Welcome to Around The NFL's "Rookie Watch" series, a week-by-week journey ranking this year's promising collection of first-year players.
Between now and the end of the regular season, we'll chart the 2014 rookie class in an effort to predict which young players have the best chance at long careers in our nation's finest sport.
Who made it?
1. Zack Martin, guard, Cowboys: Jerry Jones deserves credit for using the past two drafts to unearth a pair of Pro Bowl offensive linemen in Martin and center Travis Frederick. Anchoring the NFL's top O-line, Martin stepped into a starting role during the summer and never skipped a beat. The rookie didn't miss a snap all season until briefly resting in Sunday's rout of the Colts. He now marches into Week 17 as the NFL's second-best pass blocker at his position, per Pro Football Focus.
Dallas made waves on draft day by taking Martin over Johnny Manziel, based partly on the advice of longtime Cowboys scout Walter Juliff, who told the team that Martin was "the most high-level ready offensive lineman I've ever seen since I've been scouting here." Dallas hit the jackpot in passing over Johnny Manziel for Martin, with Jones calling the behemoth "even better than advertised."
2. Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Rams: Worthy of Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, Donald has graded higher than All-Pro Gerald McCoy and every other player at his position, per PFF. His eight sacks -- third among all interior defenders -- are more than fellow first-rounders Khalil Mack and C.J. Mosley combined.
Donald popped off the screen from the start because of his speed at the line and ability to dominate one-on-one matchups. Giants fullback Henry Hynoski played with Donald at Pittsburgh, recalling that "you lined him up, and nobody could really block him." Only Marcell Dareus has more stops on the season than Donald (33), who also ranks second behind just J.J. Watt in tackles for loss (18). With moves like these below, Donald has the look of an annual Pro Bowl defender.
Who should have made it?
1. Odell Beckham, receiver, Giants: It's hard to take the Pro Bowl seriously when the year's most exciting player isn't on the field. If you want people to tune in and care about this Q-rating-challenged all-star tilt, Beckham was your meal ticket. It's a blown opportunity to acknowledge what promises to be a very special career in Gotham.
2. Joel Bitonio, guard, Browns: Nobody in the league has played more snaps than the no-nonsense Bitonio, Cleveland's warhorse guard who ranks behind only Marshal Yanda at his position, per PFF. Bitonio deserved the nod over Jahri Evans, among others. "Few rookies are ever going to play as well as Joel has been playing," said Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. "I definitely will be the first person beating my chest to send Joel to the Pro Bowl, because I really think he deserves it."
3. Khalil Mack, linebacker, Raiders: I couldn't be more impressed with Mack. Especially on Sunday against the Bills, when he operated as a run-stuffing machine making plays all over the field. Growing as a pass rusher in recent weeks, the fifth overall pick is a star in the making. It's hard to argue with this year's Pro Bowl outside linebackers -- Connor Barwin, Elvis Dumervil, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Clay Matthews and Von Miller -- but Mack is the shining future at the position.