NFL Week 15: Grading the rookies

Kirk Cousins did a fantastic job replacing Robert Griffin III. (US Presswire)

Here are some of the most notable -- and not so notable -- rookie performances from Week 15.

Kirk Cousins, Redskins QB: His first start in the NFL couldn’t have gone much better, and Washington showed that drafting two quarterbacks in 2012 was absolutely the right call as they moved into a tie for first place in the NFC East. Let me say that again: the Redskins, mostly behind the injured Robert Griffin III and heroics from Cousins the past two weeks, are tied for first place in the NFC East with the Giants and Cowboys. Though he threw an interception early in the game, Cousins finished 26 of 37 for 329 yards, two touchdowns and that one pick. Look, let’s not be ridiculous and even imply that there should be any kind of controversy about the status of Griffin’s job. But here’s why Cousins’ performance Sunday is important. If Griffin can’t play in Week 16 or any week thereafter, Washington can be confident that the next rookie quarterback available is capable of giving just as good a performance. Grade: A-

Brandon Weeden, Browns QB: Cousins’ opponent, Weeden, wasn’t nearly as good, and compared to a guy in Cousins who was making his first NFL start, Weeden -- making his 14th start -- didn’t look nearly as prepared. Weeden finished 21 of 35 for 244 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, and he just hasn’t shown much improvement lately. With a new ownership group coming in that is on record as saying that it’s lukewarm on Weeden's future, he can’t continue to have performances like this. Grade: C

Russell Wilson, Seahawks QB: In the past two games, Seattle has scored a combined 108 points, and Wilson deserves much of the credit. On Sunday, he was wonderful, totaling 297 yards and four touchdowns, and according to ESPN Stats Info, via Elias, he became the first player in league history with three rushing touchdowns and a passing touchdown in the first half of a game. What’s especially crazy about Wilson’s three rushing touchdowns? Those were his first three rushing touchdowns of the season. Like my colleague Will Brinson pointed out, it’s time to consider Wilson for offensive rookie of the year. Because there are times when he’s been more impressive than Luck and Griffin. Grade: A

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins QB: Though Miami’s season, in reality, probably will end after Week 17, Tannehill had one of the best games of his career, completing 22 of 28 passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 123.2 (he also rushed eight times for 52 yards). While one has to wonder about the job security of Miami general manager Jeff Ireland, the drafting of Tannehill in the first round and Joe Philbin’s decision to hand over the starting quarterback job in the preseason looks pretty good in retrospect. Grade: B+

Ryan Lindley, Cardinals QB: Arizona’s defense gave the offense good field position all day, including a pick-6 by Rashad Johnson and a pick-6 by Greg Toler and allowing Lindley to start drives at the Lions 3-yard and 5-yard line. So, the 38-10 score might not exactly be reflective of Lindley’s performance (14 of 21, 104 yards, one interception). But hey, Arizona snapped a nine-game losing streak, so a celebration is in order. Grade: B-

Andrew Luck, Colts QB: This was a big opportunity for Indianapolis to prove it could play with the elite in the AFC. But like the Texans’ brutal performance last week against the elite of the elite in a loss to the Patriots, the Colts couldn’t knock off Houston. They could barely keep pace. Luck’s numbers certainly weren’t great (13 of 27 for 186 yards and two touchdowns), and really, the Colts never really seemed to be competitive in this game. Near the end of the first half, Indianapolis was down 24-3, and though Luck cut that lead with a couple of touchdown passes, the Colts mostly were irrelevant in the meaningful minutes of this game. Grade: C

Trent Richardson, Browns RB: This was a pretty good run, eh?

That and another short-yardage score later in the game was pretty much all Richardson contributed, though he did set a Browns rookie record with his 10th touchdown (Jim Brown, with nine in 1957, previously held the mark). On the day, he gained 28 yards on 11 carries. So, some good and some bad.

T.Y. Hilton, Colts WR: Along with Luck and running back Vick Ballard, Hilton is one of the three most important rookies on the Indianapolis squad. He helped prove that by catching a 61-yard touchdown pass from Luck with 1:07 to play in the second quarter. It was a career long for both players.

Blair Walsh, Vikings K: Nobody has ever kicked more than seven 50-plus yard field goals in one season. Until now. That would be Walsh, who nailed kicks from 50, 53 and 51 yards to break the NFL record with eight 50-plus yarders.

Alshon Jeffery, Bears WR: We haven’t seen much of Jeffery this season because of his various injuries, but he made his impact felt Sunday vs. the Packers. Mostly, because he was penalized for three (!) offensive pass interference penalties. And yeah, all of them were obvious enough to call. To make matters worse, on fourth down late in the game and with Chicago still in striking distance, Jeffery clearly was held by Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields and there was no flag.

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