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Monday October 3rd, 2011

Fourth-overall pick A.J. Green has shown a penchant for making the big play. (AP)

The NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award looks like it is Cam Newton's to lose, with Julio Jones rapidly jumping into the mix.

But Cincinnati's A.J. Green and Andy Dalton could both have a say before it's over.

Toiling away in relative obscurity, Green and Dalton have developed a great rapport in the Bengals' offense -- Green caught four passes from Dalton Sunday for 118 yards, helping Cincinnati rally past Buffalo and move to 2-2 on the season. That's one game better than Newton's Panthers and the same mark as Jones' Falcons, for what it's worth.

Green, the No. 4 overall pick, enjoyed a breakthrough Week 2 at Denver: 10 catches, 124 yards and a touchdown. He turned in another gem against the Bills, with his big day including a 58-yarder in the first half and a 40-yarder in the third quarter.

He also scored in Cincinnati's Week 1 win over Cleveland, hauling in a 41-yard strike from Bruce Gradkowski. Green is second to only Jones among rookies in receptions and yards (19 for 312 for Green; 24 for 342 for Jones), while Green's found the end zone a pair of times and leads all NFL rookies in catches of 20-plus (6) and 40-plus (3) yards.

Most of those big plays have come with Dalton under center. And while Newton has compiled about 600 more total yards than Cincinnati's young gunslinger, Dalton stepped up Sunday, scoring on a rushing TD to tie the game at 20, then leading a game-winning field goal drive.

There's no way, if a vote was taken right now, that Green or Dalton would even challenge Newton for the ROY honors. But what if the Bengals hover around .500 all year? However unlikely that may be, it's the type of turnaround -- Cincinnati went just 4-12 last year -- that could open some eyes.

Percy Harvin was the last wide receiver to win the Offensive ROY, in 2009, with 60 catches and more than 2,000 total yards, including 1,000-plus coming on kick returns. Anquan Boldin was the last WR to win it prior to Harvin, and he did so without returning kicks, catching 101 passes for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns.

At the moment, Green's on pace for 76 grabs, 1,248 yards and eight TDs, which should at least garner him some attention, no matter what Newton does in Carolina.

The 2011 rookie class has jumped into the fray sooner than most anticipated -- in addition to the Bengals' duo, Jones and Newton, players like Blaine Gabbert, Torrey Smith, Daniel Thomas and Stevan Ridley are making waves at the skill positions. If Newton falters and his stats plummet back to earth, the race for the Offensive Rookie of the Year honor could be wide open. Green and Dalton deserve to be in the mix just as much as anyone.

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