Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011
Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Mike Tanier

This year’s All-Rookie Team would kick the holy living snot out of about two-thirds of the teams in the NFL.

The pass rush alone could propel this team to first place in the AFC West or NFC East, and second place in the NFC West. Throw in the big-play passing game and two running backs who can also catch, and you have a team that can take a two-touchdown lead and dare the opponent to pass without getting the quarterback killed. The kicker is money, the return men can make an impact, and if the offensive line is a little mistake-prone, it’s no big deal because the quarterback can scramble out of danger. The secondary is pretty bad except for one cornerback, but that won’t matter much when opponents only have about four-tenths of a second to get rid of the ball.

As usual, this All-Rookie Team is based mostly on my opinions, with the help of Football Outsiders statistics and some crowd sourcing on Twitter. I do my best to pick a team that could actually take the field, so I don’t move tackles inside to guard or outside linebackers inside unless I have good reason to do it. There is still a good chance that I accidently omitted some worthy player, so if I did, feel free to let me know in the comment thread.

QUARTERBACK: Cam Newton, Panthers. Why Newton and not Honorable Mention Andy Dalton? Dalton has a better record. He also had a slight edge in passing DVOA and DYAR entering the final week. However, Newton has a major edge in rushing DVOA and DYAR, ranking first in the league among quarterbacks. Newton does have a better supporting cast, but he also had a harder schedule; peel off the Steelers, Ravens, and some teams Dalton really struggled against (the 49ers), and things get pretty soft for the Bengals.

The difference between Dalton and Newton is the difference between a quarterback good enough to win and a quarterback you have to gameplan to stop. Newton’s running ability is a real weapon: he is not some desperate scrambler, but a situational rusher who adds an important dimension to the Panthers red zone offense. Between the 20s, they may be about equal, but Dalton and the Bengals have struggled in the red zone, while fielding Newton is like having a quarterback and a short-yardage running back in the backfield.

Though I leaned toward Newton for most of the season, I did not make my final decision until Week 15, when Newton had a great game against the Texans while Dalton tiptoed along in don’t-lose mode against the Rams. Those performances typified the season for both quarterbacks, making this decision easier for me. I think Dalton has real potential. But Newton is already fulfilling his.

RUNNING BACK: DeMarco Murray, Cowboys. Murray is the league leader in Success Rate, which is surprising because he started the season with a lot of 6-for-21 and 4-for-12 stat lines and ended it by getting fed to the line for a few weeks before getting hurt. Murray is a dynamic all-purpose runner who can be deadly in the open field. As a Cowboys running back, though, he will spend the next few seasons in an ill-defined platoon arrangement, with another hotshot rookie capturing our (and more importantly, Jerry Jones’) attention just at the moment Murray appears to have the featured role all to himself.

RUNNING BACK: Roy Helu, Redskins. The hardest working person in Washington D.C., Helu is a poor man’s Matt Forte: not quite as explosive, but very capable as a rusher and receiver.

FULLBACK: Bruce Miller, 49ers. Miller is a versatile blocker and short-yardage receiver in an offense that has numerous roles for versatile blockers and short-yardage receivers.

WIDE RECEIVER: A.J. Green, Bengals. Here are Green’s numbers on passes that traveled more than 20 yards downfield, through Week 15: 27 passes, 14 completions, 545 yards, four touchdowns, three pass interference penalties by his defenders for 95 yards, seven incomplete passes, and three interceptions. For leaping his way to a 63 percent success rate on bombs (if you consider drawing DPI on a bomb a "success"), Green is the runner-up for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

WIDE RECEIVER: Doug Baldwin, Seahawks. Baldwin is likely to finish second to Green in first-down receptions (38 to Green’s 41 through Week 16) and receptions of 20 or more yards (18 to 19). This year’s rookie receiver class is one of the better groups in recent memory, and Torrey Smith, Julio Jones, Denarius Moore, and Titus Young all deserve honorable mentions. Smith, Jones, and Young all got to be No. 2 receivers, however, and Moore has been hurt, so Baldwin gets the starting nod.

TIGHT END: Kyle Rudolph, Vikings. Rudolph made a few acrobatic receptions and has shown promise as a blocker. He has gotten lost in the offensive shuffle in Minnesota, a team whose offensive identity essentially vanished as the year wore on.

TACKLE: Tyron Smith, Cowboys. Smith had rough games against the Redskins and Eagles but has been solid for most of the year, despite playing through finger and shoulder injuries. He is a classic drive blocker.

GUARD: Stefan Wisniewski, Raiders. Wisniewski is such a dead ringer for his uncle, former Raiders guard Steve Wisniewski, that the FOX graphics department accidently used a headshot of Big Wiz when announcing the starting lineups of the Raiders-Bears game. Lil’ Wiz does not have a receding hairline, but he has fared well in a scheme that requires a lot of pulling by the guards.

CENTER: Jason Kelce, Eagles. Kelce struggled at the start of the year, but has really progressed. It is hard to evaluate him when opponents blitz right up the middle so often and blow up fellow rookie Danny Watkins, and the Eagles’ disinterest in a traditional interior running game makes it hard to get a handle on Kelce as a drive blocker. As the season progressed, the up-the-gut jailbreaks became less frequent, and I think Kelce has a solid future.

GUARD: Jason Pinkston, Browns. Pinkston switched from tackle, his college position, to left guard when Eric Steinbach was injured late in training camp. Pinkston has held his own on an offensive line where it can be hard to stand out. "He hasn’t made any more mistakes than the rest of us," Joe Thomas said in November. That’s high praise for any Browns player.

TACKLE: Orlando Franklin, Broncos. The right tackle who protects Tim Tebow’s blind side is the best rookie offensive lineman from Canada this year, well ahead of poor Danny Watkins. Franklin had real problems with Chris Kelsay last week, but let’s face it: blocking for the Broncos is tricky business. When Tebow is in read-option mode, Franklin can be a real pile-driver on the edge. When Tebow drops to pass, well, anything can happen, but Franklin keeps working through the all-day scrambles. Honorable Mention: Nate Solder, Patriots.

DEFENSIVE END: J.J. Watt, Texans. Watt led all rookie defensive linemen with 47 solo tackles through Week 16. He is growing into a classic 3-4 end, with the ability to hold the point of attack, get down the line on running plays to the opposite side, and win enough one-on-one battles to ensure that not all of the sacks are funneled to the linebackers.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Phil Taylor, Browns. The runner-up Defensive Rookie of the Year. Taylor is an absolute moose in the middle of the field. With his ability to turn the interior line into a giant rolling snowball pointed straight at the quarterback, Taylor could be the centerpiece of an outstanding defense if the Browns ever cure themselves of their addiction to old Eagles defenders. Honorable Mention: Jurrell Casey, Tennessee, who must name his son Kallell or Clark, or else.

DEFENSIVE END: Marcell Dareus, Bills. Like the rest of the Bills, Dareus started out strong but went into a long, slow, fade starting around Week 5. Sacks against the Dolphins and Chargers put him back in this lineup. Honorable Mention: Jabaal Sheard, Browns.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Von Miller, Broncos. The Defensive Rookie of the Year, thanks to 11.5 sacks, 23 quarterback hits, 19 tackles for a loss, and two forced fumbles, among other contributions. Miller has gotten his due this year thanks in part to the extreme passive-aggression of Tebowmania. Those of us who need to remind everyone that Tebow does not play 1-versus-11 football found ourselves shouting "look at the season Von Miller is having!" so often that we may have swung the pendulum the other way on him a bit, making him also sound like a one-man wrecking ball. On the other hand, he is very, very good.

INSIDE LINEBACKER: Mason Foster, Buccaneers. Teammates call him "Young Hype" because he is always hyped up when he is on the field. Foster leads all rookies in tackles and has done a fine job as the signal caller for a defense that needs more help than a perfect pre-snap adjustment can provide. "Mason’s playing quarterback for the defense," Raheem Morris said in November. Does that mean he will soon head to the firing range with a Desert Eagle and an already injured finger? Sorry, sorry.

INSIDE LINEBACKER: Jacquian Williams, Giants. Williams played his way into the all-rookie lineup in the last few weeks. When you look at what the Giants have gone through on defense, it is amazing that they are still in the playoff picture. Williams is one of the reasons they have not totally collapsed.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins. He has a high motor. And 7.5 sacks. And four forced fumbles.

JOKER/PASS RUSHER OFF THE BENCH: Aldon Smith, 49ers. Screw honorable mention; Smith will play more than half the snaps for this team, so even though he is not technically a starter for the Niners, he’s a starter here. On passing downs, he will replace Williams on the inside and blitz from all angles. Miller and Smith on the same side of the formation, blitzing behind Watt, with Taylor drawing a double team, Kerrigan coming from the other side, and Foster staying at home? Ooh yeah, no quarterback is surviving that, baby. Honorable Mention linebackers include Colin McCarthy of the Titans, Justin Houston of the Chiefs, and K.J. Wright of the Seahawks. We may need one of them to play safety.

CORNERBACK: Patrick Peterson, Cardinals. The Special Teams Rookie of the Year, and also a starter by default, because this has not been a great season for rookie cornerbacks. Don’t worry, with this offense and pass rush, the cornerbacks will have life easy.

CORNERBACK: Richard Sherman, Seahawks. Sherman is a star on the rise according to our game charting numbers, which place him fourth in the league in Success Rate. Sherman also leads all rookies with 19 passes defensed, according to the official count.

SAFETY: Chris Conte, Bears. The weakest choice on the team. Conte made a lot of mistakes and missed his share of tackles this season before injuring his foot and missing the Packers game (probably a wise move on his part). Safety is a tough position for the Cover-2 Bears, and partner Major Wright did not play much better, so Conte gets some benefit of the doubt.

SAFETY: Chris Harris, Broncos. This is a bit of a cheat, because Harris is really a nickel cornerback, and his future is on the edge. But there are not many eligible safeties, and Harris left college as a safety (albeit a 5-foot-9 one), so we can put him here. Harris plays the run very well for a little guy.

PUNTER/KICKOFFS: Brett Hartmann, Texans. Twenty-three touchbacks in 50 kickoffs, plus fine gross and net punting averages.

KICKER: Danny Bailey, Cowboys. Bailey was 12-of-15 from 40-yards out through Week 16 when his own coach was not actively sabotaging him. He is also fine on kickoffs.

KICKOFF RETURNS: Randall Cobb, Packers. Patrick Peterson handles punts, of course.

GUNNER: Tyler Sash, Giants, and Akeem Dent, Falcons. These two combined for 22 solo tackles on special teams, and I love the name "Akeem Dent." Williams and Baldwin help round out some seriously awesome special teams.


65 comments, Last at 09 Feb 2012, 8:29pm

1 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

What a deep class of pass rushers, I'll throw out Pernell McPhee of the Ravens as another guy with a bright future sacking QBs, he has 6 sacks in limited snaps.

62 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

Points deducted because the Ravens pass rush line was kind of stacked this year with Kruger coming on, Ngata occasionally getting spelled on mid downs by Cody or McKinney forcing teams to double him on passing downs, and Suggs still being a freak.

He's Honorable mention for Aldon Smith's role.

36 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

I'd throw out Adrian Clayborn, one of the only bright spots for the Bucs this year. 7.5 sacks; last week was the first time in five weeks he hadn't had at least half a sack. He's had a lot of pressures and has been pretty disruptive. Last half of the season has been 5.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles, one of which was returned for a TD; I will say he seems to rely a bit heavily on an outside speed move, but he's shown some real ability on what has been a pretty crappy line. On the other side, Da'Quan Bowers started looking good as the season went on.

Also, yes, as a Bucs fan, I'll take any promise I can get this year.

4 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

After watching Solder player all year, I have to admit to being surprised that there are rookies who have been better in 2011. Frankly, I haven't seen too many better rookie OT in the past 5 years.

29 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

Solder played mostly as an RT with a few snaps every game as a PTECC. (power tight end can't catch) The only time he played LT was this past week when Light couldn't go because of a bad ankle and Mankins who was moved to that position got hurt .....

5 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

AJ Green, Doug Baldwin, Torrey Smith, Julio Jones, Denarius Moore, and Titus Young.

And the Rams drafted Austin Pettis and Greg Salas. Sigh.

23 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

I rarely watch the Rams. I just live in STL. He's considered one of the few highlights on offense this year. I was mostly going by stats and highlights. However, he was a pretty good blocker at Wisconsin. In the Badgers offense, I don't think a TE would play unless he could block.

31 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

Kendricks had a great preseason and the local variant of the hype machine got behind him in late August - to the extent that they can hype anything non-baseball in this town anyway. He promptly went out and screwed the pooch in September.

His game recovered a bit over the course of the season, but he still looked very much like a rookie. The plays he made were much overshadowed by the plays he didn't make. I was curious to see if he'd get the all-rookie nod, and I didn't see enough of Kyle Rudolph to have much of an opinion of him one way or another. But just based on what I saw of Kendricks, I have a hard time making an argument that he was slighted.

57 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

No mention of Randall Cobb on your list of Receivers? He may be the most explosive player after the catch on the Packers loaded roster which is saying a lot. As a packer fan I can honestly say every time that guy touches the ball I assume he will break a tackle and burst past two more defenders for a big gain. He is absolutely amazing and it is safe to say GB will be set once Driver retires. In his first year he was still getting playing time on the offense. Especially compared to the fifth receiver last year who couldn't get on the field. Also His work on Special teams took GB from a bottom 5 ST to a top 10. Personally I may be biased but I would only take two receivers over him in Green and Jones.

58 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

I wonder what Cobb could of done being able to be featured as a second or third WR instead of being stuck behind 4 receivers and a TE. Being the sixth option isn't nearly as bad as you would think considering it was in GB with Rodgers throwing him the ball.

6 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

Two picks from Stanford in this list -- one UDFA and one fifth-round, and both overlooked by their ex-coach now with the Niners. Go Card!

8 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

Yeah, that's a pass rush and good special teams (assuming they can get some decent blocking still). I knew Cobb was good and a HUGE upgrade from the last few years, what I didn't realize was that Cobb was actually 2nd in the league in kick off return average at 27.7 yards a return (behind only Joe McNight and his 31.2). He's 8th in average punt returns yardage at 11.8 (Hester is tops at 17.3 followed by Peterson's 15.9) so yeah, those are powerful return men. Cobb is a good receiver too; 129 DYAR and a 43% DVOA on 31 passes which is about as much DYAR as Julio Jones has on his 90 passes, would certainly work as a good 3rd or 4th receiver on this team.

Throwing a couple of the honorable mentions in as back-ups/depth on this team, yeah I think it really would have a chance at being a play off team and not just by winning a weak division, I think they could get the wild card in either conference playing out of any division. I'll have to go back and look at other all rookie teams to see how good they were.

This was a good to great rookie class at a couple of positions.

22 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

Yeah, it's just a shame that DVOA and DYAR don't take into account that Cobb's 108 yd TD return happened because he disobeyed his coach's instructions, or that his first TD catch came off a blown pass route.

10 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

Teams represented:
Panthers 1
Cowboys 3
Redskins 2
49ers 2
Bengals 1
Seahawks 2
Vikings 1
Raiders 1
Eagles 1
Browns 2
Texans 2
Broncos 3
Bills 1
Buccaneers 1
Giants 2
Cardinals 1
Bears 1
Packers 1
Falcons 1

Not represented:
AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

AFC West

NFC East

NFC North

NFC South

NFC West

I don't really have a point to make just thought it was interesting.

16 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

I might have gone with Solder of the Patriots at tackle. He's been good enough against pretty good pass rushers when he's been in the lineup (most of the season, even though he's third tackle on the depth chart, because of injuries). He's also versatile...making a pretty decent fullback when not playing tackle.

It is a shame that there was such a deep class of good pass rushers this year, and the Patriots didn't draft any of them...instead opting to take two running backs, one of whom hasn't even seen the field.

18 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

Vereen has seen the field and looked quite good, he just tweaked his hammy again. He was also becoming a ST regular as well.

I understand the lament over not snagging one of the pass rushers, but RB was the second biggest need on the team (just behind OT) going into the draft, so it wasn't surprising that the Pats loaded up. I still think both players will make significant contributions before all is said and done.

26 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

Andre Carter had a better season as a free agent than anybody the Pats could have drafted.

If the Redskins had not drafted Ryan Kerrigan one slot ahead of the Pats 1st pick, maybe they would have taken him. Dareus and Watt were long gone by then, as was Von Miller.

And it's not like Nate Solder has been a bad pick.

For many months, we were told that the Pats absolutely had to draft a pass rusher. And then they didn't. And we were told that this was a disaster, and that Belichick should have taken the best pass rusher available, even if better players at other positions were on the board. But Andre Carter and Mark Anderson have done a reasonably good job providing a much better pass rush than the Pats had last year.

The problem with the defense is the secondary, not the pass rush.

47 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

I'm actually really happy he mentioned Kelce because the Eagles' line has been so maligned this year. Early on like the rest of the team, he struggled, but he picked up the system quick and he's just perfect at what the Eagles try to do in terms of screens, misdirection and getting their o-line out to the second level. I was frustrated when they were initially keeping Jackson on the bench, but Kelce has definitely proven he earned the starting job.

I also know he doesn't deserve to be on this list because there are many more complete rookie LB's ahead of him, but Brian Rolle has developed into something really impressive for such a raw, low-round pick. He's the only Eagles LB I can recall being disruptive in the backfield since Trotter...

(Also, don't look now... but Casey Matthews has looked good the last three games, picking up not only his first sack, but absolutely blowing up a couple screens and not getting blown off the play in the running game...)

17 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

I am glad for JJ Watt. The guy has made himself a fine football player. You like to see hard work rewarded.

30 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

I had Smith penciled in pretty early and went down to the wire on the second tackle. I have not scouted the Steelers offensive line much this year, to be honest. I feel most comfortable with Franklin because he performed well under some unique circumstances.

37 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

Why didn't 49ers' CB Chris Culliver merit selection over Peterson? Culliver's 57% success rate isn't great, but it's good. In addition, he is ranked 5th in the league in yards/pass and gives up a paltry 1.2 yards after catch.

42 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

My thoughts exactly. For 2011, Culliver has been the better cornerback than Peterson. Peterson gets beat a lot for big plays. While Culliver usually only plays in the nickel formation, he plays on the outside receivers in the nickel while Carlos "Best Free Agent" Rogers plays man-to-man as the "nickelback" in the nickel. Culliver guarded me for the entire game and prevented me from scoring a touchdown all game.

39 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

Agree to disagree. Franklin is not as good a tackle Solder is. For that matter, Castonzo is better too.

Tebowmania has you under its spell.

41 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

Aldon Smith's taken a few snaps at OLB and done very well, save one dropped INT (he has somehow managed 4 pdefs). He doesn't overplay the rush, as evidenced by his sack last week in Seattle wherein he stayed home until he saw Jackson pull the ball out of Lynch's arms. In short, his 'part time player' billing is way overplayed (and will be gone next year).

I know he's on here, but the guy's one sack away from breaking the rookie record for sacks, and he doesn't even get runner up mention for Defensive ROY? How does that compute??

You mentioned Miller's stats: 11.5 sacks, 23 quarterback hits, 19 tackles for a loss, and two forced fumbles. Here are Aldon's: 14 sacks, 35 QB hits 14 tackles for a loss, 2 forced fumbles and a safety (at a critical moment during a critical game against an undefeated Detroit). That's notwithstanding his very limited PT before the week 4 Eagles game.

What is it that's not evident in those numbers of my lying eyes that I'm missing here?

43 Co-DROY: Miller and Smith

Comparing Smith and Miller is like comparing apples and oranges. Stat-wise Aldon is the best pass rusher hands down. He is also very good against the run; he just hasn't been given many opportunities yet because of a great 49er defense against the run. Miller plays every down which is a valuable factor. For me Co-DPOY is the most accurate outcome. They are both very good OLBs. This is a little like the Heisman this year where RG3 finished very strongly. Aldon Smith is finishing like a madman.

45 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

FB Anthony Shermon out of UCONN has definately been the best rookie FB. And Sam Acho has to at least have honorable mention if not ahead of Kerrigan. I know AZ players don't get love unless they break records, but Acho has put together a solid season in limited starts.

56 No Aldon Smith?


61 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

"peel off the Steelers, Ravens, and some teams Dalton really struggled against (the 49ers), and things get pretty soft for the Bengals."

Sure, take away the 4 games against the two playoff teams in their division and the schedule is easier. Then if you take out the other teams they lost to.. Um, what? *All* of the Bengal's losses are to playoff teams. That's like saying a marathon is easy if you take out all of the running.

63 Re: Walkthrough: All-Rookie Team 2011

I'm not a Cowboy's fan, but i watched about 6 or 7 of their games this season. Although he makes the occasional mental mistake in pass pro, Tyron Smith is an absolute beast as a run blocker. There were multiple times each game where the kid "zone blocked" to the 2nd level all by himself. Rarely does the O-Line get much love, but this kid was the most impressive rookie I saw all year, and there were a lot of good to great rookies this season on both sides of the ball.