It’s Week 18, and the NFL Rookie Rankings have a new (old) name making his way back toward the top. The top NFL rookies have played some unbelievable football in 2021, and a few of them will see their names written down on my All-Pro ballot in the coming weeks. The best part is, three of the All-Pro contenders opted not to play football in 2020 and still came in wreaking havoc on the league.
Week 18 NFL Rookie Rankings | 1-5
The top players in the rankings have parked themselves here for most of the season, but two massive outings in a row led to a spike in one rookie’s stock.
1) Micah Parsons, LB, Dallas Cowboys
Micah Parsons didn’t have a sack against the Cardinals, but he made his presence felt with 2 tackles for loss and a QB hit on what should have been an interception made by Jayron Kearse.
The most unfortunate development in the game is we only got to see Parsons attempt to close the gap on Kyler Murray once or twice throughout the game. Even when Parsons rushed on the interior, he couldn’t necessarily pin his ears back because of Murray’s electrified footwork.
2) Creed Humphrey, C, Kansas City Chiefs
It was the third straight perfect pass-protection week for rookie All-Pro center Creed Humphrey. I’m not aware of the history of the 63rd pick in the NFL Draft, but I reckon Humphrey will be the best of all time for his draft position.
Things went just about as well in the rushing attack, too. The Chiefs averaged 6.7 yards per carry, and the only thing that stopped them was getting just 3 possessions in the second half because the Bengals controlled the ball and clock. They ran the ball well despite facing D.J. Reader and B.J. Hill on Cincinnati’s defensive interior.
3) Rashawn Slater, OT, Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers got up early in Week 17, so they were never truly pressed to push the ball through the air. Herbert wasn’t sacked the entire game and was only hit 3 times.
It’s becoming difficult to find adjectives to describe how guys like Parsons, Slater, Humphrey, and Ja’Marr Chase have played as rookies. The amazing part is Parsons, Slater, and Chase didn’t even play football in 2020. They took the entire season off, opting not to play their final college campaign. Still, they entered the NFL with both feet planted and have flourished in their opportunities.
4) Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
When I said Chase could climb the ladder in the NFL Rookie Rankings, I didn’t think it would all happen in one game! Chase fell just 9 yards short of 400 in his past two games. It should be no surprise that with his resurgence, Joe Burrow has thrown for a billion yards himself in the past two contests.
Chase caught 11 passes for 266 yards against the Chiefs. His first touchdown was on an in-breaking route where he split a few defenders before hitting the NOS. He blew right between defenders and created space like an overprotective father taking his daughter out on her first movie date with a boy. Or Jay Feely posing for a “funny” prom picture.
Chase was the perfect prescription for the Bengals’ offensive woes in the offseason. If they actually improve the OL in the offseason, there’s no projecting how dangerous this offense could be in 2022.
5) Patrick Surtain II, CB, Denver Broncos
Maybe it’s the position he plays, but Patrick Surtain II has played at an incredible level as a rookie. He hasn’t quite been an All-Pro, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him named to a few during his time playing cornerback in the NFL.
Surtain is a technical wizard. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Vic Fangio in the offseason and Denver’s scheme if Fangio is let go. Surtain is system versatile, but if the Broncos bring in a young DC that decides to run even more pattern-matching coverages, Surtain will only show his value even more.
Week 18 NFL Rookie Rankings | 6-10
As the season has progressed, this list of players creeps closer and closer to punching their ticket into the top 10. It’s truly astonishing how important some rookies have been to the league in 2021.
6) Greg Newsome II, CB, Cleveland Browns
In general, Greg Newsome II and the Browns’ passing defense was not tested throughout the Pittsburgh Steelers game on Monday Night Football. There were very few instances where Pittsburgh even had a look at something deeper than 5 yards downfield.
Newsome came back into the lineup and looked good, playing many of his snaps from the slot against Ray-Ray McCloud. Newsome looked quite at home in the slot, even in zone coverage. The Steelers were thus able to put Greedy Williams on the outside against bigger and more linear receivers, allowing them to use Newsome’s silky change-of-direction ability to mirror shiftier slot receivers.
7) Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Cleveland Browns
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is a lot like Newsome. His silkiness on the interior allows him to slip blocks and get downhill to make plays against the run. JOK’s tough to track down during games because he wears a number in the 20s and lines up all over the field. He’s also closer to the size of a safety than a traditional linebacker.
JOK played off the edge Monday night quite a bit, setting the edge against fellow rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth while playing a SAM role instead of playing on the inside. The Browns didn’t have a good day defending the run, but that wasn’t the fault of Owusu-Koramoah. He stays at seventh in the NFL Rookie Rankings.
8) Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins
Jaylen Waddle had 47 yards on 3 catches Sunday. Yet, he had a catch go for 45 yards, meaning his other 2 went for a total of 2. Tua Tagovailoa was putrid in the inclement weather against Tennessee and skipped more throws than a starting pitcher on an 0-2 count.
There is an almost unimaginable amount of upside associated with Waddle. If the Dolphins can muster together competent offensive line and quarterback play in 2022, Waddle could have an extraordinary future ahead of him. But using him as Jarvis Landry 2.0 is a waste of all of our time.
9) Penei Sewell, OT, Detroit Lions
In Week 10, Penei Sewell flipped from the left to right side of the line. Since then, he’s allowed just 1 sack and 9 total pressures. He’s been outstanding since allowing 4 sacks over a two-week period in Weeks 4 and 5. But his endless nastiness is even more profound in the run game. He’s a road grader and an absolute bully!
Sewell is everything we thought he’d be coming out of Oregon. He just so happens to be outshined by Slater, who is everything we could have hoped for and more on the left side. Just like the 2020 NFL Draft class boasted Tristan Wirfs and Jedrick Wills Jr., the 2021 class boasts their own dynastic duo.
10) Mac Jones, QB, New England Patriots
Mac Jones and the Patriots needed a get-right game after dropping two in a row, so getting Jacksonville was perfect timing. They scored 7 touchdowns against the hapless Jaguars, and nothing was remotely difficult for the rookie QB.
He finished the game by going 22-of-30 for 227 yards and 3 TDs. The 2 passes he completed past 15 yards in the air both went for touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Patriots only threw 5 passes behind the line of scrimmage.
NFL Rookie Rankings Week 18 | 11-15
11) Jevon Holland, S, Miami Dolphins
12) Trey Smith, G, Kansas City Chiefs
13) Christian Barmore, DT, New England Patriots
14) Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
15) Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Detroit Lions
NFL Rookie Rankings Week 18 | 16-25
16) Kwity Paye, DE, Indianapolis Colts
17) Eric Stokes, CB, Green Bay Packers
18) Jaelan Phillips, OLB, Miami Dolphins
19) DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
20) Elijah Moore, WR, New York Jets
21) Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos
22) Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
23) Odafe Oweh, OLB, Baltimore Ravens
24) Trevon Moehrig, S, Las Vegas Raiders
25) Pat Freiermuth, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers