2012 PFF Rookies of the Year

The 2012 season was one where rookies stood out all across the league. The PFF staff offers its top three first year players on offense and defense.

| 4 years ago

2012 PFF Rookies of the Year

There use to be a time when rookies came into the league and took their sweet time to develop.

Not so any more.

Each week I did my own Race for Rookie of the Year and marveled at some performances that had to be seen to be believed. Guys drafted in April did things you don’t expect from seasoned veterans, and it meant the selections for the Pro Football Focus Rookies of the Year were tough choices.

However, I invited the other analysts into the conversation and we decided on the top three for both sides of the ball. So let’s start with the defense.


Second Runner Up

Harrison Smith, Safety, Minnesota Vikings

One of the hardest decisions was choosing between Smith and linebackers Lavonte David and Luke Kuechly. David was a force from Day 1, finishing behind only Kuechly in terms of total tackles, with 18 of them for a loss. Still, tackles are a stat open to abuse and it’s telling that David picked up a defensive stop on 14.6% of running plays. That would be the best of all linebackers in the league. Meanwhile, Kuechly flourished when moving to the middle linebacker spot after a very slow start to things working outside. If not for that opening to the year who knows how high he could have finished?

However, Harrison does get the nod and it’s all down to his work in coverage that helped transform a weakness for the Vikings into a strength. His 12 missed tackles were a little on the high side, but his knack for playmaking (three picks and six pass break-ups) helped him finish the year with the sixth-highest coverage grade of all safeties.

First Runner Up

Bobby Wagner, Linebacker, Seattle Seahawks

It didn’t take the Seahawks long to realize that Bobby Wagner was ready to make an impact in the NFL. Initially playing base downs, Wagner would be an every-down player by Week 5, and it’s not hard to see why. When all was said and done, no 4-3 middle linebacker had a higher grade and it led to Wagner receiving second team All-Pro honors from our good selves.

Only Lavonte David had a higher Run Stop Percentage than the 14.4 Wagner managed, while the Seahawk was also among the better tacklers in the league. He missed just one in every 20.1 attempted tackles, good enough for the sixth-highest Tackling Efficiency of any inside linebacker. The metrics merely give substance to the play of Wagner, the latest in a long line of Seahawks draft successes.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Casey Hayward, Cornerback, Green Bay Packers

The only thing that could have stopped Hayward from winning this was the amount of playing time he got. Once you look past that it was a simple enough decision, rewarding the rookie corner for a year that saw him earn slot cornerback honors on our All-Pro team, and the second-highest coverage grade of any cornerback.

With a knack for finding the ball, Hayward ended the year with six interceptions and a further 12 pass break-ups, while not allowing a single touchdown or being flagged for a penalty. In allowing just 44.6% of balls into his coverage to be caught, and just 1.05 Yards Per Snap in Coverage,  Hayward has the kind of numbers that represent the elite level of his play.


Flip the page to reveal our Offensive Rookie of the Year…

  • Rich Eklund

    Odd that the stats-centric PFF would rank Wilson higher than RG3 when his numbers is almost every major category were inferior -passing yards, comp. %, interceptions, QB rating, yards per attempt

    • Rich Eklund

      … PLUS was a more dynamic playmaker because of his NFL-record rushing numbers. And he led his team to their first division title since 1999. No rookie was more impactful than RG3

      • Bpurd06

        Missed time on the field will cost RG3. Russell Wilson was there every snap. Alfredorris is but he is no Lynch. Lynch set out three halves at the end of the season. If he didn’t he would have surpassed Morris numbers.

      • John

        Yeah almost like RG3 tied Peyton Mannings rookie touchdown record oh wait a second, well at least the had more total touchdowns oh wait he didn’t do that either, well he must have at least played more oh no he missed more games than Wilson, well he must have won more oh wait no he didn’t. So where does this discussion about RG3 being better come from?

        • BigDaddyTM

          Most of the numbers, John. You named the ONLY four things that Russell did that Griff didn’t. Why is Griff the Rookie of the Century and not Russell? This is going to be broken up because Griffs part is going to be so large.

          Russell Records : Tied Rookie QB touchdowns thrown record.
          Second place rookie QB rating 100.0 (Ben Roethlisberger 98.1)

          I haven’t seen anything else but I’m sure that someone will add what I have missed.

          • BigDaddyTM

            Robert Griffin III Records :

            Week 1: Redskins 40, Saints 32
            1) became the first player in NFL history to compile 300-plus passing yards, two or more passing touchdowns and no interceptions in an NFL debut.

            2) Griffin III’s passer rating was the highest by a rookie with no professional football experience, besting Matt Ryan’s 138.4 passer rating at Oakland in Week 9 of the 2008 season (minimum 20 attempts). 

            3) finished the first half with a perfect 158.3 passer rating. It marked the 35th time since the merger that a QB has posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the first half with 10 or more attempts, according to records kept by STATS, LLC. Griffin III is the first rookie and the first Redskin to accomplish the feat.

            Week 2: Redskins 28, Rams 31
            4) Griffin III also added 11 carries for 82 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Griffin III’s 82 rushing yards are the most by a Redskins quarterback since the 1970 merger, surpassing Joe Theismann’s 64 rushing yards at Chicago on Nov. 9, 1980.

            5) Griffin III became the first rookie quarterback to score two rushing touchdowns for the Redskins since Norm Snead rushed for two touchdowns at Dallas on Nov. 19, 1961.

            6) According to the NFL, Griffin III is the first rookie to throw a touchdown pass of 65 or more yards in each of his team’s first two games of a season since Cincinnati’s Greg Cook in 1969. 

            Week 5: Redskins 17, Falcons 24
            7) Griffin III rushed once for seven yards, giving him 241 rushing yards on the season, breaking Sammy Baugh’s team record for rushing yards by a rookie quarterback (240 in 1937).

            Need More?

          • BigDaddyTM

            Robert Griffin III Records : (part II)
            Week 6: Redskins 38, Vikings 26
            8) Griffin III set a franchise record for single-game rushing yardage by a quarterback, surpassing his own record of 84 rushing yards from Week 2 at St. Louis.

            9) Griffin III now has 379 rushing yards on the season, establishing the team record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season.

            10) Griffin III finished the evening with a 76-yard touchdown run. The run is the longest by a quarterback in team history and the longest by an NFL quarterback since Pittsburgh’s Kordell Stewart rushed for an 80-yard touchdown against Carolina on Dec. 22, 1996.

            11) Griffin III now has at least one rushing touchdown and one passing touchdown in three games this season, making him only the second individual quarterback in team history since 1950 to do so three times in a season (Joe Theismann, 1980).

            12) With touchdowns by Griffin III and Morris, the Redskins became the first team in NFL history to have two rookies each rush for five touchdowns in the first six games of a season.

            Week 11: Redskins 31, Eagles 6
            13) Griffin III completed 14-of-15 passes (93.3 percent) for 200 yards with four touchdowns. He finished the game with a perfect 158.3 passer rating and also contributed 84 rushing yards on 12 carries. The first rookie with a minimum 15 attempts in NFL history to do so.

            14) The completion (the last) was Griffin III’s 173rd of the season, pushing him past Norm Snead (172 in 1961) for sole possession of the team record for completions in a rookie season.


          • BigDaddyTM

            Robert Griffin III Records : (part III)
            Week 12: Redskins 38, Cowboys 31
            15) Griffin III broke single-season team records for passing yards by a rookie (Norm Snead’s 2,337 in 1961) and passing touchdowns by a rookie (Eddie LeBaron’s 14 in 1952). For the season, Griffin III is now 206-for-305 (67.5 percent) for 2,504 yards with 16 touchdowns.

            16) Griffin III became the first player in Redskins history to pass for four touchdowns in consecutive games. He is only the second NFL player this season with four touchdown passes in consecutive weeks and is the only player to do so without the benefit of a bye week in between games (New Orleans’ Drew Brees threw for four touchdowns in Weeks 5 and 7 with a bye in Week 6).

            17) Griffin III is the first player in NFL history to have four 60-yard passing touchdowns and a 60-yard rushing touchdown in a season.

            18) Griffin III is the first rookie since at least the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to have multiple games with four or more passing touchdowns in a season.

            19) Griffin III’s four passing touchdowns are the most in a single game by a Redskins quarterback on Thanksgiving Day, surpassing the three Thanksgiving Day touchdowns thrown by Jim Ninowski (Nov. 28, 1968) and Danny Wuerffel (Nov. 28, 2002). Griffin III’s 311 yards are also the most by a Redskins quarterback on Thanksgiving Day, surpassing Ninowski’s 280.

            Week 13: Redskins 17, Giants 16
            20) The Redskins became the first team in NFL history to have a rookie with 2,000 passing yards (Griffin III) and a rookie with 1,000 rushing yards (Morris).

            21) Griffin III rushed for 72 yards on five carries. Griffin III now has 714 rushing yards this season, setting an NFL record for rushing yards by a rookie quarterback, a record formerly held by Carolina’s Cam Newton (706 in 2011).

            Need even MORE??

          • BigDaddyTM

            Robert Griffin III Records : (part IV)
            22) Griffin now owns the QB rating for a rookie QB. Finishing the season with a 102.4

            23) Griffin now owns the interception percentage numbers for a rookie. He finished the season with 1.3% of his passes being intercepted, breaking the previous mark of 1.98 set by Charlie Batch.

            24) In the last 40 years, there have been only nine first-round rookie quarterbacks that have a winning record in their first season under center (min. 10 starts), including two this season. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. 

          • BigDaddyTM

            I do find it very odd that a website dedicated to football stats and what they mean would not post a single reason, stat related, to back up it’s choice for rookie of the year. Very odd. Russell has indeed had a very good five game stretch but Griff has been doing it all season until he got hurt…then he came out and continued to produce with his worst production game coming in the finale. Sorry but Russell hasn’t earned it. Granted his coaches were protecting him big time until the end of the season but the numbers are what they are…

          • Michael Terry

            Since, you’re big on stats, note that according to Football Outsiders, Russell Wilson was the better QB this year. There are several reasons why advanced stats like Wilson over RG3, and one of those is that Wilson played much harder teams.

          • Twpycho0

            Dude you are stating team facts basically. And not too many league stats. And everyone knows that without RG3 the skins are nothing… The hawks would still kick their asses without our RW3.

        • http://twitter.com/checkeater JM

           I guess no one takes into account that Wilson played a MUCH MORE DIFFICULT schedule than RG3!

        • Guest

          No need to be condescending.  Sure Wilson won one more game than RG3, however, I’m sure you watched the infamous Monday night game between the Seahawks and Packers. If you are truly objective, although the record would suggest that Wilson won one more game that RG3, they essentially won the same amount of games even if you take into account the one missed game that Griffin had. Not sure why you seem to banter foolishly reeling off stats to suggest Griffin is unworthy of the ROY title.  Both Wilson and Griffin have legitimate and compelling cases to win the award.  And just because your statistical analysis may say something, it doesn’t mean that it is 100% Bible.  They are many other unquantifiable aspects of the game that can’t be measured.   

          • dstep24

            How about we take a look at Game-Winning drives this season?  Nobody’s mentioning that.  Wilson has 4, Griffin has 2.  How about 3rd down conversion rate on offense?  SEA – 40.2%, WAS – 35.8% (This is substantially different).  How about TD pass-INT Differential?  Wilson: +16 TD (a rookie record), RGIII: +15.  

            Not to mention, Wilson ties the rookie record for TD passes. The first two (GW Drives and 3rd Down Conv.) are huge, and say a lot.  Not that they represent everything, or tell the whole story, but passing yards will be higher when one team throws more than the other – suprise. Completion% will be higher when one QB throws a butt-load of WR screens – shocking.  Scoring and winning games are what count the most, and Wilson did more of both.  Wilson had 30 total touchdowns (26 passing, 4 rushing), where Griffin had 27.  Wilson won 11 games, with 4 game-winning drives, and Griffin had 10, and 2 respectively.  Wilson converted decisively better on 3rd down, than Griffin.

            If the more traditional stats showed a more drastic differential between the two, I might consider putting RG down as ROY.  But they’re not.  Ratings are very close.  Comp. % is very close.  

          • Klgiuseppe4

            won 10 games lost to green bay you say he has a record for td passes, but rg3 has the record for completion percentage.

        • Klgiuseppe4

          Oh wait look at the stats oh wait look at the rushing yards oh wait look at the schedule oh wait look at the entire year and not just the past 5 games oh wait look at a division title. Rg3 is unquestionably the OROY

        • Keith Monte Williams

          RG3 missed 1.5 games, yet with the exception of total TD, (which RW only has two more) RG3 beats RW in every meaningful stat.  Ohh and the Seahwaks didnt beat the Packers.  EVERYONE knows that.

          • JJ

            Scores > Stats

        • TexasBrady

           Ouch…..truth hurts don’t it Rich…

        • Tt

          Far less turnovers, having a crappy defense compares to Wilson playing with one of the best, if not the best, defense in the league. Far more rushing yards than wilson and doubled the teams win total from last year, unlike wilson. RGIII for MVP!

    • Hu

      PFF “stats-centric”?  I suggest you read the “History of Profootball Focus” and “how we grade” sections of the site.

      Oh wait, you don’t care cause you’re just a passing guest who saw that his favorite player on his home team was not first and bitch without even attempting to understand how Profootball focus works.

      • Bilal

        calling PFF stats centric is ridiculous

        • JJ

          This is why casual guests shouldn’t be allowed to post, too much trolling and people who don’t understand how this place works.

      • Izach

        you guys are stats-centric, they are your “own  made up stats”, and you tried to make them seem like they arent stats, but thats just what they are. i agree with wilson as the ROTY, and with most articles, but stats are the main focus of the site. untill game situation and intagibles can be graded every thing is just a statistic.

    • SGMD1

      What stats are you looking at? Every single advanced metric that incorporates defensive adjustments (DVOA, DYAR, adjusted QBR) has Wilson above RG3.

  • Phil Martin42

    No love for Luck? Led a 2 win team to 11 wins and the playoffs w no running game and a soft D. Hes my ROY, & its not even close.

    • Freyguy6

      Combining RW3 and RGIII’s INTs don’t even add up to Luck. He was a great leader this year, but the other guys added wins to their previous teams, and did it with better stats.

    • Martin

       Third easiest strength of schedule in the NFL.

      Leading his team to dramatic come from behind wins against the Tennessee Titans twice and the Kansas City Chiefs (bottom 6 teams in the NFL). Tells you exactly how good the Colts are this year – better than last year, but a team that only beat 1 “good” team (Packers) but got blown out several times, including once by a bad team (Jets).

      • Martin

         Oh, I suppose beating the Texans in week 17 counts as their other win against a good team. Though it seems like a lot of teams have “figured out” the Texans recently (Patriots, Vikings, and Colts). Heck, even the Jaguars and Lions came close to beating them, so I don’t know if it’s right to call the Texans a good team given how they played in the second half of the year.

    • Aronifill

      I love this 2 to 11 win argument it’s like people think this was the same team. The Colts had an easier schedule this year, didn’t have Jim Caldwell, walked into every game with emotional motivation. Let’s not act like the Colts so much better because of Luck, they were better because they didn’t have 3rd string QBs going up against NFL defenses. And Reggie Wayne was spectacular this year.

      Luck was not even in the same tier as Wilson or RGIII. 

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/EY4ZL2ILTBYEQ2FT32O5UQAUVI Frank

        Not sure why your explanation devalues Luck’s wins. He did win as many or more games than the others,threw for more yards and made the playoffs earlier, although not sure the last part is that meaningful. Yes RG3 was more fun to watch,but he missed games. Wilson was marveloous to watch, a superb team leader beyond his years. But RG3 and Wilson had a lot more help in terms of talent on their roster. He won 11 games….Never mind 2 to 11. Forget last year. He deserves credit for what that team did this year…

  • Jbrey

    I thought its Rookie of the Year, not Rookie of the last half of the season. Not to take anything away from Wilson, but RG3 has better all around stats and far less of a defense to still make 10-6 and playoffs. I bet Wilson would have a harder time in RG3’s shoes.

  • James Barr

    Seahawks ended up having a very difficult schedule this year. Redskins had a rather easy one. Most people aren’t taking that into account when they look at the numbers. Seahawks also led the entire league in # of wins over winning teams this year. RG3-lovers, stop complaining. Nobody’s saying he’s not a great QB. He just wasn’t the greatest rookie QB.

  • http://twitter.com/MaineSkin MaineSkin

    How does Wilson beat out RGIII when Seahawks coach, Carroll, basically admitted to copying #Redskins scheme to utilize Wilson’s legs? RGIII has more yards, YPC, passing yards, efficiently, all while playing 1.5 games less. I also always ask myself which QB would I want going into next year? That’s Griffin, not Wilson. It also sounds like Wilson gets a boost bc he is short which proves scouts wrong, except its proved them wrong for one QB one year.

  • PFF_Sam

    We could hammer both RGIII and Wilson in comparison to each other, but I think the broader point is they were both ridiculously difficult to split. We argued about it as a staff for a long while. 

    I agree with whoever said RGIII was hurt by missing time. Not that he did anything to lose his spot at the top, but rather that Wilson simply took that opportunity at the end of the year.

    RGIII has been consistently really good right from the beginning, whereas Wilson struggled a little early, but right now is on fire and his grade graph just went up and up the more he played.

    In the end we simply felt that Wilson just pipped him to the post, but it’s a photo finish

  • Nick Zazulia

    Anyone who watched them both play could clearly see that RG3 is the OROTY. He was better than Wilson at nearly everything, and had much, much less to work with. Wilson *really* flashed at the end of the year, and that’s going to earn him a lot of praise and attention at the right time (seen clearly here), but if you look at the year-long body of work, there is no comparison. RG3’s rookie year was the best a QB has ever had. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1549514097 Scott G. LeMire

    Also, The playbook didnt get opened for wilson until week 7… The coaches hampered his development in the first half of the season… imagine his numbers if they let it fly from day 1????

  • Jrh0341

    “Surrounded by plenty of talent, Wilson started slowly and just got better and better.”  And that says it all right there.  RGIII 1st. Wilson 2nd.  Wilson started slowly and built steam.  Griffin has been consistent, the same guy, same level of performance every game (barring the obvious injury factor). 

    Wilson has spent this whole season surrounded by inarguable talent. Wilson is supportd by an excellent cast.  RGIII has literally made the rest of the team better. 

    Both guys have done well for their teams, but RGIII has elevated the Skins much more than Wilson did the SH. 

  • Allaineff

    This is a fake post right?

  • GBPFan

    as a Packer fan – “WOOO!”
    Nice to see Casey Get some love…
    As for Rookie of the Year on Offense – To all you Redskin/Seahawk fans – just be glad you guys got a QB (finally) … Your teams are gonna be contenders for as long as your QB plays.

  • Michael Terry

    Yeah, that 1500 yard back is so much less to work with. RG3 had less to work with? Not only is that not true, but he had a much, much easier schedule of opposing defenses, which more than cancels that qualification.

    • pbskids4000

      Wilson had Marshawn Lynch just so you know.

  • Blahmehteh

    Dontari Poe had a good year

  • nigelll

    who is this fool so ur telling me the leader in tackles in the nfl who also has 3 fumble recoveries 2 interceptions isnt even on this list YOUR A FOOL LUKE KUECHLY HAS THE MOST TACKLES IN THE NFL… ANY ROOKIE THAT EVER DID THAT GOT DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR #CASECLOSED

    • pbskids4000

      I’m not even going to be nice about this. You are an idiot. Your comment was so damn stupid it hurt. Tackles are a very bad stat to base performance off of. He wan’t even the best run stuffing rookie LB. He in no way outperformed Hayward. Hayward simply dominated this year game  to game.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=648085961 Caleb Harper

    Luke is the DROY…period

    Flashy INT #s just show QBs aren’t afraid to throw that way.

    • pbskids4000

      No. Hayward was much more consistent and just flat out played better than Kuechly did.

  • wamblock

    Not going to matter… they will have to modify this article after Sunday anyways, when Washington heads to Atlanta (or San Frnacisco, if the Vikings win)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EY4ZL2ILTBYEQ2FT32O5UQAUVI Frank

    Nice try but Carolina’s Luke Kuechley was starter and outstanding player all year….may be one of top four ILBs already in NFL.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EY4ZL2ILTBYEQ2FT32O5UQAUVI Frank

    This is not science, stats or hyperbole. One rookie quarterback won more games with less talent on his roster….Wilson is marvelous, also has great running game and brutal defense. RG3 is fun to watch, won the fewest games, missed time and had a great running game to work with.  Andrew Luck won games without any of that level of help. This is an individual honor. He did what he was supposed to, to the surprise of many….won games and made the playoffs. Odd there not much discussion about him. 

  • Angieb31088

    Way to go Casey Hayward!!!!Congrats!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EY4ZL2ILTBYEQ2FT32O5UQAUVI Frank

    Nice site. Comments are thoughtful and refreshing for the most part. More insight here than so many screaming, logo=waving whackos … Happy New Year all

  • Mojstang88

    RG3 is the better QB. 7 games in a row with at least a 100 QBR . Took team from always being last to first and did it with an inferior Defense compared to Wilson who played with a top 5 D.

    • Twpycho0

      He didn’t play in two off those games so if he was there for the end of that ravens game the skins had the loss. And the hawks destroyed your pussy Kurt cousins

  • Jx292

    The comments on this article make me wonder if anyone other than me is actually reading (and understanding) the articles on this site.

  • bucncrazy

    No rookie had a bigger impact than David! The Bucs run defense went from worst to first tackles for a loss are as good or better than sacks

  • bucncrazy

    The Dougernaut(Doug Martin) doesnt make the list Huh? What he was able to do behind a makeshift O-line. He could have broke the single game rushing record if Schiano had let him! Morris is a product of the Shanahan zone running scheme. ?.