News & Analysis

Top 10 highest-graded rookies through Week 16

With the 2019 season drawing to a close and the festivities winding down, it's almost time to name our rookies of the year.

PFF watches and grades every player on every play of the NFL season, so we are uniquely placed to cast a critical eye on the performance of every rookie and evaluate where they sit in the landscape.

Here are the top 10 rookies in the NFL this season after Week 16, according to PFF grades.

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1. Edge Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers

No rookie has hit the ground running like Nick Bosa. Continuing the trend his brother started in 2016, the former Ohio State Buckeye has picked up in the NFL where he left off in college — terrorizing pass blockers on a weekly basis. With 69 total pressures, Bosa already has the most we have ever seen from a rookie in a single season, topping the 64 Aldon Smith registered back in 2011, and he has been a force against the run, as well. The Bosa brothers now own two of the top-four single-season rookie pressure totals in PFF history, and Nick still has another game to push his total even higher.

Most pressures in a single season by a rookie edge defender (2006-2019)
Name Season Team Total pressures
Nick Bosa 2019 49ers 69
Aldon Smith 2011 49ers 64
Von Miller 2011 Broncos 60
Carl Lawson 2017 Bengals 59
Joey Bosa 2016 Chargers 59

2. RB Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders

Ironically, with the analytics community pushing to make running backs less and less consequential, Josh Jacobs has had one of the best rookie years at the position in a long time. Jacobs has the fourth-highest grade we have ever given to a rookie running back and has broken more tackles on the ground (69) than any other rookie since 2006. He’s done that while only fumbling once and averaging 3.5 yards after contact per carry. In an ideal world, he would be a bigger factor in their pass game — particularly given his tape at Alabama — but it’s hard to argue with what he has done on the field, especially when you consider that he's battled injuries for much of the year.

3. WR Terry McLaurin, Washington Redskins

Few receivers have surprised more than Terry McLaurin, a receiver who was overlooked at Ohio State thanks in large part to the offense that they run. McLaurin has produced a spectacular highlight reel in his rookie season and has been one of the most efficient receivers in football (12th in yards per route run), despite dealing with a rookie quarterback — who is going through his own growing pains — and little help on offense to take the attention away from him. McLaurin’s ceiling looks to be spectacularly high, and he currently sits as the sixth-highest graded wideout overall.

4. WR A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans

After a slower start to the season than McLaurin, A.J. Brown has been one of the best receivers in football since Ryan Tannehill took over at quarterback. Since Week 7, Brown has a top-five PFF grade among all wideouts and is third in yards per route run. He has been devastating after the catch, in particular, breaking 11 tackles in the last nine weeks, but he has also demonstrated excellent hands and route running. Brown has only four drops this season — and just one since Tannehill became the quarterback — and if anything, he has been getting stronger as the weeks go by, with three of his four best games coming in the past five outings.

Most yards per route run since Week 7 (min. 200 receiving snaps)
Rank Name Team YPRR
1 Michael Thomas Saints 3.03
2 Julio Jones Falcons 2.95
3 A.J. Brown Titans 2.71
4 Mike Evans Buccaneers 2.65
5 Stefon Diggs Vikings 2.57

5. DI Dexter Lawrence, New York Giants

Many questioned the value of Dave Gettleman’s draft choices for the Giants this past offseason, but so far, it’s been hard to argue with their production on the field. While quarterback Daniel Jones has shown promise at times, Dexter Lawrence has been the standout rookie performer in PFF grading terms for the Giants' rookie class. Lawrence — as might be expected for somebody weighing in at 342 pounds — has been a force against the run, but critically, he has also been able to contribute as a pass-rusher. He is tied for the league lead among rookie interior defenders with 30 total pressures and has the second-most snaps played of the group (661).

6. LB Bobby Okereke, Indianapolis Colts

The Colts look to have struck on an athletic mid-round linebacker for the second time in as many seasons, with Bobby Okereke backing up the spectacular rookie season from Darius Leonard a season ago. Okereke has by far the best coverage grade of any rookie linebacker — the most valuable and arguably the toughest facet of play to master — and he has solid grades across the board in all other areas. Okereke has yet to be beaten for a pass longer than 24 yards.

7. C Erik McCoy, New Orleans Saints

Center is arguably the toughest position on the offensive line for a rookie to come in and play well right away. That's not necessarily because it is the hardest technique-wise to play, but because centers are typically responsible for making the line calls and organizing the blocking in tandem with the quarterback. Many quality centers have to get their feet wet playing guard in their first year before moving inside, but Erik McCoy has been playing exceptionally well at his natural position all season — he has surrendered just one sack all year.

8. WR Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens

The Lamar Jackson-to-Marquise Brown connection hasn’t been quite as devastating as it looked like it might be early in the season, but the threat of it affects every game, whether they connect or not. When the pass comes Brown’s way, he is producing a passer rating of 135.0, and his deep speed scares defenses into opening up passes to other receivers underneath.

9. S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, New Orleans Saints

The Saints' rookie defensive back has been playing well enough in his rookie year that Patrick Robinson has barely seen the field. Gardner-Johnson has split time between safety and manning the slot, and when covering receivers inside, he has allowed just 158 yards on 26 targets. Though he has only one interception so far, he has six pass breakups and been an almost constant factor at the catch point.

10. WR Darius Slayton, New York Giants

As one of the least-heralded names in the Giants' wide receiver room, Darius Slayton has been quietly getting open all season long and been a big reason why Daniel Jones has still had production despite his receivers constantly going down hurt. Slayton has generated a passer rating of 114.2 this year, and he's been the player responsible for carrying that receiving group for much of the season.

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