Top 10 rookies: Vander Esch climbs and Mayfield falls

They almost couldn’t have been further apart on the league’s draft boards last April.

Yet, almost eight months later, Saquon Barkley, who was selected by the Giants with the second pick of the draft, and Phillip Lindsay, who was signed as an undrafted rookie by the Broncos, are side by side in the league’s current rushing rankings. And both are in the race for the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.

And the comparison, in terms of production per snap, is far more favorable to Lindsay, though Barkley gets more love in the highlights. Barkley is currently third in the league in rushing with 954 yards -- behind the Rams’ Todd Gurley (1,175 yards) and the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott (1,150 yards) -- while Lindsay is fourth at 937 yards.

Barkley has 602 yards receiving compared to Lindsay’s 189, but in terms of what happens when they touch the ball, Lindsay leads the league in yards per carry at 6.1. With combined rushing and receiving, Lindsay has averaged 6.3 yards per touch while Barkley is at 5.8.

In the end, both could have a difficult time snagging many Rookie of the Year votes from Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield on the offensive side of things. But if Lindsay powers a playoff push for the Broncos, it offers an intriguing argument for the guy who some personnel executives believe is the league’s biggest surprise.

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

Top 10 (stats are Weeks 1-13 combined)

1. S Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers

Stats: 81 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 INTs

Previous ranking: 1

He had moments against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night when he put on a clinic in coverage, had impact rushing the passer and continued to show himself to be a quality finisher as a tackler. He is the leading tackler on a defense in the league’s top 10 in both scoring and total defense as well as tied for the team lead in interceptions and third in sacks.

2. LB Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts

Stats: 122 tackles, 6 sacks, 4 FF, 1 INT

Previous ranking: 3

He gave folks a brief scare when he left the team’s Week 12 game against Miami with a knee injury after one defensive snap. He returned for the second possession, however, to finish with 10 tackles and a sack. He’s assignment-sound and consistently finds the ball.

3. LB Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos

Stats: 44 tackles, 10 sacks, 2 FF

Previous ranking: 4

He leads all rookies in sacks, has been a reliable player setting the edge in the run game and, while he had a rookie moment or three against the Steelers’ Alejandro Villanueva, he still might even have had an additional sack or two if he didn’t play across from Von Miller, who is difficult to beat to the quarterback. Miller said this past week: “Chubb, he’s just scratching the surface of what he can do.”

4. QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Stats: 2,639 yards passing, 18 TDs, 10 INTs

Previous ranking: 2

It was to be expected, but Mayfield had a rather stark reminder of a young quarterback’s learning curve this past weekend when he threw three interceptions against the Texans. Mayfield has feasted on the struggling defenses he has faced, but the Browns are now 1-3 in Mayfield’s starts against defenses currently in the league’s top 10, including the Texans. He’s thrown five touchdowns and seven interceptions and has been sacked 12 times in those four games.

5. RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Stats: 954 yards rushing, 602 yards receiving, 12 total TDs

Previous ranking: 6

Barkley had his fourth and fifth 100-yard rushing games of the season over the past two weeks as he averaged 7.8 and 5.2 yards per carry in those two games. He left this past Sunday’s win over the Bears in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury, but is expected to play against the Washington Redskins this week.

6. RB Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos

Stats: 937 yards rushing, 6.1 yards per carry, 9 total TDs

Previous ranking: 8

In Week 12, Lindsay became the first back of the season to top 100 yards rushing against the Steelers to go with a single-game, career-best 157 yards rushing this past Sunday in a win over the Bengals. Lindsay has averaged at least 5 yards per carry in nine games this season.

7. LB Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys

Stats: 103 tackles, 2 INTs, 7 PD

Previous ranking: 9

Sometimes when you watch the game video, it’s easy to forget Vander Esch has made just seven starts this season -- he has, however, been credited with at least 10 tackles in four of those, including the 13 he had in the win over Philadelphia last month.

8. CB Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns

Stats: 48 tackles, 3 INTs, 11 PD

Previous ranking: 5

Ward left the Browns’ loss Sunday in the first half with a concussion -- he played 32 snaps on defense -- and is now in the league’s protocol. Ward was also checked for a neck injury before he was evaluated for a concussion.

9. LB Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears

Stats: 92 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 sacks

Previous ranking: NR

Smith has been increasingly active, especially in his past five starts, in one of the league’s most consistent defenses this season. The Bears’ front seven has created enough issues for quarterbacks and Vic Fangio’s group leads the league in interceptions.

10. G Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts

Stats: Colts’ 14 sacks allowed is second fewest in league.

Previous ranking: 7

The Jaguars’ front gave the Colts some trouble this past Sunday as Nelson was flagged for his seventh holding flag of the season, but overall, he continues to move people off the line of scrimmage with rare power and continues to move in and out of double-teams with good feel and savvy.

Close, but not quite (totals are for 13 weeks)

49ers RT Mike McGlinchey (just two penalties); Bengals S Jessie Bates (87 tackles, 3 INTs); Browns RB Nick Chubb (694 yards rushing, 5.3 yards per carry, 9 total TDs); Panthers CB Donte Jackson (49 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 sack); Texans S Justin Reid (60 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 TD); Packers CB Jaire Alexander (49 tackles, 1 INT, 10 PD); Bills LB Tremaine Edmunds (70 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 FF); 49ers LB Fred Warner (92 tackles, 1 FF, 6 PD); Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (50 catches, 647 yards, 8 TDs); Steelers S Terrell Edmunds (55 tackles, 4 PD); Broncos WR Courtland Sutton (19.9 yards per catch, 3 TDs); Panthers WR DJ Moore (609 yards receiving, 150 yards rushing); Bills QB Josh Allen (1,223 yards passing, 389 yards rushing); Giants DT B.J. Hill (38 tackles, 5 sacks); Titans LB Rashaan Evans (35 tackles, 1 TFL); Lions RB Kerryon Johnson (641 yards rushing, 4 total TDs).

Kickers need love, too

Seattle punter Michael Dickson is second in gross average (48.7 yards per punt) and leads the league in net average (44.2). His 69-yarder in the opener is also tied for the third-longest punt of the season.