Even though we are only three full weeks into the 2016 NFL regular season, many rookies have made a huge impact on the game so far. From quarterbacks to defensive backs, here is who I believe to be the top ten rookies so far this season:
10. Cody Whitehair (C, Chicago Bears): Playing between Pro-Bowlers such as Kyle Long and Josh Sitton is already hard enough, but you need to remember that Whitehair didn’t play as a center throughout his college career at Kansas City. Since his transition, Whitehair currently has the fourth-highest run blocking grade out of all centers in the NFL. While penalties may be an issue, Whitehair has had a strong start to his NFL career with the Bears.
9. DeForest Buckner (DE, San Francisco 49ers): While Buckner may not be as great as other NFL defensive linemen, he is currently the top rated rookie defensive lineman. With 6 QB rushes and 3 run-stops, Buckner has room to improve throughout his time with the 49ers, but many are confident in his potential to be an all-around great player.
8. Jalen Ramsey (DB, Jacksonville Jaguars): Drafted at #5 in the 2016 NFL Draft, a lot of pressure was on Ramsey to help the Jaguars when it came to pass defense. Just last weekend, Ramsey was able to contain the Ravens on 2.5 yards per target, as well as 3 defensive stops on the day. With his efforts in the first three weeks, Ramsey has been able to secure himself a slot in the top-15 rated cornerbacks in the NFL (according to PFF).
7. Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Dallas Cowboys): Possibly going into week one in the NFL as the most hyped player around, Elliott’s performances in the first two weeks were underwhelming to say the least. On the other hand, his debut against Chicago proved to be a statement game, as he was able to rack up 140 rushing yards on 30 carries, showing he has the potential to be an elite back in this league. If Dallas can continue to provide holes for Elliott to get through, he could come away with the rushing title by default.
6. Will Fuller (WR, Houston Texans): Fuller was my clear-cut favorite receiver going into this draft, and he has proved exactly why. Currently 14th in receiving yards in the NFL, Fuller has been able to post 100+ games in week one as well as week two. With him being utilized as the slot man, Fuller is poised to most likely finish around #20-25 for most receiving yards by the end of 2016.
5. Su’a Cravens (LB, Washington Redskins): This wasn’t a guy many expected to accel in the NFL, seeing that he was drafted #22 in the second round of the draft. Finishing week three with a game-ending interception against the Giants, Cravens has proven to be an above-average starting linebacker in the league. If he continues this level of play, don’t be surprised if he is in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
4. Jack Conklin (RT, Tennessee Titans): This is another underrated name on the list, but Conklin is without a doubt one of the best starting tackles in the NFL right now. I know it’s still early, but his level of play is higher than most expected. Only allowing 5 total QB pressures in the first three weeks of the season has earned Conklin the second-highest grade of any OT in the game right now. Compared to other rookies? Conklin is heads and shoulders above any other offensive lineman statistically speaking, including Stanley, Tunsil, etc.
3. Sterling Shepard (WR, New York Giants): Shepard is explosive to say the least, even maybe more explosive than Fuller is. Besides that, he actually is one of the most efficient receivers on the Giants roster. On 84.2% of targets to Shepard from Eli Manning, he has been to come down with it. Not only is that a great trait to have, but it’s even elite in a sense. With Victor Cruz set to retire in the near future, don’t be surprised if the combination of Beckham Jr and Shepard become one of the best in the NFL someday.
2. Dak Prescott (QB, Dallas Cowboys): As much as I want to put Prescott at #1, I just can’t do that quite yet. While he does have the traits of an above-average quarterback in the NFL (such as pocket control, QBR, ability to read defenses), I am still waiting for him to have that one big game where he can throw multiple touchdowns. Dallas has struggled to convert touchdowns within the red zone, but that is the only flaw I see in Prescott’s game right now.
1. Carson Wentz (QB, Philadelphia Eagles): Many are quick to jump the gun on “Wentz for MVP” or “Wentz is Brett Favre”, so let’s take this back a step. I love the game that Wentz has played so far, but I am eager to see what he can do against defenses such as Minnesota, Carolina, Arizona (really any elite defense in the NFC). His completion rate is the highest in the NFL, and he is currently one of three quarterbacks to start all three games in 2016 and not throw an interception.