One of the most enjoyable aspects of following the NFL is watching young talents develop, injecting a playmaking element that takes opposing teams and casual observers by surprise. A perfect example from last year was Randall Cobb, emerging from special teams weapon and occasional slot receiver to Aaron Rodgers' go-to receiver as the season progressed.
The goal of this piece is to highlight part-time players making the leap to difference-makers or unproven young talents ascending to key contributors. Once players have truly made the leap, they will graduate from this running list.Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 prospects for Week 5.
Only 15 linebackers in history have intercepted four passes in a season. Alonso accomplished the feat in his first month. He celebrated his Defensive Rookie of the Month award by playing the best game of his young career at Cleveland on Thursday night. Alonso almost single-handedly blew up the Browns' power/wham running plays, highlighted by a goal-line leap straight out of Troy Polamalu's prime.
Quickly becoming Gregg Rosenthal's favorite for Rookie of the Year honors, Woods already plays like a savvy veteran. As a receiver capable of going deep, running a full route tree and moving the sticks on third downs, Woods seems to possess the whole package.
Casey has been a mainstay on this list over the past month, but it was Verner who stole the show in Week 4 with two interceptions and a fumble recovery to pick up AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts in the win over the Jets.
It's a good thing the Titans didn't follow through with plans to move Verner to free safety. The 2010 fourth-rounder has allowed a league-best 12.9 passer rating on throws into his coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, he's surrendered just eight completions to go with four interceptions and four pass breakups on 23 pass attempts this season.
Jordan led this list last week, but Galette's contributions to the surprising Saints defense shouldn't go unnoticed. The edge rusher tallied a combined 17 quarterback sacks, hits and hurries this season, including a sack and a hit that forced an interception by Ryan Tannehill in Week 4.
Harrison and rookie Sheldon Richardson have keyed the Jets' shutdown run defense. One of the major differences between this year and last, though, is the speed element introduced by Davis as Bart Scott's successor. The first-year starter is leading the team with 29 tackles, the best of which saved the game when he caught Vincent Jackson from behind in the season opener.
9. Ziggy Ansah, Detroit Lions defensive end10. Larry Warford, Detroit Lions right guard
Unlike Barkevious Mingo of the Browns, there's a power element to Ansah's speed rushing. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft has held up surprisingly well against the run while leading the Lions in sacks.
As Marc Sessler pointed out in his excellent Game Rewind Review column, Warford deserves a mention for the gaping holes Reggie Bush has been exploiting this season. Detroit has at least one keeper apiece on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball from this year's rookie crop.
Cold list: Andy Dalton, Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Rueben Randle, Terrance Williams, Ryan Broyles, Ed Dickson, Will Beatty, Justin Pugh, Mike Adams, Eric Fisher, Lamar Holmes, Peter Konz, Gino Gradkowski, David Wilson, Montee Ball, Daryl Richardson, Zach Sudfeld, Bruce Carter, Da'Quan Bowers, Shea McClellin, Josh Robinson, Morris Claiborne, Darius Slay, Earl Wolff
Watch list: Star Lotulelei, Tyrann Mathieu, Giovani Bernard, DeAndre Hopkins, Eddie Lacy, Le'Veon Bell, Andre Ellington, Kyle Long, Cordy Glenn, Riley Reiff, Anthony Castonzo, Dontari Poe, Josh Gordon, Julius Thomas, Coby Fleener, Sheldon Richardson, DeMario Davis, Zach Brown, Barkevious Mingo, John Hughes, Whitney Mercilus, Kenny Vaccaro, J.J. Wilcox, Buster Skrine, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara