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Rookie of the Year watch: Jones, Collins emerging

The Dallas Cowboys' five-game losing streak has overshadowed stellar play from a pair of rookies.

First-round defensive back Byron Jones played all 62 snaps versus Seattle, overtaking J.J. Wilcox for the starting free safety job while also handling primary nickelback duties.

Jones is tied with Morris Claiborne for the team lead with five pass breakups and is fourth on the team with 31 tackles. The coaching staff is thrilled with his ability to cover bigger tight ends one on one.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli heaped praise on Jones this week, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, raving that the versatile standout is the best rookie defensive back in the league and one of the best he's ever coached.

While Jones is impressing on defense, La'el Collins displaced veteran Ronald Leary at left guard, keying Darren McFadden's renaissance over the past two weeks.

A true road-grader in the ground attack, Collins is pancaking defensive ends at the point of the attack and defensive backs at the second level.

Jones and Collins aren't the only greenhorns impressing. Here is Around The NFL's latest Rookie of the Year watch for Week 9:

1. Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams running back: What's his ceiling? Football legend Herschel Walker said this week that Gurley conjures up memories of Hall of Famer Gale Sayers. Despite missing two games and barely playing in a third, he's on pace to break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards. He's easily the youngest player in history to rush for at least 125 yards in four consecutive games.

"He's going to be special," coach Jeff Fisher told NFL Total Access on Wednesday. "That's the only way I can describe him. Can't compare him to anybody."

2. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders wide receiver: Even after Darrelle Revis "held" Cooper to 46 yards in Week 8, the rookie is on pace for 87 receptions, 1,291 yards and seven touchdowns.

3. Ronald Darby, Buffalo Bills cornerback: Per's statistics, Darby is tied with Defensive Player of the Year candidate Josh Norman for the league lead with 16 passes defensed this season.

4. Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver: The NFL was born in Ralph Hay's Hupmobile showroom way back in 1920. In the 96 years since, no player has matched Diggs' feat of recording at least 85 yards in each of his first four games.

5. Leonard Williams, New York Jets defensive end: Much like the rest of the Jets' defense, Williams essentially no-showed at Oakland last week.

6. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback: Winston couldn't repeat his sterling Week 7 performance, but he did make plays in overtime to stave off the Falcons.

7. Henry Anderson, Indianapolis Colts defensive end: Anderson and fifth-round nose tackle David Parry have been shining lights in an otherwise dark season for the "first-place" Colts.

8. Jordan Hicks, Philadelphia Eagles linebacker:Kiko Alonso is returning from a knee injury this week, which means the Eagles will have all four inside linebackers -- Alonso, Hicks, Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans -- healthy for the first time this season. Will Hicks be pushed out of the rotation even though he's the team's leading tackler?

9. Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys defensive back: "He's developing great. He's all over the field," strong safety Barry Church said this week, via the Dallas Morning News. "... I've been very impressed. For him to handle as much as they've given him -- play nickel, dime, safety, corner -- that's very impressive."

10. Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha, New Orleans Saints linebackers: Along with midseason All-Pro Cameron Jordan and former CFL cornerback Delvin Breaux, the two rookie linebackers have keyed the Saints' return to respectability over the past month.

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