Kiper: NFL Rookie Rankings This week, Mel goes 30 deep, with Kiko Alonso taking the top spot November 7, 2013, 11:52 AM ETBy Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN I wrote up Kiko Alonso in my 2013 draft guide as one of the top six inside linebackers in the draft. I thought he was hurt a little bit because, although he has outstanding athleticism, he didn't work out at the combine, which inevitably provides a bump to the best athletes. He also had only one year as a full-time starter at Oregon. But one of Alonso's great skills at Oregon was his ability to "sift through the trash" (scouting phrase) and deal with traffic. In other words, he was able to see the ball and make plays through blocking havoc and contact, maintaining his balance and quickness.
I think those skills have made the transition easier for him. The game, and the traffic, just doesn't seem to move too quickly for him, just as it didn't at Oregon. So far this season, the Buffalo Bills have benefited. Although Alonso might lack experience, he plays with great instincts and has that extra set of eyes to make plays amid all the chaos.
This week, he moves to the top of my Rookie Rankings, barely edging out another AFC East star.
Again, the usual parameters:
• The rankings reflect play over the whole season, not just the previous Sunday.
• Positional value matters, but overall performance and impact on the team matter more.
• I do ask: Would this player be a starter on most teams? (I think that hurts QBs some).
• Total snap count matters. Staying on the field is important because you get taken off to conceal weaknesses.
With the rules in place, here we go. This week, I've ranked a total of 30 and included a dozen others I considered.
1. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Buffalo Bills: Continues to perform at a consistently high level week in and week out. Through Week 9, he's third in the NFL in total tackles, with 89 (just one behind leaders Vontaze Burfict and Sean Lee), and has four interceptions, which is most on the team, plus he gets a bonus because he literally has not come off the field for the Bills' defense, so he has played nearly 700 snaps. He is not playing perfect football, but he's been a huge part of the defensive rise for Buffalo.
2. Sheldon Richardson, DT, New York Jets:The front seven for the Jets has keyed that team's success, with Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson providing a dominant one-two punch. In fact, it's a three-man show with Damon Harrison in the midst of a breakout season. It's splitting hairs between Alonso and Richardson, but I'll give the top spot to Alonso this week, as he's been on the field for about three more games' worth of snaps. On a per-snap basis, Richardson has been more dominant.
3. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers: Not just a clogger who frees up Luke Kuechly to flow to the football, Lotulelei has also been a disruptive force with his incredible combination of quickness and power. As I charted him the past few weeks, I've seen him put pressure on the quarterback, not just on ßopposing running backs. The interior of the Panthers' D-line has gone from weakness to strength in one year, and Lotulelei's presence is a big reason.
4. Kenny Vaccaro, S, New Orleans Saints:Makes his presence felt in a variety of ways, whether it be on the blitz, in coverage or making tackles in space. He had flashes but was inconsistent early in the season -- making a big play, then missing a tackle on the next -- but he has improved his performance in coverage and, especially, as a run defender in recent weeks. And again, this is a player who doesn't come off the field for a greatly improved defense.
5. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers: Has emerged as one of the elite running backs in the NFL, already drawing comparisons to the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch. What Lacy does so well is blend his power with an ability to make defenders miss. Trent Richardson came out of Alabama and hasn't adapted well to the NFL in part because he doesn't make people miss or find running lanes that aren't obvious. But Lacy does both and is eighth in the NFL in rushing, even after missing time to a concussion.
6. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals:He continues to be an outstanding change-of-pace option for the Bengals, providing a huge boost to the attack as a runner and as a receiver. He has combined for 628 total yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and hauling in 30 receptions out of the backfield. Bernard is also already in competition withAdrian Peterson for the highest degree-of-difficulty TD run of the season after a brilliant one against Miami. He just needs more touches.
7. Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins: I might have him a little high, but part of that is because he already has such a huge role in the offense. He is fast becoming Robert Griffin III's favorite target, a guy RG III knows will come down with the clutch grab in key situations. All he needs now is more targets because his catch rate is extremely high. Reed has 38 catches but on just 49 targets. This is the type of player who could become a regular 75-catch performer.
8. Alec Ogletree, OLB, St. Louis Rams: The speed and athleticism just jump out at you when you watch Ogletree play. He's around the action a great deal, showing range and versatility to affect the game on any down. He might be too high if you discount for mistakes, but he doesn't come off the field and is helpful in coverage. If Ogletree can become more of a downhill force against the run, and limit his missed tackles, he could become a good one.
9. Tyrann Mathieu, S, Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals' defensive structure allows Mathieu to wreak havoc and come through with difference-making plays. And he can make those plays all over the field. He's second on the team in tackles and tackles for loss, plus he has picked off two passes. I think the sample size is great enough that we can say Arizona got a steal.
10. D.J. Fluker, OT, San Diego Chargers: Has been a solid all-around performer at right tackle for the Chargers, proving to be a key reasonPhilip Rivers has enjoyed such an outstanding year so far. Fluker broke into the league matched up against J.J. Watt, and, although that was a struggle, he's been better since, improving his run blocking (which we expected to be good) but also holding up well as a pass-blocker. Did you see him flying down the field to make a block against Washington?
15. Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets: He's well below average among starting QBs, but he's been resilient and gets past his mistakes.
16. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers: Has been Rivers' favorite WR target over the past five weeks.
17. Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys: With 477 yards so far, Williams has a realistic shot to get to 1,000 in his rookie season.
19. Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams: He has emerged as the true No. 1 back in St. Louis. Exceptional at staying square and bouncing off contact.
22. Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona: Still has just that one big game (Week 8), but I expect a lot more. Run or pass threat.
23. Kawann Short, DT, Carolina Panthers: Lotulelei gets the attention, but Short is very good when he's on the field.
24. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions: An above-average run defender, he really needs to deepen his portfolio with pass-rush moves.
27. Chris Jones, DT, New England Patriots: Hit-or-miss, but, when he penetrates, he causes problems, thus the 5.0 sacks.
29. Eric Fisher, OT, Kansas City Chiefs: Had his best game of the year against Buffalo. Who said a move to the right was so easy?
30. Jordan Mills, OT, Chicago Bears: Gets credit for surviving as a starter, but pass protection is now a big concern.
Next in line
Lane Johnson, OT, Philadelphia Eagles; Marlon Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens; EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills; Micah Hyde, Green Bay Packers; Cordarrelle Patterson,Minnesota Vikings; Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers;;Kayvon Webster, Denver Broncos; Joe Vellano, New England Patriots; Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals; Robert Woods, Buffalo Bills; Sam Martin, P, Detroit Lions; Kenny Stills, WR, New Orleans Saints; Sio Moore, Oakland Raid