Rookies Waste No Time Contributing

tough. And the best part is that he's pretty darn good as the slot corner, a position that is demanding on even the best cornerbacks in the NFL.  

  From Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins in the first round to Martellus Bennett in the second to Tashard Choice and Orlando Scandrick - it's not too early to say the Cowboys had a great draft. 

  For this year, it was great. Now, as expectations build with these guys, if they don't continue to improve, this draft class might not be as great in future years. We've seen that several times before. 

  But for now, it looks like the Cowboys hit it big with their rookies.  

  And why shouldn't they? The rest of the league had strong rookies, too.  

  All you have to do is check out the NFL's Rookie of the Year voting to see how good this year's crop was.  

  The quarterbacks always get the most credit, and the most blame. So Matt Ryan takes over as the starter in Atlanta from Day 1 and helps turn around a franchise haunted by the Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino incidents, leading the Falcons to an 11-5 record and a playoff spot.  

  Maybe he wasn't the best rookie in the league this year, but if you do that, on top of the expectations that come with being the first quarterback taken in the draft and the No. 3 overall pick, you're going to win the award.  

  And Ryan did, somewhat easily, collecting 44 of the 50 votes for the league's top offensive rookie.  

  Ryan ranked 11th in the NFL with an 87.7 quarterback rating. Now, he got some serious help from newly-acquired Michael Turner at running back, but Ryan didn't play like a rookie, throwing just 11 interceptions.  

  Go ahead, be quick to point out that Romo had 14 picks in three less games. Then again, I'll take Romo's 26 touchdowns as well, to just 16 from Ryan.  

  But this isn't comparing Ryan to Romo. This is about a young player with high expectations and trying to carry a struggling franchise on his rookie back and taking them into the playoffs.  

  Well done, for sure. But he wasn't even close to the only rookie standing out.  

  This was an odd year, because not only was Ryan deserving, but you could've easily given the Offensive Rookie of the Year award to about six guys. Not a stretch either.  

  Maybe it's not as impressive as Ryan, but what about the job Joe Flacco is doing in Baltimore? Yes, Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl quarterbacking the Ravens, too.  

  But Dilfer by far wasn't a rookie. Flacco is running the show for a Baltimore offense that ranked 18th in the NFL this past season. Yeah, that's nothing to cartwheel about, and neither is his 14-to-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio, or his 80.3 quarterback rating.  

  But Flacco is still playing. He's already led his team to one road playoff win and there's nothing that says the Ravens can't get another one this week in Tennessee.  

  Yet, Flacco didn't even get a single vote for the Rookie of the Year.  

  That speaks even more volumes for this class. And what a year for the running back.  

  Houston's Steve Slaton? How about sixth in the NFL in rushing with 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns, and he did that while splitting time with Ahman Green for most of the first half of the season.  

  Chicago's Matt Forte? How about seventh in the NFL in rushing, just behind Slaton, with 1,238 yards. Forte was the ONLY sparkplug on that Bears offense this past season. 

  Ok, let's go down to eighth in the league in rushing. That would be Tennessee's Chris Johnson, who got noticed at the scouting combine when he ran a blazing 4.24 in the 40. That helped him into the first round, and Johnson hasn't slowed down since.  He rushed for 1,228 and nine touchdowns and probably benefited from sharing the load, and it was a load, with LenDale White.  

  Now I can't say that I really watched many Broncos games this year, and if so, probably wasn't focused on the offensive line, but it sounds like this Ryan Clady, a tackle from Boise State, is a Hall-of-Famer in training.  

  Ok, that's a little strong. But as a rookie left tackle, to give up

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