Each Tuesday of the NFL season NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Rob Rang will identify his Rookie of the Week. To qualify, the first-year professional player must have played a significant role in a competitive NFL game, demonstrating not just flashes of talent but the potential to emerge as a legitimate long-term standout. The player's draft status -- whether as a former first round pick or undrafted free agent -- does not apply.
Top NFL Rookie of Week 12: Denver Broncos RB Montee Ball
Beating opponent twice in three weeks is among the most difficult tasks in the NFL. This is especially true when the two teams are as evenly matched as the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, owners of the top two records in the AFC, at 10-2 and 9-3, respectively.
And while a terrific individual effort from Broncos' wide receiver Eric Decker certainly deserves special acknowledgement, a breakthrough performance from Ball was critical to Denver's 35-28 come-from-behind victory at Arrowhead Stadium.
In the Week 11 win over the Chiefs in Denver, veteran runner Knowshon Moreno paced the Broncos with 27 rushes for 79 yards. A week later against the Patriots, interim head coach Jack Del Rio and Co. leaned even more on Moreno, giving him the a career-high 37 times for 224 yards and two scores. The Broncos were quietly morphing into something much different than "just" Peyton Manning slinging passes all over the yard.
The heavy workload proved too much for Moreno, however, and while he gutted out 15 carries against the Chiefs on Sunday, he did so without much juice, rushing for just 18 yards.
Enter Ball, the reigning FBS all-time scoring leader and a rookie whose greatest rushing contribution thus far this season had 61 yards of mop-up duty in an 18-point thrashing of the Oakland Raiders in Week Three.
Averaging 9.0 yards per carry, Ball served as a terrific change-up to Manning and Moreno, rushing for 117 yards on 13 carries, each career-highs. The highlight came with the Broncos down 28-21 with 5:01 remaining in the third quarter.
With his team backed up at their own 5-yard line, Ball took the handoff from Manning and attacked a nice hole between left tackle Chris Clark and Zane Beadles. While the hole was certainly there, it closed quickly with Pro Bowl inside linebacker Derrick Johnson knifing in to hit Ball at the knees.
The rookie slipped off Johnson's arm tackle and cut slightly left where he ran through another attempted stop by free agent addition Sean Smith before barreling into the open field. Showing the lack of elite breakaway speed which caused him to slip to No. 58 overall last April, Ball was caught by cornerback Marcus Cooper and Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, carrying each of them the last few feet. The gain of 45 yards was nearly three times as long as Ball's previous career-high of 16 yards which a week earlier against the Patriots.
Ball isn't a speed threat but he possesses very good vision, burst and bounce to elude. His struggles in pass protection and as a receiver have limited his production to this point but clearly the Broncos are growing more comfortable with him.
If his breakout performance in Denver's next step towards securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC is any indication, expect the rookie to earn an increasingly prominent role in future weeks.
The Broncos host the Tennessee Titans (5-7) on Sunday in a game that will be televised by CBS.
Rookie of the Week Archives:
Week One: Carolina Panthers DT Star Lotulelei
Week Two: Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins
Week Three: New York Jets QB Geno Smith
Week Four: Buffalo Bills ILB Kiko Alonso
Week Five: Green Bay Packers RB Eddie Lacy
Week Six: Detroit Lions TE Joseph Fauria
Week Seven: Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed
Week Eight: Arizona Cardinals RB Andre Ellington
Week Nine: New England Patriots WR Aaron Dobson
Week 10: St. Louis Rams WR/PR Tavon Austin
Week 11: Oakland Raiders QB Matt McGloin
Week 12: New York Jets DL Sheldon Richardson