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Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill shine

Gregg Rosenthal watches every rookie quarterback snap and ranks them based on that week's performance only.


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When I started this rookie quarterback column in September, I never imagined how great this class would be. It's rare enough that the top two picks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have been sensational. The depth of the class makes it special.

Consider: It's Week 15 and the top three performances on this week's list all would have qualified for a No. 1 ranking in almost any other week. Two came in the crucial wins during the playoff race. None of the top performances were by Luck or RG3.

1A. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

Mike Martz was my tiebreaker. Cousins gets the "1A" tag in part because Martz, the Fox analyst, was nearly frothing at the mouth about Cousins' performance. Flooring one of the ultimate quarterback gurus of the last 20 years counts for something.

Cousins actually battled through an uneven first half. He was not that accurate, starting 1-for-6 with a telegraphed interception. Still, his first half included one of the best throws of the week on a long score to Leonard Hankerson. Cousins showed unnatural calm scanning the field while going throw his progressions.

The kid was absolutely dealing in the second half. He delivered accurate throws under pressure, often throwing tough touch passes with a free rusher coming at him. He looked great running a lot of bootleg plays. His play-action fakes and throws up the seam looked positively Griffin-like. The Redskins stayed very aggressive throwing late as if Cousins was a ten-year veteran. That shows the confidence the Shanahans have in him.

The Redskins have been searching for a quarterback for years. It's only one game, but it sure looks like they found two.

1B. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

"You can see now we are really playing offense with Russell," coach Pete Carroll said after Seattle's latest 50-burger. "For a long time, we were just trying to get our offense going and not screw it up and make sure that he could keep growing and keep taking positive steps."

The Seahawks are past that now. They are using Wilson's legs on more zone read plays to devastating effect He sells the crap out of his play fakes. Wilson ran for 92 yards against Buffalo with three rushing touchdowns, his second huge rushing performance in three weeks. (Two scores came on zone reads.) It feels like the Seahawks wanted to establish Wilson as a thrower this season before unleashing his rushing potential late this season.

Wilson only had to complete nine passes for Seattle to score their first 38 points. Wilson's ability to avoid negative plays sticks out. He hasn't thrown a red zone pick all year. His protection was worse than usual against Buffalo, but Wilson repeatedly created something out of nothing. A defender can be unblocked two feet in front of Wilson, and he calmly navigates the situation. He assumes that first defender won't be a problem. Wilson is also great at knowing when to throw the ball away.

This is Pete Carroll's dream: An explosive quarterback that plays smart and avoids mistakes.

1C. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

I hate putting Tannehill third in line because he was awesome this week. Hence, the 1C designation. Tannehill gets knocked slightly because of his opponent (Jacksonville JJaguars) and because of a poor first quarter that included a few missed open throws and a lost fumble. After that, Tannehill was absolutely lights out.

He finished the game on a 19-of-22 streak. Most throws were into small windows. Two of the incompletions were on drops that could have been touchdowns. Touchdown drives are hard for Miami because they have no explosive outside threats, so Tannehill really had to be perfect. His legs were the key. He was terrific throwing on the move and he picked up four first downs and 52 rushing yards. All six of his non kneel-down runs were successful.

Tannehill is streakier overall than the other top rookie quarterbacks. But when he's on, he compares well with any of them.

4. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Last week, I asked if Luck was showing the effects of taking too many hits. This week was a continuation on the theme. J.J. Watt lived in the Colts backfield Sunday, and Luck's accuracy really suffered. It's hard to separate Luck's terrible protection from his sluggish play of late. He's completed less than half his passes in three straight games.

There are still many positive moments every week, but the reality is Luck played his best, most consistent football before Thanksgiving.

5. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns

I've read a lot of criticism about Weeden's performance, but it wasn't that different than his usual game. He made a couple nice throws under duress. He showed off his arm strength a number of times and connected on a bomb. He mostly received good pass protection. Weeden's shortcomings, however, remain consistent.

He threw two crippling interceptions in the second half of a close game because he's predictable and waits too long to throw the ball. So many times, I yelled at the old Game Rewind: "Throw it!" Martz noticed Weeden needs to see the receiver open; he doesn't anticipate. Weeden struggles to go through his progression and has too many passes batted down. While the rest of this class excels at play fakes, Weeden's play action skills are half-hearted.

It will be tough for the next Cleveland coach to evaluate Weeden because he's not as bad as his public perception. But does Weeden show the feel for the position necessary to be a star as a true pocket passer?

6. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles

After three weeks of steady progress, Foles took a step back against Cincinnati. Philly's fumblepalooza wasn't his fault, but Foles did turn the ball over twice. His underthrown deep ball in the third quarter turned the game around. Foles has a strong arm; it just was simply a bad toss.

There were still positives in the game. Foles shows a nice ability to avoid pressure. Ultimately, the team only had 10 first downs and he averaged well under six yards-per-pass. I'll be interested to see how he responds.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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