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Rookie of the Year watch: Gurley, Cooper standing out

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The NFL is lucky to have obvious difference-making talents such as Todd Gurley and Amari Cooper arrive on the scene this season.

After witnessing Odell Beckham's brilliant 2014 debut, it's easy to forget there are years in which the top rookie enjoys a relatively pedestrian season -- such as Matt Ryan in 2008 or Sam Bradford in 2010.

Two months into their careers, though, Gurley and Cooper are already among the best at their respective positions.

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Le'Veon Bell was threatening to join J.J. Watt and Rob Gronkowski as the gold standard at his position, head and shoulders above the crowd. Gurley's emergence now leaves open the question of which young back is a better building block.

Cooper is the rare receiver with explosiveness after the catch as well as downfield tracking ability. How impressive has he been? NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah said this week that he would take Cooper over Beckham, due to the rookie's durability edge.

It's not often that we see a rookie feast on a mismatch to the extent that Cooper did to fill-in safety Jimmy Wilson and the Chargers secondary last week.

"Amari Cooper is a game changer," Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie said this week. "Derek Carr is sitting back there laughing at all the weapons he has."

Cooper and Gurley have separated from the pack, turning Offensive Rookie of the Year into a two-man race.

Those two aren't the only greenhorns impressing, however. Here is Around The NFL's latest Rookie of the Year watch for Week 8:

1. Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams running back: Since entering the starting lineup three weeks ago, Gurley has accounted for 50 percent of the Rams' offensive yards. He's easily the youngest player in NFL history to run for at least 125 yards in three consecutive games. As NFL Media's Brian Baldinger put it this week, "My mom could scout Todd Gurley."

2. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders wide receiver: Cooper is the first rookie since Mike Ditka in 1961 with three 100-yard performances in his first six career games. Among receivers with at least 25 targets, he ranks first in yards after contact (302) and yards after contact per reception (9.2), per Pro Football Focus.

3. Ronald Darby, Buffalo Bills cornerback: Darby has yet to allow a touchdown and has limited opposing quarterbacks to a 48.3 completion rate and a 48.6 passer rating on throws in his coverage.

4. Leonard Williams, New York Jets defensive end: Williams played 70 percent of the snaps versus the Patriots last week. When coach Todd Bowles turned to a four-man front in Week 6, it was natural to believe it could have been a game-plan specific approach against the run-oriented Redskins. It's telling that the Jets kept the 4-3 look versus a Patriots offense that ditched the run altogether.

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5. Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver: After three career games, Diggs leads the entire NFL in yards per route run, per Pro Football Focus, while averaging 108 yards per game. He has the route-running chops of a six-year veteran.

6. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback: If not for Kirk Cousins' dramatic comeback victory, we would all be raving about Winston's breakout performance versus the Redskins. The list of quarterbacks with a higher yards per attempt than Winston's 8.1 reads like an MVP contest: Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.

7. Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings linebacker: The second-round linebacker picked up NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month honors after recording four sacks in the last three weeks. He's shown a knack for blitz timing under Mike Zimmer's tutelage.

8. Henry Anderson, Indianapolis Colts defensive end: Mark Ingram averaged 10 yards per carry against a Colts run defense that was supposed to be much improved. As impressive as he was for the first six weeks, Anderson is in danger of dropping off the list with another performance like that one.

9. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans quarterback: The difference in ball placement between Mariota and backup Zach Mettenberger was striking last week when the starter sat out with an MCL sprain. The Titans won't know until after Friday's practice if Mariota will be available versus the Texans.

10. Jordan Hicks, Philadelphia Eagles linebacker: Chip Kelly's offseason machinations have backfired with Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell failing to meet expectations. His first two draft picks -- Nelson Agholor and Eric Rowe -- have also disappointed. Hicks and Ryan Mathews are the bright spots.

Watch list: Marcus Peters, Stephone Anthony, T.J. Yeldon, Damarius Randall, Hau'oli Kikaha, Jamison Crowder, Vic Beasley, Jamison Crowder, Tyler Lockett, Duke Johnson, Rodney Gunter, Markus Golden, Justin Coleman, Preston Smith

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