Raiders rookie WR Jacoby Ford has a tendency to make big receptions on balls that should be intercepted.
In the Raiders' win over the Chiefs in Week Nine, Ford made two key receptions that led to Raiders points late in the game. The wideout showed some pretty impressive concentration when a deep ball appeared to be picked, only for Ford to grab the batted ball. He had six catches for 148 yards in that game and also took a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.
In last Sunday's loss to the Dolphins, Ford turned what appeared to be an interception into a long reception again, when a Bruce Gradkowski throw seemed to be Dolphins S Chris Clemons' for the taking, only to have Ford rip it away for a 52-yard reception. He also scored on a 44-yard touchdown reception, leaping to make a catch when Dolphins CB Benny Sapp bit on the ball.
How did the Raiders-Dolphins game start? A Ford 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. See a pattern?
The rookie out of Clemson has played in every game this season but has recorded receptions only in the last five. In Ford's two big games he totaled 256 combined receiving yards, made acrobatic catches and took a kick back for a touchdown in each game. Guess Ford just needs to take one back to get some confidence in the passing game and needs balls to be underthrown so he can make big plays.
Ford is averaging 20 yards a catch, which is second among rookies with at least 10 receptions. In just five games on offense, Ford is 16-320-1 on the season. The fourth-round pick joins a host of rookies making serious impacts in the return game, but he's the only one with two kickoff-return touchdowns, and his 101-yard return is the longest among rookies.
Injuries have slowed the Raiders' WR corps, allowing the speedy Ford to get some looks on offense. He had 10 targets on Sunday, tied with RB Darren McFadden for the most on the team. He doesn't yet have the stats to qualify for the Rookie Meter, but his recent big games add to an already impressive crop of rookie returners.
1. Rams QB Sam Bradford (first round, first overall)
Last week's ranking: 1
Bradford was effective again on Sunday and is well on his way to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He completed 22-of-37 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns, good for a 113.3 passer rating. Bradford is excelling without the Rams' top two receivers, Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton. Most importantly, Bradford led the Rams to a win on Sunday, and they could make the playoffs out of the dismal NFC West.
2. Lions DT Ndamukong Suh (1, 2)
Last week's ranking: 3
Suh had a big first half on Thanksgiving Day but was handled in the second half of the Lions' 45-24 loss to the Patriots. Suh did make his presence felt, notching his eighth sack of the season, the most out of all rookies by 4½. He had four tackles, with two going for a loss, in the game.
3. Buccaneers WR Mike Williams (4, 101)
Last week's ranking: 2
Williams had his lowest receiving output of the season on Sunday, getting shut down by the Ravens' defense. He had just two catches for 20 yards on seven targets in the Bucs' loss. He still comfortably leads all rookies with 701 receiving yards and is tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns with six, but Williams will need a big finish and a collapse by Bradford to overtake the No. 1 overall pick.
4. Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (1, 24)
Last week's ranking: 3
After climbing up the Rookie Meter in the last few games and finding the endzone six times in his five previous games, Bryant had his first career game with zero catches. To add insult to injury, he had a fumble in the game. Bryant was targeted six times on the day but couldn't haul in a reception. He did have two kick returns for 60 yards.
5. Buccaneers RB LeGarrette Blount (undrafted)
Last week's ranking: 5
Like the rest of the Bucs' offense, Blount struggled against the Ravens' "D." He had 55 rushing yards on 13 carries without a score in the loss, but the power back did average over four yards per carry. He is second among rookies with 496 rushing yards and leads all rookies in rushing yards per game played with 62.
6. Browns SS T.J. Ward (2, 38)
Last week's ranking: 7
The Browns' tackling machine added seven more on Sunday, including a tackle for loss, in Cleveland's win over the Panthers. Ward leads all rookies with 77 tackles and he has also been a good on-the-ball defender with two interceptions and seven passes defensed.
7. Chiefs SS Eric Berry (1, 5)
Last week's ranking: 6
Berry swaps spots with Ward after a three-tackle performance on Sunday. Berry is part of a very young defense along with fellow rookie CB Javier Arenas and has had some real big games and other games where he didn't make a big impact. Against the Broncos' passing attack this week, Berry should have some opportunities to make big plays, or miscues.
8. Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey
Last week's ranking: NR
Pouncey started his 11th game of the season for the Steelers on Sunday and, because of injuries, has become the team's most reliable player on the front line. The rookie from Florida helped engineer a rushing attack that gained 206 yards. Bills DT Kyle Williams had a big game on the other side of the ball, though, and Pouncey will get a big test from Ravens DT Haloti Ngata on Sunday night.
9. Seahawks FS Earl Thomas (1, 14)
Last week's ranking: 10
Thomas simply finds ways to make plays and be around the football. The rookie scooped up a blocked punt and took it into the endzone in Sunday's loss to the Chiefs. Thomas added eight tackles, giving him 60 on the season. He is tied for the rookie lead with five interceptions.
10. Patriots CB Devin McCourty (1, 27)
Last week's ranking: NR
The Patriots' first pick in April's draft is coming on strong at the right time. McCourty has become the Pats' best corner and he hauled in two picks in Thursday's win over the Lions, giving him five on the season. One of the picks came on an athletic, heads-up play while covering star WR Calvin Johnson. Going step for step with Johnson, McCourty kept an eye on QB Shaun Hill and jumped in front of "Megatron" to make the interception. He has 52 tackles on the season and has been a solid special-teams contributor, as well.
On the cusp (listed alphabetically)
Jaguars DT Tyson Alualu (1, 10)
Chiefs CB Javier Arenas (2, 50)
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (2, 42)
Browns CB Joe Haden (1, 7)
Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez (4, 113)
Saints RB Chris Ivory (undrafted)
Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy (1, 3)
Chiefs TE Tony Moeaki (3, 93)
Bengals WR Jordan Shipley (3, 84)
Patriots ILB Brandon Spikes (2, 62)