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Still, for each underachiever there are several overachievers.

Cornerback Casey Hayward, the next-to-last pick in the second round, is tied for third in the NFL with four interceptions. The Rams saw late-round picks such as Givens (five consecutive games with a catch of 50 yards or longer) and running back Daryl Richardson beat out higher draft selections.

Morris, a sixth-round pick by the Redskins out of Florida Atlantic, is fourth in the league in yards rushing, pairing with Griffin to become the first running back and quarterback teammates to both top 500 as rookies.

The Vikings are getting key contributions from rookies in all three phases: left tackle Matt Kalil, safety Harrison Smith, and Walsh.

Kalil has played every offensive snap and has not been whistled once for a holding penalty. Walsh missed only one field-goal attempt, is 5 for 5 from 50-plus yards and is second in the NFL with 35 touchbacks.

Another kicker drafted in the sixth round, Zuerlein _ “Greg the Leg,” to some _ is 7 for 7 from 40-49 yards, 5 for 7 from 50 and beyond. He’s the first player in NFL history to connect on field goals of at least 60 yards and 50 yards (his went 58) in the same game.

Brandt noted that one meaningful indication of how much more likely coaches are to have faith in rookies is what’s happening with the Patriots.

Jones leads NFL rookies with six sacks. Wilson leads AFC rookies with three interceptions. Hightower started five games. They were joined by safety Nate Ebner and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard against the Rams in New England’s most recent game, giving the Patriots five rookies on the field at once.

“Ten years ago, if you would have said, `They are going to have (that many) rookies, with Bill Belichik coaching, on a very, very good team that will compete for the Super Bowl,’ I would have said, `It’s not going to happen,’” Brant said. “But … it’s people being more prepared today than ever before. Coaches can trust them.”


AP Sports Writers Tim Booth, R.B. Fallstrom, Fred Goodall, Stephen Hawkins, Joe Kay, Michael Marot, Howard Ulman, Teresa Walker, Joseph White, Steven Wine, Tom Withers, and AP Pro Football Writers Dave Campbell, Arnie Stapleton and Barry Wilner contributed to this report.


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