Throughout the 2018 NFL season, we’ve been monitoring the progress made by the league’s rookie class by power ranking them based on their play, their circumstances, or both.
Here’s how the rookie crop shakes out with 17 a full weeks in the books.
1. Indianapolis Colts LB Darius Leonard: That’s right, 35 players were drafted ahead of the best rookie of the 2018 season. The second-round South Carolina State product led the league with 163 tackles despite missing a game, and he also added seven sacks, eight passes defensed, four forced fumbles and two interceptions.
2. Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield: Three interceptions in the finale against Baltimore hurt him a bit, but the No. 1 overall pick out of Oklahoma also had three touchdown passes in a near-upset. During the final eight weeks of the regular season he was the league’s fifth-highest-rated passer, and his impact goes well beyond the numbers.
3. New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley: The No. 2 overall pick out of Penn State led the NFL with 2,028 scrimmage yards while also scoring 15 touchdowns on a mediocre team. The future is wildly bright, and it’ll be neck-and-neck between he and Mayfield in the offensive rookie of the year race.
4. Dallas Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch: The 21-year-old No. 19 overall pick was supposed to be a long-term project coming out of Boise State, which makes his rookie production scary. LVE made Cowboys fans completely forget about Sean Lee with 140 tackles, two picks and all-around dominant play. He and Jaylon Smith will be a magnificent duo for years to come.
5. Colts G Quenton Nelson: The No. 6 overall pick out of Notre Dame hasn’t given up a sack since the first month of the season, and he was absolutely dominant in back-to-back must-win victories to close out the season. He’s already a star-level interior offensive lineman.
6. Los Angeles Chargers S Derwin James: The No. 17 overall pick out of Florida State closed the season with one of his best performances of the year against Denver. His 3.5 sacks, three interceptions, six quarterback hits, 13 passes defended, and 105 tackles put him in the defensive player of the year conversation.
7. Denver Broncos RB Phillip Lindsay: Among NFL players with at least 150 carries, the undrafted Colorado product finished the season ranked No. 1 with a 5.4 yards-per-attempt average.
8. Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb: The second-rounder out of Georgia ranked fifth in the same category with 5.2 yards per attempt.
9. Colts OT Braden Smith: The second-round Auburn product doesn’t attract as much hype or attention as Nelson, but he’s been killing it on the right side of that revamped Indy line and has gotten better over the course of the season. His Week 17 performance against the Titans might have been his best yet.
10. Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson: He has a long way to go as a passer, but you can’t leave him off this list after helping the Ravens win six of their last seven games to capture the AFC North title. The No. 32 overall pick at least limited big mistakes as a passer while averaging 79.4 rushing yards per start.
Honorable mentions: Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley, Broncos OLB Bradley Chubb, Lions DT Da’Shawn Hand, Bills QB Josh Allen, Browns CB Denzel Ward, Packers CB Jaire Alexander, 49ers OT Mike McGlinchey, Giants G Will Hernandez, Lions RB Kerryon Johnson, Patriots RB Sony Michel, Giants DT B.J. Hill, Saints DE Marcus Davenport, Ravens RB Gus Edwards