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Wednesday, December 12
Chambers moves to head of rookie class

By Peter Lawrence-Riddell

With the season three-quarters of the way over for every team in the NFL, it's time for our third-quarter grades. That includes the offensive and defensive rookies of the year.

Chris Chambers
Chris Chambers hauled in this touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of Miami's 41-6 victory over the Colts.

On offense, Chris Chambers edges out LaDainian Tomlinson. Sorry Chargers' fans, as good as Tomlinson has been, Chambers gets the nod.

Tomlinson has rushed for an impressive 1,007 yards and scored 10 touchdowns, compared to 640 yards receiving and seven touchdowns for Chambers. However, Chambers is playing for one of the best teams in the NFL, and he is a big reason why Miami is among the NFL's best teams. The wide receiver from Wisconsin has provided the Dolphins with a legitimate deep threat on offense, something they've lacked in the past.

While Tomlinson and the Chargers (5-8) have been struggling through a six-game losing streak, Chambers has been busy leading the AFC East-leading Dolphins (9-3) to six wins in their last seven games.

It's tough to ignore Tomlinson's total numbers, but it's even tougher to ignore the impact Chambers has had in Miami.

On defense, Steelers linebacker Kendrell Bell is still the choice. Bell's sack numbers have leveled off, however, the former Georgia Bulldog has been a standout performer all season on what is statistically the NFL's best defense.

Each Tuesday from now until the end of the regular season, will hand out its report card on how the new kids are doing.

Chris Chambers, WR, Dolphins
34 rec., 640 yds.
7 TDs
In addition to providing the Dolphins with a big-play threat, Chambers has developed a nose for the end zone. The former track star from Wisconsin has seven touchdowns on the season (breaking Miami's rookie record of five), all of them coming in the Dolphins' last five games. With 640 yards receiving and four games remaining, Chambers has an outside shot to reach 1,000 yards for the season. He's also leading the NFL with an average of 18.8 yards per reception.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers
281 att., 1007 yds., 10 TDs
40 rec., 265 yds.
While Tomlinson's numbers are certainly impressive, it's hard to argue that the rookie from Texas Christian has struggled over the second half of the season. And while it would be unfair to pin the Chargers' collapse (six straight losses) on Tomlinson, it's impossible to ignore the fact that his struggles have coincided with the team's struggles. Tomlinson has also struggled some holding onto the football. He had a particularly costly fumble last Sunday against the Eagles, which Brian Dawkins returned for a touchdown. All that being said, Tomlinson has had a very good season and should be a factor in San Diego for many years to come.
Anthony Thomas, RB, Bears
165 att., 692 yds., 5 TDs
19 rec., 163 yds.
Thomas' run for the rookie honors was derailed by a hamstring injury that caused him to miss two games (Week 11 and Week 12). Thomas returned against the Packers in Week 13, rushing for 54 yards on 15 carries and finding the end zone once. Despite missing those two games, and basically not playing Chicago's first two games of the season, Thomas is second among rookies in rushing yards.
Travis Henry, RB, Bills
201 att., 675 yds., 4 TDs
21 rec., 165 yds.
While the Bills' record stands at 2-10, there are some bright spots in Buffalo, and Henry is among the brightest. The second-round pick (No. 58) from Tennessee is third among rookie running backs in yards rushing and has started 11 of the Bills' 12 games. Henry had 101 yards on 27 carries against the Panthers this past Sunday. "He's tough," Panthers linebacker Lester Towns told the Buffalo News. "I know I had my hands around him a few times and he got away."
Leonard Davis, OG, Cardinals Without gaudy statistics to point to, it's hard to quantify the impact of an offensive lineman. However, by all accounts, Davis is having as good a year as any rookie on the offensive side of the ball. The mammoth 370-pounder has started all 12 of the Cardinals' games at right tackle.

Kendrell Bell, LB, Steelers
62 tackles
7 sacks
Bell hasn't recorded a sack in the Steelers' last two games, relinquishing his hold on the sack lead among rookies to Bengals defensive end Justin Smith. However, Bell still ranks as the league's top defensive rookie. Bell recorded five tackles in the Steelers' 18-7 victory over the Jets last Sunday.
Shaun Rogers, DT, Lions
64 tackles
3 sacks
The second-round pick from Texas continues to toil in anonymity for the winless Lions. Rogers, who has started all 12 of the Lions' games at defensive tackle, has piled up an impressive 64 tackles and three sacks. He had one tackle and one-half sack in the Lions' 15-12 loss to the Buccaneers.
Anthony Henry, CB, Browns
36 tackles
7 INTs
Henry has done most of his damage this year in two games -- Week 2 against Detroit and Week 10 against Baltimore. The cornerback from South Florida recorded three interceptions in each of those contests. However, that doesn't diminish Henry's importance to the Browns. As Cleveland's nickel back, he's been a big part of a Browns defense that has recorded 25 interceptions on the season.
Justin Smith, DE, Bengals
39 tackles
7½ sacks
Smith recorded three sacks last Sunday against the Jaguars to push his season total to 7, the most among rookies. Not only did Smith move into the lead for sacks by a rookie, he also moved a lot closer to a big payday. By reaching 8 sacks, the rookie from Missouri will trigger a clause in his contract that dumps up his salary in all the subsequent years of his contract. One more sack will also break the Bengals' rookie record for sacks of eight, set by James Francis in 1990. "He has speed and strength and he flashes (at times, like a lightning bolt)," coach Dick LeBeau told the Cincinnati Post. "He's been a significant impact for us since he got here, and continues to get better every week."
Richard Seymour, DT, Patriots
37 tackles
3½ sacks
One of the reasons for New England's dramatic reversal of fortune is the improved play of its defensive line. Seymour, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, has been a force in the middle of the Patriots' defense during their surge into the playoff race. Seymour was a force against the Browns last Sunday, recording five tackles and a sack. He also drew praise for a big block on special teams that helped break Troy Brown's 85-yard punt return.

Peter Lawrence-Riddell is the assistant NFL editor for

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