week 17

Following the Cowboys' win over the Lions, Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott hold the top spots.

| 5 months ago
Ezekiel Elliott

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Top 10 NFL rookies entering Week 17

With one week left in the 2016 regular season, the only question is which of the Dallas duo will win the Rookie of the Year award, and will either play enough in Week 17 to change our minds as they are now? At this point, it’s fair to say that there hasn’t been a rookie class in the history of the NFL to have this much of an impact on one side of the ball as Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott have had for the Cowboys. They’re first up in this week’s top 10:

1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

It was an early exit for PFF’s Rookie of the Year leader on Monday night, but that didn’t change much in our minds. It does change, though, what looked like a very real possibility that Elliott would be the first running back since Adrian Peterson in 2012 to gain over 1,000 yards after contact in a season. Now with only 936, it looks as though he’ll come up just short. I guess Elliott will just have to settle for the rushing title instead.

2. Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

The only things currently keeping Prescott out of the MVP conversation at Pro Football Focus are two disastrous games inside the division this year. Take those two away, and he’s firmly in contention for the second-highest grade behind Patriots QB Tom Brady this year. When he plays like he did Monday night against the Lions, the Cowboys look unstoppable. Prescott was accurate on 80 percent of his targeted throws, and didn’t put a single ball in harm’s way.

3. Jack Conklin, RT, Tennessee Titans

The Titans right tackle had a so-so night in Week 16 against the Jaguars. Jack Conklin gave up five total hurries, but once again, neither a sack nor a hit. Conklin has a very real chance of surpassing Tyron Smith’s rookie grade if he puts together a superb outing in Week 17. That’s not bad company for a player many thought was a reach when he went inside the top 10.

4. Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers

10 sacks in 11 games—that’s unheard of production for a rookie. The only other edge players with 10+ sacks in their rookie seasons in the PFF era (since the 2006 season) are Mark Anderson, Kamerion Wimbley, Clay Matthews, Carlos Dunlap, Von Miller, Aldon Smith, and Bruce Irvin. The Chargers defensive end would be firmly in contention for the top spot if he had played a full season instead of only 507 snaps to date.

5. Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs

To say Jones is already playing at a high level is an understatement. Since Week 8, the only interior defender with a higher pass-rushing grade than Jones is Rams DT Aaron Donald (PFF’s highest-graded interior defender). That’s elite-level production for the former second-rounder, and he’s grading in elite level company for a rookie. Some interior players with comparable grades their rookie seasons: Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, Pernell McPhee, J.J. Watt, and Geno Atkins.

6. Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears

I don’t think it’s too soon to include Jordan Howard’s name among the best running backs in the NFL. Of all backs with at least 150 carries, Howard is second in yards per carry (5.1), third in yards after contact per attempt (3.0), and seventh in broken tackles per carry (.16). That’s behind an offensive line that’s been banged up all season. It’s been quite the start for the fifth-rounder.

7. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

Thomas once again acted like New Orleans’ No. 1 receiver in the Saints’ win over the Buccaneers on Saturday. His 46-yard slant highlighted what Saints fans have known all year—Thomas is deadly with the ball in his hands. On the play, he caught the ball only about 5 yards downfield before breaking multiple tackles on his way into Tampa Bay territory. His 17 broken tackles are the fourth-most for any receiver this year.

8. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Another week, another electric touchdown. This time, a 70-yard stretch play that Hill had almost no business turning into a score. He lands here at No. 8, although it’s admittedly difficult to quantify exactly what a weapon like Hill does to opposing defenses, even for analytics nerds like the team here at PFF. He’s still playing fewer than 50 percent of the Chiefs’ offensive snaps over the past four weeks, but he has three touchdowns over that span.

9. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

The fifth-overall pick makes his very first appearance on this list, as he’s made a mockery of the proverbial rookie wall. In perusing the week-to-week grades, one can see Ramsey’s learning curve shoot straight up in recent weeks. Since the start of Week 13, the Jaguars corner has the highest grade at the position in the NFL. Over that span, he’s allowed 12 catches on 35 targets for 145 yards, intercepted two passes, broken up eight others, and has allowed a passer rating of just 24.1 into his coverage.

10. Keanu Neal, S, Atlanta Falcons

Keanu Neal is PFF’s highest-graded rookie safety this season. Interestingly, for a player that was known as a hitter coming out of college, Neal’s run defense has been his lowest-graded attribute. He has earned a top-five coverage grade, though, and has been picked on more than any other safety in the NFL this season. His 76 targets and 544 yards are both the highest for any player at the position; despite all the yards, however, the receptions rarely amount to much. In fact only 24 of those targets have resulted in either a first down or a touchdown.

| 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.

  • Andrew Tenorio

    How is Buckner not on this list?

    • Merlin Veltman

      This is a list of the “Top 10 nfl rookies”

  • eYeDEF

    According to the official stat sheet Bruce Irvin did not have 10+ sacks his rookie year. He had 8.

    • Darnell

      You’re right. 8 regular season and 1 playoff.

  • penile implant

    “His 76 targets and 544 yards are both the highest for any player at the position”

    This is wrong. Byron Jones has the same number of targets

    • #83_Algie_2CrystalClear

      You do realize “equal to” is by very definition…”not greater than”? Had the piece said his 76 targets have no equal, then you would have a point. Just being technical, but you’re on this site so I suspect you understand.

      • penile implant

        You’re right. They aren’t wrong but word choice could be better and make it more clear. If they said tied for highest it would be better.

  • Lawrence Dean Cannon

    Two of the Top Ten went to The Mississippi State University. That just shows recruits and fans that Dan Mullen develops players ready for the NFL.

    Contrast that with the university of olemiss, where ALL their First Round Rookies are busts. that’s because they weren’t pushed to be the best players they could be, plus their fan base are morally, spiritually, ethically, and genetically inferior people.

  • liltrav88888

    Keanu and Debo have been absolute beasts!!! Couldn’t be happier with Falcons top 2 picks also Brian Poole has played a lot of good football after going undrafted