The Race for Rookie of the Year: Patriot reign

| January 6, 2011

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)

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Jonathan Comey

    If we had a race for the worst rookie of the year, it’d have to be Anthony Davis — he had all year to get better at RT, and didn’t come close until a big game against a mailing-it-in Cardinal team in Week 17.

  • trisxp

    I’m curious to know out of the rookie CBs, where Kareem Jackson ended up? Especially given that McCourty was taken after him. Thanks!

    • rodneyhartjr

      He wound up as the 97th ranked CB with a -12.8, but his teammates didn’t do much better as the Texans were one of the worst (if not the worst) pass defenses. But at least he did play the second highest number of snaps on his team (908)which is also one of the highest in the league.

      • http://www.profootballfocus.com Ben Stockwell

        Stay tuned for an article with some statistidbits, but digging deeper into Jackson’s numbers it’s not all bad news for Texans fans on that front.

  • cjkern1

    It’s tough to not give Bradford the number one spot here because of the inherent difficulty of the position he plays and the impressive way he has handled it as a rookie. However, I’ve seen a lot of McCourty this year and he has been most impressive. From what I understand, he’s been on the field almost every defensive snap for NE this year.

    I’ve been trying to understand most of the year how Tampa has been running the ball as well as they have with the inexperience/depth issues on the O-line, but your high grade and praise of Blount here definitely gives me some insight.

    Haven’t gotten the chance to see much of Moeaki this year. Hope to get a glimpse of him on Sunday.

    I’m surprised Earl Thomas didn’t make the cut, from what I understand, he’s had an immediate impact up in Seattle. Haven’t seen much of him myself either though. Nice list guys.

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Khaled Elsayed

    From what I’ve heard (and what’s tallied up with our grading) is a bit of a rookie learning curve for Thomas playing the deep safety where he hasn’t done a great job providing help over the top. Can only go on the Seahawks games I’ve seen with that.

    Blount is a real interesting player. So hard to bring down, but then I remember when I use to say the same about Brandon Jacobs. Backs like Blount scare me because they’re walking targets with their style. Doesn’t take away from his huge impact this year. Remarkable that he not only went undrafted, but then got cut by the Titans.

    Davis was drafted as potential, and I think he’s the youngest player in the league so I’m looking forward to seeing him next year. Would struggle to get much worse.

    • rodneyhartjr

      Have to agree with the Blount grade, as a follower of college football and remembering Blount’s suspension in college at the beginning of his senior year, then going to the combine but people feeling like he is out of shape, then he goes undrafted and ultimately cut by the Titans, I had pretty much shut the book on Blount. I was ready to lament the suspension which I was ready to tell people may have ruined his career….then he is making highlight reel hurdles and running for 150+ yards multiple times. I somewhat disagree with your worry that he will be a Brandon Jacobs, though they do have the same running style, Brandon Jacobs is 6’4″ which is 4 inches taller than Blount. Though his weight/commitment issues give me pause, I think Blount is poised to be a back with more longevity than Jacobs who all along is just too big to be a running back.

      I haven’t watched any Davis film this year, but coming into the draft there were a lot of concerns about him…since I trust your grades looks like the concerns were well founded. Given he wasn’t well know for being a “try-hard” guy I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 49ers addressing the RT spot in the future.

  • bigmaq

    No mention of Maurice Pouncey. How can you not cite the player considered the current best player on the Steelers offensive line? What a tool and I don’t mean Pouncey.

  • Misfit74

    Earl Thomas should be well within the top-10.

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Khaled Elsayed

    Like there’s no shame in being the worst linebacker on the Pittsburgh D (James Farrior is still an excellent player most teams would kill for), there’s little pride in being the best lineman on a really bog standard offensive line.

    Just because a guy gets hyped up on commentary doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a lot of bad plays. Now in time Pouncey may become the best center in the league, but right now he’s nowhere near and had numerous bad games. Mike Iupati on the other hand, is an example of a lineman who has come in and had some issues, but really impressed on a bad team, and until the final two games Saffold was another lineman I’d have had over Pouncey in this listing.

    As for Earl Thomas, he made some good plays during the year and showed a lot of promise but there were some issues he had in coverage that got exposed playing the free safety. You’d imagine he’d get better, but Berry looks the better player right now (though how much of that boils down to how they’re used is another matter).