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Rookie Meter: Unlike 2010, top rookies staying healthy

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Posted Nov. 15, 2011 @ 5:14 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

Normally, "Black Monday" around this time in the NFL season means the Monday when coaches get the ax. The Monday following Week 10 didn't see any coaching firings but could be called "Black Monday" for all the injuries.

Multiple big-name players suffered season-ending injuries in Week 10, including Texans QB Matt Schaub, Bills C Eric Wood and Bengals CB Leon Hall.

One rookie saw his season end, Redskins WR Leonard Hankerson, who had a breakout game against the Dolphins, catching eight passes for 106 yards. Hankerson tore the labrum in his right hip in the loss.

Last season, the injury bug hit first-round picks hard. DT Gerald McCoy, DE Brandon Graham, WR Dez Bryant, DE Jared Odrick and DE Derrick Morgan all finished their rookie seasons on injured reserve. RBs Ben Tate and Montario Hardesty didn't even make it to the regular season, suffering season-ending injuries in their first training camps. Injuries also hampered the rookie seasons of RBs Ryan Mathews and Jahvid Best and WR Demaryius Thomas.

This season, for the most part, the top rookies have avoided injuries (that sound you hear is every rookie NFL player knocking on wood). No first-round pick is on injured reserve, although the first pick of the second round is — Patriots CB Ras-I Dowling. The biggest name of the rookie class to land on I.R. is Cardinals RB Ryan Williams, who suffered his injury in the preseason and could have been a presence on the meter had he been healthy.

Injuries have still played a big factor when it comes to rookies who could have been meter-worthy. RBs Mark Ingram and Daniel Thomas have each missed time, and that has hurt their opportunities on the field to gain consistency, which might have gotten them on the meter. First-rounders Julio Jones, Nick Fairley, Prince Amukamara, Jonathan Baldwin and Jimmy Smith have all missed games. Amukamara is still waiting to make his debut.

Jones and A.J. Green left their respective Week 10 games with injuries. Green is expected to play next Sunday.

Injuries to veterans have also played a role in this year's class. Felix Jones' injury allowed DeMarco Murray to emerge as the top rookie back, while Kendall Hunter could see more time this weekend due to Frank Gore's injury.

Now, on to the meter.

1. Broncos OLB Von Miller (first round, second overall pick)
Last week's ranking: 2

Miller takes over as the top rookie on the meter this week after a monster game in Denver's win over the Chiefs. Miller manhandled K.C.'s offensive line, recording 1½ sacks, two tackles for loss, four QB hits and seven total tackles. His eight sacks are tops among rookies.

2. Panthers QB Cam Newton (1, 1)
Last week's ranking: 1

The Titans' defense held Newton without a touchdown for the first time this season. He completed 23-of-40 passes for 212 yards with an interception in the 30-3 loss. Newton added 55 yards rushing on seven carries. His 61.7 passer rating was the second-lowest of his rookie season, as Newton appears to be coming down to earth a bit and the gap between him and Andy Dalton is continuing to shrink.

3. Bengals QB Andy Dalton (2, 35)
Last week's ranking: 5

Dalton struggled in the clutch in the Bengals' loss to the Steelers, throwing a crucial interception in the final minutes. He finished the game completing 15-of-30 passes for 170 yards, two touchdowns and two picks. It was a golden opportunity for Dalton to not only get a signature win but also possibly overtake Newton as the top offensive rookie. The Steelers' defense proved to be too much for the rookie.

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

Green made one catch, and that's all he needed to make the highlight reel. Green went up over two Steelers defenders in the endzone to haul in a 36-yard touchdown. He received only two targets and left the game with an injured knee. He has only four more receptions than Greg Little and two more touchdowns than Torrey Smith and Denarius Moore, but Green holds a commanding lead among rookies in receiving yards.

5. Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray (3, 71)
Last week's ranking: 8

In a short time, Murray has left little doubt who the best rookie back is. He also has shown that his debut, a record day of 253 yards, was no fluke. Murray rushed for 135 yards on 20 carries (6.8 average) and a touchdown in the Cowboys' win over the Bills. He showed his versatility with six catches for 36 yards. Murray's 674 rushing yards are 300 more than the next rookie, Cam Newton. His 6.7-yard rushing average puts him on an all-time record pace.

6. Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan (1, 16)
Last week's ranking: 7

His team is one of the worst in the NFL over the last several weeks, but Kerrigan is still playing at a very high level. He had six tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles in the Redskins' loss to the Dolphins. Kerrigan is tied for third among rookies in sacks, second in tackles and first in forced fumbles. His four forced fumbles are tied with Lions DE Cliff Avril for the league lead.

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

Smith's fall from grace this week is more a testament to big weeks from Murray and Kerrigan. In the Niners' big win over the Giants, Smith had two tackles and a QB hit. He is still second among rookies in sacks but will need to pick up the consistency going forward to keep up with Miller and stay in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

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

Watt made some big plays in the Texans' dominating win over the Bucs, finishing with three tackles that all went for a loss. He added one-half sack and a QB hit. Watt is a big reason the Texans have the league's top defense.

9. Bills DL Marcell Dareus (1, 3)
Last week's ranking: 6

It was one thing to struggle against C Nick Mangold, but Dareus wasn't able to get much penetration against the Cowboys' offensive line. He finished the game with two tackles in a 44-7 loss and was unable to get any pressure on Tony Romo or slow down DeMarco Murray.

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

Jones had only two catches for nine yards on five targets, leaving Sunday's loss to the Saints with an injury. Assuming Jones can come back next week, he deserves to be on the meter. He actually leads rookies in receiving yards per game (71.1) and is second in receiving yards with 498.

On the cusp (listed alphabetically)

Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin (undrafted)
Buccaneers MLB Mason Foster (3, 84)
Titans DT Karl Klug (5, 142)
Browns WR Greg Little (2, 59)
Raiders WR Denarius Moore (5, 148)
Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson (1, 5)
Texans OLB Brooks Reed (2, 42)
Ravens WR Torrey Smith (2, 58)
Browns DT Phil Taylor (1, 21)
Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson (1, 30)

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