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Browns' Crowell, West lead 'Rookie Watch' RBs

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Welcome to Around The NFL's "Rookie Watch" series, a week-by-week journey ranking this year's promising collection of first-year players.

Rookies bring hope to all 32 teams. In recent years, we've seen Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck immediately shake up the landscape on offense, while draft picks spent on J.J. Watt and Robert Quinn turned vanilla defenses into horror shows for opponents.

Between now and the end of the regular season, we'll chart this year's rookie class in an effort to predict which first-year players have the best chance at long careers in our nation's finest sport.

We took a broad look at the entire class after Week 1 and Week 2.

Coming out of Week 3, it's time to zero in on this year's collection of rookie running backs:

Immediate impact


1. Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns: It's been 10,000 years since a pair of Browns topped any list, but this dude can flat out run. Crowell's carries have been limited, but his raw abilities on film suggest a higher ceiling than Terrance West. The undrafted power back operates like a human set on fire during his better gallops. As we mentioned before, don't be surprised if he's Cleveland's starter by year's end.

2. Terrance West, Browns: With a little bit of Alfred Morris to his game, West has looked nothing like a rookie in Cleveland's run-heavy offense. Shifting comfortably into a starting role in place of the injured Ben Tate, the former Towson star has produced week after week. I wasn't in love with his handiwork against Baltimore's nasty run defense -- he seemed less decisive than in previous weeks -- but West and Crowell already have more rushing touchdowns (five) than the Browns had all last season.

Starting potential


3. Lorenzo Taliaferro, Baltimore Ravens: The truth is that Baltimore's offense doesn't miss Ray Rice. Losing Bernard Pierce on Sunday didn't hurt, either, with Justin Forsett and Taliaferro lashing the Browns for nearly 160 yards on the ground. The Ravens showed plenty of trust in their rookie, riding Taliaferro's hot hand for 91 yards at 5.1 yards per carry in his first legitimate action of the year. Nimble on his feet, the former Coastal Carolina rumbler repeatedly burst past Cleveland's first wave for extra yardage. Check him out:

4. Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers: Hyde's numbers don't stand out after three games, but his career prospects are as bright as anyone's on this list. Assuming the 49ers don't habitually repeat Sunday's awkward ditching of the ground game, Hyde is going to see his workload increase as the season wears on. An ideal complement to Frank Gore, Hyde made the most of his three carries -- half of Gore's load -- against the Cardinals, showing off his speed to the edge with a pretty 6-yard touchdown scamper in the first half.

5. Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals: Serving as a hard-running pairing to the electrifying Giovani Bernard, Hill has piled up the third-most yardage among rookies (132) while averaging 8.7 carries per outing to Bernard's 18.3. Bengals play-caller Hue Jackson has found ways to creatively use both backs, making the most of Hill's willingness to lower his shoulder and plow for tough yardage. He plays as advertised, giving this ground-heavy scheme the interior running presence it requires.

6. Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans: Sankey wasn't special in his first two outings, but the former Washington star was arguably the lone bright spot in Sunday's ugly 33-7 loss to the Bengals. Looking more comfortable in the attack, Sankey showed better vision and burst against Cincinnati's formidable defensive front. Coach Ken Whisenhunt remains unhappy with the rookie's footwork, but Sankey's carry count is on the rise.

Depth-chart challenged


7. Alfred Blue, Houston Texans: After an intriguing preseason, Blue made the most of his chance to fill in for the injured Arian Foster against the Giants. Rumbling for 78 yards at 6.0 yards per pop, it's worth noting that 46 of those yards came on one run. He doesn't give up easily on carries, but Big Blue kept Houston's Blue to 2 or fewer yards on nine of his 13 runs. Still, he deserves credit for stepping up in a pinch.

8. Andre Williams, New York Giants: August's most punishing rookie runner has yet to carry that success into September. After pounding his way for 5.1 yards per carry in the preseason, Williams has just 2.1 yards per tote in 19 regular-season attempts. The opportunities will come, but he has yet to top 20 snaps in a game for an offense leaning heavily on Rashad Jennings.

9. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons: Freeman's 22 snaps in the 56-14 rout of the Bucs were his most yet. The rookie, though, provided one of Atlanta's few lowlights with a third-quarter fumble. His 11 attempts generated just 1.1 yards per carry against a lost Tampa team. Freeman showed skills during the preseason, but the Falcons continue to trust the combination of Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith and the laterally challenged Steven Jackson ahead of the newbie runner.

10. Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings: I expected McKinnon's role to balloon with Adrian Peterson out of the picture, but that wasn't the case against New Orleans. Teddy Bridgewater targeted the runner five times through the air, with McKinnon catching just two of those balls for 9 yards. He's a freakishly athletic specimen who looms as an intriguing passing-down back, but the rookie didn't look ready for primetime against the Saints.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps all of the Week 3 action and picks the top team in the AFC.

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