With every regular-season game under our belts and every player watched on every play, it’s time to dish out some awards.
It was a heck of a year for rookies in the NFL. All of our top 10 were guys that might place in the top three or four in an average year, and several of them will be playing big roles in the postseason.
Three of our analysts sat down, looked at the grades and the entire body of rookie work to decide the top dog was. And after much discussion, we finally ended this race after deciding one candidate had cornered the market.
1. Devin McCourty, CB, New England Patriots (+11.6)
McCourty wasn’t seen by many coming out of the draft as even worthy of a first-round pick — in fact, the talk was that his primary impact this year would be on special teams. Instead he’s played like a top-10 cornerback league-wide, even with some tricky games, and has been one of the keys to New England’s great play down the stretch.
2. Sam Bradford, QB, St Louis Rams (+21.8)
Bradford struggled down the stretch but you can’t deny the impact he has had on the Rams franchise. You get the feeling Bradford is only going to get better, and if his receivers stopped dropping so many passes, that wouldn’t hurt either. He wound up ranked 20th in our quarterback rankings, but in a year where there was some spectacular quarterback play league-wide.
3. Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland Browns (+12.6)
When we look back at the great CB draft class of 2010, Haden may be the pick of the bunch. And if he’d started all season he’d very likely be number one. As it is only two men finished with a higher rating in coverage than Haden did. Impressive. Whoever takes over this Cleveland franchise will have at least one very nice building block.
4. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions (+7.6)
He’s not the finished product — there are still too many plays where he isn’t disciplined enough in the run game or when it comes to not giving up penalties. But you can look past that when you watch the impact he has when it comes to getting to the quarterback. By the time his career is in full swing, there’s little doubt he’ll be as great a defensive tackle as people think he is already.
5. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (+12.5)
Early on in the season he looked to the most complete tight end entering the league, and after a blip, he reinforced that with a superb second half of the season. Not bad to lead tight ends in touchdowns and still do a superb job as a run blocker.
6. LeGarrette Blount, HB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+9.4)
As a pure runner, only two players graded out better. That says a lot for the impact of Blount carrying the ball. His 50 forced missed tackles led all running backs. Next step for Blount is working on his receiving and blocking skills.
7. Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+4.5)
Back-to-back Bucs. Williams didn’t quite make it to the 1,000 yard mark and showed plenty of room for improvement (too many dropped passes). But the guy makes things happen, and was a steal in the draft. Add some great games for DT Gerald McCoy before an injury cut his season short and you have a memorable rookie class for a team that had drafted abominably for a decade.
8. Lamarr Houston, DE, Oakland Raiders (+10.2)
At times you’d look at Houston and see an All-Pro in the making. And then there were some occasions where you wondered if he belonged in the lineup. Maybe he was never that bad, but 2011 needs to be a more consistent year for this immense talent.
9. Mike Iupati, LG, San Francisco 49ers (+9.6)
It was somewhat surprising just how little attention a guy like Iupati got, although playing interior line for a sub-.500 team in the NFC West isn’t exactly a formula for stardom. He clearly has some work to do with his pass blocking, but he’s already one of the better run blocking guards in the league. As advertised, and the 49ers are grateful for it.
10. Tony Moeaki, TE, Kansas City Chiefs (+9.4)
Finished 6th overall in our TE rankings, and even if his performance has been overshadowed by Rob Gronkowski he’s been a big boost for the Chiefs. He graded positively in all areas without really excelling in any.
In the Discussion: Rolando McClain (Raiders) and Chris Ivory (Saints)