Who will win NFL Rookie of the YEAR?

Ndamukong suh

The lockout is over, training camp has begun and the NFL season is closer every day. For the Draft class of 2011 it’s been a difficult start, but who amongst them one of them will succeed Sam Bradford & Ndamukong Suh (pictured) as the Offensive & Defensive Rookies of the year? What will the season hold for Cam Newton? Mark Payne looks at the 20 most likely to challenge for the big rookie award

20. Ryan Mallet – QB – New England Patriots

Ok, I’ll admit it this is a stretch. But if disaster happened to strike the Patriots and Brady suffered a season ending injury, then why not? He has definitely got superstar potential; height, arm strength, accuracy. Furthermore, under the pressure of the NFL I feel the competitiveness of Mallet would leave little opportunity for his character flaws to re-emerge.

19. Tyron Smith – OT – Dallas Cowboys

Tyron Smith has huge arms and power, he piled on the necessary weight prior to the combine and at 20 has plenty of NFL years in front of him. However, there are some who have suggested that Smith may have been better following Andrew Luck’s lead and spending more time at College learning the game. That being said I can see him making an instant impact to the Cowboys partnering with Doug Free.

18. JJ Watt – DE – Houston Texans

JJ Watt was once considered to be a number one overall pick in the 2011 draft however questions about his size lowered his draft stock slightly. Don’t be fooled though, Watt has plenty of space on his frame to add muscle he also has a reputation as a hard worker and proved his durability; completing his college career without missing a game. He’s on the list because he’s  a star for the future who will start, however, I feel the 2011 season will be one year to early for him to make a real run at the rookie of the year title.

17. Aldon Smith – OLB/DE – San Francisco 49ers

Aldon Smith offers flexibility to Harbaugh with the skillset to play as both a linebacker and a defensive end. With his extremely powerful hands and ability to beat his man quickly Aldon Smith is more suitable for frightening quarterbacks this year on the end of the line. With some great fakes and dummies in his locker Smith is a strong outsider for rookie of the year.

16. Robert Quinn – DE – St Louis Rams

Robert Quinn starred in his first college season in College football before being banned by the NCAA for accepting gifts from sponsors. For many, a year away would see a decline in their draft stock, Quinn however hit the weight room and as a consequence now has the power to go with the speed and agility that made him a three time heavyweight wrestling champion.

15. A.J. Green – WR – Cincinnati Bengals

Tall, quick, great hands; Green is almost the prototypical Wide Receiver. If he adds a few pounds of muscle in the pre-season the Bengals will have a player that could leave people choking on their Ochocinco’s.  He has provided some of the youtube’s finest football moments, in particular his incredible one handed catch as a high school player against South Carolina. He played a pro-offence at Georgia not the popular college ‘spread’ formation. The only question for his Rookie of the year run lies at the Bengals QB position.

14. Stephen Paea – DT – Chicago Bears

He may be a fourth round pick but Paea is a star in the making. Paea’s incredible strength was highlighted in the combine when Paea when bench-pressed 225kg 49 times, the best since 1999, on the field he earned a reputation for getting to the quarterback and stripping the ball. He may have to wait his turn, but I see him starting on the Bears defence sooner rather than later and when he does he will make a difference.

13. Da’Quan Bowers – DE – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Every NFL draft has at least one player whose draft stock plummets, the 2011 draft was no different with Da’Quan Bowers falling from a rumoured provisional #1 overall slot in April to the 52nd rookie pick. There’s no doubting his talent, a unanimous All-American, Bronko Nagurski winner and Atlantic Conference Defensive Player of the year. He is prodigious talent considered the best player in the nation in terms of sacks with 15.5 and tackles for loss but, it is injury that is likely to stall Bowers charge on the NFL rather than any lack of skill. Rumours lit up the internet post-draft suggesting that Bower’s NFL career had ended before it had begun, though these now appear premature. He is one of my tips for the very top of the game and I expect him to make a charge for the rookie of the year title… injury permitting.

12. Cam Newton – QB – Carolina Panthers

It was inevitable that the number one overall pick would appear in the list. He has to be included, he’s an incredibly quick QB with a good arm, however, he played the dreaded spread offence at college and only played one year as starter at college after playing second fiddle to Florida Gators demi-god and Bronco backup Tim Tebow. He is a hard player to judge, he has the build of a linebacker, the pace of a running back and a strong arm but still has the potential to be this years Ryan Leaf.

11. Cameron Jordan – DE – New Orleans Saints

Cameron Jordan was a player who blindsided a number of analysts, he had dominated QB’s and RB’s in the pacific division playing as an every down run-stopper. However, when the Saints picked him up early people began to hail his quality, excellent strength, good enough size and pace for the top level and with some more work on stopping the passing game in training camp he will be a strong contender.

10. Ryan Kerrigan – DE – Washington Redskins

Ryan Kerrigan boasts impressive college stats; 136 tackles, 25 sacks and a Big-10 conference record for most forced fumbles with 14. He overpowers almost all opposition players, has no problem getting to the quarterback and hitting him hard. However, unlike the other DE’s in the draft class Kerrigan is less agile and has a tendency to get held at the line by quality players, he will need to improve his agility to star in the NFL but those stats suggest Kerrigan can make the jump to the big-time.

9. Prince Amukamura – CB – New York Giants

Prince fell down the board on draft day straight into a side where he can star from the outset. At college Amukamara was so feared in his final college year that he spent his time creating the collegiate equivalent of Reavis island. He won’t start straight away, but I can see him outcompeting one of the Giants starting corners and making a bid for NFL superstardom. The NFL lockout has probably inhibited his progress but with the speed, hands and strength he possesses he should be making a run at the rookie of the year crown at some point this year.

8. Mike Pouncey – G – Miami Dolphins

Mike Pouncey is not his brother. There I’ve said it, the comparisons are easy to make but there aren’t too many similarities between the pair.  Though he can play at centre he lacks the athleticism of Maurkice, something that would undoubtedly be highlighted on the sports highest stage. However, Mike Pouncey is pacey and stronger than his brother with an eye for supporting the run, he has the quality to be the standout guard in this class.

7. Marcel Darius – DT – Buffalo Bills

Like a great deal of football fans my eye was drawn to the potential defensive tackle partnership between Suh and Fairley following the NFL draft but the Bills could have their own mean team in Buffalo with Marcell Dareus and pro bowler Kyle Williams. However, the defensive MVP of the BCS Championship game is more likely to start on the outside of the line at DE, a position he played at college as a consequence of his explosive speed over a short distance and his movement off the line. He can fill in also fill in at NT and it’s his flexibility that means he will undoubtedly play a major role in the Bills 2011 campaign.

6. Blaine Gabbert – QB – Jacksonville Jaguars

In Blaine Gabbert the Jags have secured the safest QB in the draft. He has a style not dissimilar to Aaron Rodgers, a quick, accurate throwing action and the pace and awareness to extend plays when the pocket breaks down. Gabbert was very accurate at College level and preferred to keep his accuracy stat high at the expense of his total passing yards, leading to a reduction in his total interceptions year on year, something which will have impressed the Jags backroom. He is tall enough to see over the line and at 225lbs he’s the perfect weight for a QB. If a QB wins rookie of the year, the safe money is on Gabbert.

5. Mark Ingram – RB – New Orleans Saints

What do you do when your Heisman trophy winning running back leaves in a cloud of displeasure? Well you pick another in the second round to add to an already talented backfield of Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas. He will be a utility back at first, but if he can improve on his blocking and getting to the edge he may well face more downs by mid-season. With a solid run in the side he could well push for the rookie of the year.

4. Nick Fairley – DT – Detroit Lions

When the Lions pulled Nick Fairley out of the draft pool, Brett Favre probably rang Vikings head coach Leslie Fraizer to ensure he was definitely retired. Why? The Lions have defensive rookie of the year Ndamukong Suh at DT too and Nick Fairley would be an aggressive compliment to him. 6’5, 290lb, and with 40 yard dash of 4.89 he’s a terrifying prospect with eyes on that rookie of the year prize. If you’re still unsure of his credentials, consider this, in 2010 he made 22 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks and beat all conquering Cam Newton to the MVP in the national game. Right him off at your peril

3. Julio Jones – WR – Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons sprang a huge surprise in the first round as they traded everything but the kitchen sink to hook Julio Jones. He has a reputation as a dropper and was behind AJ Green on many mock draftboards but there’s something about Jones that Green doesn’t have. He is quick but not electric, he can make people miss in the backfield, and he can run people over. He has a solid set of skills and physicals but it’s the offence that Jones will slot into that sets him apart. Michael Turner, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and in particular Matt Ryan are all able to make big plays and ease the load on Jones which will enable him the freedom to make some big plays for the Falcons as they push for the Superbowl. Jones is my favourite for the offensive rookie of the year award.

2. Patrick Peterson – CB – Arizona Cardinals

Widely regarded to be the best on the board in the draft Patrick Peterson is just pipped at the post for my rookie of the year by another player on the defensive side of the ball but he is set for an awesome year. Peterson was the best performer in the 40-yard dash, the 60-yard shuttle and 3-cone drill which highlights the incredible pace and agility that made Peterson such a handful in college. A great pair of hands are only let down by his inability to stay with juking players at the line of scrimmage.

1. Von Miller – OLB – Denver Broncos

It was a tough call to pick between Von Miller and Peterson but the Denver OLB has all the attributes in place to become a great player in the NFL. He showed consistency throughout his time in College and won the Butkiss award to boot in his final year. He’s 6’3 240lbs, starred in both the combine and Texas A&M’s pro day and already has experience of the 3-4 defence. A very athletic player with the quality to make bigtime plays. He’s my pick for Rookie of the year!


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