LB Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills
The rookie out of Oregon does it all, doesn’t he? Alonso can bring the pain as a downhill run-stuffer, he can make key plays in coverage, and he can even blitz if needed. His trademark games came against the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals when he had two interceptions the former contest and 22 tackles in the latter, and his stat sheet is just overflowing with numbers. The man simply makes plays all over the field, and he has four interceptions, a fumble forced, a fumble recovered, and a whopping 81 tackles already this season.
CB Marcus Cooper, Kansas City Chiefs
Cooper has flown under the radar a bit, because he isn’t getting the praise the other rookies on this list have received. But he’s been just about as good as the rest of them, and he was a real steal for the Kansas City Chiefs in this year’s draft. The Chiefs took Cooper out of Rutgers (whoa, how about that one Schiano and Belichick?) with a seventh-round pick, and he’s been more than they could have ever hoped for. Cooper has simply flourished as a rookie, and he looks like a real shutdown corner in the making. Former Rutgers teammate and Patriots rookie CB Logan Ryan (selected in the third round) has impressed this season as well (two big plays in the past two games), but he hasn’t been nearly as good as Cooper, who is as assured as anyone in coverage. I mean, who would have guessed that Marcus Cooper would be the most impressive rookie cornerback through the first half of the regular season? He has a whopping 11 passes defended under his belt this season, and he definitely isn’t done yet.
TE Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
Fred Davis has become a mere afterthought in the Washington Redskins offense thanks to the emergence of Jordan Reed, who has made a big impact since Week 1. The Florida Gators product is an elite tight end in the making, and he has 34 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns this season as the clear No. 2 option in the Redskins passing attack behind Pierre Garcon. Reed is an incredibly versatile TE, and he is somebody to continue to watch for closely.
DT Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers
Picking up Star Lotulelei in the first round of this year’s draft was simply a dream come true for the Carolina Panthers, and he’s and Kawann Short have formed an excellent starting defensive tackle duo. It’s something that the Panthers have needed for quite some time, as they had the worst DTs in the NFL in the period since they last made it to the playoffs in the 2008 season. The Panthers starting defensive tackles are no longer a laughingstock, but rather a pair of promising rookies in Lotulelei and Short. The former Utah star has easily been one of the most impressive rookies of this year’s draft class, and his ability to plug up running lanes is absolutely absurd. Again, the Panthers have needed a top-flight, run-stuffing DT like Lotulelei for quite some time, and he’s been a real godsend for this defense.