The NFL regular season has reached Week 14 and playoff races are heating up. Some teams have a firm grasp on a playoff position, but the wild-card spots remain contentious. The NFC has seven teams with five or six wins while the AFC has nine teams with six to eight wins.
Here are five rookies who will make the biggest impact on securing those final playoff berths.
5. Seahawks CB Devon Witherspoon
Witherspoon has allowed 40 receiving yards or more in three of his 11 appearances. He can play inside or outside in that defense. If the play is to the flat, he will flash in run support. The rookie wears many hats for that Seahawks defense. Of the 67 times he has been targeted this season, 13.4% have ended with a pass breakup, according to TruMedia.
Seattle is one of seven NFC teams with five or six wins on the year. The Eagles are their only remaining opponent that ranks in the top 10 for passing yards.
4. Bills TE Dalton Kincaid
Buffalo is farther back in the standings than it is accustomed to, but it still has a pulse. The Bills' upcoming schedule -- Chiefs, Cowboys, Chargers, Patriots and Dolphins -- is difficult, and the rookie tight end will be leaned upon heavily. Over the first five weeks of the season, he averaged 3.4 receptions per game. He has averaged 6.5 receptions per game since, with five receptions or more in every game.
3. Rams WR Puka Nacua
Nacua had three games of 100-plus receiving yards in his first four. Over the past eight games, overlapping with Cooper Kupp's return, Nacua has two such games, including a four-reception, 105-yards, one-touchdown performance last week against the Browns. However, Nacua still ranks seventh in the league in receiving yards (1,074), 11th in receptions (77) and eighth in targets (118). The next closest rookie receiver in those categories has not even come over the horizon in the rearview mirror. As Kupp deals with nagging injuries, Nacua should play a pivotal role down the stretch.
Los Angeles has had a productive rookie class all-round with edge rusher Byron Young, offensive guard Steve Avila and defensive tackle Kobie Turner all making a meaningful impact for a Rams team that is suddenly immersed in the playoff hunt.
2. Texans EDGE Will Anderson Jr.
Anderson has a 14.5% pressure rate this season, which ranks 24th among all pass rushers and first among rookies, according to TruMedia. The No. 3 overall selection has led a rising Texans defense. His five sacks may not raise many eyebrows, but his 34.4 pressures created put him ahead of Vikings edge rusher Danielle Hunter (13.5 sacks), Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (10 sacks) and Giants edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux (11.5 sacks). The only player ranked higher with fewer sacks is Giants nose tackle Dexter Lawrence.
When the Texans traded back up to select Anderson, I was critical because of the draft capital they sacrificed to make it happen. I will be the first to admit when I am wrong, and I was in this case.
1. Texans QB C.J. Stroud
Stroud has emerged as not just a competent starting quarterback in his rookie season but the odds on favorite for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and an MVP candidate. He has assumed a leadership role and delivered big plays in critical moments for a Texans team that has found itself amidst a blazing-hot playoff chase. At 7-5, they are just outside of the playoff picture behind three other 7-5 teams.
The No. 2 overall selection has a 101.2 rating, according to TruMedia, which is the fifth-best in the league. He leads the league in passing yardage (3,540).
Honorable mention: Jaguars OT Anton Harrison, Steelers CB Joey Porter Jr., Steelers DT Keeanu Benton, Browns OT Dawand Jones, Browns QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Falcons RB Bijan Robinson, Falcons OG Matthew Bergeron