It's in the NFL's Declaration of Independence. Second paragraph, first sentence, in italicized letters—or at least it would be, if such a thing existed.
"All rookies are not created equal."
Nor are situations—teams, coaches and playbooks—they're plugged into. On top of countless other lurking variables: injuries, off-the-field issues, teammates...
Thus, rookies—even those with similar abilities, who play the same position and are drafted in subsequent order—can have such different seasons. Some make an immediate impact, some struggle and some just need time to adapt.
Hence, the difficulty of predicting exactly how a rookie season will unfold. It's not as easy as spotting Rob Gronkowski—aka "Yo Soy Fiesta"—in a crowded club. (Hint: He's the big guy, shirt off and one fist punching the air to the beat.)
Look at Cam Newton. Many though he was in for a rude awakening in Carolina. His ego was too inflated. His mechanics needed work. His brain couldn't grasp an NFL offense in a shortened offseason. His receivers, including an aging Steve Smith, were inadequate. He said, she said, they said.
Newton then did. There is still room for growth, but 4,051 yards passing and 35 total touchdowns is not bad for a rookie. At all. In fact, it's historic.
So, who will be this year's Newton? The rookie to put up gaudy numbers; the Stat-Sheet-Stuffing Rookie of the Year Award winner.
Here are my 10 candidates.
There's no better place for a young receiver to be than Arizona, opposite Larry Fitzgerald. Floyd, a potential No. 1 receiver, can step onto the field with tempered expectations against single coverage and do his thing.
Which is catch balls—even inaccurate ones—and score touchdowns.
Projected stats: 63 receptions for 1,112 yards and eight touchdowns.
RB Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns
The most NFL-ready rookie running back since Adrian Peterson—and we all know how that worked out. Richardson is a workhorse, a do-it-all back and more. He runs with authority, sheds tackles, blows by linebackers and is a reliable receiver out of the backfield.
Projected stats: 231 carries for 1,086 yards and nine touchdowns; 33 receptions for 301 yards and three touchdowns.
LB Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
Playing time plays a big role in stuffing a stat sheet. After all, minutes on the bench, swigs of water and towel reps are not recorded stats.
Tackles, sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions are. And Kuechly, slated to start Week One at middle linebacker, will get a handful of each. He is difficult to engage and absolutely flies to the ball. An immortal kamikaze on the gridiron.
Projected stats: 101 tackles (seven for a loss), two sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble.
WR/KR T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
If you haven't heard of this guy yet, you will.
Whether catching a pass, taking a handoff or returning a punt, Hilton is a threat to go the distance. He's scary fast—clocked a 4.34 40-yard dash at his pro day—and near impossible to take down in the open field.
Projected stats: 47 receptions for 615 yards and six touchdowns; nine rushes for 77 yards and one touchdown; 412 return yards and two touchdowns.
LB/DE Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans
Don't let the daily DUIs fool you, pass-rushers are the hot thing in the NFL.
And Mercilus is the cream of the crop. No other rookie can get after the quarterback as quickly and often as Mercilus. Last season alone—his junior season at Illinois—he registered 16 sacks, nine forced fumbles and 22.5 tackles for a loss.
Yes, those numbers will translate.
Projected stats: 63 total tackles (16 for a loss), 11 sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception.
RB Robert Turbin, Seattle Seahawks
Marshawn Lynch's arrest this week—and possible suspension looming—means Turbin may be called upon much sooner than later. That's not a bad thing, either.
Turbin has the size to be an effective downhill, between-the-tackles runner and the speed and quickness to bounce it outside. He also has good hands and can run the entire route tree. A glass-slipper fit to Seattle's offense.
Projected stats: 169 carries for 820 yards and seven touchdowns; 28 receptions for 246 yards and two touchdowns.
QB Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
No big shocker here.
Look for RG3 to duplicate Newton's passing numbers, but not run nearly as much. His slight frame can't take that kind of pounding—and it won't need to.
With Pierre Garcon, Joshua Morgan, Santana Moss and a healthy Leonard Hankerson, Washington has surrounded him with an arsenal of weapons for success.
Projected stats: 3,921 yards passing for 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions; 352 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.
LB Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks
This should come as little surprise. Wagner is that good—a prototypical linebacker with athleticism, strength and, above all, the instincts required to play the position. He knows where to be, gets there in a hurry and finishes the job.
In other words, he's a tackling machine—with built-in rechargeable batteries.
Projected stats: 98 tackles (10 for a loss), four sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
QB Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
Age is another one of those "lurking variables" to account for.
A 28-year-old with pro experience already—albeit, at a different sport—Weeden should find little trouble in the NFL early on. And the Browns are doing all they can to make him comfortable. They drafted Richardson (Round 1), Travis Benjamin (Round 4) and Josh Gordon (Round 2 of Supplemental Draft). All three, along with Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi, will help Weeden post big numbers in 2012.
Projected stats: 3,417 yards passing for 22 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
CB Brandon Boykin, Philadelphia Eagles
Explosive is the proper adjective—maybe even a bit unfair—for this 5'10'' corner who once won a slam dunk contest.
The Eagles drafted Boykin to compete at nickel and for special teams duty, after finishing 31st in kick-return average and 27th in punt-return average last season. Good move. Boykin returned five kicks for touchdowns during his career at Georgia and is a real fighter in the secondary.
Projected stats: 42 tackles, one sack and three interceptions; 248 return yards and one touchdown.
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