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NFL Rookie Rankings Week 16: Brandon Aiyuk’s ascension, L’Jarius Sneed’s debut

In these Week 16 NFL rookie rankings, we see one of the top NFL rookies in Brandon Aiyuk continue to ascend and a new rookie on the list.

NFL Rookie Rankings Week 16: Brandon Aiyuk ascension, L'Jarius Sneed debut
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 20: Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk #11 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during the second quarter at AT&T Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

We’ve entered the final two weeks of the NFL regular season. We already know who the top rookies have been, but who can truly shine over these last few games? Offensive Rookie of the Year is anybody’s guess, while Defensive Rookie of the Year feels a bit more settled. In these Week 16 NFL rookie rankings, we see a wide receiver in the Bay Area continue his rise in the rankings, and a Kansas City defensive back appears for the first time. What other movement do we see among the top NFL rookies?

NFL Rookie Rankings Week 15 | Top 10 NFL Rookies 

1. Tristan Wirfs, OT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The biggest snub of the 2020 NFL awards will be Wirfs not being named offensive rookie of the year. Justin Herbert and Justin Jefferson have been strong contenders, but neither has been the elite player Wirfs has. In his first season, Wirfs has already cemented himself as a top-three tackle in the NFC and the best overall rookie from the 2020 NFL Draft class.

Pre-draft ranking: Fifth overall, OT1

2. Chase Young, EDGE, Washington Football Team

Washington’s four-game win streak came to an end this past weekend, but Young continued to make an impact on the field. He didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but he was continually applying pressure to Russell Wilson and was held on a 30-yard Wilson scramble. A no-call that had massive implications on the outcome of the game. Regardless, Young has been the top defensive NFL rookie and should be the runaway favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Pre-draft ranking: Top player, EDGE1

3. Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

Outside of Wirfs, in my opinion, the offensive rookie of the year should go to Jefferson, Vikings WR. Jefferson has slotted perfectly into the Vikings’ offense, despite some sound clips implying a disconnect between him and QB Kirk Cousins. Jefferson has been one of the most productive rookie receivers in NFL history and an excellent building block for the Vikings’ future.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 50, WR5

4. Jedrick Wills, OT, Cleveland Browns

After tweaking his ankle last week, Wills played 100% of the Browns offensive snaps against the Giants. He continued his work as an elite pass protector. Like the rest of the Browns’ offensive line, he struggled to provide consistent movement against a very talented Giants’ defensive line. Wills will be protecting Baker Mayfield’s blindside for the foreseeable future and could become AFC North champions this season.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 10, OT2

5. Mekhi Becton, OT, New York Jets

Becton had another dominant performance against the Rams as the Jets notched their first win of the season. Becton allowed no pressures in the game and was pivotal on the go-ahead touchdown to secure New York’s victory. Whoever is playing quarterback for the Jets in 2021 will be very happy playing behind Becton. Becton rounds of the top five for these Week 16 NFL rookie rankings.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 25, OT4

6. Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers

Herbert was excellent against the Raiders, throwing for 314 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for another. A hotly contested game against a divisional rival, it was nice to see Herbert shine in the immense pressure moment. Those are the kind of performances that separate the great quarterbacks from the elite. Of the top NFL rookies, Herbert is the only one to play QB, and that alone could win him the Rookie of the Year.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 15, QB3

7. Julian Blackmon, S, Indianapolis Colts

Blackmon was not overly productive in the Colts’ win against the Texans. He recorded just one tackle on the game despite playing 100% of the team’s defensive snaps. I don’t know anybody who expected Blackmon to be this strong so early in his career, another gem found by Colts GM Chris Ballard.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 175, S13

8. Michael Onwenu, OL, New England Patriots

There was some concern on whether or not New England would retain Joe Thuney after this season. Would the Patriots be willing to hand out 15 million a year to a guard? Well, now they don’t have to. Onwenu has proven he can be a high-end starter, and guard is his natural position despite most of his playing time this year coming at right tackle.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 200, iOL20

9. Jeremy Chinn, LB/S, Carolina Panthers

Chinn registered seven total tackles this past weekend, bringing his season total to 102 tackles on the year. Chinn has been the most productive rookie defender in the NFL this season, totaling 102 tackles, a sack, five pass deflections, an interception, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. This weekend, Chinn’s Panthers take on Young and the Washington Football Team; which defensive superstar will have the bigger impact?

Pre-draft ranking: Top 100, S5

10. Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers

Another productive performance for the 49ers’ star rookie, Aiyuk, continues to ascend in these Week 16 NFL rookie rankings. For the first time, this season he has entered the top 10 and will likely remain here for the rest of the season. Over his last six games, Aiyuk is averaging a ridiculous 94.7 yards a game with four total touchdowns across that stretch. He’s been the best rookie wide receiver in the second half of the season.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 75, WR9

Ranking #11-20

11. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Andy Dalton getting comfortable in the Cowboys’ offense has been huge for the production of the Dallas receivers. Lamb caught five balls for 85 yards in the Cowboy’s win over San Francisco. This was Lamb’s first time surpassing 50 receiving yards since Week 9 when he had 71 against the Steelers. As Dalton continues to grow comfortable in Dallas, we could see Lamb post big games against the Eagles and Giants in back to back divisional match-ups. Despite the volatile quarterback play, Lamb has still been one of the top NFL rookies.

Pre-draft ranking: Fourth overall, WR1

12. Tee Higgins, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

When Joe Burrow was healthy, it seemed like Higgins was well on his way to a 1,00 yard rookie season. An uncommon accomplishment, especially for a second-rounder. However, with Burrow injured, Higgins’ production has dipped, and he would need back to back 100-yard games to close out the season. Not an impossible feat, but one that isn’t likely based on the Bengals’ quarterback play. Hopefully, Burrow can return early next year, and Higgins can pick-up where he left off. As one of the game’s bright, young, receivers.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 50, WR7

13. Derrick Brown, DL, Carolina Panthers

After five weeks of improved pass-rushing, Brown finally recorded the first sack of his career. Not only did he get his first sack this past weekend, but he also got his second one. Brown was dominant overall as he registered two sacks, three more tackles, and lived in the backfield against the Packers. He continues to rise in the Week 16 NFL rookie rankings.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 15, iDL2

14. Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Winfield has been one of the more volatile top rookies. His numbers in coverage are very uninspiring, but I believe he’s been better than they indicate. He’s been best when Tampa Bay lets him get after it at the line of scrimmage and make plays in the backfield. However, if he’s to become a pro bowl player in the future, he will need to grow as a cover safety. However, he’s still one of the top NFL rookies.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 50, S4

15. Chase Claypool, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Claypool’s impact has plateaued over the past few weeks. The entire Steelers offense has been lackluster, and Claypool has averaged only 35.7 yards per game over the last three games. With WR’s JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington both impending free agents, it seems as though Claypool should step into a larger target share in 2021.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 125, WR15

16. James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Robinson is almost guaranteed to lead all rookies in rushing yards this season, despite being the only player on these Week 16 NFL rookie rankings who wasn’t drafted. Robinson was held to 35 yards and a receiving touchdown against the Ravens but should bounce back against Chicago. He has been the top NFL rookie running back.

Pre-draft ranking: Unranked

17. Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Football Team

Since losing Gibson, Washington has struggled to get anything going on the ground. With the opportunity to clinch the NFC East this weekend, Washington is praying Gibson can return to the line-up. The former Memphis receiver started taking massive steps in his development as a running back before a turf toe injury sidelined him. Even if Gibson isn’t available for the rest of the season, Washington has a featured rusher for the next three years at least.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 100, RB10

18. Javon Kinlaw, DL, San Francisco 49ers

Kinlaw wasn’t overly impactful against Dallas, but neither was most of the San Francisco defense. Kinlaw has displayed elite traits and flashes from time to time, leading you to believe he could be a pro-bowl/all-pro level player one day, but I’d like him to display the flashes with more consistency and frequency.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 10, iDL1

19. Patrick Queen, LB, Baltimore Ravens

Queen was a pivotal performer in the Ravens’ dominant defensive effort against the Jaguars. He registered six total tackles and a sack, bringing his season tackle total to 98. Queen has shown strong instincts for rush lanes and has the athletic ability to produce gaudy tackle numbers, but he must develop in pass coverage if he’s going to be a centerpiece for the Ravens defense.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 100, LB6

20. Jonah Jackson, iOL, Detroit Lions 

“He’s consistently been one of the top NFL rookies.” There are a thousand ways to say that sentence, and Jackson personifies each one. He hasn’t had the dominant performances of a Wirfs or Young, but he also hasn’t had the rookie mistakes that a number of his other classmates have suffered. Jackson projects as a long-term starter with a massive floor. Something every team would love to have.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 50, iOL5

The bottom five in our NFL Week 16 rookie rankings

21. Jaylon Johnson, CB, Chicago Bears

Johnson missed the past week’s match-up against Minnesota. The Bears’ defense gave up 27 points without him, and are hoping he can return to the line-up for a potential playoff push because he has been one of the top NFL rookies.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 75, CB12

22. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins

Tua had a rough day passing the ball, throwing for 145 yards and an interception on a sickly 3.85 yards per attempt. However, he made plays with his legs when he needed to, rushing for two touchdowns on three carries. Miami’s defense has carried them to this point in the season, but can Tua step up when they face offenses that can out 30 on the board and the season is on the line? We’ll soon find out.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 12, QB2

23. L’Jarius Sneed, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

Sneed has been excellent for the Chiefs when healthy. He was out for eight weeks earlier in the year, which had a significant impact on why he hadn’t appeared on these NFL rookie rankings, but in Week 16, he makes his debut. In eight games, Sneed has accumulated 34 tackles, a sack, three interceptions, and seven pass deflections. In a season where rookie cornerbacks have been underwhelming, Sneed has done an excellent job separating himself.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 200, CB21

24. D’Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions

The last two spots on this Week 16 NFL rookie rankings are hotly contested between four first-year rushers: Swift, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jonathan Taylor, and Cam Akers. Swift was the best of the four before getting hurt, and he had a two-touchdown performance to go with 83 yards from scrimmage. He’s been one of the top NFL rookie running backs when on the field, and that lands him inside the top 25.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 25, RB1

25. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

Taylor rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown while also producing 12 yards on four receptions. After a slow start to his career, he’s found his stride for the Colts as they’re on a five-game win streak and have a dangerous team to play come elimination time. Expect them to lean on Taylor and their elite defense in the playoffs.

Pre-draft ranking: Top 50, RB4

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