Every week I expect him to slip, and every week he does more and more to have this race ended abruptly. There’s simply no denying that Von Miller – barring the kind of end to the year that would see him running away from the ball carrier on every play – is the rookie of the year.
In fact, there’s a legitimate case to be made that Miller, the all-around excellent player specializing in terrorizing quarterbacks, is the Defensive Player of the Year. I said it, and after another week where he essentially locked up our endorsement for rookie of the year, people need to start accepting the fact that Miller isn’t any ordinary player.
But what of the rest of the rookies? In any other year there would be a number contending for the top spot, so they should take no shame in finishing second to Miller. Cam Newton was the best of the rest last week, but did he do enough in Week 12 to hold off the chasing pack? Let’s find out in our Week 12 installment of our Race for Rookie of the Year.
1.  Von Miller, OLB, DEN, +51.3 (701 snaps)
He not only has the most QB knockdowns of any player (11 sacks and 18 hits), he also leads all 4-3 OLB’s with his +19.3 run defense grade. Throw in a positive grade in coverage, and I’m asking myself one question. If he’s this good already, how good will he be with a full offseason under his belt? Note to everyone voting for rookie of the year, if your ballot doesn’t read Von Miller (with some exclamation marks) then you have failed football.
2.  Cam Newton, QB, CAR, +33.3 (767 snaps)
In recent weeks it’s been more ‘entertainer’ than ‘solid football player’ in regards to Newton. Most of his best plays have come with his feet, and the good passes have been outweighed by the bad decisions. Against Indianapolis he seemed to scale things back and worked over shorter and intermediate zones rather than going vertical so often. The result? A quietly overlooked, but excellent display. Adding to his game.
3.  Andy Dalton, QB, CIN, +18.4 (733 snaps)
It should neither be overlooked, nor overplayed what Dalton has done since becoming the franchise QB in Cincinnati. He’s not one of the best QBs in the league, but has slotted in at that mid tier area already, something most rookies only dream of. To put things in perspective, in our rankings, that would have earned him a higher grade than 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Sam Bradford. That’s how well Dalton is playing.
4.  Tyron Smith, RT, DAL, +10.9 (743 snaps)
He gave up a penalty and wasn’t great with his run blocking, but didn’t Smith do awfully well against Cameron Wake? Sure the Dolphins spelled their star rusher more than we usually see and played him on the right side, but that shouldn’t take away from another game where the Cowboy right tackle looked legit and then some. The first rookie offensive tackle to come out and immediately look like a top talent in a long (pun intended) time.
5.  A.J. Green, WR, CIN, +6.3 receiving (614 snaps)
What I really like about Green isn’t just that he can pick up big yards, or that he makes big, game-changing plays such as the one that put the Bengals in position to beat the Browns. It’s who he’s doing it against. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Joe Haden look quite as uncomfortable as he was when matched up with Green who picked up 110 yards on him.
6.  Aldon Smith, OLB, SF, +13.0 (347 snaps)
Smith only got on the field for 25 snaps against the Ravens, and didn’t get much of an opportunity to pass rush (though he still picked up a QB hit). What stood out was his work in run defense, where he collected an impressive three defensive stops. Watch out for this guy in 2012, he could have a monster year as a full timer.
7.  DeMarco Murray, RB, DAL, +8.7 (342 snaps)
Teams are doing a better job of keeping Murray quiet, but he’s still making things happen and still looks incredibly dangerous when you get him in any form of space. Picking up 87 yards on the ground against a stingy Miami defense is no mean feat.
8.  Richard Sherman, CB, SEA, +9.1 (453 snaps)
Sure he’s not returning punts for touchdowns, but there really isn’t a rookie out there playing the cornerback position anywhere near as well as Sherman. You can beat him, but more often than not he’s bested the receiver – picking up two interceptions and adding five pass break ups while allowing just 47.3% of passes his way to be complete.
9.  Jurrell Casey, DT, TEN, +8.8 (439 snaps)
Some of my favorite players in the NFL are guys who the average fan might not know about. Casey is one of those, and given his style of play, he may never be someone garnering much attention. But he looks the kind of talent that all teams would be better for having and could plug a big hole in that Titans defense for years to come.
10. [-] J.J. Watt, DE, HOU, +12.7 (539 snaps)
Hello old friend, we’ve missed you. Watt returns to the main board after a dominant display against the Jagaurs where he posted career-best numbers (two sacks, two hits and three pressures). To think I thought he was turning into the kind of high energy player who can disrupt a run game but rendered impotent rushing the passer. Funny how things change.
Marcell Dareus, DT, BUF: Four negatively-graded games on the bounce. He looked so good five weeks ago and now he, like the Bills, seems to have faded.
Five To Watch
Pernell McPhee, DT, BAL: Watch this guy pass rush. The only thing that is holding him back is his limited playing time. Lots of similarities between McPhee and Geno Atkins who has moved from situational superstar, to every-down excellence in Year 2.
Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, WAS: Has made plenty of splash plays, but not yet the every-down player his snap count would suggest he should be. Will cause a bad right tackle plenty of problems.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, TB: Weeks after labeling Clayborn a pass rush specialist, he seems to be working on his game somewhat to make more plays against the run. Is still contributing as a pass rusher, but not having the same consistent impact as early in the season.
Doug Baldwin, WR, SEA: After a midseason slump is starting to regain some form for the Seahawks. Torrey Smith may have more yards, but Baldwin has picked up just five fewer on over 200 less snaps.
Patrick Peterson, PR, ARZ: If I could ignore his moments of horrible cornerback play, he may be even closer to making the list. A special returner, but the Cardinals didn’t draft a special returner, they drafted a cornerback.