Rising rookies for second half

They started quietly, but these players could impact the season now

Updated: November 1, 2013, 12:23 PM ET
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider

Marcus CooperAP Photo/Ed ZurgaMarcus Cooper is already off to a good start, but Mel Kiper thinks he could get even better.

I've been putting out my Rookie Rankings every two weeks through the first half of the season, and last week I highlighted a total of 35 first-year players. But many rookies who are going to go on to great careers still haven't seen a lot of action. There are a number of reasons guys come on slowly, such as a depth chart issue, a change of position or just the fact that most coaches hate to put too much responsibility on a first-year player.

But you tend to see a lot of guys getting run in the second half. At this point -- and counting the preseason -- these rookies have been exposed to about the same number of games as they'd see in an entire college season, so it's not surprising that some come into their own at this time or later. Secondly, injuries on every roster are starting to pile up, and that provides the opportunity. A couple rules for my list:

• I tried to take no players who have cracked the top 15 of the Rookie Rankings.
• Many haven't been full-time starters, or even close.
• I'm picking on both sides of the ball.

With that in mind, here are my key names to watch.


Offense

Ellington

Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Well, Ellington kind of jumped the gun on me with a big game against Atlanta on Sunday, when he went for 15 carries and 154 yards, including an 80-yard score where he showed off his elite open-field speed. Before this week, he hadn't carried the ball more than seven times in a game. I pegged him as a late-round pick who could actually have fantasy impact as a rookie after the draft, and I think he'll live up to that. A consistent run threat will really help Carson Palmer as well.


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Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst