If 2011 was the year of the quarterback, then 2012 may be the year of the rookie quarterbacks.
A record five rookies will be starting under center in Week One. The top two picks, Colts QB Andrew Luck and Redskins QB Robert Griffin III, came as no surprise. It took a little longer for Browns QB Brandon Weeden to secure his starting job. An injury to David Garrard helped Ryan Tannehill get the Dolphins’ starting spot, and the biggest surprise came a couple weeks before the regular season, when Pete Carroll announced that Russell Wilson had beat out Matt Flynn for the Seahawks’ starting job.
Given that the Colts could be trailing more often than not and that Luck seems to be making a smooth transition to the NFL, Cam Newton’s rookie passing yards record could be in jeopardy. The strong-armed Griffin also has a shot at the 4,000-yard mark. Even Tannehill, despite not having much talent at receiver, could rack up a lot of yards with the Dolphins in a West Coast attack.
Each rookie quarterback will be under scrutiny this season, but the pressure and focus will be heaviest on the top two picks, Luck and RG3, in what should be a wire-to-wire battle for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
A trio of running backs, Doug Martin, Trent Richardson and David Wilson, will also be in the conversation. Sixth-rounder Alfred Morris impressed in the preseason and could be a sleeper in Mike Shanahan's backfield. The last running back to win offensive rookie honors was Adrian Peterson in 2007.
On defense, LB Luke Kuechly and DE Chandler Jones have looked the part in the preseason, but players with the potential to post big sack numbers, like Bruce Irvin or Melvin Ingram, could match 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year Aldon Smith’s numbers (14 sacks) from 2011. Morris Claiborne and Mark Barron will vie to be the first defensive back to win the award since Dunta Robinson in 2004.
This is the first edition of the 2012 Rookie Meter, which will rank the top 10 rookies every Tuesday during the regular season based on their standing in the race to win Offensive or Defensive Rookie of the Year. Feel free to get interactive and comment below, or tweet me @kfishbain.
Now, onto the first edition of the 2012 Rookie Meter:
1. Colts QB Andrew Luck (first round, first overall) — Even though Luck was considered the most highly touted prospect in years, Robert Griffin’s Heisman-winning season took some attention away from Luck leading up to the draft and in the summer months before training camp. He earned it back by looking as good as advertised in the preseason, completing 62.1 percent of his passes and throwing three touchdowns. Luck enters the season as the Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite, and he would be the third No. 1 pick in the last three years to win the award.
2. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (1, 2) — Griffin’s rushing abilities (he rushed for 699 yards last season at Baylor) and skills as a passer have made Redskins fans and fantasy owners salivate over his potential. Griffin’s ability as a dual-threat quarterback should help his stats, allowing for an exciting race for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
3. Panthers WLB Luke Kuechly (1, 9) — Considered the most NFL-ready defensive player in the draft, Kuechly had a strong start to his pro career when he forced a fumble in Carolina’s preseason opener. He had 17 tackles in three preseason games and as long as he shows a knack for making big plays, such as creating turnovers, in addition to racking up tackles, he will be gunning for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
4. Buccaneers RB Doug Martin (1, 31) — One of the least surprising announcements of the preseason came when Greg Schiano said Martin had won the Bucs’ starting RB job over LeGarrette Blount. A stronger all-around game gave the rookie the edge. He should get the rock often enough in Tampa to be one of the top rookie rushers.
5. Browns RB Trent Richardson (1, 3) — Before his arthroscopic knee surgery, Richardson would have been among the the top three on this list. He may have even been at the top of the list. He is expected to be a bellcow back, and certainly has the attributes, but his knee is a concern.
6. Patriots DE Chandler Jones (1, 21) — Based on his preseason performance, Jones looks the part of a top rookie pass rusher. He had one sack in the preseason and, if he makes a habit of getting into the backfield (and outshining teammate Dont’a Hightower), Jones will be a mainstay on the Meter.
7. Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon (1, 5) — The first receiver drafted this year is the only wideout on the debut edition of the Rookie Meter, and he also was the last draft pick to sign a contract. Blackmon had an NCAA-record 14 straight games with at least 100 receiving yards at Oklahoma State and will be a top weapon for second-year QB Blaine Gabbert. Blackmon doesn’t carry the expectations that Julio Jones or A.J. Green had last season, but it would be an upset if he’s not on the Meter at the end.
8. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (3, 75) — Pete Carroll stuck to his guns when he said in the spring that Seattle had a three-man race at quarterback despite signing Matt Flynn in the offseason, meaning Wilson had a legitimate chance to win the job. Wilson put together an extremely productive preseason with five touchdown passes. His skills as a runner increase his opportunity to pile up stats.
9. Buccaneers SS Mark Barron (1, 7) — The most highly regarded safety in the draft, Barron will be put in position to make a lot of tackles and create turnovers. Like his former Crimson Tide teammates, Barron comes to the NFL ready to step on the field Day One and make an impact on a defense that led the league in points allowed last season.
10. Giants RB David Wilson (1, 32) — Wilson’s five carries for 49 yards against the Bears in the third preseason game showed why he has great potential. The Giants should be able to find a way to get him and Ahmad Bradshaw ample touches.
On the cusp (in alphabetical order):
Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne (1, 6)
Jets DE Quinton Coples (1, 16)
Colts TE Coby Fleener (2, 34)
Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower (1, 25)
Chargers LB Melvin Ingram (1, 18)
Seahawks DE Bruce Irvin (1, 15)
Texans LB Whitney Mercilus (1, 26)
Redskins RB Alfred Morris (6, 173)
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (1, 8)
Browns QB Brandon Weeden (1, 22)