By Kevin Fishbain, Pro Football Weekly
We had a rarity in the 2012 draft, with two highly touted, extremely talented quarterbacks coming off the board with the top two overall picks. Both quarterbacks were expected to turn their respective franchises around, and unlike top picks in the past, it was difficult to pinpoint many negatives with either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III.
What made the pair, and this entire rookie class so exceptional was that the lofty expectations were not only met, but exceeded. Luck, Griffin and third-round rookie Russell Wilson all led their teams to the playoffs, as this could go down as the greatest rookie QB class of all-time.
On defense, the linebackers stole the show, with Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner and Lavonte David asserting themselves as tackle and playmaking machines. Packers CB Casey Hayward stepped in as one of the best corners in the league. While the analytic folks will discount tackles, a closer look at Kuechly’s numbers, consistency and what he meant to Carolina's defense give him the nod as the top defensive rookie on this season-ending Rookie Meter.
And how can we forget Vikings PK Blair Walsh, who set an NFL record for most made field goals from 50 or more yards in a season, and kicked the Vikings into a surprising playoff berth. Sixth-round rookie Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein wasn't too shabby as well, especially from long range.
In the end, though, it’s all about RG3, who began the year No. 2 on the Rookie Meter, just behind Luck, and led the ’Skins to seven wins in a row to close a playoff season — and it’s not done yet. Seven of the 10 rookies on the final Rookie Meter will be on performing in the postseason tournament.
Below is my ballot for the PFW/PFWA All-Rookie Team, followed by the final Rookie Meter of 2012.
QB: Robert Griffin III
RB: Alfred Morris
RB: Doug Martin
WR: Justin Blackmon
WR: T.Y. Hilton
TE: Dwayne Allen
OT: Matt Kalil
OT: Mitchell Schwartz
OG: Kevin Zeitler
OG: Amini Silatolu
C: Peter Konz
Notes: Browns WR Josh Gordon and Titans WR Kendall Wright deserve honorable mention at the receiver position. At tackle, Schwartz gets a slight nod over Cordy Glenn since he was injury-free and never got a holding penalty. Konz didn’t actually play center, but he will get some votes for that position because there wasn't a rookie who started at center this season. By naming Konz, it also gives him some credit for his guard play in the second half of the season.
DE: Bruce Irvin
DE: Chandler Jones
DT: Fletcher Cox
DT: Michael Brockers
LB: Luke Kuechly
LB: Bobby Wagner
LB: Lavonte David
CB: Casey Hayward
CB: Janoris Jenkins
S: Harrison Smith
S: Mark Barron
Notes: In any other year, Titans LB Zach Brown and Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower would be on this team, and in the running for defensive rookie honors. Both players had very impressive seasons, as did Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict. Jets DE Quinton Coples and Broncos DE Derek Wolfe get honorable mention at the DE spot. Bills CB Stephon Gilmore finished second to Hayward in passes defensed by rookies with 16.
P: Bryan Anger
PK: Blair Walsh
KR: David Wilson
PR: Keshawn Martin
ST: Justin Bethel
Now, on to the final Rookie Meter:
1. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (first round, second overall)
Last week’s ranking: 1
Griffin threw 20 touchdown passes and five interceptions in 2012, good for a rookie-high passer rating of 102.4, the best for a rookie all-time. He rushed for 815 yards and seven touchdowns while leading the Redskins to a division title.
2. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (3, 75)
Last week’s ranking: 2
Wilson led all rookies and tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record with 26 touchdown passes. He threw 10 interceptions and had a passer rating of 100.0, which also broke Ben Roethlisberger's old rookie record of 98.1. Wilson rushed for 489 yards and four touchdowns and led the Seahawks to a wild-card berth.
3. Colts QB Andrew Luck (1, 1)
Last week’s ranking: 3
Luck led the rookie class with 18 interceptions, but he also set the rookie record with 4,374 passing yards in a season. His 23 passing touchdowns were second to Wilson and he rushed for five TDs. Luck helped the Colts improve nine games from a 2-14 season to 11-5 and a surprising playoff berth.
4. Redskins RB Alfred Morris (6, 173)
Last week’s ranking: 4
Morris led all rookies with 1,613 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. He was second in the NFL in rushing yards and TDs while gaining 4.8 yards per carry. His yardage total ranks third all-time for rookie running backs.
5. Panthers LB Luke Kuechly (1, 9)
Last week’s ranking: 9
Kuechly led all NFL defenders with 164 tackles, becoming the first rookie since 49ers star ILB Patrick Willis to accomplish that feat. He was second among rookies with 12 tackles for loss and had eight passes defensed, two interceptions, a sack and three fumble recoveries.
6. Packers CB Casey Hayward (2, 62)
Last week’s ranking: 5
Hayward led all rookies with 21 passes defensed and six interceptions. He had 53 tackles, one for a loss, and one forced fumble.
7. Buccaneers RB Doug Martin (1, 31)
Last week’s ranking: 8
Martin had 1,454 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, while adding 49 catches for 472 yards and one receiving score. He finished fifth in the league in rushing and his 1,454 yards ranks 10th all-time for rookies.
8. Buccaneers LB Lavonte David (2, 58)
Last week’s ranking: 7
David had 139 tackles, tied for eighth in the league, and led all rookies with 20 tackles for loss. He had five passes defensed, two sacks and four QB hits.
9. Seahawks MLB Bobby Wagner (2, 47)
Last week’s ranking: 6
Wagner’s 140 tackles ranked seventh in the NFL and second among rookies. He had three interceptions, nine tackles for loss and two sacks.
10. Vikings OLT Matt Kalil (1, 4)
Last week’s ranking: NR
Kalil helped pave the way for the Vikings’ rushing attack, led by Adrian Peterson, and helped protect Christian Ponder for the surprising Vikings. He was never flagged for a holding penalty and had only two false starts, while allowing 5½ sacks on the season.
On the cusp (listed alphabetically)
Buccaneers SS Mark Barron (1, 7)
Titans LB Zach Brown (2, 52)
Bills CB Stephon Gilmore (1, 10)
Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower (1, 25)
Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (3, 92)
Rams CB Janoris Jenkins (2, 39)
Patriots DE Chandler Jones (1, 21)
Browns RB Trent Richardson (1, 3)
Vikings S Harrison Smith (1, 29)
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (1, 8)