NFL Rookie Rankings: Nick Bosa beats out four offensive first-year stars for the top spot

ByJeff Legwold ESPN logo
Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The 2019 rookie class had a lot of intrigue, and with the NFL's regular season well behind us, we ranked the best of the best in the year's group.

We asked six writers and analysts -- Matt Bowen, Mike Clay, Jeff Legwold, Cam Mellor, Kevin Seifert and Field Yates -- to rank the top 10 rookies throughout the season; then we tabulated the results using Heisman-type scaling for each set. The product features nine players taken in the first 51 picks last April, and although it didn't contribute to his ranking -- this is regular season only -- the top seed served as a defensive force in helping power his team to the Super Bowl.

We also looked at two first-year players who closed the season well and saw their stock rise, and two whose stock declined in the final month. But first, here is our final ranking of the top 10 rookies of the 2019 regular season, starting with that Super Bowl-bound pass-rusher.

1. Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers

Stats: 47 tackles, 9.0 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble

Drafted: No. 2 overall

Previous rank: 1

Bosa was second in sacks and No. 1 in quarterback hits for the top pass defense in the league during the regular season. He was an especially fierce presence in the pass rush down the stretch, with nine QB hits over the final four games. Football fans will get another look at the top rookie in the Super Bowl, when his Niners face the Chiefs.

2. Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders

Stats: 242 carries, 1,150 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns

Drafted: No. 24 overall

Previous rank: 2

Jacobs missed the final three games of the season with a shoulder injury and a skin infection. But he still finished eighth in the league in rushing and led all rookies in yards on the ground, consistently breaking tackles and providing yards after contact.

3. Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Stats: 3,722 passing yards, 544 rushing yards, 24 total touchdowns, 12 interceptions

Drafted: No. 1 overall

Previous rank: 3

He threw four of his 12 interceptions in back-to-back games (Weeks 13 and 14), but the body of work over the course of the season at the most difficult position for a rookie puts him at No. 3. Murray and Cam Newton are the only rookie quarterbacks in league history to have passed for at least 3,500 yards and rushed for at least 500.

4. A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans

Stats: 52 receptions, 1,051 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns

Drafted: No. 51 overall

Previous rank: NR

In the 11 games that Ryan Tannehill started at quarterback for the Titans, Brown had four 100-yard games, caught six of his eight touchdowns and averaged at least 15 yards per catch seven times. And he topped 20 yards per catch four times during that stretch. Some in the league believe Brown was actually the NFL's best rookie by the time Week 17 rolled around.

5. Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Redskins

Stats: 58 receptions, 919 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns

Drafted: No. 76 overall

Previous rank: 6

McLaurin made many cornerbacks pay the price for trying to press him at the line of scrimmage. And while his production dipped some in the weeks immediately following fellow rookie Dwayne Haskins Jr. being named starting quarterback, McLaurin eventually had at least seven targets and averaged at least 14 yards per reception in three of the final five games.

6. Josh Allen, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars

Stats: 44 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

Drafted: No. 7 overall

Previous rank: 5

He has some work to do in the run game, but Allen was drafted to impact the pass rush and was the league's only rookie to nudge his way past 10 sacks this season (the Raiders' Maxx Crosby finished right at 10). Allen should get more snaps overall moving forward -- he played 58% or fewer of Jacksonville's defensive snaps in its final seven games -- when he improves his work on early downs.

7. Devin Bush, ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Stats: 109 tackles, 1.0 sack, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble

Drafted: No. 10 overall

Previous rank: 4

After playing at least 90% of the defensive snaps in four of the first seven games (and 89% in another), Bush lost some coverage snaps in the season's second half as Mark Barron saw more time in down-and-distance situations. But this is a player with dynamic closing speed who will flourish over the long haul in the Steelers' scheme.

8. Erik McCoy, C, New Orleans Saints

Stats: 16 starts, 93.3% pass block win rate

Drafted: No. 48 overall

Previous rank: 8

McCoy played all but six snaps this season -- he briefly left a Week 8 win over Arizona just before halftime -- for the league's No. 3 scoring offense. The Saints also tied for the third-fewest sacks allowed in the league and averaged 4.6 yards per rush in run plays over the center.

9. Elgton Jenkins, G, Green Bay Packers

Stats: 14 starts, 95.0% pass block win rate

Drafted: No. 44 overall

Previous rank: 9

Jenkins took over as the Packers' starting left guard in Week 3 and didn't miss a snap the rest of the way. He did not allow a sack all season in one-on-one situations, and the Packers averaged at least 5.2 yards per carry in run plays over the left guard or behind the left guard and center. Jenkins' 95% pass block win rate -- the percentage of blocks sustained for at least 2.5 seconds, an ESPN metric powered by NFL Next Gen Stats -- was the best of any rookie.

10. Dexter Lawrence, DT, New York Giants

Stats: 38 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Drafted: No. 17 overall

Previous rank: 10

After playing at least 70% of the defensive snaps in a five-game stretch from Week 10 to Week 14, Lawrence was on the field less and had just four tackles combined in the final three games. But he was an early-down force for much of the season and his potential was easy to see.

Just missed

Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: Sanders, who played through an MCL sprain in the Eagles' playoff loss to the Seahawks, flashed lead-back potential throughout the season. He averaged at least 5.7 yards per carry in four games, and his 50 receptions made him the only rookie running back to reach that total this season. He finished with 1,327 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns.

Gardner Minshew II, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Minshew responded to his benching well and rebounded with seven touchdown passes and only one interception in his final four starts of the season. He consistently showed premium deep-ball accuracy throughout the season. Minshew closed the season with 3,271 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Also received top 10 votes: Juan Thornhill, Jamel Dean, Marquise Brown, Maxx Crosby, DK Metcalf, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Dalton Risner, Mecole Hardman, Deebo Samuel

DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Metcalf had six games with two or fewer catches, but you could see his comfort level rise more and more as the season wore on. He consistently wins contested catches, and as his route tree grows, so will his touchdown totals. If the postseason were factored in here, Metcalf might have made the top-10 list -- he posted 219 receiving yards on 11 playoff catches for the Seahawks.

Chase Winovich, OLB, New England Patriots: Winovich didn't start a game this season for the Patriots, but New England also led the league in total defense and scoring defense, with plenty of veteran depth. Winovich was still one of the most efficient defenders in the league in terms of production per snap. Four times this season he had a sack in a game where he played 17 or fewer snaps.

Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants: Look, everyone understands it was no picnic playing behind the Giants' offensive line this season and that the team won just two games after September. But the ball was simply not Jones' friend, as he led the league in fumbles (17) and lost 11 of them. Put 12 interceptions in 12 starts on the pile, and his offseason should include a lot more emphasis on ball security.

Brian Burns, OLB, Carolina Panthers: Everything changed after Burns underwent a surgical procedure on his wrist during the team's bye week in October. Before the surgery, he had 4.5 sacks in six games, including four starts. After the surgery? Burns started just once, and he had four games in which he didn't record a tackle and four in which he played 16 or fewer snaps. And he had three sacks over the final 10 games. One of new coach Matt Rhule's biggest tasks on defense is to reintegrate Burns.

Related Video