Race for Rookie of the Year – Center of Attention

| October 6, 2011

With every team having played four games, we’re a quarter of the way through the season. That’s what my rudimentary understanding of numbers as taught me anyway.
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What does that mean for us here at PFF? Well, it means we’ve broken down even more footage to sort out who the top players are in NFL. Which brings us to our Race for the Rookie of the Year, and while this race has been dominated by two men, there are other contenders coming through.
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Have they been able to overcome that terrific twosome?
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Not quite, but there are signs this may be more than just a two-horse race.
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1. [1] Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos, +17.4 (245 snaps)
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As well as Cam played, Miller raised the stakes by adding some stats to his largely unnoticed excellence. How can people that watch football not vote him defensive rookie of the month? Increased his lead in our 4-3 OLB ranking with a two-sack, one-hit, five-hurry day. Can do it all.
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2. [2] Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers, +14.1 (296 snaps)
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If Week 3 was a comedown, Week 4 was the bounce back. Is ranked eighth overall in our QB rankings, yet the best compliment you can pay is that four games into his NFL career his excellent game against the Bears was almost standard. A revelation. No arguments with anyone swapping the top two around.
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3. [4] Mike Pouncey, C, Miami Dolphins, +8.9 (270 snaps)
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If Maurkice looked this good as a rookie then I would have understood the praise that came his way. Mike’s consistent displays are making him a darkhorse in a race that offensive linemen traditionally don’t fair all that well in.
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4. [3] Jabaal Sheard, DE, Cleveland Browns, +10.5 (241 snaps)
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After his spectacular week three, couldn’t follow it up against a better set of offensive tackles. He was far from terrible, and his dropping of one spot owes more to the other guy moving up. Currently fourth in our 4-3 defensive end rankings.
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5. [-] Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Washington Redskins, +7.5 (252 snaps)
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A week after I said he needed to make himself more ‘visible’, Kerrigan responds with a sack, hit and four pressures against the Rams sieve-like offensive line. Also stepped up in the run game with a four more defensive stops. Very visible.
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6. [9] Tyron Smith, RT, Dallas Cowboys, +6.1 (288 snaps)
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You ask most people and they’ll remember Smith giving up a sack on the Cowboys penultimate play. Take that play away and he was perfect in pass protection, and had his most impressive day in the run game. He’s coming along very nicely.
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7. [-] Jurrell Casey, DT, Tennessee Titans, +5.0 (153 snaps)
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Not a lot is being said about Casey, but the third-round pick is doing quite the job for Tennessee. He’s a big part of why that Titans defense is a lot better than some said it would be. And yes, I am one of those people. Currently among our Top 10 defensive tackles.
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8. [5] Phil Taylor, DT, Cleveland Browns, +4.2 (172 snaps)
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After a hot start to the season Taylor has kind of tailed off. He hasn’t played badly, but just isn’t making the same kind of impact he did in the first couple of weeks.
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9. [-] Mason Foster, MLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, +2.1 (209 snaps)
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The Bucs’ MLB has taken over an every-down role and unlike a lot of rookie linebackers over the past few years, has not looked out of place at all.
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10t. [-] Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons, +2.2 receiver rating (247 snaps)
10t. [-] A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals, +2.2 receiver rating (247 snaps)
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Is this cheating? Possibly, but the two rookies have played the exact same number of snaps and have the exact same receiving grade. Jones has more yards and has forced more missed tackles, while Green has the touchdowns. Conclusion? They’re both making their move to keep pace with the contenders.
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Dropping Out (and why)
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Denarius Moore, WR, Oakland Raiders: It’s hard finding a spot for a player averaging just three touches per game, even as impressive as he has been with those touches.
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Karl Klug, DT, Tennessee Titans: Klug may have registered his second sack, but what else did he do against Cleveland? Nothing.
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J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans: Don’t be fooled by the sack he picked up on Mewelde Moore, Watt didn’t have a great game against Pittsburgh. His worst to date.
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Adrian Clayborn, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Clayborn probably warrants a spot on the list given his +6.7 pass rusher rating. But his struggles in run defense, and level of opposition have to be held against him.
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On The Outside Looking In (and what they need to crack the list)
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Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Picking up yards, but dropped his first ball. Needs to take every chance thrown his way to compete with other receivers.
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Nate Solder, RT, New England Patriots: Isn’t far from the list, but needs to make a bigger impact in run game after two average games.
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Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings: Rudolph has impressed when on the field, but needs more playing time.
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Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals: Consistency is key as Cam Newton redefines what we can expect from rookie quarterbacks.
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Akeem Ayers, OLB, Tennessee Titans: Ayers is playing the run well and generating some pressure. Needs a few impact plays to get him moving back to the list.
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Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets: More performances like the one against the Ravens will get him in the Top 10.
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Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers: The Eagles were the vehicle for his coming out party, but now he needs more playing time. Purely situational right now.
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Randall Cobb, WR/KR, Green Bay Packers: If I were nicer to special teams players, he’d probably be on the list, but there’s something about just playing only 52 offensive snaps that forces hesitation.
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