Around the NFL  

 

Rookie watch: Mariota, Green-Beckham standing out

Print

It's easy to imagine the fist pumps and high fives in the Tennessee Titans' personnel department after last week's 42-39 victory.

The war-room plan bore plenty of fruit on offense, with key contributions from four of the top six picks in their 2015 draft class.

Marcus Mariota became first player in NFL history with at least 250 yards and three touchdowns passing and 100 yards rushing in the same game.

Dorial Green-Beckham had his long-awaited breakout game, hauling in five passes for 119 yards and a touchdown.

David Cobb rushed 13 times for 40 hard-fought yards, with a promising fourth-round fullback paving the way.

There is work to be done next offseason, as the Titans' skill-position talent is among the slowest in the league. But Week 13 provided the strongest evidence yet that there is finally a nucleus to build around in Nashville.

The Titans' rookies aren't the only greenhorns on the rise. Here is Around The NFL's latest Rookie of the Year watch for Week 14:

1. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans quarterback: Mariota and Carson Palmer are the only quarterbacks to post three of the top 20 weekly QBR scores this season. Mariota is also second only to Palmer with a 39.4 first-down percentage this season. He bests Jameis Winston in completion percentage (63.4 to 58.6), passing yards per game (251.2 to 239.8), yards per carry (8.0 to 3.8), TD-to-INT ratio (19-9 to 17-11) and passer rating (95.1 to 85.6). The voters will eventually have to pick a winner between the two impressive rookie quarterbacks, but we're content to sit back and enjoy the show for another month.

2. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback: Hats off to general manager Jason Licht for proving that a bottom-of-the-barrel offense can be successfully revamped in one offseason. Like Mariota, Winston has emerged as the face of a previously moribund franchise. Second- and third-round picks Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet have helped turn the league's worst offensive line around. Doug Martin and Charles Sims have been the NFL's most effective backfield duo. Next offseason's agenda: fix the defense.

3. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders wide receiver: Cooper is 80 yards away from being the first Raiders wideout with 1,000 receiving yards in a season since Randy Moss in 2005.

4. Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks running back: Since the 1970 merger, Rawls' 712 rushing yards are the most by an undrafted rookie in his first six starts. Arian Foster, one of the most productive undrafted backs in recent memory, rushed for 621 yards in his first six starts.

It's not crazy to think the hard-charging Rawls could finish third in rushing this season. He's just 128 yards behind third-place Jonathan Stewart entering the home stretch.

5. Ronald Darby, Buffalo Bills cornerback: Darby and Stephon Gilmore have combined for 37 passes defensed, the most of any cornerback duo in the NFL this season.

6. Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams running back: Gurley is averaging just 52.0 rushing yards over his last five games after averaging 141.5 in the previous four. New coordinator Rob Boras has vowed to put the ball in his best player's hands. Gurley better hope Boras finds a way to improve the shoddy blocking as well.

7. Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback: Although the aggressive rookie cover corner has taken a few lumps this season, he has the look of a future All Pro. Peters' 18 passes defenses are the third-most in the league.

8. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals running back: The former Northern Iowa star proved to be an upgrade on Chris Johnson in Weeks 13 and 14, adding physicality and superior receiving skills. He generated 120 yards as the Cardinals posted their second-highest rushing output of the season in St. Louis, and totaled 123 yards against a formidable Vikings front on Thursday night. Johnson has joined Hall of Famer Gale Sayers as the only rookies in NFL history with four rushing scores, four receiving scores and a kickoff-return touchdown.

9. Eddie Goldman, Chicago Bears defensive tackle: The second-round nose tackle controlled the line of scrimmage last week, chasing Blaine Gabbert for a pair of sacks while crushing the 49ers' pocket. He stuffed the run, added several QB pressures and blocked an extra point attempt. Goldman has emerged as a key building block for Vic Fangio's defense.

10. Kwon Alexander, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker: This will be Alexander's lone appearance on the list, as he has begun serving a four-game suspension to close out the regular season. I've been hesitant to include the promising fourth-round pick because he leads all linebackers in missed tackles and is spotty in coverage. That said, he deserves recognition as the only player in the league with at least 90 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions.

Watch list: Mario Edwards, Leonard Williams, T.J. Yeldon, Frank Clark, Tyler Lockett, Kevin Johnson, Byron Jones, Eric Kendricks, Stephone Anthony, Hau'oli Kikaha, Markus Golden, Benardrick McKinney, Stefon Diggs, Dorial Green-Beckham, DeVante Parker, Karlos Williams, Javorius Allen, Jeremy Langford, Ameer Abdullah, Matt Jones, Will Tye, Vic Beasley, Arik Armstead, Malcolm Brown, Adrian Amos, Jaquiski Tartt

Print