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Six rookies to watch during Wild Card Weekend

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The Cowboys have flipped their fortunes this season behind the power of a young and punishing offensive line.

Standout left tackle Tyron Smith, second-year center Travis Frederick and rookie guard Zack Martin form the core. Named to the Pro Bowl, Martin -- the No. 16 overall pick -- finished the regular season as the NFL's second-ranked pass blocker at his position, per Pro Football Focus.

Martin also has served as an anchoring force for a Cowboys line responsible for springing workhorse runner DeMarco Murray to a league-leading 1,845 yards on the ground.

"He's a little bit of a throwback," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said last week, per The Associated Press. "He reminds you of linemen who played 25 years ago. He just has this way about him."

Martin sits at the heart of Sunday's key matchup against the Lions. His ability to hold off Ndamukong Suh and Detroit's nasty defensive front -- while blasting holes for Murray -- will dictate who moves forward and who goes home.

Here's the rest of of our six rookies to watch during Wild Card Weekend:

2. C.J. Mosley, Ravens linebacker: "I feel great," Le'Veon Bell told NFL Media's Aditi Kinkhabwala on Wednesday. If the Steelers star running back is healthy enough to play in Saturday night's AFC North battle, the onus falls on Mosley and the Ravens to keep Bell at bay. As the NFL's third-best inside linebacker against the run, per PFF, Mosley tops all Baltimore defenders in snaps in 2014, leading Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs to say: "I've never seen a rookie come in and play like him. He never comes off the field. Never."

3. Martavis Bryant, Steelers receiver: If Bell isn't able to play -- or operate at full strength -- Baltimore will turn its attention to shutting down Steelers wideout Antonio Brown. That could spring free Bryant, who has gone for 20 yards or more on 23 percent of his catches this season. With a pair of 100-yard outings on the year, the fourth-round wideout has a chance to produce against a less-than-stellar Ravens secondary. 

4. Jeremy Hill, Bengals running back: We've talked a lot about Hill this week. The NFL's leading rookie rusher has ripped off three straight 100-yard games while becoming just the third rookie in NFL history with at least four outings of 140-plus yards (only Eric Dickerson had more with five). Hill has energized the Bengals down the stretch while proving to be much more than just an inside runner. As the NFL's leading rusher since Week 9, Hill is the key to the Bengals winning their first playoff game in 23 years.

5. Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers wideout: With the Panthers finding success on the ground, Benjamin was all over the map over the past five weeks. Games of 56, 24, 47 and nine yards draped the rookie's 104-yard outburst in Week 15. His 11 drops on the season are concerning, but he's the kind of big-bodied receiver who can damage a secondary. Even with the Panthers set to pound the ball, Benjamin is under pressure to produce as Carolina's most talented playmaker through the air.

6. Deone Bucannon, Cardinals safety: For Benjamin to succeed, he'll need to find holes against a starry Arizona secondary led by Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie and Tyrann Mathieu. Beyond that trio, the Cardinals have benefited from a strong rookie campaign by Bucannon. The first-year cover man has impressed coaches as Arizona's "dollar linebacker," basically a hybrid safety-linebacker role that relies on Bucannon's knack for earth-shaking hits. He looms as a major player in the Bird Gang's efforts to shut down Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast discusses Monday's fired coaches and the effect of Ndamukong Suh's rescinded suspension. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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