Which defensive rookies are shining brightest through the first six weeks of the 2019 season? Around The NFL's Chris Wesseling reveals his ranking of the top 10 newbies on D.
Look deeper than Bosa's three sacks, a misleading way to measure defensive disruption. The draft's No. 2 overall pick stole the show on national TV in Week 5, almost single-handedly shutting down Baker Mayfield's aerial attack with five QB hits, a pair of sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery -- numbers no San Francisco defender has matched in a single game since 2000, according to NFL Research. A high-pedigree 49ers defensive line, which disappointed in previous seasons, is suddenly terrorizing opposing quarterbacks, ranking second in pressure rate (34.7), third in sack percentage (10.0) and fourth in pass-rush separation (4.64 yards), per Next Gen Stats, despite blitzing less frequently than other top-tier defenses. Bosa leads the way, pressuring opposing passers at a higher rate than any player in the NFL through six weeks.
Bosa isn't the only rookie edge rusher making an early impact. He and Bears All-Pro Khalil Mack are the only players with a higher pressure rate than Burns, who is also among the league leaders in QB hits (11) for a reinvigorated Panthers unit that ranks first in sacks (27) and third in Football Outsiders' pass defense metrics. A prototypical edge rusher with rare length and an explosive first step, Burns has been a big-play machine, easing Ron Rivera's transition to a hybrid 3-4 scheme in Carolina.
Hyped as a Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite after a standout training camp, Bush struggled out of the gates, especially in pass coverage. Over the past month, though, he's been as advertised, showing an uncanny nose for the football with four fumbles recovered, a pair of interceptions and a touchdown en route to Week 6 Defensive Player of the Week honors. He leads all rookies in tackles (52) as well as Pro Football Focus' defensive stops metric (19) for a swarming Steelers defense that seems to increase in intensity with each passing week.
To complete the rookie pass-rusher triad, Allen ranks sixth in pressure rate, joining teammate Yannick Ngakoue and behemoth former Pro Bowler John Henderson as the only players in franchise history to record four sacks in their first six career games. Judging from the early results, the Raiders may rue the decision to opt for Clelin Ferrell over Allen with the draft's No. 4 pick. Ferrell owns one of the league's lowest pressure rates to date.
While the decline phase of Earl Thomas' lustrous career is playing out in a leaky Ravens secondary, there is a faint reminder of his once-distinctive closing speed, ball skills and bone-jarring physicality in Green Bay. Savage and impressive second-year cornerback Jaire Alexander have transformed the back end of a Packers defense that ranks fifth in Football Outsiders' pass defense metrics after finishing a dismal 28th in 2018.
The Giants have found their replacement for Damon "Snacks" Harrison in the 342-pound Lawrence, who has laid waste to the notion that he might be just a two-down run stuffer in the NFL. The former Clemson standout has been borderline immovable versus double teams and a handful for interior linemen to stop in one-on-one showdowns -- as evidenced by this show of force, which veteran Vikings guard Josh Kline will want to bury in the film room.
A stud against the run, the surprising fifth-round pick ranks second only to Bush in tackles (44) among rookies. Even more impressive, Minnesota's Eric Kendricks and Seattle's Bobby Wagner are the only inside linebackers with a higher stop percentage in the run game, per Pro Football Focus. That said, he should probably give way to the rangier Shaun Dion Hamilton in passing situations, an area in which Holcomb needs work.
While second-round cornerback Rock Ya-Sin has been stingy in man-to-man coverage, he's struggled in coordinator Matt Eberflus' frequent zone looks. Fourth-round safety Willis, on the other hand, has been a revelation as a stand-in for injured starters Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers. The former Michigan State star caught NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger's eye in the Colts' upset victory over the Chiefs, logging playing time in the box, at free safety, along the defensive line, in the slot and even out wide. It shouldn't be long before the versatile rookie overtakes Geathers for the full-time job alongside Hooker.
The Rams believe Rapp has the potential to become the Cooper Kupp of their defense, one of the premier slot weapons in football with an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. Now that starting safety John Johnson III has been placed on injured reserve, it's a safe bet the second-round pick will see more playing time -- even if he doesn't start -- alongside Eric Weddle at the back end of a retooled secondary headlined by recent acquisition Jalen Ramsey.
Just when it seemed that all hope was lost with Bradley Chubb's ACL injury in yet another last-second loss, Denver's defense hit its stride with the undrafted duo of Malik Reed and Alexander Johnson joining the starting linebacker corps. Reed notched his first career sack in that heartbreaking Week 4 loss to the Jaguars, tallied two QB hits and five hurries versus the Chargers in Week 5 and teamed with Von Miller to collapse the pocket in the Week 6 whitewash of the Titans. Keep an eye on No. 59 Reed and No. 45 Johnson when Patrick Mahomes comes to town for "Thursday Night Football."