If you’re an avid Pro Football Focus reader, you’ll know that each week we’ve produced an article focusing on the 2011 draft class. It was our Race for Rookie of the Year series and after 17 weeks of hectic action, that race ended as the regular season did.
That means the other analysts have decided to put their say into who should be the 2011 Rookie of the Year and they’ve seen to it that the “all positions created equal” mantra that I’ve created is no more. They’ve also stopped me hedging bets and looking at five to watch and what we’re left with is the Top 10 rookies of the 2011 NFL season.
The list, especially after doing this last year, is pretty damn impressive. We could quite easily have added another 10 players to it and found more deserving performers than guys who made the Top 10 last year. That’s how much of an impact this class has made. Anyway, without further ado, let’s get into it.
1. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos
His hand injury seemed to slow him down, and really that was the only thing capable of doing so after he decimated a host of offensive tackles in the middle of the season. Seen by some as a one-trick pony, the sheer physical tools Miller possesses saw him win plenty of battles in the run game, as much as people would have you believe otherwise.
2. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
The scary thing about Newton? He’s got room to get a lot better, and yet he finished 13th overall in our quarterback rankings. Newton does need to work on his mechanics to prevent some of those horribly errant throws. However, the tools are there to be a very good player for a very long time. You hope his rookie records don’t burden him and create an unrealistic sense of expectation in his sophomore season.
3. Tyron Smith, RT, Dallas Cowboys
Our All-Pro right tackle had one shocker of a game against Philadelphia, but outside of that, Smith was as good a rookie tackle as we’ve seen. He got stronger in the run game as the year went on, and showed he can hold up against most top tier pass rushers. It will be interesting to see how he fares if he makes a move to the left side.
4. Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers
The only thing holding Smith back is his lack of playing time, specifically looking at his situational role. It’s a shame because he finished the year as the most productive pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker in the league. This was one example of the sacks really doing a player justice.
5. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
The great thing about Watt is that he seemed to get stronger as the season went on. This culminated in one of the most dominant performances of the year when Houston faced the Colts. Watt is capable of playing a huge number of snaps and not wearing down. The Texans seem to have picked up a defender who can be an every-down threat for years to come.
6. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
His penalties proved to be an annoyance, but given the attention teams are already paying to Green, it’s remarkable he was able to pick up 1,057 yards. This despite missing a game and a half due to injury. Andy Dalton has received a lot of praise, but where would he be without Green?
7. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Starting the year way down the depth chart we didn’t expect to see much of Sherman. We’ve been fortunate to see the cornerback play so well when thrust into the lineup. Nine penalties may be more than we’d like to see, but the 46.4% completion rate allowed, four interceptions, and nine pass break-ups more than make up for it.
8. Marcell Dareus, DT, Buffalo Bills
I don’t know if I’m personally sold on Dareus, as while he has the ability to dominate, he all too often doesn’t. That said, you can’t deny that when he’s good, he’s very good. Just ask the Giants who felt the full wrath of Dareus earlier in the season. Next year will be about consistency. If Kyle Williams returns at full speed, they could form one of the most disruptive defensive tackle partnerships in all of football.
9. Jurrell Casey, DT, Tennessee Titans
There’s some chatter amongst the PF analysts that Casey may have already peaked in his role as running game nuisance. I looked at our Signature Stat that breaks down how many stops a defender makes in relation to the time they are on the field and Casey was third in the entire league. A great find in the third round.
10. Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton deserves credit for being part of a team that made it to the playoffs. My colleague Ben Stockwell was exactly right, though, when he corrected my initial assertion that Dalton had led his Bengals team to the postseason. He hasn’t led them, but has rather been dragged along by a defense that is playing exceptionally well.