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Rookie Meter: TEs shining in NFL spotlight

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Posted Sept. 21, 2010 @ 1:18 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

It's rare to see a tight end lead his team in receiving. It's even more rare to see a rookie tight end lead his team in receiving.

Don't even get me started on how rare it is to see two rookie TEs lead their teams in receiving in only the second game of the season.

So far this season, the rookie tight ends have been superb, getting involved immediately in their new offenses and making significant contributions, most notably Chiefs TE Tony Moeaki and Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez.

Moeaki led the Chiefs in receiving for the second straight game with five catches for 58 yards in the Chiefs' Week Two win over the Browns. He also led in targets, being targeted by QB Matt Cassel 10 times, twice as many targets as WR Dwayne Bowe.

Hernandez hauled in six catches for 101 yards in the Patriots' Week Two loss to the Jets. Hernandez looked like a wide receiver catching passes and running after the catch. He caught all six of his targets and has the versatility to line up in the slot for QB Tom Brady.

Hernandez and Moeaki aren't even the most heralded tight ends in their class, and Hernandez might still not be the most well-known rookie TE on his own team. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski had a catch for 14 yards in Week Two and caught a TD pass in Week One. The second-round pick garnered much of the publicity during the preseason, with Hernandez playing in just one preseason game, but Brady clearly likes Hernandez's athleticism.

Bengals starting TE Jermaine Gresham, their top pick from the April draft, had three catches for 15 yards and was targeted five times by Carson Palmer. The Ravens' defense stifled the entire Bengals offense, but expect Gresham to tally some TDs when the Bengals enter the red zone.

As talented as these players are, they are still tight ends, and will need to continue to be targeted often as receivers instead of simply blocking to have a chance at the Rookie of the Year award. But Hernandez and Moeaki have shown in two weeks that they have the confidence of their offenses to challenge the running backs and wide receivers on this list.

1. Lions RB Jahvid Best (first round, 30th overall)
Last week's ranking: 3

Best became the first rookie in NFL history with at least 75 rushing yards, 150 receiving yards and three touchdowns in one game with his giant Week Two output against the Eagles. He finished with 17 carries for 78 yards and two TDs and caught nine balls for 154 yards and a TD receiving. After being used sparingly in Week One, the Lions fed Best a ton on Sunday, and he showed the league what he is capable of. He is the clear-cut Rookie of the Year favorite through two games.

2. Lions DT Ndamukong Suh (1, 2)
Last week's ranking: NR

Suh had a monster game against the Eagles with eight tackles, a sack, and two tackles for loss. Keep this in mind: Suh is a defensive tackle, not a linebacker, yet he's racking up tackles and sacks. And, if you forgot, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz will remind you of how impressive it is. "For defensive tackles, it's hard to get sacks, and he's got one in each of his first two games. That's tough billing to live up to," Schwartz said.

3. Rams QB Sam Bradford (1, 1)
Last week's ranking: 2

Bradford falls one spot on this list after an average performance against a weak defense — the Raiders'. Bradford went 14-for-25 through the air for 167 yards, two TDs and one interception. After throwing the ball 55 times in Week One, the Rams slowed things down with their No. 1 pick in Week Two.

4. Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (1, 12)
Last week's ranking: 1

Mathews falls down to No. 4 after a slow start and getting hurt in the Chargers' win on Sunday. He finished with five carries for 26 yards and two catches for 29 yards with no touchdowns and also lost his second fumble of the season. Mathews has not fully lived up to the hype, but assuming he quickly returns to 100 percent, he will still get the bulk of the touches for the Chargers and deserves to remain high on this list.

5. Buccaneers WR Mike Williams (4, 101)
Last week's ranking: 6

Williams caught another TD pass on Sunday, finishing the game with two catches for 54 yards and being targeted seven times. He likely won't remain this high on the list all season as his success is related directly to the success of Bucs QB Josh Freeman. Williams will have a tough task getting another TD next week against the Steelers' "D."

6. Chiefs FS Eric Berry (1, 5)
Last week's ranking: 7

Berry got some relief in Week Two against the Browns after having the tough task of covering TE Antonio Gates in his NFL debut. Berry, one of the more electric defensive players to come out of April's draft, had seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a QB hit in Sunday's win.

7. Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (1, 24)
Last week's ranking: 6

Bryant got his first NFL TD on Sunday, taking a punt 62 yards to the house. He had two catches for 52 yards in a game where the Cowboys' offense was less than stellar. Bryant showed he can contribute in the return game as well, giving him another option to rack up yards and TDs this season.

8. Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas (1, 22)
Last week's ranking: NR

Welcome to the Rookie Meter, Demaryius. In his first NFL game, the rookie had eight catches for 97 yards and a touchdown with nine targets. Not bad for an NFL debut. Unfortunately for Thomas, QB Kyle Orton and the Broncos won't be playing the Seahawks every week. But in Week Two, Thomas, who battled injuries all preseason, lived up to his billing and could have a huge rookie season.

9. Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez (4, 113)
Last week's ranking: NR

The Florida product had a breakout game in Week Two. He showed a brief flash in the season opener with one catch for 45 yards, but he led the Patriots Sunday with six catches for 101 yards receiving. Tom Brady wants to get Hernandez involved in the offense, and with defenses keying on WRs Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Week Two could have been just a glimpse of what we will see from Hernandez this season.

10. Chiefs TE Tony Moeaki (3, 93)
Last week's ranking: NR

Moeaki leads the Chiefs in receiving. He doesn't have a whole lot of yards (79 through two games), but he led the Chiefs both weeks and had twice as many targets as WRs Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers in Week Two. The Chiefs clearly want Moeaki to be a big contributor in the passing game, and Matt Cassel is looking for him often.

On the cusp (listed alphabetically)

Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham (1, 21)
Raiders MLB Rolando McClain (1, 8)
Chiefs WR-RS Dexter McCluster (2, 36)
Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy (1, 3)
Dolphins LB Koa Misi (2, 40)
Bengals WR Jordan Shipley (3, 84)
Bills RB C.J. Spiller (1, 9)
Seahawks FS Earl Thomas (1, 14)
Browns FS T.J. Ward (2, 38)
Cardinals LB Daryl Washington (2, 47)

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