The point where NFL contenders separate themselves from weaker teams has arrived. The narratives around the two types of teams divert in December. The former is focused on entering the postseason on a high. The latter is discussing draft order and the changes that need to be made in the offseason.
Regardless of where a team falls on that spectrum, it all begins and ends in the same place: the NFL Draft. For most contenders, it is easy to point to that three-day weekend as a turning point of a franchise's fortunes. Less successful teams may be looking ahead to the hope that comes with a strong draft class.
The rookies taken in April who are making key contributions are in the Power Rankings below. These rankings are not based on statistical performance but rather overall play. Without further ado, here are the cumulative regular-season rookie rankings following Week 13:
Sauce Gardner New York Jets CB
|Teams are just not targeting Gardner all that often. He has not been targeted more than four times in a game since Week 7, according to TruMedia. He has not given up more than 51 yards in a game this season, and is averaging 21.3 yards allowed per game.
Garrett Wilson New York Jets WR
|Wilson is a playmaker. He has four touchdowns and five games of 90+ receiving yards. On a play to the middle of the field, he took on contact, bounced off and scrambled for a 60-yard gain against the Vikings last weekend.
Chris Olave New Orleans Saints WR
|Olave is arguably the most productive rookie wide receiver right now. He has proven capable of running a variety of routes and winning at all three levels of the field. His style of play is sustainable and promising.
Drake London Atlanta Falcons WR
|London nearly had his first 100 receiving yard game of the season but fell short against Pittsburgh. If Atlanta gets the right quarterback in place, I think fans will see London flourish. He is still creating separation in the pass game.
Dameon Pierce Houston Texans RB
|All any running back in a slump needs is a chance to play the Browns. Cleveland ranks in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards allowed per game. After recording just 16 rushing yards over his previous two games, the Florida product rushed for 73 yards against his AFC North foe.
Trent McDuffie Kansas City Chiefs CB
|When healthy, McDuffie has played really well this season. Against a highly praised Cincinnati wide receiver room, the rookie surrendered two receptions on six targets for 17 yards. On one of those receptions, Ja'Marr Chase may have given him a little stab to the inside shoulder in an effort to create separation.
Aidan Hutchinson Detroit Lions DE
|Hutchinson is not a flashy player but he is consistent. The Lions know what they are going to get out of him in the run game and as a pass rusher.
Tariq Woolen Seattle Seahawks CB
|Woolen is tied for the league lead in interceptions. He has not allowed more than 57 yards in a game this season, averaging 31.8 yards allowed per game, according to TruMedia. The shine has worn off a bit, but Seattle could not ask for more out of their fifth-round pick.
Kader Kohou Miami Dolphins CB
|Kohou remains one of the best value picks of this draft class. Miami has two high-paid cornerbacks and a former first-round pick on their roster but it is Kohou spending a lot of time on the boundary. Injuries have played a role but teams do not often find undrafted free agents capable of playing at a level like Kohou.
Tyler Linderbaum Baltimore Ravens C
|Linderbaum has looked really good over the past two weeks working within the structure of the Ravens offense.
Braxton Jones Chicago Bears OT
|Jones is still developing in pass protection but the scheme allows him to grow at his own pace while accentuating his strength of being able to make plays in space. Chicago's offense has given fans hope moving forward.
Micheal Clemons New York Jets DE
|Clemons is a rotational player for New York so it is difficult to measure his impact alongside other full-time rookies. With that being said, he had a solid foundation as a run defender and it is easy to see him developing as a pass rusher. Robert Saleh was able to cultivate expectations among his edge rushers in San Francisco and that is being carried over to the Big Apple.
Jack Jones New England Patriots CB
|In my eyes, Jones was never as good as grades and analysis elsewhere may have suggested. It does not take away from him being one of the better rookie performers this year. If he did not have a good understanding of the game and a willingness to listen and learn, he could not play, let alone play well, for Bill Belichick.
Christian Watson Green Bay Packers WR
|There is no hotter wide receiver in the NFL right now than Watson. He has seven touchdowns over the last four games. Play and comments made by Aaron Rodgers suggested that their were trust issues between the veteran and his young wide receivers, but Watson has ran the scramble drill a few times in recent weeks, earning trust from his quarterback.
Kayvon Thibodeaux New York Giants OLB
|The numbers are not there yet for Thibodeaux, but they are coming. He shows an ability to win in a variety of ways. He does not sacrifice run game contributions to overpursue the quarterback. The No. 5 overall selection recorded his second sack of the season against Washington.