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Rookie of the Year watch: Rawls is the future in Seattle

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Is it still considered blasphemy in Seattle to point out that the Seahawks' offense stands to benefit with playmaking rookie Thomas Rawls replacing Marshawn Lynch for the next month?

Lynch has never rushed for 160 yards or combined for 200 yards from a scrimmage in a game. Undrafted Rawls accomplished the former versus the Bengals in Week 5 and pulled off the latter in a dominant performance against the 49ers in Week 11, cutting sharply and lowering his shoulder with a violent running style.

In racking up a franchise rookie-record 209 rushing yards, Rawls made NFL history as the first player with 250-plus scrimmage yards, a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown in the same game.

The former Central Michigan star is happy to shoulder a heavy workload while taking a delivering hits.

"That's what you sign up for. I got a passion for the game," Rawls said Thursday. "I love the hurt, I love the pain, I love the grind. And guess what, I'm not the only one that's hurting."

Although coach Pete Carroll was reluctant to make the comparison, he acknowledged, "There's some Earl Campbell plays in there."

Carroll is vying with NFL Media analyst Brian Baldinger for the most color description of Rawls' one-cut-and-lower-the-boom running style.

"He makes somebody miss to find somebody to hit," Carroll quipped after the 49ers game.

"This kid looks special. He is not going out of bounds," Baldinger raved. "... He's going to take some blood with him."

Fellow analyst Mike Mayock offered similar praise in advance of Rawls' much-anticipated matchup with NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson this week.

"He's a one-cut, downhill punishing guy," Mayock said, breaking down Rawls' Week 12 performance versus the Steelers. "... An afterthought on draft day, now you are an important piece of the Seattle Seahawks' playoff drive."

The numbers align with the game film.

Rawls is a top-10 rusher this season despite starting just five games. Per Football Outsiders' metrics, he leads all running backs in DYAR, DVOA and Success Rate. He also shines in conventional stats, leading the league at 5.6 yards per carry.

Undrafted or not, Rawls will provide a smooth transition as the power-back successor to Lynch once the Seahawks decide to move on from the original "Beast Mode."

Rawls isn't the only greenhorn on the rise. Here is Around The NFL's latest Rookie of the Year watch for Week 12:

1. Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams running back: Gurley hasn't hit the "rookie wall." His recent slump is the direct result of the Rams' quarterbacks and offensive line holding the ground attack hostage. Greg Robinson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft, has been a bust to date, drawing as many holding penalty this year (11) as former Rams great Orlando Pace drew in his entire career.

Gurley is in danger of falling out of the top spot if he doesn't get his season back on track versus the Cardinals in Week 13.

2. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders wide receiver: Cooper bounced back from his bout with "Big Play" Darius Slay, hauling in seven catches for 115 yards in the last-minute win over the Titans. It took Cooper just 11 games to overtake James Jett for the most receiving yards by any rookie in franchise history. He's on pace for 84 receptions, 1,238 yards and six touchdowns.

3. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback: After rewatching Winston's last three performances, I have been increasingly impressed with his competitive fire and aggressiveness in the pocket. Led by the Offensive Rookie of the Month, the Bucs became the first road team in NFL history to feature a quarterback with five passing touchdowns and a running back with 200 rushing yards in Week 11. Even with the five sacks taken in Week 12, Winston's steady improvement is undeniable. His QBR is 34.8 points higher in Weeks 7-12 than it was in Weeks 1-6.

"Jameis likes to say he's nobody," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said last week, "but he's going to be somebody."

4. Ronald Darby, Buffalo Bills cornerback: Last week's struggles with Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce aside, Darby has been the most consistently excellent defensive rookie this season. If he takes homes DPOY honors, he will join Charles Woodson (1998) and Dunta Robinson (2004) as the only three defensive backs in the past 20 years to do so.

5. Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks running back: News of the weird, courtesy of the Seattle Times' Jayson Jenks: Rawls shares the Seattle backfield with veteran running back Fred Jackson. His high school coach was Fred Jackson Jr. His college position coach was Fred Jackson Sr.

6. Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback: The Chiefs boast an average margin of victory of 20 points over the past five games, buoyed by a defense that has given up more than 20 points just once since early October. A future Pro Bowler, Peters has been Kansas City's top corner all season long.

7. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans quarterback: Mariota has fallen behind Winston through no fault of his own. He simply lacks the surrounding talent, as evidenced by last-minute losses to the Jaguars and Raiders. The fastest speed recorded by a Tennessee wide receiver in Week 11 was 14.69 mph, per Next Gen Stats, slower than tight ends Anthony Fasano and Clay Harbor in the same game.

8. Damarious Randall, Green Bay Packers: The 30th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft took home Defensive Rookie of the Month honors after recording 24 tackles, two interceptions and five passes defensed in November.

9. Kevin Johnson, Houston Texans cornerback: Johnson's instincts and closing speed jump out on NFL Game Pass. The Texans' defensive dominance over the past month coincides with the first-round pick's ascendence to the starting role opposite Johnathan Joseph. Throw in a healthy Kareem Jackson, and Houston boasts the top cornerback trio in the NFL right now.

"Kevin is a very good player," J.J. Watt said this week. "He's a very active player. He's very smart, physical. He's come in here as a rookie and if you just put on the film and you didn't tell anybody who he was or what number he was, I don't think you'd say that's a rookie. He's playing very good football. He's doing a great job for us and he's going to be a good player for a while."

10. Mario Edwards Jr., Oakland Raiders defensive end: Edwards is coming off the best four-game stretch by any rookie defensive lineman this season, disrupting running and passing plays alike.

Watch list: Stefon Diggs, Leonard Williams, Karlos Williams, Kwon Alexander, Byron Jones, Tyler Lockett, T.J. Yeldon, Eric Kendricks, Stephone Anthony, Hau'oli Kikaha, Markus Golden, Jeremy Langford, Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman, Matt Jones, David Johnson, J.J. Nelson, Will Tye, Vic Beasley, Arik Armstead, Malcolm Brown, Adrian Amos, DeVante Parker

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