Last season, it was Buccaneers RB LeGarrette Blount who, despite not being drafted, crashed the Rookie Meter, finishing the season ranked No. 5. It took five weeks, but it's pretty clear that an undrafted player deserves mention — Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin.
The thinking was that due to the lockout pushing the signing of rookie free agents to the end of July, it would be more difficult this season for undrafted players to make an impact, let alone make a team. But Week One proved otherwise, as 58 undrafted free agents made opening-day rosters, the most since 2003.
Baldwin made his mark in Week One, catching a 55-yard touchdown pass. He did little the next two weeks before going 5-84 in Week Four. And if anyone had yet to hear of Doug Baldwin, that was changed on Sunday.
In the 36-25 win over the Giants, Baldwin had eight catches for 136 yards, including the game-winning 27-yard touchdown. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Baldwin's receiving yards are the second-most by an undrafted rookie, to Hank Baskett's 177 in 2006.
"I do know that with Doug Baldwin, he had a bunch of teams after him — I think there were about 20 teams that tried to get him," head coach Pete Carroll said at Monday's press conference. "There were a lot of conversations about him, and that's how we heard it — he was one of the hottest guys out there that we were pursuing."
Injuries to Sidney Rice the first couple of weeks and to Mike Williams recently have helped Baldwin get his early opportunities, and he has made the most of them. Baldwin has shown a knack for the big play, too, leading all rookies with nine catches of 20 yards or longer. Baldwin is no longer the undrafted, unknown wideout in Seattle. Now we have to see if he can keep it up.
1. Panthers QB Cam Newton (first round, first overall)
Last week's ranking: 2
Newton continues to excel, impress, dominate — whatever verb you want to use, he's doing it. In the loss to the Saints, Newton completed 16-of-31 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. He added a rushing score as well, becoming the first player in NFL history with at least five passing and five rushing scores in the first five games of his career. Obviously, the win total is something Newton would like to see changed, but that certainly isn't on him.
2. Broncos OLB Von Miller (1, 2)
Last week's ranking: 1
Miller finally slips to No. 2 despite recording another sack, his fifth of the season, to lead all rookies (tied for fourth overall). Miller was pulled from the team's base defense in Sunday's loss to the Chargers for missing some assignments against the run and replaced by Mario Haggan. "Von's learning and a tremendous player and improving every week. I think some of the things they were doing, he (Haggan) was better served in those situations," said head coach John Fox. The gap between the top two remains slim.
3. Bengals WR A.J. Green (1, 4)
Last week's ranking: 4
Green leapfrogs Julio Jones this week following a 5-90-1 performance in which he caught a 37-yard touchdown in the upstart Bengals' win over the Jaguars. Green was targeted eight times in the win and is neck-and-neck with Jones on receiving stats, but his three touchdowns give him the edge.
4. Falcons WR Julio Jones (1, 6)
Last week's ranking: 3
Jones tweaked his hamstring in Sunday night's loss to the Packers. He had only one catch for 16 yards on four targets and added a 17-yard run.
5. Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan (1, 16)
Last week's ranking: 5
Kerrigan and the Redskins had a bye in Week Five, and he will get a big test in Week Six against Michael Vick and the Eagles.
6. Bills DE Marcell Dareus (1, 3)
Last week's ranking: 7
Dareus did not have a tackle in the Bills' win over the Eagles but did get a QB hit on Michael Vick. Dareus has been an every-down player for Buffalo and will need to step up this week if Kyle Williams is out. He still doesn't have the stats to back up how impressive he has been.
7. Texans DE J.J. Watt (1, 11)
Last week's ranking: 6
Watt had another quiet game stats-wise for Houston, recording one tackle, but, like Dareus, he has been consistent in making an impact on the Texans' front line without putting up big numbers, which isn't expected from his position in the team's scheme. Watt is using his length to get his hands up in passing lanes and will be counted on even more going forward with Mario Williams out.
8. Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin (undrafted)
Last week's ranking: NR
Baldwin is averaging 16.5 yards a catch and is second behind Jones with 17 first-down catches. The Seahawks have a bye this week, and we will see what Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback does for Baldwin in Week Seven, as Whitehurst may get the nod.
9. Buccaneers MLB Mason Foster (3, 84)
Last week's ranking: 8
It wasn't a great game for his team, as Foster had three tackles, a QB hit and a fumble recovery in the loss to San Francisco. He is second among rookies in tackles.
10. 49ers OLB Aldon Smith
Last week's ranking: NR
Smith is a big reason the 49ers' defense has been very good this season, especially in the past couple of weeks. He notched two sacks in Sunday's win over the Bucs, a win that showed the rest of the league that San Fran is legit. Smith has 3½ sacks on the season, second to Miller, and should be climbing the meter as the weeks go on.
On the cusp (listed alphabetically):
Titans LB Akeem Ayers (2, 39)
Buccaneers DE Adrian Clayborn (1, 20)
Bengals QB Andy Dalton (2, 35)
Saints RB Mark Ingram (1, 28)
Raiders WR Denarius Moore (5, 148)
Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson (1, 5)
Browns DT Phil Taylor (1, 21)
Dolphins RB Daniel Thomas (2, 62)
Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson (1, 30)
Giants LB Jacquian Williams (6, 202)
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