We are officially a quarter of the way through the 2019 season, which means the Rookie of the Year watch is starting to take form. We here at PFF grade every player on every play of every game. Thus, our player grades are a real indicator of who is really deserving and likely to take home the prestigious award. Without further ado, we give you the NFL’s highest-graded rookies through Week 4, in descending order.
10. G Dalton Risner, Denver Broncos — 69.3
Through the use of PFF’s comprehensive database, PFF Data Scientists Eric Eager and George Chahrouri found Dalton Risner to be one of the safest picks in the NFL Draft. So far, Risner has proved PFF right with not only being Denver’s highest-graded lineman, but also the NFL’s highest-graded rookie offensive lineman through the first quarter of the year. As a left guard, Risner is currently ninth in PFF overall grade and has yet to allow a sack on his 170 pass-block snaps.
9. EDGE Josh Allen, Jacksonville Jaguars — 69.7
As a guy that almost quit football numerous times early in his career, Jaguars' seventh overall pick Josh Allen has proved his doubters wrong by being one of PFF’s top rookies so far. Among qualifying edge rushers, Allen currently ranks 16thin pass-rush grade (73.5), 16th in pass-rush win rate (19.2%) and 20th in total pressures generated (15). Allen didn’t have the best performance in Week 4, with zero pressures on his 23 pass-rushes, but his Week 3 showing against Tennessee — where he recorded an 82.7 overall grade, six pressures and a strip-sack fumble — has us all thirsty for more.
8. WR Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens — 70.1
The former Oklahoma Sooner and now Baltimore Raven, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has been far and away quarterback Lamar Jackson’s go-to wide receiver with receiving 19 more targets than any other Ravens wideout (30 total, Willie Snead IV is second with 11). While he is coming off his worst performance of the year against the Browns (48.2 PFF grade and two drops), Hollywood has shown plenty that he is one of the league’s top rookies by ranking tied for fourth in broken tackles (five), tied for 21st in explosive plays (six) and ninth in yards per route run (2.45).
7. WR A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans — 71.2
After a Week 1 showing that resulted in an 86.9 PFF grade and left PFF Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner calling him a number one wide receiver in the NFL, A.J. Brown topped that with a 91.4 overall grade against the Falcons in Week 4. Through four weeks of play, there may not be a more explosive receiver in the league than Brown — he is averaging 11.1 yards after catch per reception (second), a broken tackle on 30% of his catches (fourth) and an explosive play (15-plus yards) on 40% of his catches (16th). Along with that, Brown’s production on a per-route basis has been insane with 2.72 yards per route run (fourth among qualifying wide receivers), yet he has only run 82 routes on the year (tied for 82nd among WRs).
Tennessee… GIVE US MORE A.J.
6. WR Preston Williams, Miami Dolphins — 71.3
The only positive on Miami’s offense thus far in 2019 has been undrafted rookie Preston Williams, who is responsible for over 25% of Miami’s first downs/touchdowns receiving. Williams doesn’t get a lot of separation, but that’s okay since he's the sixth highest-graded wide receiver with tight separation at 80.2. With six explosive plays receiving, Williams possesses what every team wants: big playmaking ability. If Miami can just get an accurate quarterback, Williams' name will be heard far more than it is now.
5. QB Gardner Minshew II, Jacksonville Jaguars — 76.0
Where do we begin with the man, the myth, the legend Gardner Minshew? The former Mike Leach prodigy has been torching the NFL through the first quarter of his rookie campaign with six big-time throws and a top-10 overall grade among qualifying quarterbacks. On throws 10-plus yards downfield, there hasn’t been a better quarterback than the Uncle Rico lookalike himself with a 93.8 passing grade. Along with being the top dog in PFF grade on those throws, Minshew has limited turnover-worthy plays better than anyone else, with zero. After his game-winning drive in Denver this past week, Minshew is not only getting his name into the Rookie of the Year conversation but is also stirring up some quarterback controversy for when Nick Foles returns from his injury.
4. DI Dexter Lawrence, New York Giants – 77.6
After a rather inefficient Week 1 when he recorded not a single pressure, Lawrence has gathered three pressures in each of his last three games. Over the course of the last three weeks of play, Lawrence ranks 13th among interior defensive linemen in PFF grade and second in pressure rate at 17.3%, trailing only Calais Campbell. The Giants sixth-overall pick Daniel Jones may be garnering more attention from the media, but New York’s 17th overall pick (Lawrence) should be getting more as PFF’s fourth highest-graded rookie.
3. EDGE Brian Burns, Carolina Panthers — 78.4
We heard the names of Nick Bosa and Josh Allen all throughout the draft process, but one that got pushed to the backburner was 16th overall pick Brian Burns. Not only does he outrank those two in PFF grade, but he also outranks a majority of the NFL’s edge rushers as he is currently 14th. Burns has produced an impressive 15.8% pressure rate thus far (15th) and the second most hits and sacks with nine. Week-after-week, Burns has made the opposing offensive tackles' job far more difficult than they could imagine — and it won’t stop in Week 5 against the Jaguars as he tries to shutdown Minsh-a-palooza.
2. RB Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders – 82.2
Jacobs is the only one of Oakland’s three first-round picks to have seen success at the NFL level (4th overall pick Clelin Ferrell is currently the third-worst graded edge rusher at 47.4 and 27th overall pick Johnathan Abram was put on IR after a 42.1 overall grade debut in Week 1). Jacobs has shown to be one of the more elusive backs in the NFL, with eight broken tackles in Week 4 in Indianapolis, bringing his broken tackles per attempt total to 0.29, which is the second-best mark among running backs. In addition, Jacobs has been lethal when bulldozing his way at or between the guards averaging 5.7 yards per carry and ranking first in PFF rushing grade.
1. WR Terry McLaurin, Washington Redskins — 82.9
PFF favorite Terry McLaurin, as preached on PFF’s new 2 for 1 Drafts Podcast with PFF’s Lead Editor Austin Gayle and Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner, remains as PFF’s highest-graded rookie after sitting out Week 4 due to injury. As the seventh highest-graded wide receiver overall, McLaurin generated a superb 141.8 passer rating when targeted. In a rather depleted offense, McLaurin has been a star for the Redskins each week he has played, with six explosive plays, 2.16 yards per route run and three contested catches. Heading into the season, PFF’s Ben Linsey listed the one thing all 32 teams needed to improve in 2019. For Washington, they needed to enhance their deep passing game. McLaurin is currently the NFL’s highest-graded receiver on throws of 20-plus air yards. Needless to say, it seems like they found their guy to help them improve in this area.