2012 NFL Rookie of the Year Award: Cam Newton and the Contenders

Jimmy Grappone@cltsportshubCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2011

2012 NFL Rookie of the Year Award: Cam Newton and the Contenders

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    Cam Newton is a shoo-in to win the 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year award and he has the records, if not the record, to prove it.

    Newton, quarterback of the Carolina Panthers (4-9), is the only quarterback in NFL history to start his career with consecutive 400-yard passing games.

    He is also the first quarterback in NFL history, rookie or vet, to run for 13 touchdown in a season and he has three more games to go.

    On top of that, with 3,722 yards through the air and two games to go, Newton only needs 18 yards to pass Peyton Manning for the most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in NFL history heading into Week 16.

    However, Newton is not the only record-setter in an impressive class of NFL rookies.

    Here is a look at three other record-setting rookies who could challenge Newton for the 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year award.

Contender No. 1: Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos

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    Tim Tebow is getting a lot of credit for the Denver Broncos' 7-1 record since starting 1-4, and for good reason.

    However, the most overlooked reason for Tebow's and the Broncos' success, in addition to the quarterback's ability to protect the football if not always move the chains, is the Denver defense.

    Denver's defense has emerged as one of the best in the NFL this year thanks to the return of Elvis Dumervil and the introduction of the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Von Miller (Texas A&M).

    All Miller has done is record 11.5 sacks in the Broncos' first 13 games.

    With three games to go, Miller is just three sacks short of tying Jevon Kearse's NFL record for most sacks by a rookie.

    Miller may not earn the NFL Rookie of the Year award, but he is a lock for defensive ROY.

Contender No 2: Patrick Peterson, CB/PR, Arizona Cardinals

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    Patrick Peterson (Louisiana State) may be the most dangerous return man since Devin Hester.

    In fact, the rookie cornerback/punt returner for the Arizona Cardinals may be even more dangerous as Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter pointed out in an article this week.

    Peterson, whose four returns for touchdowns tie an NFL single-season record, averages a touchdown once every eight returns.

    To put that ratio in perspective, Devin Hester, the NFL's all-time best kick/punt returner touches the ball on special teams 17 times between scores.

    The other career leaders in punt return-to-touchdown ratio, Pacman Jones (23-to-1), Reggie Bush (24-to-1) and DeSean Jackson (28-to-1) are not close to Peterson's pace.

    In addition to his special teams prowess, Peterson has played a solid corner this year with 57 tackles, one sack and a pair of interceptions through 13 games.

    Peterson has had a special rookie season, but it will not be enough to take the ROY from Cam Newton.

Contender No. 3: DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys

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    There was a four-game stretch this season when DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma) was the best running back in the NFL.

    Starting with Week 8 against the St. Louis Rams when Murray set the Dallas Cowboys' single-game rushing record with 253 yards on 25 runs, Murray gained 601 yards on 75 attempts.

    That's just over eight yards per carry for an entire month.

    Murray's season ended in the Cowboys' Week 14 loss to the New York Giants when Murray broke his ankle during a first-half run.

    Unfortunately, you typically have to play an entire season to win any hardware.

    He finished the season with 897 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 164 attempts for a 5.5 YPC average.

And the Envelope, Please...

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    There are other candidates for the 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year award, including Cincinnati's dynamic duo of quarterback Andy Dalton (Texas Christian) and wide receiver A.J. Green (Georgia), as well as the Falcons' rookie receiver, Julio Jones (Alabama).

    Each of these guys and many others have had impressive rookie campaigns and project to have successful NFL careers.

    However, when it comes to selecting the NFL Rookie of the Year award, there can only be one winner, and in 2011, his name will be Cam Newton.

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