Every race has to have a starting spot. With the NFL season now a game old, the marathon that is the race for the Pro Football Focus Rookie of the Year Award is well and truly underway.
Over the past two years Devin McCourty and Von Miller have taken it home, and now it’s up to the 2012 class to try and follow in their footsteps. This isn’t like any other contest that falls in line with the guy making the most highlight reel plays or getting the most media attention. This is based on what happens on the field, and is done with an ‘all positions created equal’ mantra.
It may not be how the real thing works out, but for us, it’s the way it should be done.
So, who leads after Week 1? Even accounting for the extra media hype it could really only be one man…
1. Robert Griffin III, QB, WAS (+4.0)
It’s the hardest position to play and RG3 made it look easy for a rookie. With an offensive line that protected him, Griffin made all the right decisions in having an Accuracy Percentage of 88% (best of the week in the entire NFL).
2. Dont’a Hightower, LB, NE (+5.0)
He made plays in every area of the game with a fumble recovery for a touchdown, four defensive stops, and three quarterback hurries. If he makes that kind of impact a regular thing, then the sky really is the limit for Hightower.
3. Chandler Jones, DE, NE (+3.5)
While he lost the Patriot bragging rights this week, Jones can take plenty of pride in his performance against a top-end left tackle like Michael Roos. Capable of playing with his hand in the dirt or in a two-point stance, Jones forced a fumble on a sack while adding a hit, two hurries, and some stellar run defense.
4. Kendall Reyes, DE, SD (+3.3)
Has San Diego found a new player to get pressure up the gut? The second-rounder had a field day against Alex Parsons and Mike Brisiel, picking up a hit and five pressures.
5. Stephen Hill, WR, NYJ (+2.4)
The confusion continues. Great in training camp, horrible in the preseason, and now a star of Week 1. Hill walked away with a Yards Per Route Run average of 4.24 — fourth-best of the entire week.
6. Bobby Wagner, LB, SEA (+2.6)
He didn’t always look great in preseason, but Wagner responded when it really mattered despite being limited to just 32 defensive snaps. Picked up a pressure by beating Ryan Williams inside, and showed a knack for making his way to the ball carrier with a tackle for a loss and another for a short gain.
7. Kelechi Osemele, OT, BLT (+2.2)
You didn’t really notice Osemele, and that’s a good thing. Rarely tested in the run game, he gave up just the one hit and one pressure in a convincing debut.
8. L.J. Fort, LB, CLV (+2.8)
The undrafted free agent will be thinking what could have been; a dropped interception ultimately being the difference between a shock win for the Browns and a valiant defeat. But let’s credit the guy for picking up a sack and an interception earlier in the game as he quickly made a name for himself.
9. Doug Martin, RB, TB (+1.1)
It wasn’t the most dynamic performance we’ve ever seen, but Martin made some plays to end up with 118 yards from scrimmage. If they can open that offense up a bit more, then we could really start to see something from him.
10. Blair Walsh, K, MIN (+3.8)
A kicker has never made this list before. But then a rookie kicker, since we’ve been writing this piece, has never kicked a 55-yarder to take a game to overtime before hitting the game winner in the extra period. Enjoy this moment because it’s going to take weekly performances like that to stay on the list.
Five to watch
Evan Rodriguez, FB, CHI: A kicker makes the list and now we’re telling you to watch out for a fullback? When Rodriguez plays that well, what else can we do?
Lavonte David, LB, TB: I’ve been bitten once before by a Bucs rookie linebacker starting well and then turning into a missed tackling machine. David is, however, off to a good start.
Melvin Ingram, OLB, SD: Penalties aside, Ingram looks like a player who is going to generate pressure, even if his snaps are limited.
Fletcher Cox, DT, PHI: Didn’t get on the field a great deal, but responded with a sack, a hurry, and a defensive stop in the run game.
Mike Martin, DT, TEN: What is it about Tennessee and rookie defensive tackles? They just plug them in and they play well from Day 1.
There are a lot of big name rookies yet to really make their mark, but stay with us on this journey as we embark upon the Race for the Pro Football Focus Rookie of the Year.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled