Russell Wilson may be overshadowed a bit this season because of the successes of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, but Wilson, along with the rest of the extraordinary class of rookie quarterbacks, has clearly colluded to take attention away from another impressive group: the running backs.
Doug Martin, Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson lead a deep class of running backs in a time when their position can be largely forgotten in the passing league the NFL has become, but this crop has been stellar.
Martin and Morris are well past 1,000 yards rushing, and enter Week 15 ranked third and fourth, respectively, in the entire NFL in rushing. Richardson, at 869 rushing yards, should shortly eclipse the 1,000 yard-mark himself. Assuming Richardson gets there, 2012 will be the fifth time since the merger in which three rookie backs got to 1,000 yards rushing — it occurred previously in 2008, 2001, 1995 and 1993. RG3 needs 252 rushing yards in three games to make it four players — which would be a first, but with his leg injury, that is highly unlikely.
In the last three years combined, there has been only one rookie to rush for 1,000 yards — LeGarrette Blount in 2010. The “big three” of this class bring back memories to 2008, when Chris Johnson, Steve Slaton and Matt Forté each rushed for over 1,200 yards, a milestone that Martin and Morris passed on Sunday.
While neither Martin nor Morris is likely to break Eric Dickerson’s record of 1,808 rushing yards for a rookie, they should get into the top 10, and maybe top five by the end of the season for all-time rushing seasons by first-year players. The last rookie back to hit 1,500 yards was Clinton Portis, who did so in 2002, and that number is very much in reach.
And it’s not just Martin, Morris and Richardson. Colts RB Vick Ballard has been the starter for the last couple months, Eagles RB Bryce Brown has a couple huge games under his belt, Daryl Richardson has been a steady contributor for the Rams, and Giants RB David Wilson broke out on Sunday.
Adrian Peterson’s incredible year has brought attention back to the position this season, and Martin, Morris and Richardson are giving teams plenty of reason not to ignore backs in the draft, showing that rookies can make a big impact out of the backfield.
Neither Martin nor Morris will win Rookie of the Year, and it’s possible that neither even finishes in the top three, when, in many years, they’d be strong candidates. This quarterback class will break records left and right, and showed its depth in Week 14 with clutch play from Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins, but it’s fair to say that 2012 has also been the Year of the Rookie Running Back, even if those quarterbacks hog the attention.
Now, onto the Week 14 Rookie Meter:
1. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (first round, second overall)
Last week’s ranking: 1
Before leaving with a sprained knee, RG3 completed 15-of-26 passes for 246 yards and one touchdown in the Redskins’ win over the Ravens. He added seven carries for 34 yards. His 18-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and his 104.2 passer rating are tops among rookies, with the latter tied for the NFL high with Tom Brady. He is fourth among rookies in rushing yards.
2. Colts QB Andrew Luck (1, 1)
Last week’s ranking: 2
Luck was 16-of-34 passing for 196 yards, one touchdown and two picks in the Colts’ comeback win over the Titans. He leads rookies in passing yards, but also in interceptions with 18. The Colts are a win away from clinching a playoff spot.
3. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (3, 75)
Last week’s ranking: 3
It was an easy day for Wilson in the Seahawks’ 58-0 rout of the Cardinals. He completed 7-of-13 passes for 148 yards, one touchdown and one interception, his first pick at home all season. His 20 touchdown passes lead all rookies.
4. Buccaneers RB Doug Martin (1, 31)
Last week’s ranking: 5
Martin had 28 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown and three catches for four yards in the Buccaneers’ loss to the Eagles.
5. Buccaneers LB Lavonte David (2, 58)
Last week’s ranking: 4
David notched his first sack of the season to go along with nine tackles and two QB hits in the Bucs’ loss. He is second among rookies with 117 tackles, which is good for fifth in the league.
6. Redskins RB Alfred Morris (6, 173)
Last week’s ranking: 7
Morris carried the ball 23 times for 122 yards and one touchdown, averaging 5.3 yards a carry in Washington’s win over the Ravens.
7. Seahawks MLB Bobby Wagner (2, 47)
Last week’s ranking: 9
Wagner had eight tackles and two interceptions in the Seahawks’ win over Arizona. He is third among rookies with 109 tackles and tied for third with three picks.
8. Panthers LB Luke Kuechly (1, 9)
Last week’s ranking: 6
Kuechly’s 16-tackle performance in Sunday’s win over Atlanta gave him 130 on the season, which is not only No. 1 among rookies, but also tops in the entire NFL.
9. Browns RB Trent Richardson (1, 3)
Last week’s ranking: 8
Richardson had 18 carries for 42 yards and two touchdowns in Cleveland’s win over the Chiefs. He is averaging only 3.5 yards a carry, but is second among rookies with nine rushing touchdowns.
10. Packers CB Casey Hayward (2, 62)
Last week’s ranking: 10
Hayward’s two passes defensed in Sunday’s win over the Lions gave him 18 on the season, which is first among rookies. He also had four tackles.
On the cusp (listed alphabetically)
Rams DT Michael Brockers (1, 14)
Bills CB Stephon Gilmore (1, 10)
Browns WR Josh Gordon (2, supplemental)
Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (3, 92)
Rams CB Janoris Jenkins (2, 39)
Patriots DE Chandler Jones (1, 21)
Vikings OLT Matt Kalil (1, 4)
Vikings S Harrison Smith (1, 29)
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (1, 8)
Browns QB Brandon Weeden (1, 22)