Say hello 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 this year's rookie class in an effort to predict which first-year players have the best chance at long careers in our nation's finest sport.
1. Sammy Watkins, Bills wide receiver: After an underwhelming debut, Buffalo's first-round pick scorched the Dolphins for 117 yards on eight catches Sunday. Buffalo wasn't shy about unleashing Watkins, whose 11 targets were more than the next three Bills pass-catchers combined amassed. Clean route-running helped him consistently beat coverage and give EJ Manuel clear windows to throw into. The quarterback also missed Watkins on a slant route that would have been an easy six points, while the rookie couldn't hold on to a deep bomb from Manuel for another 45-yard score. It's scary to consider what he accomplished while still in obvious pain from his preseason rib injury.
2. Brandin Cooks, Saints wide receiver: Cooks didn't blow up the box score against the Browns, but the attention he netted from Cleveland's frisky defense is good news for the Saints. The Browns devised a game plan to take away the intermediate and deep passing game at all costs. While they were successful, the attention heaped on the versatile Cooks left tight end Jimmy Graham and hard-charging runner Mark Ingram to feast. Despite a 0-2 start, New Orleans boasts one of the NFL's most dynamic attacks, and Cooks will enjoy his share of monster outings in this pick-your-poison scheme.
3. Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers wide receiver: Benjamin had more success catching passes from Derek Anderson than from Cam Newton. After his six-catch, 92-yard debut against the Bucs, the rookie's chemistry was off with Ace Boogie. We saw route confusion between Benjamin and Newton on one first-quarter throw. The first-year wideout later drew a holding penalty attempting to block for fellow receiver Philly Brown on a reverse. I'm keeping Benjamin at No. 3 because of the mega-headache his size and raw athleticism cause defenders.
4. Terrance West, Browns running back: Starting in place of the injured Ben Tate, West carried the day behind Kyle Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme. Showing impressive cutting ability and the willingness to put his head down for tough yardage, the third-rounder gained 68 yards on the ground against the Saints. It wasn't the equal of his 100-yard outburst at 6.25 yards per pop against the Steelers, but the tandem of West and fellow rookie Isaiah Crowell has given Cleveland life on the ground.
1. Ryan Shazier, Steelers linebacker: Let's not get too cute with this exercise. Shazier offers a palette of athletic gifts unmatched by anyone else in this class. A super-rare plug-and-play starter for the Steelers, the former Ohio State star has taken his lumps over the first two weeks, but his peak moments hint at a special pro career. Shazier occasionally finds himself out of position, but the All-22 footage illuminates his closing speed and ability to shed blocks to find the ball-carrier. The rookie's growth as a pass rusher showed Thursday night with two hurries against the Ravens.
3. Jason Verrett, Chargers cornerback: Currently ranked as the NFL's fifth-best cover man, per Pro Football Focus, Verrett capped an outstanding Week 1 showing with a solid start in Sunday's stunning 30-21 win over the Seahawks. Injuries in the secondary forced Verrett into the first-team lineup, where he played every snap for San Diego and kept himself out of the dog house against the reigning Super Bowl champions.
4. Anthony Barr, Vikings linebacker: Tied for the team lead with 12 tackles, Barr has shown immediate prowess as a run-stuffer with an ability to disrupt the pocket. He struggled in pass coverage in Sunday's ugly loss to New England, but no Vikings defender has played more snaps or graded higher against the run over two weeks.
Kyle Fuller, Bears cornerback: Chicago's first win in San Francisco since 1985 had plenty to do with Fuller's pair of picks in the fourth quarter. Playing 66 percent of the snaps against the 49ers, Fuller now looms as the heir apparent to Charles Tillman, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn right triceps.
Jeremy Hill, Bengals running back: Second only to West among rookies with 93 rushing yards, Hill made the most of his expanded role in Sunday's throttling of the Falcons. Running at 4.89 yards per clip, he saw roughly half as many carries as Giovani Bernard in Week 2 -- a ratio play-caller Hue Jackson is likely to maintain.
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In the shadows
Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles: Manziel hit the scene for three snaps against the Saints. Handing the ball off twice and throwing an incompletion, Johnny Football's biggest achievement was lighting a holy fire under Brian Hoyer. Meanwhile, Bridgewater and Bortles are bound to see action sooner than later if so-called "bridge" quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Chad Henne continue to lay eggs on the playing field.