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Rookie Meter: Bryant provides spark for Cowboys

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Posted Nov. 09, 2010 @ 5:20 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

The Cowboys have been the biggest disappointment in the NFL this season, going from preseason Super Bowl favorite to 1-7 and at the bottom of the NFC East. Head coach Wade Phillips was fired on Monday, and the turmoil in Dallas continues.

But one bright spot for this year's team and its future has been the recent production of first-round WR Dez Bryant.

Bryant, who was slowed in the preseason with a high ankle sprain, has come on extremely strong since Jon Kitna took over at QB for the injured Tony Romo. In his first five games, Bryant averaged 3.6 receptions and 42.2 receiving yards and he totaled one TD reception. In the three games since (the last two started by Kitna), Bryant has averaged 6.7 catches for 74.7 yards and has three TD catches. His two TDs against the Giants in Week Seven both came from Kitna.

Bryant, who just turned 22, was in elementary school during Kitna's rookie year in 1997. Despite the age difference, the two have established some immediate chemistry.

Bryant is third on the team with 435 receiving yards, just one yard behind Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez for second-most among all rookies. Now that he is healthy and rolling with Kitna at the helm, expect Bryant to battle Buccaneers WR Mike Williams for top numbers among rookie wideouts.

Also a weapon on punt returns (he has two punt-return touchdowns this year), Bryant is becoming a serious candidate for Rookie of the Year.

1. Rams QB Sam Bradford (first round, first overall)
Last week's ranking: 1

Bradford had a bye in Week Nine and sits on 96 consecutive pass attempts without throwing an interception. That's after tossing a pick in each of his first five games. On Sunday the 4-4 Rams take on the 49ers, whose pass defense should provide a test for Bradford. What has made the No. 1 overall pick so successful lately, though, has been his accuracy and reliance on RB Steven Jackson. By not trying to do too much, Bradford is the top candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

2. Buccaneers WR Mike Williams (4, 101)
Last week's ranking: 2

The Bucs were unable to put together another comeback victory on Sunday, falling to the Falcons 27-21. Williams' big plays kept them in it, though. The rookie had four catches for 89 yards, and his fifth TD catch of the season. He was targeted by Josh Freeman 10 times out of 22 pass attempts. Despite the loss, the Bucs are still the surprise team in the league, and Williams looks like one of the bigger steals of April's draft. He has an edge of 123 receiving yards over Hernandez for the rookie lead.

3. Lions DT Ndamukong Suh (1, 2)
Last week's ranking: 3

Suh probably would have skyrocketed to the top of the rankings if he had converted his extra-point attempt. Kidding aside, the attempt in itself was pretty impressive, even though it hit the upright. Suh recorded three tackles in the Lions' near-upset of the Jets and still leads all rookies with 6½ sacks — three sacks more than Dolphins OLB Koa Misi. 

4. Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (1, 24)
Last week's ranking: 5

Bryant had one of his better games, going 9-86-1. Kitna targeted him 10 times out of his 30 pass attempts. Playing alongside WRs Miles Austin and Roy Williams and TE Jason Witten, the rookie snagged nearly half of Kitna's completions (9-of-19). He has been the biggest positive on a team full of negatives and, if it weren't for a slow start, would have similar numbers to Williams'.

5. Lions RB Jahvid Best (1, 30)
Last week's ranking: 4

Best, who spent time at the top of this Meter, seems to still be slowed by his toe injury. He racked up the touches on Sunday, though, rushing for 48 yards on 16 carries and catching five balls for 40 yards. He scored five TDs in his first two games but has not reached the endzone since. His touches are steadily increasing, though, and he leads all rookies in yards from scrimmage by a considerable margin.

6. Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez (4, 113)
Last week's ranking: 6

The Florida alum finally found paydirt on Sunday, and he did it twice. Hernandez had already impressed everyone around the league with his receiving numbers, but he had yet to score a touchdown. In Sunday's loss to the Browns, Hernandez was the team's only bright spot. The first TD catch came when he leapt in the air and brought down a tipped ball. He is second among rookies in receiving yards and continues to be one of Tom Brady's top targets.

7. Chiefs FS Eric Berry (1, 5)
Last week's ranking: 8

With FS Earl Thomas and Nate Allen leaving their respective games with injuries (not to mention seeing their stats decline), Berry has emerged as a top rookie safety. He recorded four tackles, two sacks and three QB hits in the Chiefs' loss to the Raiders on Sunday. The big-play safety is starting to live up to his billing, and the Chiefs recognized his athleticism by starting him from Week One.

8. Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey (1, 18)
Last week's ranking: NR

Pouncey joined Suh as the two rookies on the PFW Midseason All-Pro team. Pouncey won the starting job in the preseason and has impressed ever since, even having to snap to three different quarterbacks. Head coach Mike Tomlin has compared Pouncey to a veteran since the season opener, and the rookie is helping to lead one of the league's better rushing attacks.

9. Chiefs TE Tony Moeaki (3, 93)
Last week's ranking: 9

The Iowa alum had six catches for 63 yards on nine targets in a very productive game on Sunday. Moeaki joins WR Dwayne Bowe as Matt Cassel's top targets every Sunday, and he put up big numbers after several weeks of, well, more typical numbers for a rookie tight end. What will hurt Moeaki along the way is the inconsistency of the Chiefs' passing game, something fellow TE Hernandez rarely has to worry about in New England.

10. Jaguars DT Tyson Alualu (1, 10)
Last week's ranking: NR

Even though Alualu had a bye, he finds himself on the Meter this week after a poor performance by Seattle's Thomas. Third among rookies with 2½ sacks, Alualu has surprised the doubters who criticized the Jaguars' selection of him with the 10th overall pick. He's been a run stuffer for the Jags, as evidenced by a big goal-line stop against the Cowboys in Week Eight.

On the cusp (listed alphabetically)

Eagles FS Nate Allen (2, 37)
Buccaneers RB LeGarrette Blount (undrafted)
Saints RB Chris Ivory (undrafted)
Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (1, 12)
Patriots CB Devin McCourty (1, 27)
Dolphins OLB Koa Misi (2, 40)
Bengals WR Jordan Shipley (3, 84)
Seahawks FS Earl Thomas (1, 14)
Browns FS T.J. Ward (2, 38)
Cardinals LB Daryl Washington (2, 47)

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