2012 will be known as the season of the rookie quarterback, but don’t discount the linebackers in this year’s rookie class putting up big numbers.
Through 10 weeks, both battles for Rookie of the Year are close, but a group of linebackers is making a push to clog up the top of the defensive rookie totem pole. Pass rushers Chandler Jones and Bruce Irvin will be candidates with their sack totals, but there is precedent to honor rookie ‘backers who rack up tackles and big plays, but not necessarily sacks.
From 2006-09, four straight linebackers won the PFW/PFWA Rookie of the Year award: Demeco Ryans, Patrick Willis, Jerod Mayo and Brian Cushing. None of those four players is known for getting after the quarterback, like last year’s top two candidates, Aldon Smith and Von Miller.
This season, Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner and Lavonte David have been key cogs in their team’s respective defenses, and they are among the league leaders in tackles. Kuechly is third in the NFL, and David and Wagner are tied for fourth.
Granted, tackles can be a misleading stat at times, but it doesn’t take away from these rookie linebackers finding themselves around the ball. They are also well ahead of the pace we’ve seen the last two seasons. Only one rookie had more than 80 tackles last season — Buccaneers MLB Mason Foster, who had 84 — and Kuechly, Wagner and David will fly by that mark. All three are putting themselves in striking distance of what we saw from the 2009 rookie leaders, Brian Cushing (133 tackles) and James Laurinaitis (120 tackles).
Tackles are coming behind the line of scrimmage, as well. David leads all rookies with 12 tackles for loss, and Kuechly and Wagner are tied for second with eight TFLs apiece.
David is the one that is coming on strong and gaining lots of respect around the league for his play of late for one of the league’s hottest teams. The Bucs’ weak-side linebacker leads the team in tackles and tackles for loss.
Wagner has been somewhat of an under-the-radar performer, but he also leads his team in tackles and TFLs, also adding two sacks.
Kuechly was one of the preseason front-runners for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and his move to the MLB spot has helped, and he also has four passes defensed for his résumé.
All three are in the top-10 of this week’s Rookie Meter and will battle Jones, Irvin and Packers CB Casey Hayward for the top defensive spot at the end of the season. LBs Vontaze Burfict and Zach Brown are also putting together strong seasons. At this pace, Kuechly, Wagner and David all have a chance to return the award to the linebacker position not glorified by big sack numbers.
1. Colts QB Andrew Luck (first round, first overall)
Last week’s ranking: 1
In the Colts’ Thurdsay-night win over the Jaguars, Luck completed 18-of-26 passes for 227 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He rushed for two scores. He leads the rookie QBs in passing yards by a wide margin and is tied with Russell Wilson for the lead with six wins.
2. Buccaneers RB Doug Martin (1, 31)
Last week’s ranking: 3
Martin had a quiet day, relatively speaking, in the Bucs’ win over the Chargers. He had 19 carries for 68 yards and three catches for 51 yards. He is first among rookies and tied for fourth in the NFL in rushing yards.
3. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (1, 2)
Last week’s ranking: 2
Griffin and the Redskins were on bye in Week 10. He faces the Eagles in Week 11.
4. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (3, 75)
Last week’s ranking: 5
Against a good Jets defense, Wilson completed 12-of-19 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns in the Seahawks’ win. He had a QB rating of 131.0 and also had seven rushes for 34 yards. Wilson leads all rookie QBs with 15 touchdown passes, good for a tie for 10th in the league.
5. Redskins RB Alfred Morris (6, 173)
Last week’s ranking: 4
Morris and the Redskins were on bye in Week 10. He trails Martin by 69 rushing yards for the rookie lead.
6. Buccaneers LB Lavonte David (2, 58)
Last week’s ranking: NR
David notched 14 tackles, including one for a loss, in the Bucs’ win over San Diego. He now has 12 tackles for loss, four more than the next rookie. He is tied for second among rookies with 81 tackles.
7. Browns RB Trent Richardson (1, 3)
Last week’s ranking: 6
Richardson and the Browns were on bye in Week 10. He faces the Cowboys in Week 11.
8. Patriots DE Chandler Jones (1, 21)
Last week’s ranking: 7
Jones had a quiet day on the stat sheet, notching only one tackle in the Patriots’ win over the Bills. He did snuff out a screen pass, which helped lead to a strip sack by teammate Vince Wilfork. He lost the rookie lead in sacks to Bruce Irvin, who notched two on Sunday.
9. Panthers MLB Luke Kuechly (1, 9)
Last week’s ranking: NR
Kuechly had 10 tackles and his fourth pass defensed in the Panthers’ loss to the Broncos. His 87 tackles lead all rookies and are good for third in the NFL.
10. Seahawks MLB Bobby Wagner (2, 47)
Last week’s ranking: 8
Wagner had nine tackles in the Seahawks’ win over the Jets. He is tied with David for second among rookies and fourth in the league with 81 tackles.
On the cusp (listed alphabetically)
Buccaneers SS Mark Barron (1, 7)
Titans LB Zach Brown (2, 52)
Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict (undrafted)
Browns WR Josh Gordon (2, supplemental)
Packers CB Casey Hayward (2, 62)
Seahawks DE Bruce Irvin (1, 15)
Vikings S Harrison Smith (1, 29)
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (1, 8)
Browns QB Brandon Weeden (1, 22)
Titans WR Kendall Wright (1, 20)