Top 10 rookies: The race for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year tightens

Two of the leading contenders for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award were on the same field Sunday, as Denver Broncos linebacker Bradley Chubb and Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James simply confirmed their front-runner statuses for that year-end conversation.

As the Broncos escaped with a 23-22 victory, Chubb finished with seven tackles, a sack, two tackles for losses and two quarterback hits. Chubb is threatening the rookie record for sacks -- 14.5, set by Jevon Kearse in 1999 -- as Chubb now has nine sacks in 10 games, including 7.5 in the past five games.

“I think he is the Defensive Rookie of the Year,” said Broncos linebacker Von Miller, who won the award in 2011. “I said at the beginning of the year the sacks would come for him, and he’s showing what kind of player he is. The sky is the limit.”

James, who the Chargers grabbed with the 17th pick of the first round in April, finished Sunday's game with seven tackles in the loss to give him 71 for the season to go with 3.5 sacks, an interception and seven passes defensed.

“... He’s an awesome player,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said last week. “Thank goodness he fell to us when he did ... he makes you look out there at least one time a game and go, ‘Oh my gosh, did you see that play he just made?’”

From game analysis and discussion with personnel evaluators, here’s a look at the top 10 rookies on defense and offense after 11 weeks:

Top 10 (stats are Weeks 1 to 11 combined)

1. S Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers

Stats: 71 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 7 passes defensed

Previous ranking: 1

James’ versatility continues to keep him in the top spot. Joey Bosa has returned to the Chargers' lineup -- he played 31 snaps in his first game action of the season on Sunday -- so James, who has moonlighted as a pass-rusher, might play more in coverage in the weeks to come.

2. QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Stats: 1,984 yards passing, 13 touchdowns, 61.8 completion percentage

Previous ranking: 3

The Browns had a Week 11 bye, but Mayfield continues to grow into the job quickly, given he has nine touchdown passes and two interceptions in his past four games combined. In his latest start, he went 17-of-20 passing with three touchdowns in Cleveland’s win over Atlanta.

3. LB Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts

Stats: 104 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 5 sacks

Previous ranking: 4

Leonard had a hat trick of sorts this past Sunday with an interception, a forced fumble and sack in the Colts’ win over the Titans. And people can’t say they weren’t warned, as way back in training camp the first guy to pick off Andrew Luck was Leonard.

4. LB Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos

Stats: 37 tackles, 9 sacks, 1 FF

Previous ranking: 5

Chubb already has collected sacks against some of the league’s best after he got to Philip Rivers once on Sunday in a season when he also has sacked the Rams’ Jared Goff three times, Joe Flacco once and Deshaun Watson once.

5. CB Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns

Stats: 42 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 FF

Previous ranking: 2

Ward has dealt with a hip injury of late -- having left the team’s Nov. 4 loss to Kansas City after the first defensive series of the game -- and it appears to have impacted his movement at times, even as he played every snap (75 in all) in the Week 10 win over the Falcons. It was a similar injury he dealt with early in the offseason.

6. RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Stats: 728 yards rushing, 540 yards receiving, 10 total TDs

Previous ranking: 7

His 27-carry, 142-yard effort in Week 11 was the first time he had more than 20 carries in a game this season. He has registered 47 carries in the past two games combined, both victories for the Giants.

7. G Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts

Stats: Colts have allowed 1 sack in past six games combined.

Previous ranking: 8

Nelson is fast becoming a YouTube must-see for some of his work, particularly in the run game. He was fined $26,739 for lowering his helmet on a crushing block on Jaguars safety Barry Church in Week 10, but the clip was clicked on thousands of times. But he and fellow rookie Braden Smith have helped the Colts show what Andrew Luck could do with quality protection.

8. RB Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos

Stats: 670 yards rushing, 5.5 yards per carry, 6 total TDs

Previous ranking: 9

Lindsay has been tremendously productive. He is eighth in the league in rushing despite not having more than 18 carries in any game this season, and he has had more than 15 carries in just two games. He has averaged at least 4.7 yards per carry in eight of 10 games.

9. LB Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys

Stats: 85 tackles, 2 INTs, 6 PD

Previous ranking: 10

He continues to show what the combination of athleticism and instincts looks like. The Cowboys credited him with 19 tackles in Dallas’ win over Philadelphia in Week 10, the highest total by a rookie defender for the team since the Boys started keeping those totals in 1983.

10. S Jessie Bates, Cincinnati Bengals

Stats: 80 tackles, 3 INTs

Previous ranking: 6

Bates is still active and around the ball, but he has been in chase mode more of late, as the team’s defense is now ranked last in the league in total defense and 31st in scoring defense.

Close, but not quite (totals are for nine games)

Browns RB Nick Chubb (579 yards rushing, 6.2 yards per carry); Panthers CB Donte Jackson (42 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 sack); Bears LB Roquan Smith (71 tackles, 3 sacks); Packers CB Jaire Alexander (41 tackles, 1 INT, 9 PD); 49ers RT Mike McGlinchey (49ers one of five teams averaging at least 133 yards rushing per game); Lions RB Kerryon Johnson (641 yards rushing, 4 total TDs); Bills LB Tremaine Edmunds (70 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 FF); 49ers LB Fred Warner (77 tackles, 1 FF, 5 PD); Redskins NT Daron Payne (34 tackles, 3 sacks); Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (39 catches, 532 yards, 7 TDs); Steelers S Terrell Edmunds (38 tackles); Broncos WR Courtland Sutton (20.0 yards per catch); Raiders DT Maurice Hurst (26 tackles, 4 sacks).

Kickers need love too

Daniel Carlson has shown plenty of vocational fortitude this season. The rookie was unceremoniously released by the Minnesota Vikings in September after he missed three field goals in a tie with the Green Bay Packers; Carlson failed on kicks of 48, 49 and 34 yards in the game, with all three wide right. The Raiders then signed Carlson on Oct. 24, and Carlson has made 6 of 7 kicks for the Raiders, including a game winner on Sunday, a 35-yarder as time expired. Carlson is 5-of-5 in the Raiders’ past two games.