Rookie Meter: Murray joins 'top rookie RB' conversation

Posted Oct. 25, 2011 @ 5:41 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

It didn't take long to figure out which rookie had the best Week Seven performance.

On the Cowboys' fourth play of their game vs. the Rams, a rookie running back named DeMarco Murray took a handoff up the middle 91 yards for a touchdown.

Murray finished with a franchise-record 253 rushing yards on 25 carries, averaging 10.1 yards a pop. And the franchise record shouldn't be taken loosely — this is the same franchise that has had Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith in the backfield.

With Felix Jones out due to injury, Murray got his opportunity. The Oklahoma grad is a big back — 6-0, 227 pounds — and has good receiving skills. I got a chance to talk to Murray at the Senior Bowl, and what you won't see in this video is his bone-crushing handshake, which was my first takeaway from our meeting. In Mobile, Murray didn't get as much attention as some of the other backs there, but his blocking stood out. If you want to make it on the field as a rookie, you need to provide some versatility, and Murray has it.

Putting his 253-yard output in context: Titans RB Chris Johnson has 268 yards — for the season. Murray now has 326 rushing yards on the season, trailing Mark Ingram by three yards. Even when Jones returns, Murray will continue to get touches, and his milestone performance on Sunday proved he deserves it.

With Ingram struggling to get consistent production and Daniel Thomas already missing a pair of games, Murray can emerge as the top rookie back, as long as Dallas keeps feeding him the rock.

1. Panthers QB Cam Newton (first round, first overall)
Last week's ranking: 1

Overshadowed by Murray's record day was the fact that Newton, the league's best rookie, had his most efficient NFL performance. In a 33-20 win over Washington, Newton completed 18-of-23 passes (78.3 percent) for 256 yards a touchdown and no picks. He ran for 59 yards on 10 carries, including a 16-yard touchdown run. Newton is now second in the league in rushing scores with seven, and more importantly, his team notched its second win.

2. Broncos OLB Von Miller (1, 2)
Last week's ranking: 2

In Denver's come-from-behind win over Miami, Miller made a couple of big stops among his five tackles. He notched his sixth sack of the season, taking over the rookie lead from the idle Aldon Smith, whose 49ers were on a bye. Besides the sack, Miller added another tackle for loss and a QB hit. He still defers to veteran linebackers when opponents are running out the clock, but there is no denying how easy his transition has been to rushing the passer in the NFL.

3. Bengals WR A.J. Green (1, 4)
Last week's ranking: 3

The only news for Green during his bye week was that he knows he won't be receiving passes from Carson Palmer. Fellow rookie Andy Dalton will be his quarterback, and that has worked out nicely for Green thus far.

4. 49ers OLB Aldon Smith (1, 7)
Last week's ranking: 4

Smith lost his grasp as the rookie sack leader during his bye but should get some chances to make plays against the Browns in Week Eight.

5. Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan (1, 16)
Last week's ranking: 5

Kerrigan had a quiet game in the team's Week Seven loss to the Panthers, recording two tackles. He still ranks near the top of all rookies in tackles (25) and passes defensed (three) and is tied for the rookie lead with two forced fumbles.

6. Texans DE J.J. Watt (1, 11)
Last week's ranking: 9

Watt shoots up this week due to a few things — fellow rookies being on a bye and one rookie, Julio Jones, slipping because of an injury. The big reason, though, is a solid game by Watt in Week Seven against the Titans. The former Badger had three tackles and a sack. He was a big part of a stellar defensive effort that held Chris Johnson to 18 yards rushing.

7. Bills DL Marcell Dareus (1, 3)
Last week's ranking: 7

Dareus and the Bills had a bye in Week Seven, and he will be put to the test over the next few games, as Pro Bowl NT Kyle Williams is expected to miss more time. It will be interesting to see how teams handle Dareus without having to worry about Williams next to him.

8. Bengals QB Andy Dalton (2, 35)
Last week's ranking: 8

Dalton's Bengals had a bye in Week Seven, and this week he faces a Seahawks defense that is banged up but played well against the Browns. Cincy will be without starting RB Cedric Benson in the game due to a suspension, which may put a little more pressure on the passing game.

9. Falcons WR Julio Jones (1, 6)
Last week's ranking: 6

Jones missed his second straight game, and the Falcons have a bye in Week Eight. When healthy, Jones is a top-five rookie and jostling with A.J. Green to be the best rookie receiver. But as long as he is on the sideline, it's difficult to keep Jones on the meter. Other rookie receivers, though, have not taken advantage of Jones' absence to take his place on the meter.

10. Browns DE Jabaal Sheard (2, 37)
Last week's ranking: NR

Sheard notched a half sack among his three tackles in the Browns' 6-3 win over the Seahawks. He has 21 tackles, 2½ sacks and two forced fumbles on the season. 

On the cusp (listed alphabetically)

Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin (undrafted)
Buccaneers DE Adrian Clayborn (1, 20)
Buccaneers MLB Mason Foster (3, 84)
Saints RB Mark Ingram (1, 28)
Browns WR Greg Little (2, 59)
Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray (3, 71)
Dolphins C Mike Pouncey (1, 15)
Browns DT Phil Taylor (1, 21)
Dolphins RB Daniel Thomas (2, 62)
Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson (1, 30)

Follow Kevin Fishbain on Twitter