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Rookie Meter: Smith, Pouncey lead O-line rookies

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Posted Dec. 06, 2011 @ 5:43 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

It's about time the Rookie Meter gave some love to the hogs up front.

Last season, Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey was the class of the rookies on the O-line, performing admirably all season, even with different quarterbacks to snap to at the start the year. Pouncey's injury was one of the bigger stories before the Super Bowl.

This year's class of rookie O-linemen doesn't have a marquee player like Pouncey. An offensive lineman wasn't taken until the ninth overall pick — and he may be the best of the bunch, Cowboys ORT Tyron Smith.

Smith, the youngest player drafted, has started all 12 games for Dallas on an O-line that has played much better than expected. He is athletic with good feet, and even though he has given up 7½ sacks, Smith has been impressive.

The injury bug may not have hit some of the top players in the draft, but it hit the offensive linemen. First-round O-linemen Gabe Carimi and James Carpenter are on injured reserve.

Here are some of the other rookie offensive linemen who deserve mention this season:

Dolphins C Mike Pouncey — Taking after his brother, Mike had little problem adapting to the pro game, having started all 12 games at center. He was brought to Miami to help improve the interior of the line and has done so.

Raiders OLG Stefan Wisniewski — Speaking of players with good NFL bloodlines — his father and uncle both played in the NFL, the latter having been an All-Pro with the Raiders — Wisniewski has played very well in Oakland, leading the run blocking for Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.

Browns OLG Jason Pinkston — Pinkston took over when Eric Steinbach went on I.R. and he has allowed just one sack. The Browns have run behind Pinkston with some success recently.

Patriots OT Nate Solder — A converted tight end, Solder has been thrust into a starting role nine times because of injuries to Sebastian Vollmer. The team works to keep him on the field in a blocking role as an extra tight end when Vollmer is in.

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

An injured thumb forced Miller to miss his first NFL game. He still leads rookies with his 10½ sacks and is tied for the rookie lead in tackles with 57. When it comes to Miller vs. Newton, Miller still gets the edge as he is considered one of the better defensive players in the entire NFL this season. Another missed game, though, and Newton may get a bump.

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

Newton set a record on Sunday with his 13th rushing touchdown, the most by a quarterback in a season. In addition to breaking Steve Grogan's record with his three rushing scores in the Panthers' 38-19 win over the Bucs, Newton took over as the league leader in rushing touchdowns. On the day, Newton completed 12-of-21 passes for 204 yards and one touchdown. He even had one catch for 27 yards and 14 carries for 54 yards.

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

While Newton was breaking records, Dalton struggled again vs. the Steelers' defense. He completed 11-of-24 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown in a 35-7 loss. Dalton is quickly learning what he will have to put up with in the AFC North. In three games vs. Pittsburgh and Baltimore, he has a completion percentage of 50.5 and five interceptions. In his nine other games, Dalton has completed 62.2 percent of his passes and thrown seven picks. The Bengals play the Ravens in Week 17.

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

Green scored the Bengals' only touchdown, an 11-yard catch in the second quarter. He finished the game with six catches for 87 yards on 11 targets, Green is tied with Cleveland's Greg Little for the rookie lead in receptions (50), and his 832 receiving yards are almost 200 ahead of the next rookie (Torrey Smith).

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

Kerrigan was kept in check for the most part against the Jets on Sunday, being held without a sack or QB hit. He did record six tackles and his fourth pass defensed of the season — pretty impressive for a linebacker.

6. Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray (3, 71)
Last weeks ranking: 5

Murray had his least productive game since becoming the starter in Dallas, rushing for 38 yards on 12 carries against the Cardinals, who are far from a stout run defense. Murray's long of the day was a seven-yard run. He was also held without a completion or a touchdown. Roy Helu is picking up steam, and Daniel Thomas had a good day, but Murray is still clearly the top back among rookies. Murray should close in on some of the numbers we saw from the '08 rookie RB class, when Chris Johnson, Matt Forté and Steve Slaton all rushed for over 1,200 yards.

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

In the 49ers' shutout win over the Rams, Smith notched two sacks, three quarterback hits and a fumble recovery. On one of his sacks, Smith had one of the best sack celebrations: He sprinted to the sideline, put his helmet down and sat on the bench as if nothing happened. Smith is only one sack behind Von Miller for the rookie lead.

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

You don't have to get a tackle to make your presence felt. In the Texans' 17-10 win over the Falcons, Watt did not record a tackle but had three QB hits, giving him 11 on the season.

9. Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson (1, 5)
Last week's ranking: 9

Peterson didn't make a mark in the return game, but he had one of his better games as a cornerback in Arizona's upset win over the Cowboys. Peterson had five tackles and three passes defensed against a pretty good receiving corps.

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

Sheard had a big day in Cleveland's loss to Baltimore, recording nine tackles, a sack, a pass defensed and a forced fumble. He has 5½ sacks on the season to go along with 44 tackles and five forced fumbles, which is tops in the NFL along with Lions DE Cliff Avril.

On the cusp (listed alphabetically)

Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin (undrafted)
Buccaneers DE Adrian Clayborn (1, 20)
Redskins RB Roy Helu (4, 105)
Falcons WR Julio Jones (1, 6)
Titans DT Karl Klug (5, 142)
Texans OLB Brooks Reed (2, 42)
Ravens WR Torrey Smith (2, 58)
Cowboys ORT Tyron Smith (1, 9)
Browns DT Phil Taylor (1, 21)
Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson (1, 30)

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