If you can get one rookie to play like a star, you're in good shape; if you can get two, you're golden.
The Cowboys are enjoying just such luck this season, with quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott lifting Dallas to a 5-1 start. With Prescott and Elliott both performing so well out of the gate, I thought I'd look back over the past 10 years for the nine best rookie pairs in that span.
NOTE: The list below is based on rookie-year production only. And players are listed within their pairs according to draft order. For another view on this topic, check out the list assembled by Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks on the "Move the Sticks" podcast.
Here, in reverse order, is my list:
5) A.J. Green (WR) and Andy Dalton (QB)
Green led rookies in catches (65) in 2011 -- mind you, this was also the year when Julio Jones was drafted -- and yards (1,057), showing the skill set that made him the fourth overall pick in that year's draft. Of course, he hasn't let up since, becoming the only player not named Randy Moss to record 1,000 or more receiving yards in each of his first five NFL seasons.
Dalton, meanwhile, became the first quarterback not drafted in the first round to start every game of his rookie season. The second-round pick didn't put up dazzling numbers (58.1 percent completion rate, 3,398 yards, 20 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 80.4 passer rating). But he did lift a Bengals squad that went 4-12 the previous season to 9-7 and the first of five straight playoff appearances, earning a Pro Bowl nod (along with Green) in the process. Sure, he has yet to win a playoff game. But whatever you want to say about Dalton, you have to be good on some level to reach the postseason as a rookie quarterback.
4) Reggie Bush (RB) and Marques Colston (WR)
Bush didn't exactly live up to his billing as the second overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft -- and that assessment rings especially true if you look only at his rookie rushing totals (565 yards and six touchdowns, 3.6 yards per carry). As a receiver, however, Bush was really something, putting up a team-high 88 catches and 742 yards for a more impressive yards-from-scrimmage total of 1,307. Bush was too small to take a pounding as a ball carrier, but he was great as a spot player who could make big plays out of draws and screens. Against the Bearsin the NFC title game that season, Bush was really the only offensive spark the Saints had.
Colston was a huge surprise. The seventh-round pick looked like Ichabod Crane, but he had great leaping ability and was a much better route runner than people thought. He quickly formed a fruitful relationship with new Saints quarterback Drew Brees, catching 70 passes for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns. Though they came from opposite ends of the draft spectrum, Colston and Bush both proved to be valuable contributors to a massive turnaround in New Orleans, where the Saints went 10-6 and nearly reached the Super Bowl after going 3-13 in 2005.
3) Robert Griffin III (QB) and Alfred Morris (RB)
Don't forget that, for a time, it seemed like an open question as to whether RGIII or Andrew Luck would prove to be the better pro. The second overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft certainly outperformed Luck in claiming the Offensive Rookie of the Year award that season. Griffin passed for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 815 yards (a record for rookie quarterbacks) and another seven scores while pushing Washington to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Of course, he also suffered injuries that helped derail his career and ultimately led to his exit in Washington, but RGIII's rookie campaign remains one of the more successful in recent memory.
Then-coach Mike Shanahan was always good at showcasing running backs, but Morris still exceeded expectations as a sixth-round pick, putting up 1,613 rushing yards (the third-most for a rookie in NFL history) and 13 touchdowns. Morris was a good cutback runner who had kind of a slick way of moving with the ball.
2) Ezekiel Elliott (RB) and Dak Prescott (QB)
Elliott is even better than I thought he was. The No. 4 overall pick is on pace to rush for 1,875 yards and 13 touchdowns, which would roughly match what the Cowboys did as a team in both categories last season. He he has the speed and ability to run and get outside, and once he's there, he's tough to bring down.
As for Prescott, being the Cowboys' quarterback is tough, due to the focus and pressure that falls on whoever occupies the position. But the fourth-round pick has handled it all remarkably well, guiding Dallas to five wins in his first six games with 1,486 passing yards and seven touchdown tosses (plus three scores on the ground). Prescott's performance is reminiscent of both Russell Wilson -- another mid-round pick who surprised by thriving as a rookie starter -- and, interestingly, Tony Romo, at least in terms of his numbers. Prescott's stats are nearly identical to what Romo did in his first six games as a starter (five wins, 1,651 passing yards and 10 passing touchdowns). In short, Prescott and Elliott have been dazzling, producing at a level that would land them high on this list even if they didn't play another game this season.
1) Bobby Wagner (MLB) and Russell Wilson (QB)
Wagner was a bit of an enigma heading into the draft, given that he missed the NFL Scouting Combine with pneumonia before recovering with a fantastic pro day. But the second-round pick quickly proved to be a key piece, racking up 140 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions while starting 15 games for the NFL's fourth-best defense. The Jack Lambert-type competitor finished second in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.
Immediate return on investment doesn't get much better than what Wilson provided for the Seahawks as a rookie. You figured the third-round pick would learn on the bench while backing up free-agent signee Matt Flynn. Instead, he seized the starting gig and developed into a great player on the job. The Seahawks didn't ask him to do too much, leaning on a strong running game (a league-high 536 carries compared with 405 pass attempts) and stout defense. But he still posted a 64.1 percent completion rate for 3,118 yards and 26 touchdowns against 10 picks -- good numbers for an experienced quarterback, let alone a rookie (in fact, the touchdown total tied a rookie record). He also chipped in 489 rushing yards and four scores on the ground while helping steer Seattle to its first winning record since 2007.