Top 25 NFL rookies thus far this season
Amari Cooper has been arguably the brightest spot of a much-improved Raiders team. Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Top 25 NFL rookies thus far this season

The 2015 NFL rookie class has been darn impressive. While some of the higher picks have struggled to an extent, mid-rounders have found a way to make an impact out of the gate.

One position stands out above the rest. Of the 25 players we have ranked here, five are cornerbacks. This is stunning considering there is usually a steep learning curve from college to the NFL at this position.

More than that, it's nice to see these youngsters — less than a year removed from college — playing at a high level.

Here are your top-25 rookies heading into Week 6 of the NFL season. 


1. Amari Cooper, wide receiver, Oakland Raiders

Heading into Oakland's Week 6 bye, Cooper is on pace for 90 receptions and well over 1,200 yards. If these numbers keep, they would represent the best single-season stat line for a Raiders receiver since Jerry Rice gained 1,211 yards on 92 receptions back in 2002. Needless to say, Cooper is having himself a heck of a season.

Continuing to build continuity with Derek Carr is going to be big here. It's a relationship that has already molded into something special, but there's a chance it could become one of the best quarterback-wide receiver tandems in the NFL within the next calendar year.

2. Leonard Williams, defensive end, New York Jets

Helping fill the void left when Sheldon Richardson was suspended for the first four games of the season, Williams has played extremely well early in his rookie campaign.

In addition to putting up 18 tackles and a sack, the No. 6 overall pick in this year's draft has tallied seven quarterback hits and nearly a dozen hurries in five games. He's also one of the anchors on a defense that ranks in the top 10 in the NFL against the run.

3. Ronald Darby, cornerback, Buffalo Bills

Through the first five games of the season, this rookie second-round pick has been among the best all-around corners in the NFL. Per Pro Football Focus, he currently grades out as the No. 3 cornerback in the NFL.

The Florida State product is also allowing a ridiculously low 4.4 yards per target while yielding a 38.3 quarterback rating. What makes Darby's early-season success so much more stunning is the fact that he has gone up against the opposing team's top receiver at times with Buffalo sticking to a corner coverage philosophy in the secondary.

4. Marcus Peters, cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs

Statistically, Peters has struggled a ton this season. He has given up six touchdown receptions through five games. That's not good for anyone involved. However, in some cases, we have to look past the stats.

This first-round pick has consistently found himself up against the opposing team's top pass catcher — a group that includes DeAndre Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb and A.J. Green thus far this season.

Peters' placement in this article has more to do with him showing plus-level coverage ability and a veteran mindset on the field. This is something we rarely see from a young cover guy. It's also something that's going to have him among the best corners in the NFL in no time.

5. Henry Anderson, defensive end, Indianapolis Colts

About as under-the-radar as they come, Anderson's stats are not sexy. The third-round pick has recorded 25 total tackles and a sack in five games. But in his role as a 3-4 defensive end, the Stanford product has done a tremendous job holding the edge and stuffing the run.

He's played the most snaps on a defensive line that is yielding less than four yards per rush and has given up less than 100 rushing yards in two of the team's five games thus far this year.

Equally as impressive, Anderson has found a way to be a solid two-way player early in his career. He's put up 14 quarterback hurries in five games and grades out as Pro Football Focus' second-best run-stuffing 3-4 defensive end.

6. Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Tennessee Titans

Recent struggles notwithstanding, Mariota has been darn good thus far this season. He's completing nearly 64 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and three interceptions for a quarterback rating of 99.0 through four games.

This has the reigning Heisman winner on pace to tally 4,000 yards, 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. That would be one of the best rookie performances for a quarterback in league history.

What makes Mariota's early-season success so amazing is the fact that he's doing it without a consistent running game, no real top-end receiving threat and behind a lackluster offensive line. In fact, Mariota has found himself sacked 14 times in four games and is being pressured 37 percent of the time he drops back to pass.

7. Thomas Rawls, running back, Seattle Seahawks

Rawls will likely find his production in decline with Marshawn Lynch seemingly set to return from a hamstring injury and Fred Jackson looking more healthy. However, this article is about how rookies have performed thus far this season.

In Lynch's stead for the better part of the past three games, this undrafted rookie has gained 321 rushing yards on 56 attempts for a whopping 5.7 yards per carry average. If nothing else, Seattle might have found itself Lynch's eventual replacement at running back here.

8. Todd Gurley, running back, St. Louis Rams

After missing the first two games of the season while recovering from a torn ACL he suffered at Georgia last season, Gurley has jumped onto the scene big time. He played a small role in his NFL debut back in Week 3, going for nine yards on six attempts. Since then, this rookie top-10 pick has been the best running back in football.

Over the past two games, Gurley has racked up 305 rushing yards on 49 attempts. Last week alone against the Green Bay Packers, this dynamic young running back showed everyone how he can carry an offense. He attempted 30 rushes in just his third NFL game, less than a year after tearing his ACL. Think about that for a second.

9. Shaq Thompson, linebacker, Carolina Panthers

I will admit that the Thompson pick made no real sense in my mind. Why didn't Carolina add a left tackle for Cam Newton? What about additional help at wide receiver? Heck, safety needed to be addressed.

However, through the Panthers first four games, Thompson has been among their best defenders. With Luke Kuechly out of action for all but one half, this rookie from Washington has stepped up big time. Thompson has recorded 16 tackles and has played the second-most snaps of any Carolina linebacker.

Sure, there are struggles in coverage, but that's to be expected for an athlete making the transition to a full-time professional football player. The upside is unlimited here, and Thompson is already showing flashes of brilliance.

10. Kevin Johnson, cornerback, Houston Texans

A lot of draftniks were high on Johnson in this year's draft. His tape was solid coming out of Wake Forest, and he showed a tremendous on-ball ability.

While the youngster has struggled at times this season, he's allowing a 56 percent completion percentage when targeted and has given up just one touchdown in five games. That's not too shabby for a guy that was thrown in the fire as a starter out of the gate.

11. Jordan Hicks, linebacker, Philadelphia Eagles

Here's one of the many unheralded rookies to make this list. Hicks, a third-round pick out of Texas, has recorded 27 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries in five games (two starts).

Pro Football Focus has also graded Hicks out as the Eagles' top linebacker through five games. Considering this unit has been much improved from a season ago, this is a major accomplishment.

12. Damarious Randall, cornerback, Green Bay Packers

Yet another player that seemed like a reach in the first round of this year's draft, Randall has stepped seamlessly into an important role for the undefeated Packers. Through five games, the Arizona State product has allowed just nine of the 24 passes thrown in his direction to be completed.

And while a couple of those plays have been long gains, it's obvious that Randall's plus-level coverage ability is going to come in handy for Green Bay moving forward this season.

13. Brandon Scherff, guard, Washington Redskins

Scherff was touted as either a tackle or a guard coming out of Iowa. Selecting No. 5 overall, Washington caught many people by surprise when they went after this offensive lineman in late May. That was only magnified when the Redskins decided to play him at guard out of the gate.

Scherff has responded big time. He's not only one of the primary reasons Washington is averaging nearly 122 rushing yards per game, he has not allowed a single sack in five games. That's mighty impressive for a rookie offensive lineman.

14. Jameis Winston, quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Winston hasn't performed at the level of Marcus Mariota thus far this season, but that in no way indicates that he hasn't been solid. The No. 1 pick and former Heisman winner finds himself on pace for over 3,600 passing yards with 26 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

The interception numbers may be a bit concerning. After all, Winston did struggle with turnovers last season at Florida State. Though, what makes Winston one of the NFL's top rookies up to this point is his ability to forget.

Coming off a four-interception performance against the Carolina Panthers in Week 4, Winston rebounded by playing a mistake-free game in an impressive win over Jacksonville this past Sunday. With that, Winston has led the Buccaneers to as many wins this season (two) as they put up all of last year.

15. Vic Beasley, linebacker, Atlanta Falcons

Beasley is on pace to record just 6.5 sacks this season. He hasn't put up the sexiest of numbers — numbers that most fans would ask for from a top-10 pick. But as we have seen around the football world, stats are only one layer to look at.

Playing an important role as a jack-of-all-trades pass rusher in Dan Quinn's first season as Atlanta's head coach, Beasley continues to set the tone of one of the most improved defenses in the NFL. The sack numbers will certainly see an uptick, but Beasley's presence on this defense is already well known.

16. Duke Johnson, running back, Cleveland Browns

After playing a minor role in Cleveland's first game of the season, this rookie third-round pick has been astonishingly productive over the past several outings. In fact, Johnson is currently on pace to rack up nearly 70 receptions out of the backfield. Interestingly enough, all 21 of his catches have come on 25 targets over the past three games.

At 5-foot-9 and 209 pounds (soaking wet), Johnson will never be a 20-carry running back. However, he can very well turn into the Browns' version of a Darren Sproles — someone that will be dynamic both in the running game and the passing game. As of right now, it seems Johnson is trending in that direction.

17. Frank Clark, defensive end, Seattle Seahawks

Clark's off-field issues should be discussed within the media. If nothing else, in order to avoid a double standard when talking about character. However, that's not the direction I want to head in here.

Instead, there's little doubt that this second-round pick from Michigan has a chance to be one of the most well-rounded defensive players in the draft. Despite playing less than 20 snaps per game this season, Clark has made his presence known. Seattle has boasted a vastly better run defense with Clark on the field, and he's become adept at getting to the quarterback on a consistent basis.

Once the likes of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett eventually move on from Seattle, Clark will be more than ready to take over. He fits Pete Carroll's defensive scheme to a T, and boasts one of the best all-around games of the 2015 draft class.

18. David Johnson, running back, Arizona Cardinals

Johnson likely wont end his rookie season with elite numbers. Now that Andre Ellington has returned from injury and Chris Johnson looks like he's found his fountain of youth, this third-round pick from Northern Iowa finds himself as the Cardinals no. 3 running back.

This doesn't mean that Johnson hasn't been impressive in limited action. He's recorded six total touchdowns in five games, including a two-touchdown performance against the Detroit Lions last week. A physical marvel at 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds, Johnson has that rare combination of speed and power you look for in an elite-level running back.

It won't be too long — likely in time for the 2016 season — that Johnson finds himself as a 20-plus carry back. If so, he's going to end up as one of the most productive offensive players from this year's draft class.

19. Hau'oli Kikaha, linebacker, New Orleans Saints

One of the few bright spots on an otherwise disastrous Saints defense, Kikaha has played extremely well thus far as a rookie.

Playing both from a hands-down defensive end position and at outside linebacker, this rookie second-round pick from Washington has recorded 27 tackles, three sacks, 11 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles in five games.

20. Ali Marpet, guard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Coming from small-school Hobart, Marpet was the toast of Senior Bowl week down in Mobile during the draft process. What he showed in Alabama was that his small-school status meant very little as it related to going up against the best defensive prospects the draft had to offer. That enabled Marpet to find himself drafted in the second round just a few months later.

Continuing his ascension from Hobart to the professional ranks, Marpet earned the Buccaneers right guard job out of camp. Tasked with protecting Jameis Winston and opening up holes for Doug Martin, this rookie has performed at an exceptionally high level.

He's allowed just one sack in five games and is already among the best young run-blocking guards in the league.

21. Matt Jones, running back, Washington Redskins

With Alfred Morris slated to become a free agent following the 2015 season, there's a good chance Jones will find himself as Washington's lead back next year. His combination of pure power and a down-hill running style coupled with surprising speed has Jones drawing comparisons to a young Marshawn Lynch.

Through five games, the Florida product has gained 220 yards and three scores on 54 rush attempts. And while he's struggled each of the past two weeks (18 rushes, 31 yards), Jones has the look of a lead back at this early stage in his career. That's mighty impressive for a rookie third-round pick.

22. Eric Rowe, cornerback, Philadelphia Eagles

Those of us who watched tape of the 6-foot-1, 204-pound Rowe at Utah didn't know whether he translated best at safety or corner in the NFL. What we did know was that he had the plus-level physicality and solid technique to be a darn good defensive back early in his career.

Playing outside at left corner during his rookie season, Rowe has performed extremely well. He's allowing a 53.8 completion percentage and 62.0 quarterback rating when targeted — numbers that rank him as the best Eagles defensive back in each category.

23. Adrian Amos, safety, Chicago Bears

The emergence of Amos as a rover safety in Vic Fangio's first season as the Bears defensive coordinator has helped this unit improve leaps and bounds. It also enabled Chicago to move on from 2014 fourth-round pick Brock Vereen — one of former general manager Phil Emery's last mistakes in that role.

In five games (all starts) as a rookie, Amos has recorded 19 tackles and two passes defended. He's played both strong safety and free safety, which makes him a valuable asset in a scheme that values those positions a great deal. It remains to be seen where Amos will eventually play full-time, but he's making a name for himself early in his career.

24. Arik Armstead, defensive end, San Francisco 49ers

3-4 defensive ends really aren't there to provide sexy numbers. They rarely rack up a large amount of sacks, and aren't necessarily relied on to put consistent pressure on the quarterback. Instead, it's all about stopping the run and opening up outside pass-rush lanes for stand-up linebackers in the front seven.

That's where Armstead comes into play. As someone who follows San Francisco closely, I absolutely hated this pick. The 6-foot-7, 296-pound defensive lineman was about as raw as they come at Oregon. And in reality, it didn't seem like he would make much of an impact as a rookie.

Through five games, Armstead has shown pro-level technique at the point of contact and continues to force the 49ers into giving him playing time. Simply put, San Francisco's defense has been a much better unit with him on the field. Look for his name moving forward this year, as the 49ers will likely work him into a starting role at some point.

25. Ty Montgomery, wide receiver, Green Bay Packers

Yeah, another Packers wide receiver making a name for himself with Aaron Rodgers under center. Stop me if you have heard this one before. Montgomery, a third-round pick from Stanford, has slowly picked his game up with Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson sidelined.

More of a possession receiver thus far, Montgomery has caught 13 of the 17 passes thrown in his direction for 125 yards and two touchdowns in five games.

Check out Vincent's other work on eDraft.com and follow him on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL

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