Our top 10 first-years, Ja'Marr Chase's record-setting start, rising corners, more

Seven weeks into the 2021 NFL Season, the first-year cornerbacks are still flexing their collective muscles. They make it to the second edition our rookie rankings. While our top 10 have some movement, only one quarterback made it to the second edition of our rookie rankings. As the season approaches its halfway point, it's actually Ja'Marr Chase, the Bengals' pass-catcher, who has risen to the top of the class. It shouldn't be surprising that he is setting new records for rookie receivers, and appears to have a deep ball TD every week.
We surveyed personnel executives from the league to compile the list and then went through all the tapes. We also add names that were not on the list, as well as a few others to remember in the weeks ahead. We also looked to ESPN Stats & Information's Seth Walder for a list of under-the-radar rookies to watch and ESPN Chalk's Doug Kezirian for the best value picks for Rookies of the Year.

What are the top NFL rookies right now? And why are they so successful? Let's get to the chase, pun intended.

Jump to:

Top 10 | Just missed | Notes

Value bets

Stats: 35 receptions, 754 yards, 6 TDs

Drafted: Overall: 5

How do you start? The 21-year old leads the league in yards per catch (21.5), and has three 100-yard games, including a 200 yard outing. He also has the most receiving yards in seven NFL career games (754). You can see his routes and how well he sets up other experienced defenders. The Ravens' Marlon Huffrey is another example of a dynamic player that will require defenses to have a plan. This means that defenses must go beyond putting their best cover on him all the time.

Stats: 6 starts, 88.3% pass block win rate

Drafted: Drafted: No.

These lists often refer to the difficulty level, and Slater is very thorough in checking that box. In his six first starts, he has already met Chase Young and Maxx Crosby. Garrett beat Slater in Week 5, though he did get away with a penalty on the play that was hands-to-the face. However, Slater's work so far is outstanding.

Stats: 31 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 passes defended

Drafted: Drafted: No. 12 overall

Parsons' versatility and the Cowboys' necessity to change his job description in the early stages of his NFL career will have an impact on how others may view his success. Bottom line: Parsons has had an impact on the defensive end, where the Cowboys needed him. He has also shown the ability to cover at linebacker and hold his gap in the run game. Parsons has a 26.2% pass rush win rate, which is the highest among rookies.

Stats: 24 tackles, 1 interception, 6 passes defended

Drafted: Drafted: No.

Surtain played 86% of the team’s defensive snaps. He also had a few WR1 assignments and displayed such competitiveness that, when Ronald Darby was injured reserve, Kyle Fuller took his place on the bench. Surtain needs to improve his running game tackling, but opposing quarterbacks have been consistently frustrated when trying to test him.

Stats: 28 tackles and 1 forced fumble

Drafted: 52 in total

Owusu Koromoah could have trouble keeping this spot due to his injury to his ankle on Oct. 18. He missed the Browns' Week 7 victory over the Broncos, and will likely miss many weeks. However, just before his injury (which occurred on Oct. 17, against the Cardinals), he had played 91% of the defensive snaps in his previous two games. He also showed high-end play speed and quality work in coverage.

Stats: 1,779 yards passing, 9 TDs, 6 INTs, 70.4% completion rate

No. Drafted: No.

Jones is the most difficult of the top 10, and he showed determination to overcome his Week 3 three-interception game against the Saints. He threw seven touchdown passes and had three interceptions in the four subsequent games. In a win over the Jets, Jones also recorded his 300-yard first ever career game. Each week, he shows more improvement in his ability to protect himself in the pocket and take care of the ball.

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Stats: 20 tackles, 2 interceptions, 5 passes defended

Drafted: Number Overall 47

Brandon Staley, Chargers coach, wants competitive cornerbacks like Vic Fangio, Broncos coach. He is looking for players who are able to play with discipline and can tackle in a variety coverages. Samuel is reliable and can play outside or in the slot, depending on the situation.

Stats: 7 starts, 96.7% pass block win rate

Drafted: Drafted: No.

Humphrey, despite the Chiefs' growing troubles in certain areas of their depth chart, isn't on that list. He is calm and has kept his feet clean. He has only allowed one pass protection sack, according to ESPN's metrics (via NFL Next Gen Stats). This leaves him with six pass-block losses for the season.

Stats: 31 receptions, 471 yards, 1 TD

Drafted: Overall: 4

As the season approached the halfway point, league personnel evaluators expected Pitts would find his feet. It's there. He has recorded two 100-yard games in the last two weeks, and an impressive 15.2 yards per catch for the season.

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Stats: 32 tackles

Drafted: Drafted: No.

Due to the Raiders' growing portfolio, Hobbs has been able to make an impact in all of his roles and is a former Illini defensive back. Hobbs has had five starts and played at least 50% in all defensive snaps, including a season high 93% in Week 7's win over the Eagles. He has also only missed one tackle this year.

Just missed

Azeez Ojulari, LB, New York Giants

Second-round pick, with 5.5 sacks, leads all rookies. He also had 2.5 against the Panthers. He is working on pass-rush counters, and the more he improves, the more sack-happy games will he have. He is second in pass rush wins among rookies to Dallas Parsons' 14.0%.

Penei Sewell OT, Detroit Lions

While his potential remains clear, the change to left tackle to replace injured Taylor Decker has had an impact on Sewell's play quality overall. Sewell continues to learn as he works his way up the learning curve. He rebounded after a difficult two-game stretch against Minnesota, Chicago, where he allowed four more sacks.

Greg Newsome II CB, Cleveland Browns

Newsome missed Weeks 4 and 5, due to a calf injury, and only 21 of the defensive snaps for Week 6 were taken by Newsome. He was able to get the start, and he played all 50 of the Broncos' defensive snaps. He is meticulous in his play and has only been flagged once this season.

Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos

Williams has 320 yards rushing this season. This is an unstoppable event. It happened against the Ravens when six Baltimore players attempted to tackle Williams, and he was eventually thrown to the ground. With 122 yards and 20 catches, he has also shown potential in passing. His only problem is when he fails to show his usual decisiveness.

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Eric Stokes, CB Green Bay Packers

In four of the Packers' five previous games, Stokes has taken every defensive snap. Three times has he been flagged this season for pass interference, but all three of them were during his first two starts. Stokes has an interception, and eight passes defended.

Osa Odighizuwa is DT, Dallas Cowboys; Rondale Moor, WR; Arizona Cardinals; Spencer Brown OT; Buffalo Bills; Trey Smith G, Kansas City Chiefs. Odafe Oweh DE/LB Baltimore Ravens. Kadarius Tomi, WR. New York Giants. Trevor Lawrence, QB. Jacksonville Jaguars. Trevor Lawrence, QB. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars. Pat Freiermuth TE, Pittsburgh Steelers.

Other rookie notes

We can just hope for a Ja'Marr Chase Note in each edition. He is already making people look through the record books. His 200-yard game on Sunday was only the 17th of rookie receivers. With his high target volume, big-play ability and high target volume, it's probably a good moment to recall Jerry Butler's 1979 rookie single-game record for 255 yards. Chase's 200-yard feat was in his seventh career match, but Butler achieved it in his fourth. Strangely, Butler didn't have another game with more that 140 receiving yards during his 88-game career.

Josh Myers, the Packers' second-round pick, was quickly climbing the rankings. He was a second-round pick and had already played in all four Green Bay games. He replaced Corey Linsley (an ex-All Pro center who signed in free agency with the Chargers). Myers was injured in his finger and was out of action for the next four games. He then sustained a knee injury against Chicago in Week 6, which sent him to injured reserve.

Iowa native Spencer Brown, a rookie Buffalo Bills tackle, joked that he had watched the Chiefs-Bills AFC Championship Game last January in his basement. Ten months later, he made his first NFL start in Arrowhead, in the Bills' 38-20 win over the Chiefs in Week 5. Brown, who was a third-round selection this year, played eight-man football at Lenox High School in Iowa. After being moved to right tackle by the Bills, he has proven he is ready for the job. Daryl Williams was moved inside and Brown was moved to guard.

Walder's rookie under-the-radar

Trey Smith, G. Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs dominated the offensive line section of their draft. They not only got Humphrey in the second round but also took Smith from Tennessee in the sixth round. Smith is currently ranked 11th among guards in pass block win rates and run block win rates after seven games. This is a great value for a late round pick. Smith, Humphrey, and Joe Thuney make the Kansas City offensive line a strength.

Kezirian's value bet on Rookie of Year

Kyle Pitts, TE Atlanta Falcons

While Cincinnati's Chase is receiving a lot of praise and attention, Pitts at +1400 seems like a great value for Offensive Player of the Year. It is important to note that Chase and Pitts are at similar positions so their stats can be compared. This is not the same as how voters might compare QBs and receivers. We still have two months of the regular season and Pitts seems to be just starting to hit his stride, with back-to-back 100 yard games.


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