News & Analysis

Top 10 rookies through NFL Week 1

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Quarterback Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks to pass against the Cleveland Browns during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field on September 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

NFL players often get more scrutiny surrounding their performance during their rookie season than in any other year of their career, and for good reason. While substandard play in year one isn’t a death sentence for a player, superstars rarely trip up right out of the gate. With that in mind, I’ll be ranking the top 10 Rookie of the Year candidates after every week of the 2016 NFL season. Note that this list will evolve each week as the sample size for each rookie grows. Here's how things stack up after Week 1:

1. Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles

There are obviously still some issues with his performance, yet Carson Wentz's grade against the Browns is the highest passing grade we’ve assigned to a rookie quarterback in Week 1 since Cam Newton in 2011. The former North Dakota State standout recorded an adjusted completion percentage of 81.3 (fourth-best among QBs) and gained 68.7 percent of his yards through the air in what couldn't have been a more encouraging start to an NFL career.

2. Will Fuller, WR, Texans

Deep. Speed. Will Fuller presented a problem for the Bears' defensive backs when left without safety help, and that’s exactly what the Texans envisioned when they drafted him in the first round. The Notre Dame product had over 100 yards on the day, but could have produced 100 more. He dropped what would have been an 80-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and was badly underthrown in the red zone when he had multiple steps on Chicago cornerback Tracy Porter.

3. Andy Janovich, FB, Broncos

I know the chances of a fullback winning Rookie of the Year ended a few decades ago, but it’s worth giving Janovich his due for as dominant of a performance as you’ll see from a FB in the league today. He was forced to take on Panthers LB Thomas Davis in the hole multiple times, and handily won the interactions between the two.

4. Carl Nassib, DE, Browns

On a defense bereft of many standout performers against the Eagles, Carl Nassib was a welcome alternative. The Penn State product paced the Browns' defense with four pressures, including a sack and a hit. He also added three stops in the run game for an all-around solid first outing.

5. Tajae Sharpe, WR, Titans

Tajae Sharpe’s meteoric rise from fifth-round pick to Marcus Mariota’s favorite target is one of the more astounding storylines of the early 2016 season. Against the Vikings, he led the Titans in targets (11), receptions (seven), and yards (76)—quite the start for the 15th receiver off the board last April.

6. Ryan Kelly, C, Colts

As far as preventative care goes after an injury-plagued 2015, Ryan Kelly seems to be just what the doctor ordered for Andrew Luck. He allowed one lone hurry in 53 pass-blocking snaps against the Lions, as the offensive line had one of their most impressive pass-blocking performances in the Luck era. It's certainly difficult to ask for much more from the rookie.

7. DeForest Buckner, DE, 49ers

No rookie earned a higher pass-rushing grade than Buckner in Week 1. He may have been blanked in the box score, but his four hurries contributed greatly to the 49ers' win. Unfortunately, he missed a tackle in the run game and got taken out of a couple other plays, and that’s why he slips to seventh on this list.

8. Laremy Tunsil, G, Dolphins

Tunsil got a sizable test right off the bat with the Seahawks' defensive line, and he delivered admirably. The former Ole Miss standout had some issues in pass protection, allowing a hit and two hurries, but that’s considered a drastic upgrade in Miami. It was the run game where Tunsil shined, earning the highest run-blocking grade of any rookie offensive lineman.

9. Jalen Richard, RB, Raiders

While only one rookie running back received the bulk of his team’s carries (Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott), it was the UDFA from Southern Miss that was most effective on a per-play basis. Jalen Richard had three carries for 84 yards, including a 75-yarder, and caught both his targets for 11 yards. It will be difficult for him to stay in the mix without more snaps (10), but if he keeps performing like he did Sunday, he’ll certainly see his playing time rise.

10. Rashard Robinson, CB, 49ers

The only team with two players represented on this list, the 49ers have to be pleased with how they started the 2016 season. To pitch a shutout with multiple rookies contributing is quite the feat. In 23 coverage snaps, Robinson allowed a grand total of 0 yards into his coverage.

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