NFL Rookie Watch, Week 15: 5 Rookies playing big roles in playoff race

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Jalen Hurts #2 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs the ball against the New Orleans Saints at Lincoln Financial Field on December 13, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Jalen Hurts #2 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs the ball against the New Orleans Saints at Lincoln Financial Field on December 13, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

NFL Week 15 is full of playoff implications and these rookies will be in the mix.

Aside from a few bottom-tier teams, the playoff chase is still alive for a majority of the NFL. With teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers already securing themselves a spot in this year’s playoff, teams such as the Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers are going to need all hands on deck if they are to make a late-season push for the postseason.

With a great slate of games on the schedule for Week 15 and one of the best rookie classes in recent years, many of these first-year players will be on the gridiron making a difference for their clubs and establishing themselves as household names.

Keep an eye out for these cookies, as they could be the difference between their team spending January on the field or on the couch.

NFL Rookie Watch No. 5: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, 49ers

Sitting at 5-8, a playoff berth is rather unlikely for the injury-plagued 49ers. But with two divisional games remaining on the schedule, nothing is impossible. With 10 catches for 119 yards last week against a stingy Washington defense, Brandon Aiyuk dominated as the WR1 in fellow receiver Deebo Samuel’s absence.

With Samuel likely out for the season, Aiyuk has emerged as Nick Mullens’s favorite target and will look to continue to build upon what has been an underrated rookie campaign.

NFL Rookie Watch No. 4: Cam Akers, RB, Rams

Staying in the NFC West, the Los Angeles Rams have appeared to have found themselves a lead back. Trending upwards since Week 12, Cam Akers finally had his breakout performance last week against the Patriots.

Rushing to the tune of 171  yards at nearly 6.0 yards per carry in addition to 23 yards receiving, Akers has appeared to propel himself to the top of the Rams depth chart. With a matchup against the porous Jets defense, the Rams and fantasy owners can expect a repeat of last week from the rookie out of Florida State.

NFL Rookie Watch No. 3: Jalen Hurts, QB, Eagles

Moving to the NFC East where, at 4-8-1, the Eagles playoff hopes somehow remain alive. In a move many people were calling for but few thought would happen, head coach Doug Pederson benched QB1 Carson Wentz in favor of the rookie out of Oklahoma. In a nationally televised game versus the No. 1 seed in the NFC, Jalen Hurts appeared built for the moment.

With 273 all-purpose yards and a touchdown toss in his first real game experience, Hurts’ mobility brought a spark to the Eagles offense while, for seemingly the first time all season, the running game got going. Hurts cut down on the turnovers, managed the game well and allowed his defense to get into positions where they could get aggressive. Hurts will start again vs. Arizona but will need to play mistake-free if Philadelphia is to have any chance at a playoff berth.

NFL Rookie Watch No. 2: Chase Young, EDGE, Washington

If there were any doubts about the ability of the No. 2 pick entering last week’s matchup with San Francisco, there should be none going into Week 15. Chase Young accounted for six tackles, one sack, two pass deflections and a forced fumble he returned for a 47-yard score, all while primarily matching up with All-Pro Tackle Trent Williams.

Facing double teams seemingly weekly, Young’s rookie campaign has largely flown under the radar. However, as he has begun to heat up and find his rhythm, it is no coincidence that the Washington Football Team has been winners of their last four. He’ll have his hands full chasing the ever-elusive Russell Wilson this week but, if there is anyone that has shown the ability to do it, it’s Young.

NFL Rookie Watch No. 1: Justin Jefferson, WR, Vikings

Justin Jefferson struggled last week in Tampa but they are about the only team that has had success bottling up the first-year LSU wideout this season. He is one of 10 players to have hit the 1,000-yard mark in receiving so far this season, the only rookie to have done so. Jefferson would also be the runaway favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year winner if the award didn’t tend to favor quarterback accomplishments.

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The Vikings remain in the playoff hunt thanks in large part to Jefferson’s contributions and the job he’s done filling the void left by the departure of Stefon Diggs. This week’s matchup with divisional rival Chicago could make or break their season. And if Minnesota envisions themselves playing postseason football in January and February, a heavy dosage of Jefferson is how they’ll get there.