NFL News & Analysis

NFL Rookies: Top 15 highest-graded players through Week 18

Denver, Colorado, USA; Kansas City Chiefs center Creed Humphrey (52) at the line of scrimmage in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With the regular season finished, it’s time to hand out awards like an Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year. While this isn’t technically that article, this is who PFF charted as the highest-graded rookies from a special 2021 draft class.

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1. C Creed Humphrey, Kansas City Chiefs

PFF overall grade: 91.4

Humphrey took the top spot on this list very early on and never relinquished his position. He finished as far and away the highest-graded center in the NFL. His 91.4 overall grade is bounds better than second place's Corey Linsley at 85.8. We’ve never seen a higher-graded rookie center in our 15 years of grading.

2. LB Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys

PFF overall grade: 88.5

It’s official, Parsons earned the highest pass-rushing grade of any defender in the NFL as a rookie at 93.0. I don’t have to tell you how unheard of that is. A rookie hasn’t gotten a single defensive player of the year vote this millennium, but I think that changes with Parsons.

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3. S Jevon Holland, Miami Dolphins

PFF overall grade: 84.6

It was a Derwin James-esque rookie campaign for Holland after opting out last season. By that, I mean he finished his first year, and there’s no doubt in anyone that watched him’s mind that he’s a top-five safety in the league. In fact, he finished his rookie season with the third-highest overall grade at the position.

4. T Rashawn Slater, Los Angeles Chargers

PFF overall grade: 83.7

Offensive tackles aren’t supposed to come in as NFL-ready as Slater was this season. He finished as the highest-graded rookie tackle we’ve seen since 2009. We all should have seen it coming after the rookie clamped Joey Bosa in one-on-ones during training camp.

5. WR Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

PFF overall grade: 83.1

Chase here makes it four opt-outs among the five highest-graded rookies this season. He showed no rust and immediately established himself as one of the most adept big-play threats in the NFL. His 576 deep receiving yards were the second-most of any player in the league, while his eight deep touchdowns led the NFL.

6. TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons

PFF overall grade: 80.0

He didn’t break the rookie record, but Pitts still became only the second tight end in NFL history to go over 1,000 yards as a rookie. The fact that some are disappointed by his production shows just how insanely talented Pitts was as a prospect. The sky is the limit for Pitts, who turned just 21 in October.

7. WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions

PFF overall grade: 79.9

The Lions found something special at the top of the fourth round. St. Brown finished the season hotter than any rookie in NFL history, racking up 51 catches for 560 yards and five scores in his final six games. That’s a good starting point for the receiving corps going forward.

8. QB Mac Jones, New England Patriots

PFF overall grade: 79.3

After a strong start to the season, Jones has looked off as of late. After Week 11, it looked like he could challenge for the rookie overall grade record at the position, but he then put up five of his six lowest-graded passing performances to close out the season. Still, there was still a lot more good than bad on Jones’ tape this season.

9. CB Nate Hobbs, Las Vegas Raiders

PFF overall grade: 78.4

Hobbs was quite easily the best slot corner in the rookie class, He showed very few weaknesses this season. After playing outside corner at Illinois, he came to the Raiders and earned a 78.8 run-defense grade and 75.8 coverage grade.

10. WR Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins

PFF overall grade: 78.3

Six touchdowns, 1,015 yards, 104 catches to break the rookie record. What a first season for the sixth overall pick out of Alabama. Miami paid a hefty price to get him, but he looks like a home run already.

11. T Penei Sewell, Detroit Lions

PFF overall grade: 77.4

Sewell turned around what looked like a nightmare into potentially one of the best offensive lines in the NFL in 2022. Through the first five weeks, he had a 59.1 overall grade. Over the final 13 weeks, he earned an 84.4 overall grade and was the ninth-highest graded tackle in the NFL.

12. WR DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles

PFF overall grade: 77.1

The 2020 Heisman winner fell just short of 1,000 yards with 64 catches for 916 yards, but it’s hard to look at his rookie season as anything other than a success. He still can get open seemingly at will, though the fact he went 11-of -27 in contested scenarios verifies pre-draft weight concerns to a degree.

13. RB Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos

PFF overall grade: 75.9

Williams finished his rookie campaign with 63 broken tackles on only 203 attempts. That was the second-most broken tackles in the league behind only Jonathan Taylor. Even splitting time, Williams finished with the 13th-most rushing yards in the league.

14. RT Sam Cosmi, Washington Football Team

PFF overall grade: 74.9

It was only nine games, but that was more than enough to feel excited about the future of this newfound tackle duo. Cosmi finished with 16 pressures allowed on 282 pass-blocking snaps this season.

15. LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Cleveland Browns

PFF overall grade: 74.4

I firmly believe there are a couple of teams that drafted linebackers in the first round that would like Owusu-Koramoah more if they had a do-over. His range and recognition are off the charts for a rookie. On 35 targets this season, he allowed just 168 yards.

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