2 NFL Rookies Quietly Putting Together Pro Bowl-Caliber Seasons
Four rookies from the 2011 draft class—Andy Dalton, Von Miller, Cam Newton and Patrick Peterson—were selected to play in the NFL Pro Bowl last season.
Replicating that number of rookies in this year's Pro Bowl appears to be a steep assumption through three weeks in 2012. Only Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Chandler Jones of the New England Patriots look like real Pro Bowl candidates from this year's class through three weeks.
Miller and Peterson were selected as 2011 starters at AFC linebacker and NFC returner, respectively, while Dalton and Newton were alternate selections at quarterback. The 2012 class wouldn't appear to have a starter at any position, and there's only a small case so far for any alternate consideration.
Through three weeks, here are the two rookies who have put together the closest thing to a Pro Bowl-caliber start.
QB Robert Griffin III, Redskins
Griffin III and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons have arguably been the NFC's top two quarterbacks through the first three games. Ryan leads the NFL in passer rating at 114.0 and has the Falcons at 3-0, while Griffin III has the sixth-best passer rating (103.9) and ranks 16th in the NFL in rushing yards (201) and first in rushing touchdowns (three).
Based on those numbers alone, Griffin III is a legitimate Pro Bowl candidate.
There are two big worries for Griffin III's Pro Bowl candidacy, however.
For starters, the NFC has at least three other quarterbacks—Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning—who will eventually make a serious run towards winning a Pro Bowl spot. Manning is probably already there. Matthew Stafford and Newton are also plenty capable. Griffin III will have to have a Newton-like season to warrant consideration.
Secondly, and probably more importantly, Griffin III looks like an injury waiting to happen. His 6'2", 217-pound frame has been exposed to a number of hits and collisions already in 2012. Expecting him to be healthy for 16 games is probably optimistic given his current playing style.
Griffin III probably has an outside shot at making the final Pro Bowl roster, especially if one or more of the above quarterbacks are injured. Both Dalton and Newton played in last year's game because of injury.
DE Chandler Jones, Patriots
In terms of strictly 4-3 defensive ends, Jones has been one of the best in the AFC.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jones grades out below only Cameron Wake of the Miami Dolphins through three games.
Rushing solely from the right side of the defense, Jones has one sack, two quarterback hits and nine hurries, plus two forced fumbles. Against the run, Jones has been credited with four stops, or tackles that result in a negative play for the offense.
Jones may also get a lift from the fact that the two starting defensive ends from last year's AFC squad—Dwight Freeney and Andre Carter—may struggle to regain that spot in 2012. Freeney is still battling an ankle injury and is switching defensive positions, while Carter doesn't currently have a team.
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt looks like an early lock, but there should be spots available behind him at defensive end.
Still, Jones has a long ways to go. And for the most part, Baltimore Ravens left tackle Michael Oher had his way with the rookie in Week 3. But considering the amount of snaps Jones will play, and his Jason Pierre-Paul-like skill set, 10 or more sacks and a Pro Bowl selection is certainly in the equation.
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