The 7 Best Rookies of NFL Divisional Round Weekend

Brian LendinoCorrespondent IIJanuary 16, 2012

The 7 Best Rookies of NFL Divisional Round Weekend

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    Many rookies will tell you that they equate the stage of an NFL playoff game to an annual bowl game in college.

    It’s their chance to shine in front of the millions of people watching on that given Sunday.

    We all know that anything is possible in the NFL playoffs—that means NFL rookies can shine on the brightest stage too.

    Not all of these guys had great games—in fact, this was a rather poor weekend for rookie performances.

    However, these seven guys stood out to me as the seven best rookies of the NFL Divisional round weekend. 

Quinton Carter, Denver

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    Let me begin by saying that Quinton Carter is the only player from the putrid Denver Broncos defense that I would even consider for this list.

    The New England Patriots hung a whopping 45 points on Carter and the Broncos’ defense on Saturday as they steamrolled ahead to the AFC Championship game.

    Carter, however, was able to capitalize on Tom Brady’s only mistake of the football game—an interception late in the first quarter that the Broncos’ offense was able to score their only touchdown off of.

    Carter also added five tackles and a pass deflection in the effort. 

T.J. Yates, Houston

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    T.J. Yates’ stats don’t tell the whole story of how he played against the Ravens hard-hitting defense and normally his three interceptions wouldn’t warrant him a place on the best rookies list.

    The rookie pool was very thin after this weekend and because of that T.J. Yates snags a spot.

    The kid is a gamer—there’s no doubt about that—and he kept his team fighting throughout the entire game, even after they went down 17-3 after the first quarter.

    In the end, his 28.8 QB rating will be all we look at, but the grit of this fifth-round draft pick is a large part of the reason why they stayed in the game. 

J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed, Houston

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    These two rookie defensemen get a combined slide, but they will both recognized separately.

    JJ Watt, the rookie first rounder out of Wisconsin had himself a monster game. He recorded 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

    He along with Brooks Reed, who also had himself a day with 2.5 sacks and eight tackles, were able to hold All-Pro running back Ray Rice to only 60 yards rushing.

    On the season these two guys have been absolutely money for the Texans top ranked defense, recording 18.5 sacks combined while Watt led the team in tackles for loss.

    Both guys produced some monster performances in the Houston loss and it’s tough to blame the defense that was required to hold the opposing offense to only four yards after an untimely punt muff. 

Nate Solder, New England

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    If you take a quick look back on the box score, you’ll find that the league’s premier pass rush duo in Von Miller and Elvis Dumerville only recorded one tackle and one hit on the quarterback.

    Nate Solder is a huge reason as to why that is.

    The rookie tackle from Colorado is a huge 6’8” monster who is quick on his feet and powerful enough to still gain leverage on defenders.

    His progression over the course of the season garnered him the start against Denver in the divisional round and he came out and produced nicely. 

Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco

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    Is this legal? Can I put a head coach on a slide?

    I mean, Jim Harbaugh is technically a rookie in the NFL, so yeah, why not?

    The shoo-in winner for NFL Coach of the Year has been nothing short of incredible this season and showed us all just why against the Saints.

    Somehow he has his quarterback throwing for 299 yards and four touchdowns (one rushing) and when the going got tough in the fourth quarter he stuck with his hot hand.

    He recognized the man coverage the Saints defense was giving him on tight end Vernon Davis and Harbaugh kept feeding Davis, who ended with seven catches, 180 yards, and two touchdowns.

    What Jim Harbaugh has been able to do in his first year as San Francisco head coach is amazing, and the way he was able to out-gameplan and execute the New Orleans Saints deserves to be commended. 

Aldon Smith, San Francisco

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    I’ve had the luxury of watching Aldon Smith in his college days at the University of Missouri and I recognized his greatness back then.

    This kind of greatness, I’m not sure, but Aldon Smith is a freak.

    Aldon Smith was tied for fifth in the NFL with 14 sacks in the regular season. He added another sack and two tackles for loss.

    Smith is so quick off the snap that he becomes a nuisance on virtually every play, giving opposing quarterbacks very little time to set their feet or go through progressions.

    We may not have even seen the best this kid has to offer.