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23 Dec 2009

Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2009

by Mike Tanier

Walkthrough All-Rookie Team 2009

Do not try to pass against this year's All-Rookie Team.

You can run against them, because they have almost no defensive line. You can do whatever you want on defense, because the overall offense is weak. But don't try to throw the ball: The secondary is loaded with ball hawks and big hitters, and the linebackers can bring the pass rush.

Every All-Rookie Team is different. Last year, we had two great quarterbacks. Before that, we were overloaded with running backs. This year, there's no fullback, so I took the liberty of selecting a third receiver from a deep class. This was a difficult year to select an offensive MVP, and picking the defensive MVP was even harder.

As always, I selected this team with input from the other Football Outsiders. While I checked with DVOA and other sources, the choices were largely subjective. I did not consult any other All-Rookie Teams before making my choices, but I did check a few afterward to make sure I didn't forget Brian Cushing or some other obvious candidate.

Quarterback: Mark Sanchez, Jets. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco spoiled us last year. Sanchez is what a rookie quarterback is supposed to look like: scrappy, impressive in spurts, sometimes lost. The DVOA is brutal and the turnovers came in bunches, but Sanchez had some great moments for an offense short on weapons and sometimes lacking an identity.

Running Back: Knowshon Moreno, Broncos. Moreno has been very consistent: seven games of 75 or more rushing yards, eight games of four or more yards per carry. His Success Rate is high (52 percent), and even though the Broncos scheme has changed a lot, he looks like an old-fashioned, one-cut, plug-and-play runner.

Running Back: Beanie Wells, Cardinals. Wells has a higher DVOA and Success Rate than Shady McCoy, who has a cooler nickname. Moreno and Wells both have very high Success Rates for rookies (they rank seventh and fifth overall, respectively), so the All-Rookie Team should be able to grind out reliable yardage.

Wide Receiver: Percy Harvin, Vikings. The Offensive Player of the Year. We thought we were getting a return man, Wildcat quarterback, trick-play specialist, and possible character problem. What we got was an old-fashioned big-play receiver. Harvin does return kicks, run reverses, and take direct snaps -- and all those distractions make him terrifying in a Vikings offense loaded with weapons -- but he can also run routes and catch passes. A lot of them. The Vikings needed a pure wideout more than they needed an offensive knick-knack, and Harvin proved to be their second-most important acquisition of the off-season. As for the character concerns, the only things that has slowed Harvin this season are chronic migraines. If he can control them, nothing can stop him.

Wide Receiver: Mohamed Massaquoi, Browns. The closest thing I have to a controversial pick. Lots of receivers have better stats, but it's easy for Austin Collie to catch 50 passes from Peyton Manning. Try catching 30 from Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, when you are the only real receiving threat on the roster. Yes, his Catch Rate and DYAR are deplorable. I liked what I saw in the Bengals and Lions games. So there.

Hakeem Nicks, Giants. DVOA loves him, and the Eagles and Redskins defenses cannot tackle him. Nicks won this slot in the Sunday night game against Philadelphia. We'll forgive the drops; the touchdowns were spectacular. Jeremy Maclin and Austin Collie deserve Honorable Mention.

Tight End: Brandon Pettigrew, Lions. Pettigrew had six catches in the win over the Browns, seven more in the loss to the Seahawks, and looks like a solid weapon both underneath and on seam routes. He just needs a pass offense around him.

Tackle: Michael Oher, Ravens. Imagine the pressure of starting, at both tackle positions, for a team with playoff aspirations. Imagine the pressure of being the subject of a best-selling book and a high-grossing feature film. Imagine both simultaneously. No non-quarterback has ever dealt with the pressure Oher has battled since before the draft. He has handled it exceptionally.

Guard: Andy Levitre, Bills. At times, the Bills offensive line was an all-rookie team. Levitre wasn't a stellar performer, but he stayed healthy and did all that was asked. He even became the smallest left tackle in the NFL when a spate of injuries forced him to move over to the position he played in college.

Center: Alex Mack, Browns. Mack has started all season long and is growing into his role on a line that's a little better than the awful team around it. According to our database, Mack hasn't been penalized once all season.

Guard: Max Unger. John Morgan over at Field Gulls was reluctant to recommend Unger for the All-Rookie Team until I asked him to name alternatives. Here's Morgan's take: "He is steady in pass protection and not penalty prone. Unger isn't strong at the point, but he keeps a body between himself and the quarterback and has improved his ability to clear. He pulls well, but rarely gets more than a glancing block on his assignment. Unger had his best game of the season at Qwest against San Francisco. He stood fast against Ray McDonald. McDonald humiliated Unger in Week 2 -- literally walking over a supine Unger for the sack. Seattle started him at center last week and that speaks to his versatility. If he can grow into his body and show better power off the snap, Unger should have a long, respectable NFL career."

Tackle: Phil Loadholt, Vikings. Loadholt has drawn high praise from his coach and quarterback while paving the way for one of the best offenses in football. He's a better pass blocker than run blocker right now, but he has the size to be a natural road grader.

Defensive End: Michael Johnson, Bengals. Johnson has just two sacks and very few tackles, but he has four passes defensed. The 6-foot-7 Johnson extends to bat down passes, and he's been a solid contributor in the Bengals nickel package.

Defensive Line: Roy Miller, Buccaneers. A solid player in a weak class for defensive linemen, Miller battled ankle injuries but still recorded two sacks and made 27 tackles, including four against the Patriots and three each against the Giants and Packers. Yes, high tackle totals are part of the territory for a defender on a bad team, but we take what we get.

Defensive Line: Terrance Knighton, Jaguars. The Jaguars didn't produce many sacks this season, but Knighton did his part (38 tackles, 1.5 sacks) while starting every game and playing solid run defense. He's one of four major Jaguars rookie contributors, three of whom didn't make the All-Rookie cut: tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben "Porn 'Stache" Britton, and cornerback Derek Cox.

Defensive End/Linebacker: Brian Orakpo, Redskins. I was primed to hate Orakpo after listening to Joe Theisman gush over him in the preseason, but he has been a true force, and he almost grabbed Defensive Rookie of the Year honors with his four-sack game against the Raiders. He'll line up in the Elephant position in this defense. Two Packers just missed the cut, so let's give honorable mention to Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji.

Linebacker: Rey Maualuga, Bengals. With 58 tackles, one sack, and three forced fumbles, you know Maualuga can play. We also learned two weeks ago that he can sing. Maualuga and the other Bengals linebackers recorded their own version of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town," with Abdul Hodge (whose vocal range is somewhere between Matt Hasselbeck and Geddy Lee) singing the high parts. Guess whose idea it was? Hint: bow tie, television show, questionable talent. See for yourself: The Bengals Linebackers Sing.

Linebacker: James Laurinaitis, Rams. Regular readers know the drill: bad defenses with bad offenses are on the field forever, defending inside runs, so the middle linebacker registers huge tackle totals. Laurinaitis had 16 tackles against the Cardinals, 14 against the Seahawks, 12 against the Bears ... you get the idea. Still, Laurinaitis has some peripherals -- a sack, two interceptions, a fumble recovery -- and it's not his fault he has to make a dozen tackles per week.

Linebacker: Brian Cushing, Texans. I just got a tweet from Cushing: He's mad that he didn't earn the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Oh, wait, that's Cushing's imposter: a fake Cushing posted Twitter complaints about officiating in November. The real Cushing leads all rookies with 119 tackles, and he leads all non-middle linebackers in total defensive plays. He also has two forced fumbles, three interceptions, a safety, and just about anything else you can ask for from a defender, rookie or otherwise.

Safety: Jairus Byrd, Bills. The Defensive Rookie of the Year. Byrd is the son of Chargers cornerback Gill Byrd, and he learned how to play defensive back from family friend Aeneas Williams, a star for the Cardinals and Rams. The pedigree shows: Byrd is a natural ball hawk. The Bills excel at finding young defensive backs. In three years, when Byrd's contract expires, he'll become a superstar somewhere. Several colleagues don't like my choice of Byrd over Cushing, and you are free to disagree, but nine interceptions are a lot, and I don't think the Bills win the Jets or Panthers games without Byrd.

Safety: Louis Delmas, Lions. Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham wasn't angry when Delmas earned a 15-yard penalty and a fine for hitting Jermichael Finley on Thanksgiving. "I know he got a penalty, and he should have," Cunningham said. "But boy, I couldn't help but smile because this kid knows how to play the game." Delmas also knocked Chad Ochocinco out of the Bengals game after the pair traded media trash talk during the week. In between the big hits, Delmas recorded 82 tackles, nine passes defensed, and two interceptions.

Cornerback: Jacob Lacey, Colts. The Colts can thank safety Melvin Bullitt for Lacey. Lacey went undrafted in April, but he was courted by several teams as a street free agent. He joined the Colts because of high school teammate Bullitt, who worked his way from free agency to the Colts starting lineup. "I knew they would give a free agent a good look, a good shot, a fair chance." Lacey told the American Chronicle. Lacey returned an interception for a touchdown against the Rams, made seven tackles in the Patriots epic, sealed the game against the Titans with an interception, and made the Broncos pay for their Brandon Marshall-only game plan with a red zone interception.

Cornerback: Vontae Davis, Dolphins. With two interceptions against the Patriots and an interception returned for a touchdown against the Bills, Davis has made his impact felt in the AFC East. Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers earns honorable mention.

Kicker: Ryan Succop, Chiefs. The competition wasn't exactly fierce at kicker, and Succop was just 2-of-5 from beyond 50 yards. Still, Succop was perfect inside 40 yards and did all that the Chiefs asked him to.

Punter: Kevin Huber, Bengals. The Special Teams Player of the Year. Huber booted 20 punts inside the 20-yard line, but his best game came in the November rematch against the Browns. Josh Cribbs returned six punts for 120 yards against the Bengals in Week 4, but Huber kicked three balls out of bounds and forced a fair catch and a downed punt: 38.7 net yards, no Cribbs heroics. Thomas Morstead of the Saints earns honorable mention and makes the team as a kickoff specialist.

Return Man: Harvin. Johnny Knox of the Bears gets honorable mention for four kickoff returns of 40 yards or more. This has been a poor season for punt returns, so we'll let Harvin or our special teamer handle the chores.

Special Teamer: Captain Munnerlyn, Panthers. Munnerlyn can return punts, help out in kick coverage, play nickel back, mix well with soda, and loot a 17th century galleon. We need guys like that on this team.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 23 Dec 2009

95 comments, Last at 12 Jan 2010, 4:34pm by johe


by pm :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 3:53pm

Jerraud Powers should be the CB for the Rookie team. There is a reason why he is the starter ahead of Lacey.

by Marcumzilla :: Mon, 12/28/2009 - 3:16pm

That was my first thought as well. Lacey's been good, but I really like Powers.

by Flounder :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 3:53pm

There simply must be a spot on this team for Clay Matthews.

by Arkaein :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 4:52pm

My thoughts exactly. Most things I've read have him in the mix with about 4 others for Defensive Rookie of the Year. With his sack total, forced fumbles and fumble return for a TD he probably has more big impact plays that any player on that list except Byrd.

Admittedly, I haven't seen much of many of the other players listed.

by GbPack (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 3:57pm

Laurinaitis over Matthews III?

by Monkey Business (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 4:04pm

Why Jacob Lacey when he's not even the best rookie CB on his team? Jerraud Powers is something special.

by turbohappy (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 5:43pm

Agreed. I'm sorry, but that pick is just silly. The story is great and he's been awesome for a rookie free agent, but Powers is clearly substantially better at this point (although he has been banged up a bit if you want to count that against him).

by turbohappy (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 5:48pm

Forgot to mention that he beat out Marlin Jackson (1st round pick in '05) for the starting job well before Jackson was injured.

by Anonymous2.0 (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 4:04pm

While still improving his run blocking, the performance of Louis Vasquez in pass protection merits his consideration at guard.

by Anonymous2.0 (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 4:05pm

While still improving his run blocking, the performance of Louis Vasquez in pass protection merits his consideration at guard.

by Scott C :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 10:24pm

Yeah, when I read:

"John Morgan over at Field Gulls was reluctant to recommend Unger for the All-Rookie Team until I asked him to name alternatives."

And well, Vasquez wasn't even listed as an alternative after starting all games for an offense that is good and devastated by injury at the two positions surrounding him.

I'd buy any logical argument that Unger or someone else is better, but lack of mention smells more like lack of paying attention than lack of analysis.

by Dr. Mooch :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 4:08pm

Of the two (true) rookie OL starters on the Bills I would have picked Wood over Levitre. Wood played more solidly, more consistently. He had fewer false start penalties, and rushing to RG notably stronger.

by Kevin from Philly :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 4:22pm

I'd take Levite and Wood follows right after.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Fri, 12/25/2009 - 1:47pm


by djanyreason :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 4:11pm

There's a rookie WR who bests Collie by 13 DYAR and 10.5% DVOA, and beats Massoquai by 286 DYAR and 52.2% DVOA. In fact, he's only 33 DYAR and 1% DVOA behind Harvin. All while being on the same team as WRs who rank 11th and 12th in DYAR and 18th and 19th in DVOA.

I guess ranking 22nd in DYAR and 10th in DVOA doesn't count for anything?

by Theo :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 5:06pm

Being the only receiver on a bad team will get you yards and catches.

Being the 3rd WR on a team with 2 Super Bowl MVPs, a 1st round draft pick and one of the best TE's in the game and still make your mark... that's amazing.

by Tim (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 6:49pm

It gets you a lot of single coverage by safeties who can't cover and nickle/dime corners who probably have no business being in the league, too.

by DMC :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 6:53pm

Just change this sentence:

"but it's easy for Austin Collie to catch 50 passes from Peyton Manning."

to this..

"but it's easy for Mr. X to catch 63 passes from a quarterback that's always carried by his defense."

and it all makes perfect sense?

by Theo :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 7:21pm

Did you see the Steelers play this year? They are 7-7, struggling to make the play offs.
We're talking about this year and not past years per definition because we're talking about rookies.

by tuluse :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 10:34pm

Sure but what does Kyle Orton have to do with anything?

by MurphyZero :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 8:51pm

And that's the thing. On that winning TD catch against the Packers, Mike Wallace WAS the fourth choice. You can watch Ben look from right to left, first to Holmes, then Ward and Miller, then finally Wallace. And make the throw to Wallace, who was covered (but only singly). The throw went where it had to, and Wallace made a great catch, feet where they had to be, no doubt about the catch. I wouldn't put him over Harvin as Wallace has disappeared in a few games, but overall, he been the (edit: I went and saw Nicks stats this year) third best rookie WR in the NFL this year. He's been the long ball that Nate Washington was and maybe better, and made Sweed unnecessary.

by TheSlinger :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 4:32pm

Luckily, the Jaguars weren't actually desperate enough to sign Eugene Wilson to play left tackle. Might wanna fix that.

by mediator12 :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 4:41pm

Lacey over Jerraud Powers?

There is just no way that you really did that on Purpose. Lacey has been a Godsend for the Colts banged up secondary, but Powers has been twice the CB Lacey has been for the whole season. Did you See how Terrible the Colts Pass defense was on the back end once Powers left the game against DEN and was totally dominated by David Garrard and JAX's average at best pass Offense? I can not say anything but go rewatch the film. There was a reason Marshall caught an NFL record Number of passes that day and alot had to do with INDY having to drastcially change its coverages without Powers playing. INDY also got burned on the back end without Powers playing the Slot in JAX. Two of the three TD's were blown Slot assignments by Hayden who is more Comfortable outside than inside. Then, there is the Whole Tim Jennings Factor.... ;D

Also, all the USC linebackers have earned serious praise for living up to the hype coming out. Even Kaluka Maiava has played respectably for CLE. Choosing Maualuga over Matthews is a very subjective choice though. I can understand why you would do it, but I can not agree.

Maualuga has really struggled in space this year with expanded responsibilities from USC, but he has played well to his strengths. Matthews on the other hand has helped turn GB's Defense into the top DVOA Defense since he finally got inserted into the Starting Lineup. He has been fantastic in executing Dom Capers Scheme, and has improved every week. Matthews deserves to be there much more than Maualuga IMHO.

by Theo :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 5:09pm

All I could get from this is that you randomly start a word with a capital.

Read it again... good argument. I saw the Jax-Colts game in the stadium and the receivers never got dangerous. Didn't watch the corners much though, but jax could only find something over the middle.

by JMN (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 10:17am

Mike, the red zone interception in the Denver game was actually . . . wait for it . . . Tim Jennings.

by Lacey4 (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 12:44pm

YOU cannot be serious about Powers over Lacey. Clearly lacey is a better cover corner than Powers, I would def give Powers the advantage in terms of tackling but you most def must be crazy to think Powers deserves this over Lacey. Compare stats Powers has done what he has done starting all but two games lacey is second amonug ALL NFL corners in tkls he ranks in the top 25 in the NFL in pass break ups and is either tied for first or second on his team in int's all while only starting 7 games. Powers was drafted is the only reason he is starting over Lacey

by mediator12 :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 11:45am

I am sorry to say this, but you are dead wrong about Lacey being a better cover CB than Powers. Lacey has been fantastic as an UDFA for the Colts, just another in the long list of Polian finds. I will easily concede he has been good enough to be considered for this list.

However, to use Tackles and Passes Defensed as the stats to back up coverage is way off base. Those do not even come close to quantifying coverage ability. What does is several relevant stats like Targets, success %, and YPA. And the best of these is SYPA or success yards per attempt. You could also include PDPA or passes Defensed per Attempt. Those will give you the only true quantatative measures of Coverage ability.

That being said, coverage ability is not easily quantified by these stats as it is extremely hard to accurately assess coverage from network TV angles and without the playcall and responsibilities for the route combinations. It does not show blown assignments, missed coverage reads, and wrong technique on routes. All these can do is measure what happens after the fact. What you have to do is rely on the grades the coaches give the players after grading the film. They are the only ones who know all these things. So, ask Jacob how he graded out versus Jerraud to this point. I know Alan Williams lets them know how they are doing. Then, let me know if you feel the same after that.

by langsty :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 4:56pm

Matthews should at least be in the DROY convo, and I'd definitely be more comfortable with him winning it than Cushing or Byrd. And it is, of course, absurd that he didn't make this list.

by donb69 (not verified) :: Mon, 12/28/2009 - 1:45pm

Matthews over Cushing for DROY?? What are you smoking?

by CoachDave :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 4:59pm

Dumb picks like Massaquoi over Collie aren't controversial, they are just dumb.

by wlerj (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 5:05pm

Who was throwing to them? Care to take back that comment?

by Bobman :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 8:05pm

As long as we're discounting for competent QBing, we also have to discount for being one of the only receiving options, and therefore getting an outsized % of targets. Collie has a potential HOFer ahead of him at WR, a pro bowl TE, and a 2nd year WR who is having a big season all ahead of him. On table scraps, he's built a very good rookie WR resume with a high TD rate.

by Craig (N.S.) (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 8:14am

If we're normalizing for QB play [and giving credit for 'X doesn't beat Y without him], where's Louis Murphy?

He's been up and down, but I'd argue he deserves an honorable mention just for the blocks on the Miller TD that arguably were the reason Oakland beat the Eagles (plus some other key catches).

DHB has sucked, but Murphy looks to be a player.

by Temo :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 5:21pm

Completely agree with the Byrd pick. He's been great. The Bills haven't been missing Jabari Greer, who is now responsible for some of the great play over in NO.

by are-tee :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 5:18pm

After all the recent Sanchez-bashing in the media, which has been a bit over the top, I was pleasantly surprised to see him on the list and see him get some credit.

by Kevin from Philly :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 5:24pm

If the bashing seemed over the top, then what of the praise that preceded it? They NY Post practically had him fitted for his HOF jacket after the Patriot game.

by are-tee :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 6:15pm

I was referring to the actual media, not the NY Post...but seriously, the local media in NY is notorious for its extremes when it comes to the local teams. You should have seen how many opinion pieces had the Yankees dead and buried in May.

by Bobman :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 10:13pm

The Post's "Clueless Joe" headline when the Yanks hired Torre is still a classic. (Along with "Mob Scene at Gotti Funeral.") Glad to say that in ten years living there, I never actually bought or read a Post. But the headers kept me entertained from afar.

by Dennis :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 5:19pm

Knowshon Moreno? Obviously you didn't take any input from the Denver media. All anyone is talking about here is why McDaniels refuses to play Peyton Hillis, especially in short-yardage situations.

by Grassy (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 10:41pm

"They really need to get the white guy in there, he's underrated"

by Red (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 6:39pm

Yeah, as a Denver resident, I am thoroughly unimpressed with Knowshon Moreno. He always gets stuffed on 3rd-and-1 or 4th-and-1, he can't break tackles, and seems to lack the proper insticts to find the holes and wait for his blockers. He's lost 4 fumbles, all at critical junctures. He's also dead last in the NFL in RB receiving DYAR. For a first round pick, the guy is a joke.

Look at Correll Buckhalter's stats running behind the same line. Much higher YPC, more runs of 10+, fewer fumbles, and of course, a higher DVOA. Overall I like McDaniels, but his ego-driven stubborness in sticking with Moreno is infuriating as a fan.

by The Other Ben Johnson (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 5:23pm

I'd go with Vollmer over Oher at left tackle.

by MarkB (not verified) :: Mon, 12/28/2009 - 2:44pm

I don't know if Vollmer belongs in front of Oher on an all-rookie team, but I am puzzled why I'm supposed to be impressed with Oher starting - when he was drafted so high - when Vollmer started when Matt Light was out, and the team didn't miss a beat. Didn't Vollmer have a great game against Freeney? Does the movie and the book really make Oher an all-rookie player?

by MCS :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 5:37pm

Mike Tanier,

In the past, I have not criticized your work. I find your writing to be insightful and entertaining. Obviously you know what's coming. To neglect Clay Matthews III is a gross oversight on your part. The kid is a major contributor in the Packer defensive schemes. He has 10 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 3 fumbles recovered and a touchdown. He even has 33 solo tackles and 13 assists.

I do not see how you can choose the others over him:
Michael Johnson: 6 tackles (6 assists), 4 passes defensed and 2 sacks.
Brian Orakpo: 11 sacks, 35 tackles (12 assists), 2 PD and 1 FF.
Rey Maualuga: 1 sack, 32 tackles (22 assists), 2 PD, 3FF

I do not see how you could overlook CM3. Care to elaborate?

by starzero :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 5:46pm

I know I'm a homer, but Pat McAfee has been a remarkable improvement for the Colts.

by turbohappy (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 5:57pm

I was going to mention him too. He has better kickoff and punting stats than Morstead and arguably better punting stats than Huber.

by MJK :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 6:12pm

I've seen very little of Oher, and I haven't watched Loadholt at all (I don't watch much Vikings), but the both must be really good if they made your list over Sebastian Vollmer. Seriously, the Patriots have had a decent O-line for a number of years now, but I haven't been as excited about a promising young guy as I am about Vollmer in years. He's arguably better than (undeserved) Pro-Bowler Matt Light, easily much better than Nick Kaczur, can play left or right tackle equally well, and showed he could handle fast edge rushers like Dwight Freeney one-on-one without help.

I'll agree that no other Pats rookies deserve to make an All-Rookie team (it's too good a year at WR and DB for good-but-not-great rookies like Pat Chung, Darius Butler, and Julian Edelman to make the list), but I think Vollmer is an omission.

by Temo :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 6:37pm

I too think Vollmer has had a better year than Oher. I can't say that I seen much of Chung (who hasn't really played much), and Butler or Edelman are 'eh'. I don't think any of those guys have been good this year. Not that Butler and Edelman don't have potential, but they're not "good" yet. And who knows with Chung.

by lou weez (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 6:48pm

Chung ran some of the fastest, well timed safety blitzes i've seen in a while.

by Temo :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 9:53pm

Maybe so, I haven't watched every Pats game. But my feeling is that Chung just hasn't had that much playing time in the games that I've seen (the two Jets games and Miami games and the Denver game).

by Tom Gower :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 6:40pm

Speaking personally, and not on behalf of Mike or any other FO staffer...

Re: Oher/Vollmer
Vollmer has played in 12 games, starting 6. Oher has played in 14, starting all of them. Time on the field matters.

Re: LBs
Matthews defenders, tell me who you'd kick off the team. Michael Johnson, Miller, and Knighton are DL, so they're not eligible. That leaves you with Orakpo, Laurinaitis, Maualuga, and Cushing. I haven't paid much attention to Matthews this year, so I have no strong feelings on him. My casual observation has been that he started slowly but has come on stronger lately. Orakpo and Cushing have both been consistent in their production, I feel, while Maualuga and Laurinaitis have both greatly exceeded my expectations of them coming out of college. Had this been my team instead of Mike's, I'm not sure I'd have chosen the same players (I just don't know), but he does take this seriously, and it's not like he just forgot Clay Matthews.

by Flounder :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 8:57pm

Matthews over either Laurinaitis, Maualuga, easily. Injuries in training camp kept him out of the starting lineup the first month, but has produced at an increasingly high level with virtually every game. He's tied the GB rookie record for sacks and still has two games to go. Over the last six games, he has been all over the field. He sacks the QB, he makes plays in the backfield, he causes fumbles, and because he never stops, he's been johnny on the stop to recover fumbles.

Easily, easily over Laurinaitis or Mauluga.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 12:57am

"Re: Oher/Vollmer
Vollmer has played in 12 games, starting 6. Oher has played in 14, starting all of them. Time on the field matters."

The only reason Oher has played more time than Vollmer is that Matt Light is much better than Ravens LT2.

Vollmer is a much better player than Oher right now.

by loki (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 10:23am

Definitely agree. The job he did against Freeney without much, if any, help the entire game was eye opening. He looks like a true swing tackle too, so i'd stick him in on the right. Loadholt's looked pretty average to me the couple of times i've seen him play.

by Purds :: Sat, 12/26/2009 - 10:08am

Maybe it's time we end this myth about Vollmer single-handedly shutting down Freeney. NFL flims looked at game tape, and Vollmer had pre-snap help on 36 of 44 snaps against Freeney. That's a bit more than "without much help, if any." Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMT_B5555lw

by Bobman :: Mon, 12/28/2009 - 1:47am

Bah! I see your facts and raise you conjecture, urban legend, and snowballing Internet rumors that fit my preconceived notions!

Thought I DID think the kid looked good vs Freeney. I'd take him in a minute.

by MarkB (not verified) :: Mon, 12/28/2009 - 2:59pm

I'll call you on this one and raise you. Did you actually watch the clip? I watched the first play, and this is what I saw: The analyst claims that Vollmer had help from the right. The first two times they showed the play, they cut it off as the guard shifts left, as claimed. But when they ran the play through, you see that the guard did not engage Freeney - Vollmer took him on himself and successfully blocked him out of the play. If you watch the play again, you see that the right linebacker started coming in, causing the guard to shift left. When the linebacker stopped coming in, the guard backed off from Vollmer's side.

This is exactly why I don't trust "analysts" breaking down plays. There are always agendas when it comes to sports media. If Freeney, or someone close to Freeney, or someone who just likes the guy wants to defend him about being shut down by an unknown rookie, they can get the game spun accordingly. How often did you hear television announcers praising Cutler's great arm this year, as the interceptions piled up? It's in the league's and the network's interest to pimp star QBs, so the picks disappear, and the "big arm" gets the headlines. I did pay attention to Vollmer during that game when the camera was on him, and I saw a damn good game played against one of the league's true talents. I don't know if he's the best rookie at his position, but he certainly played well against Freeney that day.

by Bobman :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 3:57am

That link was not my only source to counter snowballing rumor--there were a couple others who tivoed and reviewed play by play after hearing the "handled him solo" comments (not me--no tivo and no time). But even if we split the difference, it's a little under half the plays he had help--far from being on an island, but still impressive for a rookie (or anybody) against Freeney.

As I said, I'd take him to be my LT.

by Phoenix138 :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 1:25am

I'd move Orakpo to DE on this team, give the boot to Michael Johnson, and add Matthews.

Clay has been a huge piece of the Packer defense this season, behind only Charles Woodson and (maybe) Cullen Jenkins.

by MCS :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 9:02am

and Pickett

by Hurt Bones :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 10:32am

Exactly my thought. I've been impressed by Johnson, but Orakpo is a beast and I find it hard to keep Matthews off the team.

by MCS :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 9:01am

Mike himself listed Matthews under DE/LB, I took that to mean he was opening the door for Matthews as a tweener.

by Easy Like Sunday Morning (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 6:43pm

I suppose Wallace was left off because it is too easy to do what he's done when you have an elite QB like Ben, right?

by alexbond :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 7:46pm

Kenny Britt?

by highway28 (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 7:48pm

Regarding Mohamed Massaquoi over Collie, it seems that the value attributed to either receiver ignores the abstract demands of the position.

Collie has come into a complex, sight-adjust offense and has performed well enough for Manning to throw him the ball. Disregarding his production because he has a more accurate quarterback is understandable to a degree, but the offense run by the colts is complicated, and he has dealt with it beyond expectation.

Collie should not be penalized for having a legendary quarterback, but instead commended for having learned an intense system well enough to have a demanding passer like Manning be willing to involve him in the offense.

tl:dr Collie gets open in an actual offense, Massaquoi catches the occasional prayer-out.

by Bobman :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 10:08pm

Good point. Also look at rookie year production in this offense for previous 1st round draft picks (2/3 of whom are also pro bowlers) Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Anthony Gonzalez.

Collie leads them all. He has picked up the mental game very quickly.

by FireOmarTomlin :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 8:09pm

hard to believe the Massaquoi pick with many other options.
Mike Wallace nice nearly comparable DVOA for his draft position vs. some of those taken higher...

Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.

by FireOmarTomlin :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 8:12pm

Oher wins the award for uncalled false starts...

Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.

by Nicholas Mycroft (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 8:28pm

in re Clay Matthews, I would note that despite their many virtues the FO crowd doesn't seem to get the Packers. witness FO's contemptuous comments on Jermichael Finley in this year's Almanac; thinking Tony Moll was any good; seeing Aaron Rouse as an up-and-comer, etc. no one who watched the Packers carefully would have missed Finley's extraordinary talent, Moll's physical inadequacy, and Rouse's inconsistency with assignments. perhaps it is that no one on FO (if I recollect) is a fan of an NFC North team.

watching Matthews this year reminded me of watching Urlacher's first year; I was often thinking "how can a rookie possibly be making this many plays?" not just assignment-sure, do-your-job plays, but momentum-changing plays that shock the opposing offense. Matthews "flashes" more often than anyone on the Packers' D except Woodson, Nick Collins and (maybe) Cullen Jenkins.

I don't watch enough games to comment intelligently on those who Mike picked over Matthews for this team. the stats he has put down compare favorably with theirs, especially given he didn't play much until game four. I would be surprised if he doesn't have a better career than any of them.

by Flounder :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 9:00pm

Yes, I recall Barnwell being upset at the proposition that his proposition that Moll would be the starting RT was completely ridiculous and would never happen. Tony Moll has his chance, and had shown himself inadequate many times over. Now RT wound up a disaster, but it would have been a disaster with Moll too. Sadly Barbre has the athletic ability, but is simply too stupid.

by Bobman :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 10:10pm

No Pat McAfee for punter love? Look at the Colts improvements in special teams play, field position, etc. He kicks off with more TBs and into the EZ kicks than Vinatieri ever did in Indy, plus punts as well as Smith did in his tenure (before he became the Skins leading QB).

A VERY popular rookie in Coltsville, because he produces on the field.

by John (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 10:29pm

Indeed. Hopefully this year in the playoffs we won't be out-punted by 20 yards every single punt.

by Temo :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 10:16am

plus punts as well as Smith did in his tenure (before he became the Skins leading QB).

A classic case of having more talent ahead of him on the depth chart on the better team. I can't even guess how many budding Tom Tupas the Colts have let go because of Manning.

by Bobman :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 7:14pm

Thanks for the belly laugh.

Wasn't Danny White Dallas's punter for a couple years while Staubach was still in the pocket, and then he transitioned to QB? (And afterwards, was White STILL the punter?) Hunter Smith should freakin' sue Dungy and Manning for career-infringement.

by Not Anonymous (not verified) :: Wed, 12/23/2009 - 11:00pm

Man, how about that Aaron 'Safest pick in the draft' Curry! Lighting the world on fire with his absence of pass-rush skills and whiffed tackles.

by Whatev (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 8:28am

He plays for the Seahawks, right? He's probably just injured.

by Bobman :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 7:16pm

Or slowed down by the layer of moss growing on him. (as I type this, it's gloriously sunny out on Christmas Eve, but it sure ain't the norm)

by A Nonny Moose (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 9:01pm

Yeah he's a Seahawk but he isn't injured - just sucks incredibly. Even more fitting I guess.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 8:17am

This linebacker class is simply ridiculous. I voted for no fewer than three rookie OLBs (Cushing, Orakpo, Matthews) for the pro-bowl, and I don't think it's the homerism talking when I say that Cushing is probably the second best 4-3 OLB in football, behind only Lance Briggs. I completely agree that Matthews ought to be in this team ahead of either Maualuga or Laurinitis, as excellent as both those players have undoubtedly been.

I only really watched Byrd in one game - when the Bills played Houston - but I can't say I was that impressed. For both his interceptions he was actually well out of position, effectively covering no-one and in no position to make a tackle if the pass had been completed to its intended target. However, Schaub made one absolutely awful throw, straight to Byrd with no receiver terribly near him, and another that was merely not very good, just far enough behind Johnson to induce him to tip it straight to Byrd. Interceptions are hugely valuable plays, but they're not necessarily the result of a defender's skill. My shortlist for DROY would be the three OLBs named above - Cushing, Orakpo and Matthews.

Given the paucity of the DL class, it almost seems like Connor Barwin should get a look in: he's been an effective situational pass-rusher, with 3.5 sacks (more than any of the players who actually made the team at DL) and also has 4 passes defensed.

by langsty :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 10:45am

" I don't think it's the homerism talking when I say that Cushing is probably the second best 4-3 OLB in football, behind only Lance Briggs."

No... that is most certainly homerism. Cushing's great attacking the hole and going downhill, but he's a target in coverage. There's definitely a tier of 4-3 OLBs above him right now, including the likes of Daryl Smith, Thomas Davis, Karlos Dansby, Mike Peterson, Keith Rivers, and so on....

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 3:04pm

Dansby's a fantastic player, but he's a 3-4/hybrid ILB, no? Granted on a 4-3 team he probably would be an OLB, but the Cardinals aren't a 4-3 team - certainly in the classical sense.

Davis and Rivers are both better players than Cushing in coverage, but I think you're exaggerating if you're calling him a liability in that department, and I'm certain he's better against the run than either of them. He's also a significantly better pass rusher than Rivers. I guess in those cases it's a question of taste/scheme - what do you want/need your OLBs to do?

I'm surprised to see Daryl Smith on that list, to be honest - he's always struck me as a pretty good player, but nothing special. Is Mike Peterson really still that good? ALY certainly suggests teams aren't finding it too hard to run to his side.

by Luis (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 10:14am

Pitty somebody smart writes such an sloppy article.
It will be fun to find out you left out the defensive rookie of the year out of the team.
Yes, I'm talking about Clay Matthews.

by C (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 10:45am

I agree that this is the LB draft with nasty talent. I'd say Matthews not being on is a terrible mistake, he's played better than Ray Ma and Larenitis, but I'd toss off Larenitis and keep Ray Ma if it was up to me. I was very high on Ray Ma coming into the draft, but Cushing and Mattews have been beasts ( and Orakpo).

The thing with Massaqueff is that his team sucks, losing teams throw a lot, and he's going to get stats. Is he getting stats because he earned them, or is he picking up garbage yards? Mike Wallace has done very well, and yes Austin Collie has learned the hardest football language in the NFL. Austin Collie is a MUCH more polished WR than Massaqueef thus far. So far Collie has done what Anthony Gonzalez was supposed to do when he was a rookie. He was a leading NCAA receiver, and is smart, and polished, but the knock on him is that he ran a 4.6.... The same speed that Boldin, Fitzerald, and Jerry Rice ran, and .2 faster than Dwayne Jarret. Collie isn't slow, it's just speed isn't his game, no biggie.

I picked Moreno for rookie of the year... a Denver RB that was getting carries seems like a legit pick, but Harvin deserves it. I went with my boy Ray Ma, but Cushing, Matthews, or Orakpo have been nasty. Buffalo isn't my team, and you could pick up cheap INT's... Not saying Byrd has, but I've seen Cushing and he's earned it.

The Blind Side didn't come out this year... the book came out about 3 years ago so it's not like Ohler hasn't had the spotlight on him...

by Bill (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 11:02am

Seeing two Bills on there almost makes me feel better about Aaron Maybin. Almost.

by Monty (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 11:06am

No Clay Matthews? Are you joking?

by Flounder :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 12:39pm

What confuses me the most is that Matthews and Raji are put on the same plane of "just missing the cut."

Raji has certainly flashed some ability and made a few manly man "toss aside or beat the blocker off the snap and crush the RB in the backfield" type plays since he recovered from his ankle injury but he also has allowed some sizable gains by playing too high and getting washed out. I have high hopes that he could be an impact player next year, but (unlike Matthews) he really hasn't been that this year, and I have zero trouble leaving him off any all-rookie team.

by the monkey soul (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 6:49pm

It's certainly picky to reply to this but: Raji has hardly been washed out and given up sizable gains. Refer, please, to the past two games where he's started at nose tackle.

Arguably he stinks at pass coverage, I'll give you that. But the boy does not get washed out. Even against finesse players like Kreutz.

by Flounder :: Fri, 12/25/2009 - 12:54pm

Not very often, but I can assure you it has happened. I don't think my eyes are lying to me. With a good offseason of work and a full training camp, I think he could be very good next year.

by Sideshow Bob (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 11:16am

That Captain Munnerlyn writeup still has me laughing. Well played sir. Well played indeed.

by Mike in SA (not verified) :: Thu, 12/24/2009 - 12:23pm

Yeah, 9 interceptions are great until you realize 2/3 of them came against Derek Anderson, Mark Sanchez, Jake Delhomme, and Vince Young. Nothing special about standing back there and picking those guys off. Cushing on the other hand is 6th in the NFL in tackles, 1st in passes defensed by linebackers, first in interceptions by linebackers, in the top 10 in stuffs by linebackers. His addition to the Texans' defense has helped effectively neutralize Cedric Benson, Frank Gore, MJD, and Steven Jackson over the course of the past 10 games. All of this while he has been dealing with foot, knee, and rib injuries. Byrd for defensive ROY? I think not.

by JRHOFFA (not verified) :: Fri, 12/25/2009 - 8:22am


by Flounder :: Sat, 12/26/2009 - 10:41am

Using pro-bowls isn't a great stat, but here is an interesting snipet from Bob McGinn

"Matthews, an 11-game starter, already has 10 sacks, something of a magical number for rookie sackers. In the previous 15 seasons, a total of 12 rookies registered at least 10 sacks. Nine of the 12 - Hugh Douglas, Simeon Rice, Peter Boulware, Jevon Kearse, Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers, Terrell Suggs, Kevin Williams and Shawne Merriman - have made three or more Pro Bowls."

by Moses (not verified) :: Tue, 12/29/2009 - 8:42am

Ha, ha, ha... You know, when you do "contrarian" as a shtick... Sometimes you just do stupid things, like this: Mohamed Massaquoi, Browns.

I'm sorry, you saw him play against a couple of crap teams. And you feel sorry for him. But he hasn't shown himself to be any good, something a good WR can do even with bad QBs. Yet there he is...

It'd be like putting Alex Smith in the HOF because the 49ers have done everything but shoot him in the head to wreck his career. If there was a book on how to NOT develop a QB, and it was a best selling genre, what the 49ers have done in the past five years would sell better than the Bible...

by AustinCoogFan (not verified) :: Wed, 01/06/2010 - 3:05am

Vollmer is going to be an All Pro for years to come for the Patriots & is much more nimble & athletic than Loadholdt or Oher will ever be. New England got a steal on this OT that started out in college (UH) as a TE and grew into an OT. Sebastian can start(& should) at either tackle as he is better than the encumbents.

by johe (not verified) :: Tue, 01/12/2010 - 4:34pm

I agee with you. Mike Johnson amd Brian Orakpo were the two best rookie DE's.