Race for Rookie of the Year – The Defense Rises

| September 22, 2011

I’ve sat here for ten minutes. Deliberating. Contemplating. Wishing I hadn’t shaved my head so I could start pulling my hair out.
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Quite simply, I can’t choose between two players. I haven’t felt so much angst since I was a teenager.
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I go with, Player A and as I start writing I start thinking about some of the great plays, Player B has made. I write about Player B, and then I think its unbelievable Player A has been able to make the plays he has.
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You’ve probably figured out who I’m talking about, well at least one of them anyway. So I’ll get to my ‘Sophie’s Choice’ moment in a second, but a brief note about how well the rookies are playing this year. The lack of lockout doesn’t seem to have affected a number of them, with this race heating up noticeably sooner than the dull-as-dishwater start to the 2010 Race for Rookie of the Year.
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And now, the top ten:
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1. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos, +9.4 (123 snaps)

Controversy. But while the man below has made some errors, this guys hasn’t. Not just that, he’s made plays. Beating tackles for pressure and hits and making plays in the run game, Miller is number two on the year in our 4-3 OLB rankings.
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2. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers, +10.8 (152 snaps)

Take away those second and third quarters and I couldn’t avoid giving it to the so far excellent Newton. He’s been remarkable, especially on balls thrown 20 yards or further. In that area he’s completed 10 of 15 (with one drop) for a league leading 370 yards. Second place is a result of the ‘all positions created equal’ philosophy this race embraces.
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3. Phil Taylor, DT, Cleveland Browns, +5.7 (92 snaps)

So he hasn’t really been tested yet. So what. Taylor is fourth in our defensive tackle rankings after another solid showing. Leads all defensive tackles in stops with seven of them.
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4. Mike Pouncey, C, Miami Dolphins, +4.4 (139 snaps)

Has made a better start to his NFL career than his brother did a year ago, yet nobody seems to have realized this. Was superb against Houston, bossing both Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell. Currently dominating our ‘Pouncey of the Year’ competition.
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5. Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Washington Redskins, +4.1 (108 snaps)

Could very well win the race if he plays Brandon Keith every week. Picked up four pressures and a sack on the Cardinals right tackle.
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6. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Cleveland Browns, +3.3 (131 snaps)

An iron man who has missed just seven snaps in two games. So far making an impact with his pass rushing to the tune of one sack, two hits and three pressures in two games.
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7. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans, +3.1 (106 snaps)

Not so good against Miami where he picked up just the solitary hit, but he did block a field goal.
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8. Tyron Smith, RT, Dallas Cowboys, +1.7 (140 snaps)

Would like for him to be a little more visible in the run game, but just two pressures given up in two games to date. Already represents big upgrade at RT spot for Cowboys.
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9. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals, +2.1 receiver grade (124 snaps)

Got a glimpse of what he is capable of in Denver, catching 10 of 14 balls thrown his way as the Broncos defensive backs were simply overmatched against him.
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10. Denarius Moore, WR, Oakland Raiders, +2.2 receiver grade (79 snaps)

Do you think Leodis McKelvin is glad to see the back of him?
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On The Outside Looking In

What the other contenders need to do to enter the race.
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Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle: Needs more snaps (46) and targets (eight) to increase relevance.

Anthony Castonzo, LT, Indianapolis: Cut back on the penalties (two this week)

Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals: Play like he did this week against Denver (+4.1 rating)

Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: More playing time (44 snaps) and more pressure (two so far)

Akeem Ayers, OLB, Tennessee Titans: Tricky to make this list as a two-down linebacker with such stiff competition

Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets: More impact plays like the safety against the Jaguars

Karl Klug, DT, Tennessee Titans: Generate pressure consistently, like he did against Baltimore (one sack, one hit and one hurry).

Randall Cobb, WR/ KR, Green Bay Packers: Take care of the ball.

Nate Solder, T, New England Patriots: More snaps at tackle

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Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed: @ProFootbalFocus . .
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  • naim15

    Von Miller is such a beast. He isn’t the tallest, the fastest, or the strongest but he manages to dominate. Truly incredible that he is #2 in the OLB rankings considering how many good OLB there are in the league. Definitely deserves to be #1 in the rookie rankings.

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

    He’s just an excellent player to watch – apologies on the typo. He’s obviously #2 in our 4-3 OLB rankings.

  • PaulK

    I nominate Nate Solder of the Patriots.

    The Patriots are scoring 36.5 points per game. Historically, the biggest change in any team is with the quarterback and the second biggest change is with the offensive tackles. Credit to Solder for learning the uptempo system and being a part of the 36.5 points average.

    Solder handled Cameron Wake with no problem in week 1. Is Solder cursed to be outshined? Is that his problem? Perhaps offensive tackles don’t have enough “good” plays to be recognized, they’re just recognized for bad ones.

    • Steve Palazzolo

      Solder has had a very good start to his career. As you mentioned, he performed admirably against Wake in Week 1, particularly in the running game. I’ve watched Solder very closely, starting in the preseason and he’s exceeded expecations to this point.

      One of the most impressive parts of Solder’s game is his athleticism. He can move like a TE, and that makes sense since he played a lot of TE at Colorado. In last week’s game, starting RT Sebastian Vollmer returned and Solder was no longer starting. The Pats did however use Solder as a 3rd TE on 19 plays. I think that’s a great place for him to start his career as he continues to work on his technique and continue to grow into a pro bowl caliber player. Most analysts pegged him as the offensive tackle with the most upside in this past draft.

      Vollmer may be hurt again, so look for more of Solder at RT this weekend.

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Sam Monson

    I was pretty impressed with Solder in the game I analyzed of his, looking forward to seeing how he does this week if he starts for Vollmer.