Cam Newton and 5 Sophomore Studs Who Will Light Up the NFL in 2012

Luke CraneCorrespondent IFebruary 6, 2012

Cam Newton and 5 Sophomore Studs Who Will Light Up the NFL in 2012

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    When the New York Giants' Gatorade-soaked coach Tom Coughlin ran down the sidelines at the end of a thrilling Super Bowl, another great NFL season came to an end. As the Big Blue were crowned champions and celebrated long into the night and while the Patriots have nothing but a very long offseason to ponder how they lost a game they so easily could have won, the thoughts of all NFL fans will turn to next season.

    When the discussions about if it was the best Super Bowl since the last Giants vs. Patriots matchup and if it was the best halftime show ever (yes and yes) have died down, fans will start dreaming about next September and the new season.

    There may be a few months to go before the training camps start up again, the preseason friendlies go unwatched and the first long kick in the end zone for a touchback gets the 2012 season underway but it won't stop fans from thinking about their teams and the players they need to make it into the playoffs or better yet, Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

    The draft and what promises to be a busy offseason with so many good players coming up for free agency will have fans speculating about who is in vogue and how their favorite team can pick up the stars who will give them the best chance of seeing new touchdown-dancing moves.

    Here are five rookies from 2011 who will continue to create highlight reels in their sophomore seasons.

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

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    This season has seen a number of promising rookies break out. Rather than becoming one-hit wonders, a few of them look like becoming future franchise players, none more so than Rookie of the Year Cam Newton.

    As starting QB for the Carolina Panthers this season, Cam Newton threw for 4,051 yards, a rookie record, scored 14 rushing touchdowns, an NFL record for all QB's, and finished the year with a QB rating of 84.5 and made the Pro Bowl.

    There should be no second-year malaise from Newton, and the Panthers will need him to be at his best if they are going to make the playoffs in a very competitive NFC South division that includes the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.  

Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos

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    The No. 2 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft has paid up big for the Denver Broncos. The linebacker from Texas A&M has had an amazing first pro season with 64 tackles, 11.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. While most the noise this season has been about the Broncos QB, it is the defense that kept them close in tight games and gave their offense a chance to sneak a win late in the fourth quarter.

    Miller was rightly named Defensive Rookie of the Year, and there should be no let up in the Broncos defense next year. They should also get more help next season from Tebow and company on offense.

    While Von Miller and the Broncos didn't advance past the Patriots in the playoffs, they can take pride in how they came back after an awful start to the season to even make it that far.

    Von Miller can hold his head high after making the Pro Bowl, and he can look forward to achieving even better figures next season, when he shouldn't be playing with torn ligaments in his right thumb, as he did toward the latter part of the 2011 season.

Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    The QB from Texas Christian University was a second-round pick for the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2011 draft, but it didn't take Andy Dalton long before he won the starting position and forced Carson Palmer to seek a trade.

    The red-headed Dalton finished his rookie season with a QB rating of 80.4 with 3,398 yards passing and 20 touchdowns.

    The Bengals reached the first round of the playoffs with Dalton in the huddle, and next season we should see them advance even deeper. With his selection to the Pro Bowl, Dalton and Newton became the first two rookie QBs to make the Pro Bowl in the same season.

    Dalton could become a regular at the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl if he continues to improve.  

A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

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    The rookie wide receiver from the University of Georgia has lived up to his billing, and the No. 4 pick of the 2011 draft finished the 2011 season by leading all rookie wide outs in receptions and receiving yards.

    A.J. Green scored seven touchdowns and averaged 16.3 yards per catch. With Andy Dalton, the pair of Bengals rookies not only both made the playoffs together but broke all NFL records for a rookie QB/WR pairing.

    The Bengals are never anyone's top pick for the Super Bowl, but if Green and Dalton continue heading on the right winning path—and there is every reason to expect that they will—no one should be surprised to see them competing in next year's AFC Final. 

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

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    It is easy to see why the Atlanta Falcons traded up to take the sixth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft: Julio Jones is an outstanding prospect. In his rookie season, Jones led all WR with eight touchdowns and came second only to A.J. Green in yards and receptions.

    The wide receiver out of Alabama was outstanding for the Crimson Tide during his final season there, and he continued that form into his rookie year with the Falcons. With an offensive lineup that contains Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White, the speedy Jones can expect to feature in the playoffs for years to come.

    The 2011 draft gave the NFL some outstanding talent, which we can look forward to seeing mature and grow even better next season. The upcoming draft will make sure that the 2011 rookie class will need to be at their best in their sophomore year.

    Now if only there were something to do from now until September.