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Todd Gurley, Jameis Winston lead rookie watch

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The much-hyped Offensive Rookie of the Year battle between Rams running back Todd Gurley and Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston was a bit of a letdown Thursday night.

Gurley's team won, but he continues to get hit too often behind the line of scrimmage while playing against defenses stacking the box -- with no fear of the St. Louis toothless aerial attack.

The former Georgia star joined Hall of Famers Jerome Bettis and Eric Dickerson as the only Rams rookies to rush for 1,000 yards.

"Everybody knows we're going to run it, and he still got 1,000," coach Jeff Fisher pointed out. "That speaks volumes for him."

The Rams have leaned on Gurley and jitterbug wideout Tavon Austin to an inordinate extent. That duo has combined for 75.0 percent of the offense's touchdowns, the second-highest percentage by any tandem in a season since 1970.

Although reasonable minds can opt for Winston, Marcus Mariota or Amari Cooper, Gurley has my vote as the top rookie through 15 weeks.

Entering Thursday's game, he ranked first among running backs in 100-yard games and rushing touchdowns, second in rushing yards and fourth in yards per carry since joining the starting lineup in Week 4.

Gurley has been one of the best players at his position this season. The same cannot be said for his competition.

Gurley and Winston aren't the only greenhorns impressing. Here is Around The NFL's latest Rookie of the Year watch for Week 15:

1. Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams running back: Prior to Thursday night's game, Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams predicted to NFL Media's Stacey Dales that Gurley will end up chasing Rams records set by Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson. "He's a special guy," Williams added.

2. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback: Winston was confused by Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams early, was off the mark on several throws and tossed the game-sealing interception in the fourth quarter. On the flip side, he passed for a franchise rookie record 363 yards and a couple of scores while playing from behind. The Bucs won't be going to the playoffs, but they have their offensive nucleus in place.

"He was the smartest guy I've interviewed at the combine in 10 years at NFL Network," Steve Mariucci raved on Thursday's edition of NFL GameDay.

3. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans quarterback: Mariota is the first player since Hall of Famer Walter Payton 32 years ago to throw for a 40-yard touchdown, run for a 40-yard touchdown and catch a 40-yard touchdown.

4. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders wide receiver: Rookie wall or not, Cooper has 18 more receptions and 282 more yards than the next closest first-year receiver. Unfortunately, he's also tied with Mike Evans for the most drops by any player.

5. Ronald Darby, Buffalo Bills cornerback: The Bills played without a high safety on 21 of Sam Bradford's 40 dropbacks last week, showing extreme faith in their rookie cornerback. Buffalo had no fear of Bradford's deep passing -- for good reason.

6. Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback: Peters leads the NFL with 24 passes defensed. His five interceptions rank third.

7. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals running back: Johnson has averaged 122 yards from scrimmage since joining the starting lineup, proving to be an upgrade on Chris Johnson. With his next touchdown, Johnson will tie the franchise record for most touchdowns by a rookie.

8. Leonard Williams, New York Jets defensive end: The coaches are using Williams in more pass rushing situations, and he has responded with sacks in back-to-back games. His 18 QB hits are second only to Muhammad Wilkerson's 20 among Jets defensive players. No other rookie has more than seven QB hits this season.

9. Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks: Among receivers with at least 50 targets, Lockett's 82.0 catch percentage ranks second only to Danny Amendola's 82.7. He and Hall of Famer Gale Sayers are the only rookies all-time with five receiving touchdowns in addition to scores on both kickoff and punt returns.

10. Mario Edwards Jr., Oakland Raiders defensive end: Edwards and Khalil Mack have emerged as one of the NFL's most productive pass rushing duos over the past month, combining for 10 sacks and 25 hurries in that four-game span.

Watch list: Eddie Goldman, T.J. Yeldon, Frank Clark, Byron Jones, Eric Kendricks, Stephone Anthony, Hau'oli Kikaha, Markus Golden, Stefon Diggs, Dorial Green-Beckham, DeVante Parker, Jeremy Langford, Matt Jones, Will Tye, Vic Beasley, Arik Armstead, Adrian Amos, Jaquiski Tartt

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