Cam Newton is undoubtedly the Offensive Rookie of the Year. He improved the Panthers record from 2-14 last season to 6-10 this season, causing them to finish third in the NFC South, ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. By doing so, Newton has justified his number one draft pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Newton threw 21 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and 4,051 yards, earning an 84.5 passer rating, the highest among rookies. Newton also rushed for 706 yards and 14 touchdowns, all the while limiting his lost fumbles to a negligible two. Rushing for 14 touchdowns from the quarterback position is a feat matched by no other player in NFL history.
In Cincinnati, there exists a rookie duo that oozes talent, and that deserves honorable mention. Exuding a sense of perseverance, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green have come together to form a lethal combination on offense. Dalton led his team to the playoffs and had an amazing season, throwing for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns, earning himself an 80.4 passer rating.
A.J. Green, playing in 15 games, totaled 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns. He is Dalton’s favorite target and was the most targeted rookie receiver in the league this year. An astonishing 19 of his catches went for more than 20 yards. Green has established himself as a deep threat, with 19 receptions of 20 or more yards.
Also deserving of honorable mention is Atlanta’s Julio Jones. Jones is able to shed defenders and make big plays, freeing Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White from cumbersome double-coverage. Jones’ 54 receptions, 959 yards, eight touchdowns and seven forty-plus yard catches earn him my recognition.
On the defensive side, outside linebacker Aldon Smith broke a 49ers rookie record by racking up 14 sacks this season, to go along with his 37 tackles, two forced fumbles and safety. Smith is the second best rookie quarterback killer of all time, right behind former Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse, who recorded 14.5 sacks as a rookie. Smith’s 14 sacks also put him in fifth place for most sacks this season in the NFL. Smith proved that he has the ability to change an offense’s effectiveness, and is worthy of the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
The first honorable mention goes to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman, a rookie out of Stanford, recorded 55 tackles, four interceptions and one forced fumble this year, and became an important contributor after the team’s bye week. Yet what makes Sherman so valuable is not the numbers he has put up over the past months, but rather the numbers in relation to his fifth round pick.
The Denver Broncos defense has gotten a substantial boost from two rookie players, outside linebacker Von Miller and strong safety Chris Harris. Harris recorded 72 tackles and Miller managed 64 tackles, as well as 11.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on the season, making him a very dangerous defender and earning him a second team All-Pro selection. These young Broncos deserve an honorable mention for their defensive efforts.