Star Lotulelei tops Making the Leap list for Week 11


The goal of our weekly Making the Leap watch 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.

Our first five graduates are Harrison Smith, Jordan Cameron, Cameron Jordan, Jurrell Casey and Damon Harrison, all of whom have established themselves as Pro Bowl-caliber players. They've made the leap.

Previous lists: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Midseason Team, Week 10.

Without further ado, here is the list of players making the leap in Week 11:

1. Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers defensive tackle

Lost in the Riverboat Ron hype is the masterful job first-year general manager Dave Gettleman has done in acquiring talent on a shoestring budget. Three rookies started on defense in the Panthers' 10-9 win at San Francisco. Two more defensive rookies played at least 20 snaps. Although Luke Kuechly came out of the game as a Defensive Player of the Year favorite, Rivera credited the defensive line's pressure as the single-most important element of the victory that put Carolina on the national radar. Lotulelei and Jets rookie Sheldon Richardson have developed into two of the best defensive linemen in the league.

2. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears wide receiver

3. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver

4. Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans wide receiver

Jeffery and Brandon Marshall have combined for 1,521 yards, the most by any wide-receiver tandem this season. Even in a loss to the Lions, the two physical receivers stole the show -- no matter which quarterback was under center. ... Hilton has averaged six receptions and 98 yards per game since Reggie Wayne went down with a season-ending knee injury. With six games remaining, Hilton needs just three receptions, 151 yards and two touchdowns to match last year's numbers.

Consistently winning one-on-one matches, Wright is on pace for 94 receptions and over 1,000 yards as the Titans' best offensive player. NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock compared him to a young Greg Jennings during Thursday night's broadcast.

5. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers running back

6. Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams running back

Averaging 26 touches per game over the past six contests, Lacy absorbed his most punishment of the season against an Eagles defense stacking the box in Week 10. Since Oct. 1, Lacy is leading the NFL in rushing. ... Now the centerpiece of the Rams' offense while touching the ball on over 50 percent of the snaps the past two weeks, Stacy is emerging as Lacy's chief rival for Rookie of the Year honors.

7. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback

8. Case Keenum, Houston Texans quarterback

Foles' Week 10 performance wasn't as impressive as the box score might suggest, but it's still worth noting that his 149.3 passer rating was the highest by any opposing quarterback in the 56-year history of Lambeau Field. Foles has seven touchdown passes of at least 15 yards in his last two games. Just three other quarterbacks have matched that number all season. Does Chip Kelly's offense work? Foles and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota have combined for 38 touchdowns and zero interceptions this season.

How impressive has Keenum been? His first two starts produced the highest yards and passer rating of any undrafted quarterback in NFL history. A whopping 8.2 percent of Andre Johnson's touchdowns in 147 games have come the past two weeks.

9. Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals running back

10. Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams wide receiver

The biggest surprise on Game Rewind this week? The Cardinals ran three consecutive Wildcat plays with Ellington and Patrick Peterson at the mesh point. Of the 11 running backs with at least 350 rushing yards and 200 receiving yards, Ellington has the fewest touches by 55. It's already obvious that he should have been a second-round pick rather than a sixth-rounder.

Austin produced 31 of the greatest all-purpose minutes in NFL history last week. If the Rams can find a way to get the ball in Austin's hands with no defender within 15 yards, he can repeat the feat. What's amazing about Austin's 310 all-purpose yards is that they came on just 15 offensive snaps.

Cold list: EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Trent Richardson, Lamar Miller, Vincent Brown, Robert Woods, Justin Blackmon, Dee Milliner, Stephon Gilmore, Darius Slay, Peter Konz

Watch list: Jordan Reed, Julius Thomas, Giovani Bernard, Dontari Poe, Tyrann Mathieu, Alterraun Verner, Sheldon Richardson, Chandler Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, Jarrett Boykin, Kenny Stills, Josh Gordon, Rishard Matthews, Golden Tate, Riley Cooper, Marvin Jones, Mark Ingram, Ladarius Green, Mike Daniels, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Kiko Alonso, Vontaze Burfict, Junior Galette, Paul Worrilow, Jon Bostic, Eric Reid, D.J. Fluker, Walter Thurmond, Dwayne Gratz, D.J. Swearinger

Trainer's room: Jake Locker, David Wilson, Mike James, Dwayne Allen, T.J. McDonald, Ryan Broyles, Brian Schwenke

The latest "Around The League Podcast" previewed the AFC playoff picture.