This season appears to be the year of the rookie running back based on what we've seen through the first two weeks of the season. DarrenMcFadden, Jonathan Stewart and Matt Forte have been as good as advertised, playing pivotal roles in anchoring their respective team's ground attack.
McFadden churned out 164 rushing yards against the Chiefs and flashed a glimpse of his big-play potential with three runs over 20 yards. Stewart's gritty performance included a pair of second half touchdowns and that helped the Panthers topple the Bears. Not to be outdone, Forte continued to display a nifty combination of speed and power on his way to picking up 92 rushing yards against the Panthers.
In spite of those impressive feats, the Titans' Chris Johnson has made the biggest splash among rookie runners. The speedster from East Carolina is coming off his first 100-yard game (109 against the Bengals), and has amassed 246 yards total offense in keying the Tennessee's 2-0 start.
"The kid is impressive," said a Titans' official. "We knew that he was a speed burner, but he is more of a complete back than we expected."
While Johnson was expected to be the Titans' big play threat, few thought the rookie sensation was capable of being a feature back in the smash-mouth offense. However, Johnson has been outstanding in the Titans' zone scheme, and his ability to be productive between the tackles has given the team's offense an added dimension. His 51-yard burst against the Bengals came on a slip draw that started out between the tackles. Johnson used his exceptional quickness to take it to the perimeter once he slipped passed the initial wave of defenders.
In addition, Johnson's explosiveness has enabled him to be far more productive than starter LenDale White, despite an even split in carries on the season. (Johnson has gained 202 yards on 34 carries compared to White's 99 rushing yards on 33 attempts)
"We don't change up our offense based on which one is in the game," said a Titans official. "The difference is Johnson has the ability to take it the distance at any time."
Through two weeks, Johnson has proven to be a difference maker for the Titans, and may turn out to be the best of the most talented rookie crop of runners to hit the league in years.
1. Donovan McNabb, QB, Eagles (rank last week: 1): He put on an impressive showing against the Cowboys, throwing for 281 yards and showing he is fully recovered from the injuries that plagued him. Although the Eagles came up short in the shootout, McNabb was at the top of his game for the second consecutive week.
2. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys (2): Romo bounced back from two early turnovers to lead the Cowboys to a stunning come-from-behind victory. While his 312 passing yards were impressive, his willingness to spread the ball around to seven receivers makes the Cowboys nearly impossible to stop.
3. Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos (NR): The third-year pro has been magnificent through the first two weeks of the season. Not only has he completed over 70 percent of his throws, but also he has thrown for a league-leading 650 yards and six touchdowns. Though he benefited from a questionable call against the Chargers, his clutch touchdown pass and two-point conversion proved he has the moxie to become the league's next great quarterback.
4. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers (NR): The long-time understudy has shocked the league with his magnificent performance under pressure. He has completed 70 percent of his throws, with four touchdown passes and another score on the ground.
5. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts (NR): The two-time league MVP deserves to be mentioned as a candidate after leading his team to victory against the Vikings. Though his numbers are not up to his normal standards due to numerous injuries to the offensive unit, he has shown impressive grit and determination in leading his banged up team to a 1-1 record.
1. Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals (NR): The former league MVP has been spectacular while guiding the Cardinals to a 2-0 start. Warner has connected on 70 percent of his passes for 558 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. His 128.5 passer rating leads the league.
2. Willie Parker, RB, Steelers (2): The two-time Pro Bowl back put in a solid day's work with a 28-carry, 105-yard rushing day against Cleveland. While the Browns kept him out of the end zone, they couldn't stop Parker from topping the century mark for the second straight game.
3. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings (5): The Pro Bowl MVP put up an impressive showing against the Colts. Though his 160 yards on the ground didn't lead the Vikings to a win, it catapulted Peterson into the lead for the NFL rushing title.
4. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers (NR): The Chargers winless start shouldn't diminish the outstanding performance of Rivers in the first two games. The fifth-year pro has compiled a gaudy 122.5 passer rating while completing 63.5 percent of his passes. His six touchdown passes are tied for the league lead.
5. Brandon Marshall, WR, Broncos (NR): The Broncos' "go-to-guy" made a resounding return to the lineup with an 18-catch, 166-yard day. His astonishing single-game performance included a touchdown and numerous acrobatic catches against a secondary geared to shut him down in the second half.
1. James Harrison, OLB, Steelers (2): The Pro Bowl linebacker led the Steelers to another strong defensive outing against the Browns. Though he only totaled four tackles, Harrison was an integral part of a defense that held Jamal Lewis to 38 rushing yards on 19 attempts.
2. Marcus Stroud, DT, Bills (4): Stroud spearheaded another stingy defensive effort by the Bills. He anchored the interior of a line that held the Jaguars to 243 yards, and he provided a critical big play at the end of the first half with a deflection that resulted in an interception.
3. Justin Tuck, DE, Giants (NR): The Giants underappreciated defense turned in a dominant performance against the Rams behind Tuck's stellar play. The fourth-year pro registered two of the team's six sacks and sealed the game with his 41-yard interception return for touchdown.
4. John Abraham, OLB, Falcons (NR): The three-time Pro Bowl defender followed up a three-sack performance in the opener with another sack and forced fumble against the Bucs. Though he failed to lead the Falcons to an upset win in Week 2, Abraham has been the league's most impressive pass rusher during the first two weeks of the season. He leads the league in sacks with four.
5. (tie) Cortland Finnegan, CB, Titans (NR): As part of a Titans defense that only yielded 134 passing yards, Finnegan blanketed Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and came up with the game-clinching interception in the fourth quarter. Finnegan leads the league in interceptions (3) and is quietly becoming one of the game's top corners.
5. (tie) Albert Haynesworth, DT, Titans (1): He had a quiet game against the Bengals (one tackle, one forced fumble) but continues to be the linchpin in the league's best defense.
1. Dick Jauron, Bills (1): The Bills pulled off an impressive win on the road against the Jaguars. With their second straight win over a playoff team, the Bills make a statement about their readiness to contend for the division crown.
2. John Fox, Panthers (2): No one expected the Panthers to open the season undefeated with their best player (Steve Smith) on the sidelines. Sporting an improved running game and a more aggressive defense, the Panthers could become an NFC heavyweight when Smith returns to the lineup this week.
3. Mike Tomlin, Steelers (4): The Steelers bullied another opponent behind their physical defense and strong running game. Though they weren't a chic pick heading into the season, the Steelers have emerged as the frontrunners to the AFC crown.
4. Mike McCarthy, Packers (NR): After dealing with the Brett Favre drama throughout training camp, McCarthy deserves a ton of credit for keeping his team united and focused.
5. Jeff Fisher, Titans (NR): The Titans' top ranked defense has suffocated the opposition, and keyed the team's surprising 2-0 start. If the offense can continue to provide timely playmaking, the Titans may finally wrestle the division title away from the Colts.
1. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans (1)
2. DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles (2): The electrifying rookie became the second player in NFL history to have over 100 yards receiving in his first two games. Although his six catch, 110-yard performance included a major gaffe that cost him a touchdown, Jackson has given the Eagles' offense a dimension that has been lacking since T.O.'s departure.
3. Matt Forte, RB, Bears (1): The standout rookie followed up his stellar debut with a workmanlike performance against the Panthers. Although he didn't produce any highlight runs, he finished with 92 yards on the ground and added three receptions for 21 yards
4. Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders (NR): The rookie sensation tallied 164 rushing yards against the Chiefs and flashed big-play ability with three runs over 20 yards. Although he fumbled twice, McFadden stepped up to carry the load after starter Justin Fargas left the game with an injury in the second quarter.
5. Eddie Royal, WR, Broncos (4): The budding star followed up his stellar debut with a solid performance against the Chargers. Though his production was pedestrian (five receptions for 37 yards), Royal showed that he was a clutch player by reeling in the game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion.
1. Keith Rivers, LB, Bengals (1): Although he only has two games of experience as a pro, Rivers has emerged as the team's best defender, averaging nine tackles a game.
2. Jerod Mayo, LB, Patriots (4): Playing with a veteran-like savvy, Mayo finished with seven solo stops in the Patriots' 19-10 victory over the Jets. He's second on the team in tackles with 13.
3. Antoine Cason, CB, Chargers (2): The rookie is living up to his reputation as a big play corner, nabbing an interception against the Broncos.
4. Chris Horton, S, Redskins (NR): The former Bruin had an outstanding first game as a starter with two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
5. Kendall Langford, DE, Dolphins (5): The unheralded pass-rusher quietly racked up another sack and two tackles in the Dolphins' blowout loss to the Cardinals.