Thursday, November 7, 2013

AFC East duo tops Kiper's rookie rankings


Geno Smith and E.J. Manuel may have headlined the draft for the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, but it's a couple defensive selections who are earning most of the praise through nine weeks.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper put out his picks of the top 30 rookies up to this point in the season, and a pair of divisional playmakers topped the list.

Buffalo linebacker Kiko Alonso took home top honors, while New York defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson wasn't far behind.

Alonso, who Kiper said "has great instincts and has that extra set of eyes to make plays amid all the chaos," is sitting near the top of the league in tackles and is tied for the most interceptions with four. ProFootballFocus has the 23-year-old ranked fifth overall among inside linebackers and first in the group in pass coverage.

His quantity of work has been just as big as the quality. Alonso's played 685 snaps so far this season, almost 60 more than anyone else on the defensive side of the ball for Buffalo and third most of any linebacker in the league.

Alonso's constant presence in the middle of the field was one of Kiper's main points for awarding him the top spot. If not for that, it may have been Richardson donning the honor, who's had quite a start himself.

Richardson has been a dominant presence in Gang Green's run defense and a big reason it's tops in the league at the moment. The 22-year-old has been a regular force in collapsing opposing offense's pockets and has tallied 41 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. But his contribution — like Alonso's — is deeper than just the surface.

The former Tiger is ranked third at his position against the run by ProFootballFocus and has the third most stops (solo defensive tackles leading to an offensive failure). Like Alonso, he's seen a hefty share of snaps, combining with teammate Muhammad Wilkerson for more than 1,100 total plays.

Here's what Kiper had to say about the two potential Rookie of the Year candidates:
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.
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