NFL News & Analysis

Highest graded NFL rookies at every position: Defense

Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Jack Jones (13) celebrates during the first half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

  • Highest-graded rookie defender: New England Patriots CB Jack Jones has been the highest-graded rookie defender thus far with an outstanding 87.1 overall grade, which is also the best overall grade among all NFL CBs.
  • Run defense powers Jordan Davis to best grade among rookie IDL: The Philadelphia Eagles rookie interior defender has been impressive against the run, posting a 77.7 run-defense grade en route to best overall grade among all rookie IDL.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

In the NFL, rookies come in and make an instant impact every season, and this year is no different. After eight weeks of the regular season, we’re dipping into PFF's premium stats database to identify the young stars at each position (min. 100 snaps). Here’s a look at the defense.

Defensive Interior: Jordan Davis, Philadelphia Eagles

PFF Grade: 78.4

The Eagles put Davis on injured reserve this week after an impressive start to his NFL career. The former Georgia Bulldog has been as advertised as a run defender, producing a 77.7 PFF run defense grade that ranks seventh among interior defenders who played at least 50 snaps against the run. He has also flashed as a pass-rusher, racking up four pressures against the Washington Commanders in Week 3.

Edge Defender: Sam Williams, Dallas Cowboys

PFF Grade: 80.2

A second-round draft pick out of Ole Miss, Williams has come on strong as a rotational player for the Cowboys over the past three weeks. After registering three pressures from 30 pass-rushing snaps over the first four weeks of the season, he has racked up six pressures, including two sacks, from 29 pass-rushing snaps in Weeks 5-7.

Linebacker: Malcolm Rodriguez, Detroit Lions

PFF Grade: 62.8

Rodriguez has stepped right in as a starter for the Lions as a sixth-round rookie out of Oklahoma State, as he is the NFL's highest-graded rookie linebacker thus far this season. Over his first four NFL games, he produced a 73.0-plus PFF grade in three games. The past three games have been tougher, as he's notched sub-60.0 PFF grades in all three, but the encouraging signs from the start of the season should give fans confidence that he can be a multi-year starter in the NFL.

Cornerback: Jack Jones, New England Patriots

PFF Grade: 87.4

Cornerback is a position where five rookies have produced 70.0-plus PFF grades, but Jones just edges out Sauce Gardner for the top spot so far this season. Over 169 snaps in coverage, he has allowed just 14 receptions and no touchdowns while coming away with two pass breakups and two interceptions. He has played a little over half as many snaps as Gardner though, so he will need to keep up the impressive play to hold onto the top spot.

Safety: Kyle Hamilton, Baltimore Ravens

PFF Grade: 77.5

As the 14th overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, Hamilton hasn’t been a Ravens starter, but he has played 20-plus snaps in five of eight games, improving as the season has gone on. After missing two tackles in the season opener against the New York Jets, he has missed just one over the next seven games. He's shown plenty of versatility, as impressed in slot coverage against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, allowing just two receptions from 31 snaps in coverage.  


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