One of the most enjoyable aspects of following the NFL is watching young talents develop, injecting a playmaking element that takes opposing teams and casual observers by surprise. A perfect example from last year was Randall Cobb, emerging from special teams weapon and occasional slot receiver to Aaron Rodgers' go-to receiver as the season progressed.
The goal of this piece is to highlight part-time players making the leap to difference-makers or unproven young talents ascending to key contributors. Once players have truly made the leap, they will graduate from this running list.
Our first graduate is Harrison Smith, who has established himself as one of the NFL's premier safeties. He's made the leap.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 prospects for Week 4.
Jordan was left off this list the first few weeks because he already had made the leap to elite run defender last season. Through three games this year, it's evident that he's also emerging as one of the league's most disruptive pass rushers in Rob Ryan's scheme. He's suddenly battling the Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson as the best young defensive end not named J.J. Watt.
As I mentioned on the "Around The League Podcast" Week 3 recap, there's a strong argument to be made that Lotulelei should have been a top-three overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. "He's not a star," Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy said this week. "He's a superstar. And this superstar is a beast. I see some crazy things for his future. When and if he does keep developing, he's going to be unstoppable."
Tannehill showed pinpoint accuracy and the arm strength to squeeze passes into tight windows on the game-winning drive versus the Falcons last week (as seen in the video below). That should come as no surprise. According to Pro Football Focus, Tannehill's accuracy percentage is 78.5 on intermediate level passes -- in the air between 10 and 20 yards -- is the NFL's second best figure.
Your early favorites for offensive and defensive rookies of the year? Hopkins might have to shoulder the load in the passing game this week with Andre Johnson shaping up as a game-time decision Sunday against the Seahawks. Mathieu racked up 10 tackles and an end-zone interception of Drew Brees in Week 3.
EJ Manuel took eight sacks last week, but the pressure largely came up the middle where left guard Colin Brown is battling Raiders counterpart Lucas Nix as the biggest swinging gate in the league. Glenn, meanwhile, is emerging as a reliable blindside protector as well as an asset in the running game.
Watch list:Giovani Bernard, Dontari Poe, Ziggy Ansah, Junior Galette, Josh Gordon, Julius Thomas, Chandler Jones, Sheldon Richardson, DeMario Davis, Zach Brown, Bruce Carter, George Selvie, Charles Clay, Barkevious Mingo, Kenny Vaccaro, Matt Elam, Kendall Wright, Rodney Hudson, J.J. Wilcox, Jared Odrick, Dion Jordan