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Rookie Meter: Browns, Bucs getting big impact from rookie class

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By Kevin Fishbain

For parity to reign, as it does in the NFL, teams need a little bit of luck, and some help from youngsters. The draft can be a crapshoot at times, but many teams this season have benefitted from strong draft classes.

Senior editor Eric Edholm pointed out in our Week Eight recap how the teams that picked 1-8 in April’s draft are playing good football as we near the midway point of the 2012 season, and those are teams getting strong contributions from rookies. 

Near the end of each year, the Rookie Meter ranks the teams getting the most impact from first-year players, but we took an early look in PFW’s “Gametime Decision” this week, and this week’s Rookie Meter will do the same. Here are the five teams getting the most out of their rookie class through eight weeks, and we’ll give it another go at the end of the season:

1. Browns — The Browns’ offense is run through a trifecta of rookies, QB Brandon Weeden, RB Trent Richardson and WR Josh Gordon. DT Billy Winn has made an impact on defense and Mitchell Schwartz is starting at right tackle.

2. Buccaneers — RB Doug Martin is the team’s leading rusher and third in receiving yards. Lavonte David and Mark Barron are second and third, respectively, in tackles, and David is tied for the team-lead in tackles for loss while Barron is tied for third in passes defensed.

3. Redskins — Of the Redskins’ 3,099 offensive yards, only 283 had nothing to do with Robert Griffin III or Alfred Morris — and 111 of those were passing yards from another rookie, Kirk Cousins. 

4. Patriots — DE Chandler Jones is the front-runner for defensive rookie honors and leads the Pats with six sacks, six tackles for loss and 10 QB hits. DBs Alfonzo Dennard and Tavon Wilson have combined for five interceptions. Starting LB Dont’a Hightower has a pair of sacks.

5. Seahawks — Russell Wilson has been huge in some of the Seahawks’ victories. Bobby Wagner leads the team with seven tackles for loss and Bruce Irvin is second with 4½ sacks.

Honorable mention: Packers, Rams, Colts, Vikings and Panthers.

Now, onto the Week Eight Rookie Meter.

1. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (first round, second overall)
Last week’s ranking: 1

In the Redskins’ loss to the Steelers, Griffin completed 16-of-34 passes for 177 yards, one touchdown and no picks. He had six carries for eight yards. RG3 didn’t get a lot of help from receivers thanks to some drops in the loss.

2. Redskins RB Alfred Morris (6, 173)
Last week’s ranking: 2

The Steelers held Morris to 59 rushing yards on 13 carries, though he still ranks third in the NFL and first among rookies in rushing.

3. Colts QB Andrew Luck (1, 1)
Last week’s ranking: 3

Luck is only one of two rookie QBs with a winning record after the Colts’ overtime win over the Titans. Luck completed 26-of-38 passes for 297 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also had six carries for 28 yards. Luck leads the rookie QBs with an average of 281.6 passing yards a game.

4. Buccaneers RB Doug Martin (1, 31)
Last week’s ranking: 5

Martin had a huge game on Thursday night, rushing 29 times for 135 yards and a score and catching three passes for 79 yards, including a 64-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. Martin is averaging 155.7 yards from scrimmage in the last three games.

5. Patriots DE Chandler Jones (1, 21)
Last week’s ranking: 4

Jones notched his rookie-leading sixth sack of the season in the Patriots’ win over the Rams in London. He also had a pass defensed.

6. Browns RB Trent Richardson (1, 3)
Last week’s ranking: 7

Playing through a rib injury, Richardson had 122 rushing yards on 24 carries and a touchdown against one of the league’s better run defenses in Cleveland’s win over the Chargers. He also had a catch for 12 yards.

7. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (3, 75)
Last week’s ranking: 6

Wilson had perhaps his best road game — 25-of-35 passing for 236 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, but Seattle fell late to the Lions.

8. Seahawks MLB Bobby Wagner (2, 47)
Last week’s ranking: 10

Wagner notched 12 tackles and his sixth tackle for loss in the Seahawks’ loss to Detroit. He leads all rookies with 62 tackles.

9. Panthers MLB Luke Kuechly (1, 9)
Last week’s ranking: NR

Kuechly, who is officially in the middle ‘backer spot after Jon Beason went to injured reserve, had 10 tackles, including one for a loss, in Carolina’s loss to the Bears. He trails Wagner by one tackle for the rookie lead and has seven tackles for loss.

10. Packers CB Casey Hayward (2, 62)
Last week’s ranking: NR

Hayward notched eight tackles in the Packers’ win over the Jaguars. He leads all rookies on the season with four interceptions and has seven passes defensed.

On the cusp (listed alphabetically):

Buccaneers SS Mark Barron (1, 7)
Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict (undrafted)
Buccaneers LB Lavonte David (2, 58)
Bills CB Stephon Gilmore (1, 10)
Browns WR Josh Gordon (2, supplemental)
Rams CB Janoris Jenkins (2, 39)
Vikings S Harrison Smith (1, 29)
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (1, 8)
Browns QB Brandon Weeden (1, 22)
Titans WR Kendall Wright (1, 20)

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