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Teams obviously expect big things from a No. 1 or No. 2 overall draft pick. Sometimes those expectations are for the future and are tempered for the player's rookie season.
This year, the Rams and Lions are enjoying immediate returns on their investments.
The top pick in April's draft, Rams QB Sam Bradford, is bucking the trend of poor rookie seasons by quarterbacks taken first overall and is the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year. No. 2 overall pick Ndamukong Suh is far and away the top candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. The last time the top two overall picks in the draft took home the respective Rookie of the Year awards was 1981.
After multiple years in which rookie running backs stood out, this has been the year of the rookie tight end. First-round RB picks Ryan Mathews and C.J. Spiller have disappointed. Meanwhile, TEs Aaron Hernandez, Jermaine Gresham, Rob Gronkowski and Tony Moeaki have impressed.
Rookies also have made impacts on the return game. Chiefs PR Dexter McCluster, Titans KR Marc Mariani, Redskins WR Brandon Banks, Steelers WR Antonio Brown, Cowboys WR Dez Bryant and Spiller all have returns for touchdowns.
Here are the best rookies in the league, based on discussions with the PFW staff:
1. DT Ndamukong Suh / Lions — Remember in college when Suh manhandled offensive lines, making the highlight reel almost every week? Not much has changed with his transition to the NFL. Not only does he lead all rookies in sacks by a wide margin, he leads all defensive tackles with 6½ sacks. Suh also has an interception and a fumble recovery that he took back for a touchdown.
2. C Maurkice Pouncey / Steelers — After the Steelers' season opener, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about Pouncey's performance. "I don't think he miscalled a thing all night. ... He played like a veteran football player." Pouncey has played with a veteran's demeanor all season, impressing teams around the league. Having to snap to three different quarterbacks already, Pouncey has met every challenge.
3. QB Sam Bradford / Rams — Before 2010, the last three quarterbacks to be taken No. 1 overall (Alex Smith, JaMarcus Russell and Matthew Stafford) won a total of four games combined in their rookie seasons; Bradford already has led the Rams to four victories in eight games. Despite a depleted receiving corps, the rookie has improved as the season has gone along, with three consecutive interception-free games heading into Week 10. He has tossed 11 TD passes.
4. WR Mike Williams / Buccaneers — One of two receivers (along with Arrelious Benn) taken by Tampa Bay in the first four rounds of the draft, Williams, a fourth-round pick, has emerged as the team's top downfield threat. The Bucs' leader in catches, yards and touchdowns, Williams has found getting behind defensive backs far from challenging. He's leading all rookies with 69.9 receiving yards per game and has been a major reason the league's youngest team is contending for a playoff berth.
5. (tie) WR Dez Bryant / Cowboys — If the Cowboys had a better record, Bryant would receive strong consideration for Rookie of the Year honors. Even so, it's difficult to overlook the impact Bryant has made on Dallas' offense and special teams. The 6-foot-2 receiver hasn't shown any rust from missing half of his 2009 college season due to NCAA suspension or most of training camp with an ankle injury, having caught four TD passes, averaging 14.4 yards on punt returns (with two TDs) and showing game-breaking speed that should have opponents worried for many years to come.
5. (tie) DT Tyson Alualu / Jaguars — One of the more controversial picks in the draft — many pundits considered him a late first-round talent, not No. 10 overall — has developed into one of the top rookies in the class. Playing what many consider the toughest defensive position for a first-year player to step into, Alualu has made an impact in every game. He has started all eight games to date, recording 23 tackles and 2½ sacks. With Alualu teaming with second-year pro Terrance Knighton, the Jaguars have the makings of a top interior D-line for the foreseeable future.
Others receiving consideration: Seahawks FS Earl Thomas, Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez, Chiefs TE Tony Moeaki.
Eli Kaberon contributed to this article.