As we near the midpoint of the 2021 NFL season, more than a couple of first-year players have started to develop into legitimate stars. The NFL looks to have gotten it very correct at the skill positions this year, with tight end Kyle Pitts and receiver Ja’Marr Chase both on pace to shatter the rookie receiving records for their respective positions. The race for Rookie of the Year starts with those two.
Here are PFF's highest-graded rookies through NFL Week 7.
Click here for more PFF tools:
1. TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
PFF overall grade: 85.2
Pitts already has more yards through his first six games than any tight end in NFL history, with 471. He’s seen his inline usage drop significantly in recent weeks as Atlanta is finally coming around to the idea of him as an X receiver. Pitts has only played 20 snaps inline the past two games and has responded with back-to-back 100-yard outings.
Most 15+ yd receptions by a rookie in a game vs press coverage on the outside in the last decade (per @PFF)
t1. Kyle Pitts, Falcons (2021 W7) – 4
t1. Ja'Marr Chase, Falcons (2021 W7) – 4
3. 11 tied w/ 3pic.twitter.com/DpnpQ5BtoT
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) October 25, 2021
2. RB Khalil Herbert, Chicago Bears
PFF overall grade: 84.4
It’s on a smaller sample size, so Herbert doesn’t quite compare to the other guys in the top five, but there’s no denying that he’s been one of the best in the NFL since he took over as the Bears' lead back in Week 5. Over that span, Herbert has averaged 3.3 yards after contact per attempt and 4.9 total yards per attempt. This past week he went for 100 yards against the vaunted Tampa Bay Buccaneers run defense.
PFF overall grade: 84.4
While the Chiefs' tackles have struggled, the interior has been solid as can be. Humphrey is a big reason why. He’s already the second-highest-graded run-blocking center in the NFL, with a 91.0 grade in that regard.
4. WR Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals
PFF overall grade: 83.5
In a season of stellar performances, Sunday was Chase’s magnum opus. Eight catches, 201 yards, a touchdown. Five catches and 165 yards came against one of the league’s best corners in Marlon Humphrey. He’s on pace to shatter the rookie receiving yards record, with 754 yards and six scores so far.
One move and Ja’Marr Chase was GONE ????
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 24, 2021
5. QB Mac Jones, New England Patriots
PFF overall grade: 82.5
Jones has done exceptionally well at avoiding the quintessential “rookie” games so far. He’s earned just one game grade below 65.0 in seven starts, and even that was a middling 58.5 back in Week 2 against the Jets. He improved on that performance the second time around with a stellar 81.8 in a win over New York this past weekend.
MAC JONES SAID NOT SO FAST. #ForeverNE
— NFL (@NFL) October 17, 2021
PFF overall grade: 81.1
It’s a shame we may not see Owusu-Koramoah for a couple more weeks because he quickly put together one of the best highlight reels of anyone at the position. He’s earned above-average grades in both run defense and coverage so far despite playing pretty much a brand new position from the one he played at Notre Dame.
The trust that JOK has in his 2i to crash both A gaps from the back side so that he can fall back two gaps and fill. ???? pic.twitter.com/RnQW0HtDjc
— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) October 21, 2021
7. LB Zaven Collins, Arizona Cardinals
PFF overall grade: 80.6
Even though Collins is still a part-time player, he’s making his presence felt on limited snaps. He’s yet to get exposed in coverage, as he's given up just two catches for 18 yards from five targets so far.
8. CB Nate Hobbs, Las Vegas Raiders
PFF overall grade: 78.6
It was a goose egg for Hobbs against the Eagles on Sunday. On 40 coverage snaps, he wasn't targeted a single time in the Raiders win. The fifth-rounder has now allowed only 153 yards on 255 coverage snaps.
9. LB Pete Werner, New Orleans Saints
PFF overall grade: 78.3
The Saints have curated one of the league’s most physical off-ball linebacker duos in Werner and Demario Davis. That showed on Monday night. While Werner may have missed his first tackle of the game, he also made three stops on the day.
10. WR Kadarius Toney, New York Giants
PFF overall grade: 77.0
The New York Giants offense desperately needs Toney’s ankle to get right because they are a different unit when he’s healthy. Even in the game against the Rams, when he got hurt, Toney caught three balls for 36 yards — he was on the field for only five pass plays.
the bend of Kadarius Toney pic.twitter.com/g9be3uJKhP
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) October 18, 2021
11. G Trey Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
PFF overall grade: 76.6
The highest-graded rookie guard in the NFL so far was somehow a sixth-rounder. While medical issues may very well have caused his fall, a lot of teams have to be kicking themselves, given the way he’s started this season.
11. WR Rondale Moore, Arizona Cardinals
PFF overall grade: 76.6
He’s not a starter for the Cardinals, but his addition has certainly made a massive impact on this offense. The dynamism he brings to the table in the screen game and the speed to push vertical are both things this offense didn’t have a year ago. He’s now broken 10 tackles on only 26 receptions.
— Arizona Sports Fan (@SportsAzFan) October 24, 2021
13. Edge Kwity Paye, Indianapolis Colts
PFF overall grade: 76.1
The Colts defense can’t afford to have Paye out of the starting lineup again. He’s already proved to be one of the only edge rushers on that roster capable of winning one-on-ones. This past week against the 49ers, he racked up three hurries as well as three run stops.
PFF overall grade: 76.0
Slater had a bye this week, but no one was catching him for the title of best pass-protecting rookie tackle in the NFL. He’s allowed one or fewer pressures in four of his six starts so far and proven to be exactly what the Chargers' offense needed.
15. TE Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers
PFF overall grade: 73.8
Freiermuth has been pretty much exactly what he was billed as coming out of Penn State — not the most athletic tight end in the world but certainly one of the most reliable. He’s hauled in 90% of his targets so far this season, the highest rate for any tight end with at least 20 targets.