With the 2012 season long past and the 2013 season on the horizon (ohmigodohmigodohmigod), I thought now would be a good time to take a look at the rookies of 2012, both prospectively and retrospectively. It's obviously about two years too early to pass final judgement on this past rookie class (and certainly much too early to apply the "bust" label), but there's no denying that some underwhelm in their first year while others shine beyond reasonable expectation. This is thus not a judgement on these players' careers or prospects; it's simply an analysis of their rookie seasons. With that in mind, let's get started with busts and surprises.
5. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers: 4th in TDs, 5th in YPC, 5th in rushing yards. Doug Martin is the reason the Bucs were semi-relevant last season. The only reason he isn't higher is that he was a first round choice.
4. Blair Walsh, K, Vikings: 92% FG percentage, 10 of 10 from 50 yards out, and 2nd only to our own Pat McAfee in average kick off distance. I'd say the Vikings struck gold with their 6th round choice.
3. Casey Hayward, CB, Packers: Hayward led all rookies in pass deflections and interceptions, and finished third and fifth in those categories league wide. There were four CBs taken before Hayward. None of them came close to matching his production.
2. Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins: It's hard not to put the 6th-rounder this high on this list. In total rushing yards he was second only to Adrian Peterson, and in touchdowns he was second only to Arian Foster. While he was certainly a major surprise, it's hard to expect that he will match this performance in his sophomore year; Morris almost certainly benefited from defenses focusing on RGKnee. In week 15--the only week RG3 did not start--Morris only averaged 3.2 YPC.
1. Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks: While I take pride in the fact that I figured Russell Wilson would be successful in the NFL even before he was drafted, neither I nor anyone else who follows football expected him to have the kind of production that he did. A third-round, undersized QB leading a team to a playoff victory is unheard of. He's easily the draft's biggest surprise.
5. Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals: Floyd's professional career began on a rough note when Larry Fitzgerald accused him of "DWI: doesn't want it." Dumb puns aide, Floyd underwhelmed opposite Larry Fitzgerald. Perhaps with a better QB situation he might have performed better. I'm including him on this list only because he wasn't the game changer he was supposed to be.
4. Trent Richardson, RB, Browns: The last statement I made about Floyd applies to Richardson as well. There was nothing wrong with his rookie campaign, it just didn't live up to the hype. When you are supposed to be the best RB prospect in years and then get out performed by a late first round and a mid sixth round choice, you get put on this list.
3. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Bengals: Dre Kirkpatrick's stat line is hilarious. 4 tackles, 0 interceptions, 0 passes defensed. Kirkpatrick battled injuries all season and seemed lost in coverage. He was just a warm body on Cincinnatti's defense.
2. Brandon Weeden, QB, Browns: Weeden was not only terrible, he showed absolutely no potential whatsoever. Because of his age, Weeden needed to show talent immediately. He doesn't have the luxury of youth; his physical skill set has already peaked, so his potential can only go downhill from here. Also, he is the only QB in the history of the league to be sacked by America itself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oF5II0Mu_gA
1. AJ Jenkins, WR, 49ers: Jenkins was taken in the first round. He played in three games and posted goose eggs in every stat category. lol.
Kicker: Blair Walsh, Vikings: see above. Seriously. Blair Walsh not only had the most impressive rookie season for any kicker in recent history, he had one of the most impressive seasons for ANY kicker in reason history. For this reason, I'm also awarding Blair Walsh the distinction of Best Rookie.
Offensive Line: Matt Kalil, Vikings: He went to the Pro Bowl for a reason.
Tight End: Dwayne Allen, Colts: This is an absolute no-brainer. Not only was Allen the top rookie TE, he was one of the best TEs league wide. PFF grades him at an astounding +19.4.
Receiver: TY Hilton, Colts: This might be a bit of homerism, but there was no rookie receiver more electric than Hilton. Not only did he have more receiving yards than any other rookie, he broke games wide open with some stellar plays. He had tons of drops, which almost allowed Josh Gordon to take this award, but Hilton's electricity and improvement down the stretch sealed the deal.
Running Back: Doug Martin, Buccaneers: This isn't even close. Many will point to Alfred Morris's better stats, but Morris benefited from defenses being preoccupied with Washington's other offensive star. Take away the read option, and Morris wouldn't be as big a factor as he was. Doug Martin, on the other hand, played with the definition of mediocrity at quarterback. He certainly benefited from Vincent Jackson eating double teams, but there is no denying that Martin is here to stay.
Defensive Line: Chandler Jones, Patriots: 6 sacks and 45 tackles are tremendous numbers for a rookie. The only defensive lineman that came close to having such an impact was Tennessee's Mike Martin. PFF actually ranks Martin higher because of his ability to stop the run, but I'm still taking Jones and his ability to fly into the back field.
Linebacker: Bobby Wagner, Seattle: Snubbed for defensive rookie of the year, Bobby Wagner was both a surprise and an absolute nightmare for offenses. Pro Football Focus ranks him second in the entire league for inside line backers. Luke Kuechly is good, but Wagner is currently better.
Defensive Back: Casey Hayward, Packers: Again, see above.
Quarterback: Andrew Luck, Colts: Before I'm accused of being a homer for taking Luck over RG3 and his >100 passer rating, let's review the offenses both quarterbacks played in. RG3 used a gimmicky read option that was run-first both in terms of philosophy and quarterbacking. When RG3 did pass the ball, more often than not it was a check down or a short slant. There is no denying that RG3 is a tremendous quarterback who, if he can stay healthy, is destined for greatness. However, he simply wasn't asked to do the kind of things Andrew Luck was. Luck's stats are worse because Luck had to carry the team constantly. He had more deep pass attempts than any QB in the league, and was running for his life on the vast majority of them. He was also in charge of bailing out an anemic defense that only seemed to work in the late 4th quarter. Despite all this, Luck managed 7 game winning drives on his way to a playoff berth. Andrew Luck was the best rookie quarterback.
Most Valuable Rookie
This award, much like the MVP award, is not given to the best player. This award is given to the player who is most valuable to his team. The Most Valuable Rookie is a player without whom his team would not have enjoyed the same level of success. With that in mind, let's turn to the candidates.
Andrew Luck, QB, Colts: We all know what Luck has done for this team. He took a 2-14 team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. He tied the record for most game winning drives in a single season by any quarterback. He helped a franchise heal from the loss of it's single best and most-loved player in franchise history.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins: A passer rating of more than 102 as a rookie? Insane. Without RG3, the Redskins almost certainly don't make the playoffs.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks: It's obvious that Matt Flynn is not a starting caliber quarterback. What happens to the Seahawks if they don't have Russell Wilson's production? Do they continue to flounder in mediocrity? If so, do they get a chance to ink all the free agents they have this past offseason? Doubtful.
There are more possible candidates (Dwayne Allen, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin, Casey Hayward, David Wilson, etc.), but none are as tremendously valuable to their teams as these three. So, who is the most valuable rookie? The answer is more obvious than one might think:
Andrew Luck, QB, Colts.
There is no denying that RG3 and Russell Wilson were both instrumental to their teams' success. Without them, the Redskins are 7-9 tops, while the Seahawks are 8-8. The difference maker in this award is simply that the Redskins and the Seahawks had at least one other outstanding component to their roster. The Redskins had a solid defense, a solid offensive line, and one of the best running backs in the game (yes he benefited from RG3, but Alfred Morris could break and evade tackles at will). The Seahawks had the same thing: a top-flight running back, a stout offensive line, and a defensive that gives opposing offensive coordinators nightmares. Both teams also had game-proven back ups. The Colts, on the other hand, were at best mediocre across the board. The only standouts on the team aside from Luck were Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen. The defense was terrible and the offensive line would have been more effective were the players replaced with angry-looking gargoyles. Andrew Luck was this team. Take away his 7 game winning drives and the Colts are picking in the top 5 again.