NFL Power Rankings: DeMarco Murray and the 6 Biggest Breakout Performers
There's already been a lot of impressive performances this season by new guys. Just this last Sunday, DeMarco Murray had one of the most impressive when he rushed for 253 yards against the St. Louis Rams.
He isn't the only rookie who's impressed in his first year, but he is certainly one of the best.
Where does Murray's performance rank amongst the other rookie breakouts this season?
Here are my top six.
6. Randall Cobb, WR (Green Bay Packers)
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He may not have done a lot since, but his first appearance was very impressive.
Randall Cobb became the first NFL rookie to score a touchdown this season after catching a 32-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers against the Saints. Later that same game, he got another touchdown off an 108-yard kickoff return.
That's tied for the longest-return in NFL history, by the way.
Since then, Cobb has accumulated 187 receiving yards on 11 catches. That is a pretty small number, but with all the quality receivers in Green Bay, that's not bad.
Once the Packers lose one or two receivers to injury or free agency, Cobb will be ready to step up and shine again.
5. Aldon Smith, OLB (San Francisco 49ers)
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Aldon Smith has been a pleasant surprise for 49ers fans. When he was first selected, everyone was scratching their heads a little bit, but now it is clear that the 49ers' front office made the right choice.
Smith has 11 tackles, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble already. He has been a constant presence in opposing teams' backfields, and he is a big part of what has turned the 49ers' defense into a force to be reckoned with.
Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (which the 49ers won, 41-3), Smith registered two tackles, two sacks and was selected as the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week. He won it again against the Lions, where he registered an additional two sacks, four tackles, a pass deflection and a forced fumble.
If anyone will overtake Miller for Defensive Rookie of the Year, it'll be Smith.
4. A.J. Green, WR (Cincinnati Bengals)
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A.J. Green was heralded as one of the best wide receiver prospects in years, and those claims look 100 percent legitimate so far.
In his breakout game against the Broncos, Green caught 10 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown. Despite his great play, the Bengals lost the game. He also had a 100-yard game against the Jaguars.
Despite being thrown to by a rookie quarterback, Green has already accumulated 453 receiving yards and four touchdowns. To give you an idea of how well that is, Andy Dalton has only thrown seven touchdowns.
For further comparison, Julio Jones—picked just two spots below Green—has just 358 receiving yards and no touchdowns. He also has the added benefit of having Matt Ryan throwing him the ball.
Green is far and away the best receiver in the 2011 class, and I think he'll continue to separate himself even further as the season progresses.
3. Von Miller, OLB (Denver Broncos)
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Unlike Smith, Von Miller isn't surprising anyone. Everyone expected Miller to be great right away, and he hasn't disappointed.
He's already accumulated 23 tackles, six sacks and two forced fumbles—not bad considering everyone (myself included) said his talents were wasted in a 4-3.
Miller's biggest game so far came against Miami. He had five tackles (three solo), a sack and a tackle for loss—that was also his most recent game.
Miller is the current favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he definitely deserves it. The only players on his heels are Aldon Smith and Ryan Kerrigan. Unless Fairley comes back from his early ankle injury and achieves something really special, Miller seems to be a lock for the award.
2. DeMarco Murray, RB (Dallas Cowboys)
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Yes, rushing for 253 yards and a touchdown is very impressive—but even so, he's only No. 2 because he did it against the Rams.
How bad are the Rams?
You know they're 0-7, but to give you an idea of how historically bad they are, only four teams in the history of the league have ever started 0-7 without beating the spread in a single game. The Rams are one of those teams (this year's Colts are another).
Even so, DeMarco Murray set an all-time rushing record for the Cowboys franchise, not to mention gathered the second-most rushing yards by a rookie in a single game in NFL history. He also averaged 10.1 yards per carry while we're at it.
Still, we only have one game to evaluate him by. If Murray continues to play at a high level, he might have Felix Jones' job by the season's end.
1. Cam Newton, QB (Carolina Panthers)
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As if it could be anyone else.
Cam Newton has played at a higher level than even his most passionate supporters could have predicted. He's set a rushing touchdown record, and the season isn't even over yet.
To make things better, unlike Tim Tebow, Newton seems comfortable sitting in the pocket and killing teams with his arm instead of his legs.
It took Vince Young five years to get that part of the game down, and Newton is already better at it than Young ever was.
Newton broke out immediately in Week 1 against the Cardinals, he completed just under 65 percent of his passes for 422 yards and two touchdowns. Since then, he hasn't looked back, throwing for 2,103 yards already and seems to be improving every game.
If Newton keeps on the course he's on, he'll be one of the top quarterbacks in the league in a few years.