The top five rookies in the NFL this season nearly all finished with performances that aligned appropriately to the number of which they were selected in the NFL draft.
Cam Newton, Von Miller, Patrick Peterson and Aldon Smith were chosen as the first, second, fourth, and seventh picks respectively in the 2011 draft, and all four finished ranked in the top five for NFL rookies this year. Second rounder, Andy Dalton, completes the list as the sleeper pick.
While Cam Newton's consistent week in and week out record setting performances throughout the season sort of squashed any type of Rookie of the Year debate, that’s not to say the others aren’t worthy of recognition.
The NFL Rookie of the Year this season is Cam Newton. The other guys will fall into line just behind him, but there is no debate.
In fact, a good argument could be made that no other No. 1 pick in the NFL draft has ever proven to be more worthy of the top selection than Cam Newton.
Although the Panthers did not win a ton of games, the future is bright in Carolina with Newton sailing the ship.
Newton came into Week 1 setting records, when he threw for 422 yards and broke Peyton Manning’s rookie record for most passing yards on opening day.
As the season progressed, the record setting endured.
In Week 2, Newton surpassed Week 1’s 422 yards and threw for 432, becoming the only player to throw for over 400 yards in both of their first two games, and breaking the record for most yards thrown in the first two games by a rookie.
Newton proceeded to set the NFL’s season rushing touchdown record for quarterbacks and then perhaps most impressively, surpassed another one of Manning’s records, throwing for the most yards in a season by a rookie.
The young quarterback finished with 4,051 passing yards, 21 passing touchdowns, 706 rushing yards, and 14 rushing touchdowns.
With those numbers Newton ranked second in the league for rushing touchdowns (with the next closest quarterback being Tebow, with six), first for yards per carry, sixth for touchdowns scored (the only quarterback in the top 40), and 10th for passing yards.
At 6’5” 250, Newton looks like something out of a video game, and despite loads of criticism from non-believers before the draft and season began, he plays like one too.
If Newton can maintain the type of performances he displayed in his rookie year and get Carolina on the winning side of things, teams will be licking their chops for the next quarterback made from the Newton prototype.
Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton had an impressive rookie debut of his own. Starting all 16 regular season games for Cincinnati, as well as their only postseason game, Dalton lead the Bengals to the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
In the regular season, Dalton totaled up 3,398 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, connecting numerous times with fellow rookie, wide receiver AJ Green.
Not selected until the second round, Dalton out played fellow first-year quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder, who were all chosen ahead of him, in the initial 15 picks of the first round.
The combination of Dalton and Green showed promise for the future of the Bengals’ franchise, as the two broke records as a rookie duo.
Cardinals’ rookie Patrick Peterson made noise on the field this season bringing it from all angles.
Peterson not only improved the Cardinals’ defense by strengthening their secondary with his cornerback skills, but even more notably, the young speedster scored four touchdowns on special teams as a punt returner, tying the single season record for punt return touchdowns.
Peterson finished the year ranked first in the league for punt return yards, first in the league for return touchdowns scored, and second in the league for average punt return yards, just a hair shy of Devin Hester.
With those numbers, it is no surprise that Peterson's punt returning skills drew him comparisons to Hester all season long, a lofty honor considering there’s a good chance Hester lands himself in the Hall of Fame based on special teams alone.
Peterson's defensive stats for the season consisted of 64 tackles, two interceptions and 13 pass deflections.
Peterson was named to the Pro Bowl and was also the only rookie named to the 2011 All-Pro first team.
While neither will win Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year is going to come down to Broncos’ rookie linebacker Von Miller and 49ers’ rookie linebacker Aldon Smith. Both had very impressive debut seasons and both will make a major impact on their respective teams for many years to come, but the big question is who will take home the honors?
For the purpose of comparing the two, let’s first look at stats.
A stronghold for Denver’s impressive defense all season long, Miller started 15 regular season games for the Broncos, missing one due to injury, recording 11.5 sacks, 64 tackles and two forced fumbles. In the postseason, Miller recorded three tackles and a sack in Denver’s win over Pittsburgh, but made no real statistical impact in their loss to New England.
Smith, on the other hand, played limited snaps in 16 games for the 49ers, used mostly as a defensive end in the nickel package. In doing so, Smith surpassed Millers’ sack total, recording 14, but he had much fewer tackles with 27, and forced two fumbles as well. In the postseason, Smith recorded a sack in both of the 49ers’ games.
The argument to be made for Miller is that he started and played every game he was healthy, he was not surrounded by the type of help that Smith had in Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman, and Ray McDonald, and also that he battled through a few games playing with a cast and an unhealthy hand.
For Smith, the biggest argument is the higher sack total paired with a significant less amount of snaps.
It can be debated that Smith had an edge for getting sacks since he played in more specialized role, but I still give the nod to Smith.
The No. 1 honorable mention spot for the NFL’s 2011 top rookies goes to Andy Dalton’s favorite target, AJ Green. Finishing with 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns, Green was the top receiver in the rookie class and finished top 20 for receiving yards in the league.
One rookie who played consistently played well all season long and didn't receive the proper recognition that he deserved, was the Seattle Seahawks’ fifth round pick, cornerback Richard Sherman.
Sherman started his year with the Seahawks having to prove he was deserving of a roster spot and buried on the depth chart, until injury forced him into a starting role. Sherman took advantage of that starting role and never looked back, recording four interceptions, 55 tackles and 21 pass deflections on year.
His interceptions and pass deflections lead all rookies and ranked top 15 in the entire league.