The upcoming 2013 draft class has a tall order to hold a candle to this year’s exceptional group of rookies. Led by an historic trifecta of quarterbacks, two star running backs, several big-play linebackers, a shutdown corner and the league’s best placekicker, this group was one of the best, deepest rookie classes in recent history. Thirteen first-round picks made the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team, and several others, like the first overall pick, Andrew Luck, had performances worthy of making the team, only to be buried at a deep position.
Redskins QB Robert Griffin III emerged from the three-quarterback race to win the overall and Offensive Rookie of the Year, earning him the nod as the All-Rookie signalcaller, beating out Luck and Russell Wilson. Griffin’s stats were off the charts, setting rookie records in touchdown-to-interception ratio, rushing yards for a rookie QB and passer rating, all while leading the Redskins to a division title.
Griffin’s backfield mate in Washington joins him on the All-Rookie team. RB Alfred Morris’ 1,613 rushing yards rank third all-time for rookies, and he was second in the NFL with 13 rushing touchdowns. Buccaneers RB Doug Martin’s 1,926 yards from scrimmage (1,454 rushing, 472 receiving) were the third most for a rookie running back in NFL history.
The receiving class got off to a slow start, epitomized by Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon, who had 250 receiving yards and one TD in his first nine games, then tallied 615 yards and four TDs in his final four games. Colts WR T.Y. Hilton became a favorite target for Luck, as he racked up 861 receiving yards and a rookie-high seven receiving TDs. Hilton’s teammate, Dwayne Allen, outplayed another Colts rookie, TE Coby Fleener, to be the All-Rookie tight end. Allen totaled 45-521-3 receiving.
The O-line is comprised of two of the top three tackles drafted — Vikings OLT Matt Kalil and Browns ORT Mitchell Schwartz — and two of the top three guards drafted — Bengals OG Kevin Zeitler and Panthers OG Amini Silatolu. Kalil, Schwartz and Zeitler started all 16 games, and Silatolu started all 15 games in which he played. Neither Kalil nor Schwartz was flagged for a holding penalty all season, while Zeitler helped pave the way for a solid Bengals rushing attack. There was no All-Rookie center, with no first-year player getting significant time at that spot this season.
Last season, it was rookie pass rushers Aldon Smith and Von Miller who starred. The 2012 defensive rookie class was highlighted by run-stopping, playmaking linebackers, like Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly. The Panthers’ middle linebacker led the league in tackles, the first rookie to do so since Patrick Willis in 2007.
Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner and Buccaneers LB Lavonte David had strong seasons in the tackle department, with David leading all rookies in tackles for loss (20).
A pair of pass rushers bookend the D-line. Patriots DE Chandler Jones was an early favorite for defensive rookie honors before an ankle injury slowed him and he finished with six sacks. Irvin, a pass-rush specialist, led rookies with eight sacks, proving he was far from the reach that many considered him to be as the 15th overall pick.
In a year to forget for the Eagles’ defense, Fletcher Cox was a bright spot with 5? sacks and four passes defensed. Rams DT Michael Brockers came on strong late in the season and tallied four sacks.
CB Casey Hayward was the fifth corner drafted, but finished with the best season. He led the Packers and all rookies with 21 passes defensed and six interceptions, showing a knack for making plays on the ball. Rams CB Janoris Jenkins was a playmaker, finishing with four interceptions and four defensive touchdowns.
SS Mark Barron was impressive for the Buccaneers, finishing the season with 10 passes defensed and four tackles for loss. Vikings FS Harrison Smith showed the rangy abilities that convinced Minnesota to trade up for him — he had 11 passes defensed and three interceptions.
Early on, Rams PK Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein held the spotlight, but it was Vikings PK Blair Walsh who eventually stole the show, setting an NFL record for most made field goals of 50-plus yards in a season (10).
Many scoffed when the Jaguars drafted P Bryan Anger in the third round, but he punted well, finishing tied for seventh in the league with a 40.8-yard net average.
Giants RB David Wilson didn’t make the expected impact out of the backfield, but he was a huge threat on kickoff returns, returning one 97 yards for a touchdown. He had seven returns of 40 yards or more, the most in the league. Hilton makes the All-Rookie team twice, thanks to his punt-return abilities. He returned one punt 75 yards for a score.
The only undrafted player on the All-Rookie team, Browns CB Johnson Bademosi led Cleveland with 18 special-teams tackles.
2012 All-Rookie Team
QB Robert Griffin III / Redskins
RB Alfred Morris / Redskins
RB Doug Martin / Buccaneers
WR T.Y. Hilton / Colts
WR Justin Blackmon / Jaguars
TE Dwayne Allen / Colts
Center — None
OG Kevin Zeitler / Bengals
OG Amini Silatolu / Panthers
OT Matt Kalil / Vikings
OT Mitchell Schwartz / Browns
DL Fletcher Cox / Eagles
DL Chandler Jones / Patriots
DL Bruce Irvin / Seahawks
DL Michael Brockers / Rams
LB Bobby Wagner / Seahawks
LB Luke Kuechly / Panthers
LB Lavonte David / Buccaneers
CB Casey Hayward / Packers
CB Janoris Jenkins / Rams
S Harrison Smith / Vikings
S Mark Barron / Buccaneers
PK Blair Walsh / Vikings
P Bryan Anger / Jaguars
PR T.Y. Hilton / Colts
KR David Wilson / Giants
ST Johnson Bademosi / Browns