Rookie Report: Dallas' Elliott, Prescott command headlines
Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian says a draft class can't be fully measured until after their fourth season. As this year's rookies prepare to hit the home stretch of their first regular season, one early assessment is crystal clear: Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott have been something special.
While Los Angeles' Jared Goff and Philadelphia's Carson Wentz went 1-2 last April and have had their share of struggles as starters, it has been Dallas' dynamic duo that has dominated the headlines.
Besides leading the Cowboys to an 11-1 record and a playoff berth, Elliott and Prescott could achieve something very rare: teammates finishing in the top two in Offensive Rookie of the Year balloting.
THE BIG D DUO
Elliott, who leads the league with 1,285 rushing yards and is second with 12 rushing TDs, is a favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year. But Polian thinks Elliott should be in line for another honor.
''If I had a vote he would get it for MVP,'' said Polian, an ESPN and Sirius NFL Radio analyst who built Buffalo and Indianapolis into Super Bowl contenders. ''He is an incredible talent. He makes a difference on every level.''
Elliott, the fourth overall pick, set a league rookie record with four straight games of 130-plus yards, and has 20 or more carries in all but two games.
Prescott, who has 2,974 passing yards and 19 touchdown passes, has been on quite a roll the past five games with 10 TDs, no interceptions and a 123.2 passer rating. Whether the fourth-round pick can become the first rookie quarterback to start a Super Bowl remains an intriguing question.
''Dak is doing well. He is getting looks that he normally wouldn't see because the defense is concerned with trying to stop Zeke on so many levels. It helps set everything up,'' Polian said.
WENTZ AND GOFF
Even though Goff has yet to win and Wentz is struggling after a great opening stretch, Polian has liked the development of both quarterbacks and thinks they continue to be on schedule.
Goff, who got his first start in Week 11, has four touchdowns and three interceptions. His biggest highlight so far: three first-half TD passes in his first road start Week 12 against New Orleans.
Wentz is the second quarterback since the merger to start the season 3-0. He didn't throw an interception in his first 134 attempts, but has 11 in 318 attempts since.
HILL MAKING LATE RUN
Kansas City's Tyreek Hill is someone to keep an eye on as he makes a late bid for top offensive rookie honors. The wide receiver, a fifth-round pick, is the first player in the Super Bowl era to have receiving, rushing, kick and punt return touchdowns.
In a Week 12 overtime win at Denver, he became the first rookie since Gale Sayers in 1965 to score with a run, catch and return.
The dynamic speedster has five touchdowns over his past three games, including two in Thursday night's win over Oakland as the Chiefs took the lead in the AFC West. He said after the game, ''I guess it's falling into place. Dante Hall told me to dream big and that is what I started to do.''
For what Hill has accomplished on the field - he has nine touchdowns this season - some have not forgotten he is less than two years removed from pleading guilty to a domestic violence charge while at Oklahoma State. The NFL took plenty of criticism over having Hill as part of the header on its Twitter account two weeks ago.
BEST TURNAROUND FROM DRAFT DAY
Laremy Tunsil made news for all the wrong reasons on draft day. There was the video posted on his Twitter account that showed him wearing a gas mask and smoking something from a bong, plummeting his status.
But the offensive lineman has played well for the Dolphins, allowing only half a sack in 10 starts.
Tunsil has started at both left guard and left tackle, becoming the first rookie in team history to start at least one game at both guard and tackle.
''I told him with great power comes great responsibility. He's starting to learn that and did a good job fighting through his injury,'' left tackle Brandon Albert said. ''It's something he's learning. That shows what he has in him.''
OTHER LINEMEN MAKING IMPACT
Tennessee right tackle Jake Conklin has allowed only half a sack, but his true strength is run blocking. The Titans are third in the league in rushing and DeMarco Murray is second to Elliott.
''With how coach (Mike) Mularkey and (general manager) Jon Robinson talked about what they wanted to create here, it's panning out with what I was hoping to see,'' Conklin said. ''With a run team and pound people and create that M.O. where we're going to be physical throughout the whole game. I've really liked what I've been able to be a part of.''
Baltimore's Ronnie Stanley, the first lineman taken at sixth overall, has started eight games at left tackle after missing four early in the season due to a foot injury. Detroit's Taylor Decker has also started every game at left tackle, while third-round pick Graham Glasgow has become the starting left guard.
DEFENSE STILL A RACE
Despite missing the first five games due to a holdout and then injury, San Diego defensive lineman Joey Bosa has 5 1-2 sacks, nine tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hits in eight games. But Bosa had a stretch of only half a sack in four games.
Atlanta safety Keanu Neal, a first-round pick, leads rookies in tackles (79) despite missing the first two games due to injury. Neal also has four forced fumbles and two tackles for loss.
Chicago linebacker Leonard Floyd, who went ninth overall, leads rookies with seven sacks, also has returned a fumble for a touchdown and managed a safety last week against San Francisco.
FOUR OTHER ROOKIE STANDOUTS
Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans: The former Ohio State standout and first-round pick leads rookie receivers in receptions (69), yards (831) and touchdowns (seven). He's having the best rookie season of any Saints WR since Marques Colston in 2006.
Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago: The fifth-round pick has been overshadowed by Elliott, but he is 117 yards away from 1,000 and is only the third Chicago rookie to have five 100-yard games.
Chris Jones, DT, Chiefs: The second-round pick has developed into an effective pass rusher; Pro Football Focus has him with 31 pressures. He would be getting more attention for defensive honors if he had more than two sacks.
Deion Jones, LB, Falcons: The second-round pick is second on the team in tackles with 74 and has quickly become one of the leaders of the defense with signal-calling responsibilities.
Robert Kelley, RB, Washington: Kelley has started the past five games and is third among rookies in rushing yards (524).
Briean Boddy-Calhoun, DB, Cleveland: He is the only rookie this season with a sack and interception. He also has two picks, including a pick-6 in his debut Week 3 at Miami.
Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Arizona: Two weeks ago, coach Bruce Arians called out Nkemdiche for lack of work ethic and immaturity. It is the second straight year the Cardinals have gotten minimal production from their first-round pick (D.J. Humphries).
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Minnesota: The first-round pick has only one reception for 15 yards and has been inactive for three games.
Roberto Aguayo, K, Tampa Bay: The second-round pick is 15 of 22 on field goals, the worst percentage of any kicker in the league this season.
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker and Sport Writer Steven Wine contributed.
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