By Matt Sohn , Pro Football Weekly
Oct. 28, 2008


Here come the Rams' rookies. Yeah, you'll have to scroll down beneath the top 10 to find their names, but DE Chris Long and WR Donnie Avery are shooting up the rookie charts at roughly the same pace their once-moribund club is resurrecting a season that appeared destined for doormat status just a few weeks ago. Coincidence? Doubtful. Although they wound up just shy on the final scoreboard, 23-16, Jim Haslett's crew outgained New England and likely would have won if it hadn't shot itself in the foot, committing nine penalties to the Patriots' zero.

Long owned the left side of the Pats' line, which is manned by a trio of 2007 Pro Bowlers, if you include C Dan Koppen. After taking awhile to get acclimated to the NFL, Howie's kid was the consummate force in Sunday's contest, planting Matt Cassel on his backside twice and helping to hold New England's sixth-ranked rushing attack to 98 yards. While many inside the organization heavily favored taking DT Glenn Dorsey in the second slot back in April, Dorsey's inability to do much of anything on Kansas City has only strengthened the opinion of those who gave the edge to Long.

After a knee injury contributed to Avery getting off to a slow start, his recent emergence has given rise to the notion that maybe the Rams knew what they were doing after all when they made him the highest drafted receiver in the class of 2008.

New England's secondary had no answer for Avery's speed, as he gashed the Pats for 163 yards and a touchdown on six receptions. Coupled with the Eagles' DeSean Jackson and the Broncos' Eddie Royal, Avery's emerging play has cemented the idea that speed and quickness can overcome lack of size in today's pass-happy NFL. Each stands shorter than six feet, and has an average weight of just 178 pounds.

1. Titans RB Chris Johnson (first round, 24th overall)
Week Eight stats: 19 carries for 77 yards and one touchdown; four receptions for 19 yards
Season stats: 122 carries for 626 yards and four touchdowns; 18 receptions for 92 yards and one touchdown
Last week's ranking: 1

For as many problems as the Colts have been experiencing defending the run, they performed admirably in Monday night's loss to Johnson's Titans. Johnson was bottled up most of the evening after crossing the line of scrimmage. Key word, “most.” Toward the end, the “D” wore down, and Johnson's late 16-yard TD scamper off right tackle was equal parts brilliant running, punishing blocking and defensive fatigue.

2. Bears RB Matt Forté (2-44)
Week Eight stats: On bye
Season stats: 147 carries for 515 yards and four touchdowns; 29 receptions for 223 yards and two touchdowns
Last week's ranking: 2
We're giving Forté the benefit of the doubt after he hadn't been all that special leading up to the bye. With the lowly Lions awaiting in Week Nine, a well-rested Forté better explode for some big-time runs to keep his lofty ranking next week.

3. Broncos OT Ryan Clady (1-12)
Last week's ranking: 3
Losers of three of their last four, the Broncos and their regressing offense had some kinks to work out on their bye week. Clady's one of the few players who need not look himself in the mirror and ask himself where he had been falling short.

4. Falcons QB Matt Ryan (1-3)
Week Eight stats: 23-of-44 for 277 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions
Season stats: 116-of-205 for 1,441 yards, seven touchdowns, five interceptions
Last week's ranking: 4
Passing for 277 yards and two impressive TDs to WR Roddy White, Ryan kept the Falcons in the game against Asante Samuel, Lito Sheppard and Philly's swarming defense. His two interceptions were costly, but if not for a blown call by the referees late in the game, Ryan would have had a shot at leading Atlanta to another surprising road victory.

5. Eagles WR DeSean Jackson (2-49)
Week Eight stats: Three receptions for 72 yards
Season stats: 32 receptions for 505 yards and one touchdown
Last week's ranking: 5
Jackson did all his damage in the second quarter in helping Philly emerge victorious in the Battle of the Birds. All three of his receptions covered at least 22 yards, and two of them helped set up both of the Eagles' first-half scores.

6. Broncos WR Eddie Royal (2-42)
Week Eight stats: On bye
Season stats: 39 receptions for 392 yards and two touchdowns
Last week's ranking: 7
As if the Broncos' roster wasn't already oversaturated with standout offensive rookies, it could be welcoming RB Ryan Torain into the mix next week for the first time. After spending the first eight weeks of his rookie campaign rehabbing a dislocated elbow, Torain potentially could emerge as the top running back on a club known for churning out quality backs. Here's guessing he has picked the brains of Clady and Royal for advice on how to make a splashy entrance.

7. Patriots ILB Jerod Mayo (1-10)
Week Eight stats: Six tackles
Season stats: 48 tackles, one tackle for loss
Last week's ranking: 8
The Pats finally awoke their long-slumbering pass rush in Sunday's triumph over the Rams, yet Mayo was mostly a bystander in the effort. For as quickly as Mayo flows to the action, it's surprising Bill Belichick has kept him at home so often.

8. Redskins S Chris Horton (7-249)
Week Eight stats: Inactive
Season stats: 37 tackles; three interceptions, three tackles for loss
Last week's ranking: 6
Horton picked a good game to miss with a sprained ankle. Detroit has a way of making seemingly significant injuries look irrelevant.

9. Texans RB Steve Slaton (3-89)
Week Eight stats: 15 carries for 53 yards and one touchdown; two receptions for 13 yards
Season stats: 104 carries for 476 yards and five touchdowns; 22 receptions for 125 yards and one touchdown
Last week's ranking: 9
Ironically, Slaton's three best games yardage-wise, combining rushing and receiving, came in three of the Texans' four losses to start the season. In the midst of Houston's three-game winning streak, Slaton has been averaging just 72 yards from scrimmage. What does it mean? Probably nothing. But intriguing, nonetheless.

10. Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart (1-13)
Week Eight stats: Eight carries for 10 yards; one reception for zero yards
Season stats: 96 carries for 362 yards and five touchdowns; four receptions for 12 yards
Last week's ranking: 10
Stewart couldn't get anything going against a Cardinals front that suffocated him every time he was fed the ball. Luckily for him and the Panthers, backfield mate DeAngelo Williams answered the call, gashing 'Zona for 108 yards on 17 carries.

On the verge (listed alphabetically)

Rams WR Donnie Avery (second round, 33rd overall)
Chargers CB Antoine Cason (1-27)
Ravens QB Joe Flacco (1-18 )
Chiefs CB Brandon Flowers (2-35)
Panthers S Charles Godfrey (3-67)
Cardinals RB Tim Hightower (5-149)
Cowboys RB Felix Jones (1-22)
Falcons MLB Curtis Lofton (2-37)
Rams DE Chris Long (1-2)
Giants S Kenny Phillips (1-31