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Scouting Notebook: Rookies gone wild

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

Rookies were the story in Week 9. Doug Martin had a day for the ages with 251 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Andrew Luck set a rookie record with 433 passing yards.

I use models when making predictions and history said backs with Martin's yards per rush after six weeks were not going to significantly improve as rookies. He's proven to be the exception to the rule. Models aside, you see the elite skills. He has perfect size – the fifth highest body mass index among running backs according to Pro-Football-Reference.com – and solid speed. But his most impressive trait of late is patience in setting up his runs. The game suddenly seemed to slow down for him. And the Bucs passing game is a big help because it's so explosive that safeties can't play in the box.

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Andrew Luck set a record for passing yards by a rookie on Sunday. (Getty Images)

Luck, though, is not even the most valuable rookie quarterback for our purposes. That's still Robert Griffin III, despite the very disappointing Week 9 versus the Panthers. Unlike Martin, Luck is merely solid and unlikely to be a championship component in 2012. RGIII has been and, I think, will continue to be that.

T.Y. Hilton had more targets than Reggie Wayne (11 to 9) and Donnie Avery added 8. Hilton, though, had two big drops. I'd roster Hilton before Avery, though, assuming both are available. In the second half of the season, there really aren't any rookies.

I'd still take Cam Newton over Luck the rest of season without a second of hesitation. Newton is criminally underrated for a second-year player. It's insane to even hint that he's a bust when his career yards per attempt is 7.9. Among quarterbacks with over 700 attempts in the history of football, that ranks ninth, behind only Rodgers, Bart Starr, Ben Roethlisberger, Steve Young, Tony Romo, Kurt Warner, Earl Morrall and Philip Rivers. Yeah, I know that Romo and Rivers get killed, too (especially Romo). Note the guys above Newton in the stat have a combined 627-336 record (.651 win percentage) and the lowest is Warner's .576. Newton is not a stock you want to short. And many more wins are coming if he continues to dominate this statistic.

Andre Johnson takes a lot of grief and didn't find the end zone again today. But still, he had a productive day. He's not what he was, but again he was heavily targeted (10 targets) and still a decent bet to average about 10 yards per target going forward. But he's a No. 2 receiver now, which is defined mostly by being unreliable on any given Sunday (or Monday or Thursday). But he's still someone you should play every week.

There aren't enough rushes in Buffalo to be sharing them. C.J. Spiller had only six (for 39 yards). That lowered his yards per rush this year to 7.2 per carry. And that's the seventh best for a back in NFL history (minimum 70 carries), and the highest since Lenny Moore averaged 7.3 on 82 carries for the 1958 Colts. Spiller did contribute in the passing game. He's very difficult to rank, however, given the limited carries. And the Bills won't look at his yards per rush as evidence that they need to use him more, necessarily. They're just as likely to use it as evidence that they are using him in the perfect way.

Remember in the summer when some were saying that the Broncos didn't have the skill talent that Peyton Manning was used to and that he would suffer? You can make the case that Manning has never had it better at wide receiver.

I didn't like Jermaine Gresham this summer due to his poor yards per target (6.5). This year, 7.6 yards per target. That said, he's still not a worry-free tight end in a 12-team league.

I said in the Matchup Decider this week that Chris Johnson is a guy you just play if you own him because "(he) can defy a bad matchup like he did against the Texans even if his team gets blown out." That's exactly what happened, as he reeled off an 80-yarder when the game didn't matter. But the point is that his big plays are completely random. If the Titans were good enough to give him the kind of volume he got in 2009 (when he led the league in getting stuffed), he'd still be elite.

Brandon Marshall finally found the end zone. As with Andre Johnson, that's been the mysterious flaw with him. He also caught nine of 10 targets. I'm quite bullish for the rest of 2012 and root for Marshall because he showed so much courage in openly discussing his mental illness.

Why is it that Calvin Johnson has a touchdown on two percent of catches when he came into the season scoring them on 13.4 percent? There is no reason. If you ran 100 simulations of Calvin Johnson's 2012 season, something like this would happen one to 10 times. It's just bad luck.

Mikel Leshoure has actually has been pretty solid on a yards per carry basis for the past four games. But the volume isn't there and he hasn't even been the goal-line guy in the past. So you can't kick yourself if you didn't see this coming. I sure did not.

Aaron Rodgers didn't complete 50 percent of his passes for only the third time in his career. But his owners don't care because four of his 14 completions went for touchdowns. He's only the sixth quarterback since 1990 to throw four (or more) touchdowns with a completion percentage under 50 percent. Randall Cunningham did it twice (both as a Viking).

The Vikings averaged 9.0 yards per rushing play and 1.7 yards per passing play and, of course, lost. Remember this when someone tells you that a team needs to run the ball well to set up the passing game.

Eli Manning was just terrible on Sunday, which is something you can't say too often. The Steelers defense was nothing special all year but has come on of late, though how much of that is the opposing offense's fault? Manning has had two down weeks in a row. Hakeem Nicks maybe is still hurt but either way is a shadow of his former self and as big a wide receiver disappointment as anyone.

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