2013 NFL rookie watch: Giovani Bernard earning more playing time for Bengals

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of rookie running backs are about to be set free.

Each week throughout the NFL season, we'll be tracking the best and worst of the rookie performances and adjusting our rookie of the year pick on the fly.

Still dominant

Star Lotulelei, Defensive Tackle, Carolina Panthers

We touched on Lotulelei last week, but he was again a force on Carolina's defensive line. Teams are finding out how versatile the former Utah defensive lineman can be. He's holding the point of attack against the run like a nose tackle but has the movement skills to disrupt the pocket and put pressure on the quarterback. Through two games, Lotulelei has been one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the NFL.

Stock Watch

Rising

Gio Bernard, Running Back, Cincinnati Bengals

After the Bengals' win over the Steelers on Monday Night Football in Week 2, it's obvious that they need to get Giovani Bernard more involved in the offense. The second-round pick out of North Carolina played only 29 snaps compared to BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 49 but still managed to score two touchdowns for Cincinnati. He's the superior runner, made obvious by the noticeable difference in yards per carry in the two games they have played. When it comes to making tacklers miss and finding cutback lanes, Bernard is already on a different level than Green-Ellis has ever been. It's only a matter of time before he starts seeing the bulk of the carries.

Andre Ellington, Running back, Arizona Cardinals

With Rashard Mendenall dealing with a toe injury, the Cardinals started to get rookie Andre Ellington involved in Week 2. The sixth-round pick out of Clemson has been drawing praise from Bruce Arians, but he had not yet gotten a chance to prove himself. In Week 2, Ellington played 21 snaps and made the most of each one, picking up 20 yards rushing on four carries and catching two passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. While Ellington's strengths are his speed and explosiveness out of the backfield, Arians said he doesn't view Ellington simply as a change-of-pace back. Perhaps an increased role is in Ellington's future.

David Bakhtiari, Left Tackle, Green Bay Packers

The Packers certainly hadn't hoped that David Bakhtiari would be protecting Aaron Rodgers' blindside as a rookie, but that's what they have. And in Week 2, the rookie more than held his own. Granted, the Washington Redskins aren't exactly the NFC's best defensive line, but Bakhtiari looked comfortable in pass protection. He didn't allow a single sack and wasn't allowing much pressure, either. It was a clear improvement over the two sacks he gave up in Week 1 against the 49ers.

Barkevious Mingo, Outside Linebacker, Cleveland Browns

After suffering a chest injury in the preseason, Barkevious Mingo made his NFL debut on Sunday and looked every bit worth the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL Draft. He played a limited number of snaps, but when rushing the passer Mingo looked dangerous off the edge, picking up his first sack in the process.

Falling

Hugh Thornton, Guard, Indianapolis Colts

Hugh Thornton was thrust into the starting role in Week 2, and he didn't fare too well. The Colts' offensive line as a whole struggled against the Dolphins, but Thornton looked particularly overwhelmed in pass protections. He's been able to run block effectively, but the best interior pass rushers have given him a lot of trouble so far this season.

Dee Milliner, Cornerback, New York Jets

On Thursday Night Football in Week 2, Rex Ryan was so disappointed with the play of first-round pick Dee Milliner that he pulled him from the game. Milliner was party responsible for the blown coverage on Aaron Dobson, which led to the Patriots only touchdown in the game. Ultimately, he made too many mistakes to earn the trust of Rex Ryan late in a crucial division game.

David Amerson, Cornerback, Washington Redskins

The Green Bay Packers abused David Amerson on Sunday afternoon, lining up both James Jones and Jordy Nelson across from him to do the damage. Amerson was bad from start to finish, which marks the second straight game in which the former N.C. State cornerback hasn't been able to get it figured out. He's not smooth enough in coverage, exhibiting stiff hips and a lack of foot quickness.

Aaron Dobson, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots

Don't let Aaron Dobson's touchdown fool you. He still has a long way to go based on his Week 2 performance on Thursday Night Football. He may have found the end zone, but Dobson also had three drops. That means that on 10 targets, Dobson had as many catches as he did drops. The lack of focus was always an issue at Marshall, and it has reared its ugly head again early in his NFL career.

Rookie of the year

We'll be closing out the rookie report every week with a hastily decided Rookie of the Year pick. Awards are important, and the only way to properly judge things of great importance. Here is our current choice for Rookie of the Year:

Star Lotulelei

Mentioned above, Lotulelei has already become one of the best players at his position in the NFL, regardless of age. The fact that he's a rookie makes it even more impressive. He has to be considered the front-runner for defensive rookie of the year.

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