2012 NFL ALL-ROOKIE TEAM
Andrew Luck, Colts: This could have gone to either Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson, and it wouldn't offend most close observers. But if it offends you, before you leap to the comments to have your say, let me make my case for Luck. The rookie record for passing yardage (4,374 yards) is nice, as is that he ran for five touchdowns to go with 23 touchdown passes. But he gets the most juice here because no team in history has had this kind of a turnaround after drafting at No. 1, and Luck was the greatest reason the Colts turned it around. Folks around the NFL will tell you the same thing.
The Colts were 2-14 in 2011 and didn't add any significant value in free agency, and this season they went 11-5. The Colts were 26th in total defense and used numerous rookies on offense, and Luck was hit more than any other quarterback in the NFL. But he managed to improve, get results and deliver late, as evidenced by the six fourth-quarter comebacks he engineered. RG III was exceptional, too, but loses slight ground because he has a better supporting cast (Washington beat the Giants twice in 2011) and didn't play in one of the huge wins of the season, when Kirk Cousins led the team to a win in Cleveland, which kept Washington's playoff hopes alive. Wilson has been exceptional, but the defense carried the Seahawks early in the season as he got comfortable. Luck wins here based on his body of work over the course of the season, which spearheaded Indy's stunning turnaround. But they're all great.
Alfred Morris, Redskins: The No. 173 pick led all rookies with 1,613 yards, which was the second-highest total in the league behind the great Adrian Peterson, and would have led the NFL last season. He was efficient, at 4.7 yards per carry, and a 52 percent success rate. He was also second to only Arian Foster in rushing touchdowns with 13.
Doug Martin, Buccaneers: He was fifth in the NFL in rushing yards, with 1,454, and added tremendous value as a pass-catcher. Consider that he caught 49 passes, whereas Morris caught just 11. Martin does everything well, including block, which is why Tampa Bay stopped taking him off the field once it realized early on what it had. He gets the edge over Trent Richardson, who we now know played through a lot of pain.
Evan Rodriguez, Bears: You can't build much of a statistical case for him -- he had zero carries and just four catches on the season -- but Rodriguez was a tight end at Temple who has created a role for himself with the Bears and could be a bigger part of the offense in years to come.
T.Y. Hilton, Colts: The No. 92 overall pick led all rookie wide receivers with seven TD catches and was second in yards with 861. Where he adds value is as a big-play option. His 17.2 yards per catch was fifth in the NFL, more than bigger-name downfield targets like DeSean Jackson, Demaryius Thomas or Julio Jones. He figures to continue to pile up totals as Luck gains comfort with him, and Hilton's stature might remind some Colts fans of the similarly slight Marvin Harrison.
Justin Blackmon, Jaguars: Considering the state of the QB situation in Jacksonville, Blackmon put together a decent rookie season. He tied for the lead among rookies with 64 catches and led rookies with 865 receiving yards, and I liked how he got better as the season progressed. He answered some questions about whether he's a big-play threat in one of his best games of the season at Houston.
Josh Gordon, Browns: Gordon came in a bit rusty, but the second-rounder from the supplemental draft might be the future No. 1 in Cleveland. He finished the season with 50 catches and 805 yards, and showed off an ability to take the top off a defense by getting behind safeties. He has size and the physical ability to beat cornerbacks.
Dwayne Allen, Colts: Allen fell on a lot of boards because he didn't shine during the draft process and in workouts. But he was my No. 1 tight end for much of last season because of what he can do on the field, and it showed this season. He was by far the most productive rookie tight end, with 45 catches for 521 yards, and should have a great future along with Coby Fleener in Indy.
Matt Kalil, Vikings: Very quietly, Kalil was exactly what the Vikings needed, and he should only get better. He might have been underrated as a run-blocker, and clearly the run game thrived for the Vikings. He started all 16 games for Minnesota and should continue to for years to come.
Kelechi Osemele, Ravens: This could go to Osemele or Mitchell Schwartz of Cleveland, but I'll give the slight edge to Osemele, who also managed to start all 16 games as a rookie.
Kevin Zeitler, Bengals: Another guy from the offensive lineman assembly line at Wisconsin, Zeitler was needed immediately and played at a Pro Bowl level for much of the season in Cincinnati. The Bengals lost a guard early in the year, and Zeitler's steady play was a huge lift for this team.
Jeff Allen, Chiefs: There's a lot of talk about Peterson's incredible comeback from injury in Minnesota, but what about Jamaal Charles in Kansas City? The Chiefs were able to run the ball even as they had a disastrous year at quarterback, which is in part a credit to Allen, a rookie out of Illinois.
Trevor Robinson, Bengals: There wasn't a lot to choose from here, but Robinson stepped in to help the Bengals when Kyle Cook suffered a foot injury. The Notre Dame alumnus has a bright future.
Derek Wolfe, Broncos: As a college player at Cincinnati, Wolfe was a guy I rated a bit higher than most, mainly because of his relentlessness. He piled up sacks from the interior as a defensive tackle. Denver moved him to defensive end, where he continued to play with great energy and got some sacks as well. He finished with 6.0 for the season and looks like a steal as a second-round pick.
Kendall Reyes, Chargers: A 3-4 defensive end, Reyes was maybe the most athletic defensive tackle in the 2012 draft. Once he got the reps in San Diego he produced, and he should be a stud going forward. He finished with 5.5 sacks and simply destroyed the Jets in Week 16.
Quinton Coples, Jets: Another guy who really started to figure it out later in the season, Coples was a 4-3 defensive end at North Carolina, but he's being asked to do some different things with the Jets. I think along with Muhammad Wilkerson, he can help make the Jets' defensive line one of the best in the NFL in the years to come. I give Coples the edge on Seattle's Bruce Irvin, who had some sacks but was one-dimensional. Irvin should improve as his game expands.
Fletcher Cox, Eagles: As he got more comfortable, the first-rounder out of Mississippi State became a lot more disruptive. He finished the season with 4.5 sacks over the final seven games and should be a fixture for the Eagles going forward. Cox has a chance to become a Pro Bowl-level interior lineman.
Michael Brockers, Rams: Brockers was slowed down by an injury early in the season and didn't play in a game until Sept. 30, but he came on as the season progressed and started to show refinement. He has a ton of ability, but I still saw Brockers as a guy who was pretty raw on draft day and would get a lot better after his rookie season. I still think that'll be the case, which is why Rams fans can be really excited about the future of their defensive line, which is good across the board. Dontari Poe was next on the list.
Luke Kuechly, Panthers: Not only did Kuechly lead the NFL in tackles with 164, he also had the same number of solo tackles (103) as the next-highest tackler on the Panthers had combined. Last season Carolina was 25th in rushing yards allowed per game; this season it was 14th. Kuechly is the future heart and soul of this defense, but he's pretty close to the present one as well. The Boston College star became exactly what I thought he'd be, and in a hurry.
Bobby Wagner, Seahawks: A really good get of the draft at a spot where I thought Seattle could have gotten even more value, Wagner led one of the NFL's best defenses in total tackles with 140 and should be a fixture for years to come. With him and second-year man K.J. Wright in place at linebacker, the Seahawks are set for the foreseeable future. Dont'a Hightower was a close third here.
Lavonte David, Buccaneers: David was one of my favorite players in the draft, but we knew he would drop because of questions about his size. Still, I compared him to a similarly small former Buc named Derrick Brooks, and David lived up to the comparison in 2012. The No. 57 overall pick played at a Pro Bowl level, started every week and finished the season with 139 combined tackles. He was a steal when he was drafted, and he looks like a bigger one today. Smaller linebackers (Khaseem Greene from Rutgers) in coming drafts can point to David in the way David could've pointed to Brooks.
Vontaze Burfict, Bengals: One of the great stories of the season not just in the rookie class but everywhere. Burfict led the Bengals in tackles playing on the weak side for them, this after going undrafted out of Arizona State. Burfict was a disaster during the draft process, and a guy I once had in my top 10 on the Big Board could have missed out on the NFL entirely. But coach Marvin Lewis clearly saw what Burfict was capable of when focused and got a steal. Burfict finished the season with 127 total tackles and has the playoffs to look forward to. Other guys in the conversation were Chandler Jones, Melvin Ingram, Miles Burris and Mychal Kendricks.
Janoris Jenkins, Rams: We were pretty clear on Jenkins during the draft process -- he had the ability of a top-10 pick, but some of his decision-making in college created questions. The Rams appear to have gotten a steal, however, in getting him in the second round. Jenkins finished the season with four interceptions and seems destined for Pro Bowls in the future.
Casey Hayward, Packers: I really liked Hayward coming out of Vanderbilt because he had the ability to be a good slot corner. Turns out he's just a really good corner, period. He combines great technical ability with those instincts you see from ball hawks. He had six interceptions to lead all rookies.
Stephon Gilmore, Bills: Much was expected of Gilmore after Buffalo took him with the No. 10 pick, but I think he fulfilled expectations this season. In terms of simply being able to cover, he was the best corner the Bills had this season. I think he needs to improve but will continue to and will live up to the spot where he was taken. I had Gilmore just ahead of Morris Claiborne, who was very good this season, as well as the emerging Alfonzo Dennard. Josh Norman was also in the mix.
Mark Barron, Buccaneers: My strong safety choice finished the season with 89 total stops, 72 of them solo, and has already developed a reputation as a guy who can line up the big hit. What I like about Barron is the way he takes great routes and lays hits without costing his team.
Harrison Smith, Vikings: The Vikings nailed their first two picks. Smith was the free safety Minnesota desperately needed. He finished the regular season with 103 total stops and three interceptions and has dramatically improved the back end of Minnesota's defense. A former standout at Notre Dame, Smith just makes great read after great read. He should be reliable for years to come.
Keshawn Martin, Texans: He returned 22 punts, averaged 12 yards per return and returned 31 kickoffs. When Martin was a receiver at Michigan State, I liked his ability to create space, and that skill is obvious as a punt returner.
David Wilson, Giants: He'll have a bigger role in the run game next season, but Wilson carved out a significant role in the return game as a rookie. He returned 57 kickoffs for an average of 26.9 yards and broke one for a 97-yard touchdown. There may be a point when the Giants limit him in this role so they gain more value from him as a running back.
Blair Walsh, Vikings: Great scouting by the Vikings, who looked past a bad stretch Walsh had at Georgia and got a steal in the sixth round. Walsh nailed 35 of 38 kicks and was particularly deadly from long range. He was 10-of-10 on kicks from 50-plus yards; no other kicker had more than seven makes.
Bryan Anger, Jaguars: The selection of Anger in the third round drew some snickers on the set, but at least Anger was solid this season. He averaged 47.8 yards per punt and consistently got good hang time. Only 5.5 percent of his punts went for touchbacks. Let's hope the Jags can avoid a special-teams selection in the early rounds in April with Anger in place.