2. Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets defensive end: Damon "Big Snacks" Harrison has been a mainstay in our "Making the Leap" series, but Richardson has been nearly as dominant against the run while adding a pass rushing element. The Jets' star-studded defensive line is holding opponents to a league-low 3.0 yards per carry.
3. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals running back:Jay Gruden's offense finally has a second playmaker to complement A.J. Green. No rookie is within 100 yards of Bernard's 438 yards from scrimmage. His ankle-breaking 20-yard touchdown against the Bills looked like a clip from a Barry Sanders highlight video.
4. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers running back: Lacy is the first Packers rookie since John Brockington in 1971 to rush for at least 99 yards in back-to-back games. With Randall Cobb out at least eight weeks and James Jonesnursing a PCL sprain, Lacy could be the focal point of the offense in a rejuvenated ground attack.
5. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals defensive back: The steal of the NFL draft, Mathieu has been an every-down asset as a slot corner, outside cornerback and deep safety. We knew about his naturalplaymakinginstincts, but his tackling ability and run support have been just as impressive, drawing comparisons to former VikingsPro Bowler Antoine Winfield.
11. Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints safety: Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is asking a lot of the No. 15 overall pick, lining him up as a deep safety, an in-the-box safety, a nickel back in the slot, a cornerback on the outside, an inside linebacker and an outside linebacker. Vaccaro has been one of most important players on a defense that has gone from overly generous to downright stingy.