Around the NFL  

 

Rookie of the Year watch: Beasley an impact rusher

Print

Is it crazy to think Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff could win his third NFL Executive of the Year award months after having his power reduced in the front office?

The new coaching staff has guided the Falcons to a 3-0 start, as Kyle Shanahan has transformed the ground attack and offensive lines from long-running competitive liabilities into strong points.

Although under-the-radar free-agent pickups such as run-stuffer O'Brien Schofield have paid immediate dividends on Dan Quinn's defense, the most important offseason acquisition has been first-round pick Vic Beasley, who has the look of a difference-making edge rusher.

Throw in third-round tailback Tevin Coleman, who kept Week 3 breakout star Devonta Freeman on the bench for two weeks, and the impact from the Dimitroff-Scott Pioli draft class ranks with any in September.

Beasley isn't the only greenhorn impressing. Here is Around The NFL's latest Rookie of the Year watch for Week 4:

1. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans quarterback: Gregg Rosenthal highlighted Mariota's overlooked Week 3 performance in this week's Quarterback Index. Mariota threw for 367 yards and authored a perfect two-minute drill to give his team a chance to push the game into overtime, yet the postgame fallout centered on the Colts. That's how lofty the expectations have risen for the NFL's most impressive rookie.

2. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders wide receiver: Jimmy Smith and Joe Haden are widely viewed as two of the NFL's top-10 cornerbacks. Cooper has whipped them for over 100 yards in back-to-back weeks, a feat never accomplished by the likes of Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Dez Bryant in their rookie seasons. Per Pro Football Focus, Cooper is averaging 2.59 yards per route run. No other rookie receiver is averaging more than 1.0 yard per route run. Anquan Boldin (378) and Louis Lipps (337) are the only rookies in history with more than Cooper's 290 receiving yards through three games.

3. Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons pass rusher: Through three weeks, Beasley looks as quick off the edge as any pass rusher in the NFL. There will be several double-digit sack campaigns in his future -- perhaps as soon as this season.

4. Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback: Aaron Rodgers won Monday night's game with his mind as much as his arm. He picked Tyvon Branch, Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker -- steering clear of future lockdown cornerback Peters.

5. Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions running back: Joique Bell has been one of the NFL's slowest running backs this season, averaging a paltry 1.1 yards per carry and 2.44 yards per touch. Abdullah, on the other hand, is generating 5.5 yards per touch with a pair of touchdowns. It's time for embattled play-caller Joe Lombardi to start leaning on Abdullah as his featured back.

6. Ronald Darby, Buffalo Bills cornerback: The NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Month has interceptions in two of three games, leaving the Bills' coaching staff with a "good problem to have" once incumbent starter Leodis McKelvin comes off the reserve/NFI list.

7. Matt Jones, Washington Redskins running back: Jones has top-10 talent at the position. The key to his OROY award chances will be overtaking Alfred Morris as the Redskins' lead back for the rest of the season.

8. Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks kick returner: Lockett captured NFC Special Teams Player of the Month honors for returning a pair of kicks for touchdowns and leading the NFL in kickoff-return yardage. Coach Pete Carroll expects opponents to start giving his rookie the Hester treatment -- the ultimate sign of respect for explosive kick returners.

9. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback: Winston can't get away with a 52.2 completion rate, but he makes up for it by striking down the field to allow his receivers a shot at contested catches. Winston's average length of completion is a league-leading 14.4 yards.

10. Henry Anderson, Indianapolis Colts defensive end: The Colts' defense is allowing just 3.7 yards per carry this year after being trampled for 4.3 yards per carry in 2014. Anderson and fifth-round nose tackle David Parry are the biggest reasons for the improvement.

Watch list: Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, Leonard Williams, Karlos Williams, T.J. Yeldon, Shaq Thompson, Kwon Alexander, Stephone Anthony, Hau'oli Kikaha, Tevin Coleman, Phillip Dorsett, Rodney Gunter, Todd Gurley, DeVante Parker

Print