News & Analysis

NFL Rookie Rankings: 10 highest-graded rookies through Week 5

Sep 27, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool (11) warms up before playing the Houston Texans at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

This week's rookie ranking saw a previously unranked Day 2 pick skyrocket all the way up into the top three but also had two premier top-five picks take considerable slides down after poor outings in Week 5. With the help of Premium Stats 2.0, we present to you the highest-graded rookies in the NFL through Week 5 of the 2020 NFL season.

[Editor's Note: PFF's advanced statistics and player grades are powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.]

1. G MICHAEL ONWENU, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Over the first couple of weeks, Onwenu saw a good chunk of his snaps come in either jumbo sets or at right tackle, and he more than held his own, earning a 78.0 PFF grade over 51 snaps in that span. Onwenu then got the start at left guard in Week 3 and had himself a day, ending the game with an 86.7 PFF grade. He allowed just one hurry across 32 pass-blocking snaps and was a people-mover for the Patriots' rushing attack, generating an 83.6 run-blocking grade across his 37 snaps as a run-blocker.

He then got the start at right guard against the Chiefs in Week 4 and had an even better game. He finished the night with a PFF grade of 91.3, producing top-five marks among guards in Week 4 in both run-blocking (87.3) and pass-blocking grade (88.8). This not only gives him the highest PFF season grade by a rookie this year; it also gives him the second-highest PFF grade among all linemen.

2. WR JUSTIN JEFFERSON, MINNESOTA VIKINGS

After back-to-back weeks of leading the NFL in PFF receiving grade, Jefferson fell slightly back to earth in Week 5 in Seattle. He earned just a 55.5 receiving grade for the game as he caught three of his five targets for just 23 yards, with one of those incompletions being a drop (the other was an interception that was Kirk Cousins’ fault). The Minnesota offense was extremely conservative in the first half of action against the Seahawks, and when it became do-or-die time in the second half, Cousins repeatedly went to top receiver Adam Thielen. Jefferson and the Vikings have to be licking their chops at their Week 6 matchup, though, as they get to face one of the worst secondaries in the NFL in the Atlanta Falcons.

3. WR CHASE CLAYPOOL, PITTSBURGH STEELERS

After showing flashes of what he could become in the first three weeks of his rookie campaign, Claypool finally got the targets he deserved in Week 5 and had a career day. The second-round rookie earned a 90.0 PFF grade for the game, busting off 110 yards and three scores on seven catches and 11 targets. On top of that, he added another touchdown on the ground. Claypool burnt this Eagles defense on numerous occasions, as shown below on this slant when he spun Jalen Mills around on the release for an easy wide-open ball and took it to the house.

Claypool has picked up 3.53 yards per route run through the first five weeks of play, second among qualifying players at his position. In total, he has a league-leading three touchdowns of 30-plus yards — the rest of the rookie class combined has combined for four. There were 10 wide receivers already off the board by the time Claypool was selected at No. 49, and though it’s extremely early to say definitively, Claypool is looking like a steal.

4. WR LAVISKA SHENAULT JR., JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Shenault is coming off back-to-back strong showings against Cincinnati in Week 4 and then Houston in Week 5 that each ended in a PFF grade north of 80.0. He’s shown off his ability to plow through contact and shed tackles in those two games, with an NFL-high five broken tackles, the third-most yards after the catch per reception (8.4) and the fifth-most receiving yards after contact (31).

Overall on the season, Shenault has produced an 81.3 receiving grade that ranks 11th among 87 qualifying wide receivers. He has twice the amount of explosive 15-plus-yard receptions than any other receiver on his team (eight), despite having the lowest average depth of target by nearly two and a half yards (7.3). Shenault hasn’t had a breakout game like Jefferson or Claypool, but he is steadily putting up solid numbers and is still very much in the race for being the top rookie wide receiver of 2020.

5. RB JAMES ROBINSON, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Receiving was far from Robinson’s greatest strength at Illinois State, but he is thriving on that front in his pass-game-heavy workload in Jacksonville. He didn’t produce any big plays in that facet last week, as the longest reception on his five catches went for 7 yards, but he has over the course of the season. The once UDFA has earned the sixth-best receiving grade among qualifying running backs at 78.6, and he is tied for third in broken tackles after the catch with eight.

In Week 5, Robinson notched at least two explosive rushes of 10 or more yards for the fifth straight week. He’s the only running back in the NFL this year to play in all five games and produce multiple explosive rushes in every single one. That’s helped him earn the sixth-best rushing grade at the position at 76.3.

6. G DAMIEN LEWIS, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Lewis went back to his old ways in Week 5; he once again gave us a subpar performance in pass protection but impacted the run game. He had a couple of ugly losses when trying to keep Russell Wilson free from pressure en route to a 61.4 pass-block grade for the game. This takes his single-season pass-block grade to 52.9, 54th of 71 qualifying guards. However, Lewis posted his third single game run-blocking grade above 80.0, bringing his season grade in that facet to 87.8 — the fifth-best at the position and over nine grading points higher than sixth. Overall, Lewis ranks ninth in negatively graded run block rate and third in positively graded run block rate.

7. RB ANTONIO GIBSON, WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM

The dynamic Gibson showed off his elusiveness once again in Week 5 with three broken tackles on his five catches, securing his standing as the NFL's highest-graded receiving back over the last two weeks. Overall on the year, Gibson has averaged 10.6 yards after the catch, the second-best among 34 qualifying backs. Gibson did have his worst rushing performance of his short career last week, though, earning a 58.8 rushing grade and averaging just 2.5 yards per attempt. That made him a faller from last week’s rankings, and it won’t get much easier in Week 6 against a New York Giants defensive front that has allowed the fifth-fewest yards per rush this year at 3.7.

8. QB JOE BURROW, CINCINNATI BENGALS

Burrow was producing at an incredible level in the first quarter of the 2020 NFL season. Despite the impacted offseason, no preseason reps and the horrid offensive line he’s playing behind, Burrow managed to post the seventh-best passing grade through Week 4.

He had to face his toughest test yet in Week 5 against the Baltimore Ravens, and it truly could not have gone much worse. The 2020 first overall pick was playing under pressure for most of the game and produced a lowly 42.7 passing grade.

Wink Martindale had the Ravens defense blitz on 59% of his dropbacks, and they generated pressure on 51% of his dropbacks. Burrow took far too many sacks (seven) and had three turnover-worthy plays under duress, resulting in a pressured-passing grade of 22.3. Burrow didn’t look all that bad from a clean pocket, though. He had the ninth-best clean-pocket passing grade of the week and the highest rate of accurate passes thrown when the pass rush was kept at bay. It was a “welcome to the NFL” game if I have ever seen one.

9. S ANTOINE WINFIELD JR., TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Winfield was flying high on this list over the first three weeks of the season, but a bad game in Week 4 against the Chargers (36.4 PFF grade) caused him to fall out of the top 10. The safety came back in Week 5 and had the best game of his young career from a grading perspective. It was really a mistake-free night for Winfield, who recorded a 78.9 PFF grade for the game and had a nice pass breakup on third down early in the second quarter to prevent the Bears from driving deeper into scoring territory.

10. WR CEEDEE LAMB, DALLAS COWBOYS

Lamb had put up impressive box score numbers leading up to his Week 5 matchup against the Giants but had yet to put together that breakout game from a grading perspective. That changed on Sunday, as he recorded a 91.0 PFF grade; he earned PFF Team of the Week honors as well as the PFF Rookie of the Week Award. Lamb constantly found soft spots in the Giants' zone coverage, resulting in open targets and multiple big gains. Lamb caught all six of his targets for 93 yards on such plays, and three of those six were an explosive play of 15-plus yards.

Along with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, Lamb should make life much easier on Andy Dalton, who is now the starter for the remainder of the season following the gruesome injury Dak Prescott suffered on Sunday.

Know tomorrow, today. Western Southern Financial Group.
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