News & Analysis

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

Nov 8, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) makes a catch as Detroit Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye (24) defends him during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Week 10 was a week to forget for most of the league's top-performing rookies. The quarterbacks didn’t play well, a top defensive rookie knocked himself off the list altogether with the worst game of his career and the entire list is now occupied by one side of the ball. So, there was quite a bit of shuffling from last week’s rookie rankings after Week 10.

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With the help of Premium Stats 2.0, we present to you the 10 highest-graded rookies in the NFL through Week 10 of the 2020 NFL season.

1. WR JUSTIN JEFFERSON, MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Not only is Jefferson the highest-graded rookie after Week 10’s edition of Monday Night Football, but he put together a performance that firmly has him in the No. 2 spot in PFF grade at the position. He trails only Davante Adams and is three grading points above third place on the list.

We were looking forward to seeing the rookie-versus-rookie matchup between Jefferson and Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson, and it’s safe to say that the wide receiver was the one to win that battle. Jefferson caught 4-of-5 targets for 87 yards when working against Johnson on Monday night.

Jefferson may still trail Adams in PFF grade, but this week he did overtake him in our yards per route run metric. The 22nd overall pick has now come away with 3.23 yards per route run this year, leading the NFL and on pace to shatter the previous rookie record in the PFF era (2.80).

2. OL MICHAEL ONWENU, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

After a couple of strong outings in pass protection against the Bills and Jets in Week 8 and Week 9, respectively, Onwenu had the worst game of the season in that facet on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. He got beaten badly by Matthew Judon for a sack early in the game, and that came on one of just four true pass sets on the night. And while Onwenu did have a good enough night as a part of the New England ground game to sustain his elite run-blocking grade — which now sits at 90.0 — it still wasn’t one of those dominant games that we have seen from him this year.

The Patriots' sixth-round rookie will face one of his toughest matchups of the year next week, as he will see a significant number of reps against Houston Texans edge defender J.J. Watt. The future Hall of Famer may be having a bit of a down year by his standards, but Watt still ranks ninth among his peers in PFF overall grade (80.8).

3. WR BRANDON AIYUK, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

The Niners' first-round rookie was far from productive in his first five games in the NFL, generating just 0.94 yards per route run to pair with a 68.7 receiving grade. He's been red-hot as of late, though, raising his yards per route run figure to 2.63 and earning a receiving grade of 87.3 over the last three games, the third-best grade at the position over that span.

Since Week 8, the Arizona State product has torched single coverage when given the opportunity, catching 10-of-12 such targets for 125 yards and two touchdowns. And of those 12 targets, Aiyuk created a step or more of separation on 10 of them.

This three-week stretch of play has skyrocketed Aiyuk up this list, and if he keeps this up, he could challenge either Jefferson or Onwenu for a spot in the top two — spots they have held for most of the campaign.

4. T TRISTAN WIRFS, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Like Aiyuk, Wirfs has shot up this list thanks to his recent play. The Bucs right tackle is coming off two of his three highest-graded games of the season.

Wirfs didn’t have his best outing as a pass-blocker in Week 10 against the Carolina Panthers, but he was exceptional in the run game. His 89.8 run-block grade was his second-best of the season, and it ranks fourth among all qualifying tackles for Week 10.

Despite the so-so pass-blocking this week, the first-rounder still ranks seventh among all right tackles in pass-block grade for the season at 77.7. Next week, Wirfs and the Buccaneers take on the Los Angeles Rams and easily the most dominant pass-rusher we have seen here at PFF, Aaron Donald. The rookie is bound to see some matchups against Donald, and if he thought Khalil Mack was tough back in Week 5, wait until he goes up against this freak of nature.

5. RB ANTONIO GIBSON, WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM

Gibson may ring in here at No. 5, but more inconsistent outings will see him slide further down this list. He found minimal success on the ground against the Detroit Lions in Week 10, busting off just one explosive run of 10 or more yards and breaking only one tackle on 13 carries.

Gibson has put on a few incredible performances that have helped carry his rookie campaign, such as back in Week 4 when he recorded a 95.1 receiving grade against Baltimore and in Week 7 when he lit up Dallas on the ground en route to an 89.3 rushing grade.

6. G DAMIEN LEWIS, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Lewis put up a 92.9 PFF grade against the Bills in Week 9, the best performance of his rookie season by far. Unfortunately, he took a big step backward in Week 10, struggling in all facets and finishing the game with an overall grade of 60.8.

He struggled as both a pass-protector and run-blocker against the Rams, earning grades below 60.0 in each of those facets. On 53 pass-block snaps, Lewis allowed five pressures and lost an additional one on top of that. And the crazy thing is that none of these losses came against Aaron Donald — he had 13 matchups with Donald in pass protection and actually kept him in check.

7. QB JOE BURROW, CINCINNATI BENGALS

It wasn’t as bad as his Week 5 performance against Baltimore, but Burrow’s Week 10 outing against Pittsburgh was still fairly poor. It was the second-lowest-graded game of his nine starts at 55.8 and the only time this season where Burrow was wildly inaccurate. According to PFF's ball-charting process, just 39% of his passes were deemed accurate, the second-worst rate of Week 10. Overall, Burrow had 1.5 times as many negatively graded throws as positively graded ones.

Sure, the weather may have played a factor in this to a certain extent, but you can’t blame the poor performance from start to finish on that alone. Considering what we have seen from the first overall pick up until this point, though, a bounceback is likely to be coming sooner rather than later.

8. WR CHASE CLAYPOOL, PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Three fumbles in nine games have taken a hit to Claypool’s grade, but he has still been good enough to land himself inside the top-10 in these rankings so far.

Claypool has been Big Ben’s best friend this year — the two have combined for a 134.3 passer rating so far, the fourth-best mark among qualifying partnerships this season. The 49th overall pick hasn’t been “on fire” in recent weeks — as he was to start the year when he was the sixth-highest-graded wideout through Week 6 — but next week, Claypool will have a prime opportunity to resurrect that top-tier play as he faces a Jacksonville coverage unit that ranks dead last in expected points added (EPA) allowed per pass play.

9. RB JAMES ROBINSON, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

The former UDFA out of Illinois State had himself another strong day on the ground in Week 10 against the Packers. Robinson blew right through contact on more than one occasion, racking up 3.7 yards after contact per attempt on the day. He now has an 81.4 rushing grade on the season that ranks eighth among 46 qualifying running backs.

Robinson has gone M.I.A. in recent weeks on the receiving front, and it’s not going to be easy for him to improve on that in Week 11, as he and the Jags go up against a Steelers defense that leads the league in team defense grade.

10. WR TEE HIGGINS, CINCINNATI BENGALS

Outside of a fumble, Higgins continued to show why he is a valuable weapon in Joe Burrow’s armory. He has been one of the most productive receivers in not just the rookie class but in the entire NFL since Week 4. The second-round rookie has generated 2.55 yards per route run since then, ranking eighth at the position. On top of that, he is tied for first in explosive receptions of 15-plus yards at 15, tied for third in contested catches with 13 and tied for 10th in receiving grade at 81.5.

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