Midseason NFL Rookie Power Rankings: Front-runners, contenders, sleepers for ROY

Halfway through the 2018 season, there are no shortage of candidates for NFL MVP.

Take one look at the quarterbacks in today’s especially pass-happy game, and everyone from Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff to Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers fit the bill. Adam Thielen isn’t as crazy an argument as you’d think with his record-setting pace out wide. And then you’ve got the all-purpose studs like Todd Gurley, who’s somehow managed to stand out on an undefeated Los Angeles Rams team full of superstars.

What about the best players just from the 2018 rookie class, however?

Good thing you asked. We broke down the top first-year players earlier this month, but now that we’re officially midway through the season, it’s time to reassess where we’re at. Nonspecific to awards like Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, we ranked the top 15 rookies right here, categorizing them as front-runners, contenders, sleepers and deep sleepers.

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Some notable changes since mid-October: Saquon Barkley has slipped just a tad in the wake of Darius Leonard’s consistency in Indianapolis, while Jaire Alexander, the Green Bay Packers cornerback, makes his debut in place of the Colts’ Nyheim Hines, who’s racked up the catches but has yet to match the yardage production of his fellow rookie running backs.

Front-runners


Season stats: 7 games, 88 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 2 pass deflections, 3 forced fumbles

If you could have him or Barkley, you’d take the offensive production all day. But there’s just no way you can ignore what Leonard is doing all over the field. He’s on pace for more than 175 tackles, 8.0 sacks and six turnovers. That’s a game-wrecker!


Season stats: 8 games, 519 rushing yards (4.7 per carry), 5 TDs, 58 catches, 497 receiving yards, 2 TDs

You know the drill. This man is special. And he gives you a potential explosive play every time he touches the ball.

Contenders


Season stats: 8 games, 60 tackles, 5 pass deflections, 3 INTs, 1 TD

He’s the best rookie no one’s talking about. Project his numbers over a full season, and — here we go, math majors! — you’ve got 120 tackles and six picks. That’s an All-Pro safety, for those keeping score at home.


Season stats: 8 games, 531 rushing yards (5.7 per carry), 3 TDs, 18 catches, 136 receiving yards, 1 TD

Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker are all but forgotten backs thanks to Lindsay’s outburst. This little guy is all kinds of explosive, and he looks like one of the best keepers on a roster that’ll be rebuilt soon.


Season stats: 7 games, 44 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 6 pass deflections, 1 INT

He could finish with numbers only slightly better than what he has now and be considered a solid rookie starter. James has been the real deal at the back end of the Chargers’ secondary.


Season stats: 7 games, 466 rushing yards (6.1 per carry), 1 TD, 21 catches, 158 receiving yards

If we’re going to talk up Phillip Lindsay, we have to go big on Johnson, too. Like Lindsay, he opened the year in a timeshare, and he technically is still part of a committee, but just look at the yards-per-carry mark. He knows how to find space.


Season stats: 8 games, 62 tackles, 1.0 sack, 7 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles

It’s hard to get overly excited about anything to do with the Bills, but Edmunds should be a great building block. He’s got the tools to be all over the field.


Season stats: 8 games, 39 tackles, 9 pass deflections, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble

His numbers have slowed a bit from the start of the year, but it’s still a testament to his immediate production that he remains high on this list. The guy is obvious starting material for one of the league’s top up-and-coming defenses.

Sleepers


Season stats: 8 games, 24 tackles, 7.0 sacks, 1 pass deflection, 1 forced fumble

So that three-sack game wasn’t entirely a fluke! The tackle total isn’t ridiculous, but his pass-rushing impact has been.


Season stats: 6 games, 1,471 yards (58.3 completion percentage), 8 TDs, 6 INTs, 78.9 rating

He’s still got lots of work to do, particularly when it comes to forcing throws into tight coverage. But consider the offensive line he’s playing behind — and the coaches he had to learn from. He’s got the zip and the moxie to be really good.


Season stats: 8 games, 1,705 yards (55.2 completion percentage), 11 TDs, 10 INTs, 74.5 rating

Sorry, but Baker’s been better. Darnold has had flashes of special touch, and his poise makes him the Jets’ most promising franchise guy in a long time. But he turns the ball over way too much right now.


Season stats: 7 games, 27 catches, 392 yards, 6 TDs

The touchdown total is huge. There are just too many other play-makers from his class to put him among the best. And it’s hard to lead the league in yards when one of your teammates is Julio Jones.


Season stats: 6 games, 422 rushing yards (4.4 per carry), 4 TDs, 4 catches, 31 receiving yards

If he can stay healthy, he’s got a real shot to shoot up the list. His impact is equivalent to that of, say, Kerryon Johnson.

Deep sleepers


Season stats: 7 games, 32 tackles, 6 pass deflections, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble

You really couldn’t ask for much more out of him. The Panthers secondary absolutely needed help coming into this year, and he’s done his part, for the most part.


Season stats: 5 games, 26 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 6 pass deflections, 1 INT

The Packers defense has given up lots and lots of yards this year, but for a rookie, Alexander has shown the swagger necessary to warrant long-term consideration in the lineup.

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