Written by: Matthew Blunk
The 2011 NFL season saw many rookies make an immediate impact on their
teams. It is all the more impressive considering the NFL and its
players were engaged in a lengthy lockout throughout the offseason,
hindering a rookie's chance at contributing in his first year.
Let us examine the five finest seasons of 2011 by a rookie.
Just missed the cut:
Julio Jones, ATL
54 receptions/959 receiving yards/17.8 yards per catch/8 TD
After the Falcons traded five draft picks to acquire him, the expectations for Jones going into his rookie season were rather heavy. Fair or not, he was supposed to come in and make a difference in the Falcons' aerial attack. He was supposed to provide a deep threat. He was supposed to draw attention away from Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. And he did. Despite missing three games with a hamstring injury, Jones made the most of the 13 games he did play in the regular season, and was one of the few Falcons who seemed interested in their 24-2 loss to the New York Giants in the playoffs. Atlanta has plenty of kinks yet to work out, but Jones will not be one of them. He could be an elite receiver very soon.
5) Aldon Smith, SF
37 tackles/14 sacks/2 forced fumbles
The 49ers got their first-round bye in the playoffs thanks to an efficient offense and their elite, opportunistic defense. Smith was a key figure in getting the San Francisco D over the hump, playing a relentless style off the edge, bookending the 49ers pass rush with All-Pro Justin Smith (brother from another mother). While he did finish with 2.5 more sacks than Miller, Smith arguably benefitted more from having the other Smith draw well-deserved respect from opposing offensive tackles and tight ends than Miller did from Dumervil. Miller was the best pass rusher for the Broncos. But Smith belongs on any best rookie list after what he accomplished in 2011.
4) A. J. Green
65 receptions/1,057 receiving yards/16.3 yards per catch/7 TD
3) Andy Dalton, CIN
80.4 QB rating/58.1% completion percentage/3,398 passing yards/20 TD/13 INT
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Green and Dalton in an effort to rebuild their offense after parting ways with Palmer, Chad Ochocinco, and Terrell Owens. Not even Marvin Lewis could have expected how well it would work. Green was every bit the deep threat he was supposed to be and Dalton proved to be a steal out of the second round, playing with poise and showing more arm strength than his critics gave him credit for. Together, the two rookies had a huge hand in guiding the Bengals back to the playoffs this season.
2) Von Miller, DEN
64 tackles/11.5 sacks/2 forced fumbles
On a team already equipped with an elite pass rusher in Elvis Dumervil, Miller stood out among the pack. The defensive end out of Texas A&M had 11.5 sacks, consistently terrorizing opposing quarterbacks all season long. He aided Denver's defense in rounding into shape and became one of the team's best players. Miller is already among the league's elite pass rushers and will only improve. Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, and Matt Cassel can't be especially pleased they have to worry about this guy at least twice a year.
And finally we come to the best NFL rookie of the 2011 season! Who is it? I'll tell you what, I'll give you three guesses...
1) Cam Newton, CAR
84.5 QB rating/60% completion percentage/4,051 passing yards/21 TD/17 INT/706 rushing yards/14 TD
No. 1 (both in the draft and on his uniform) came to Charlotte just as advertised. And he didn't waste any time before showing what he can do. Week One in Arizona, Newton threw 422 yards and two TDs in a 28-21 loss. Onlookers were impressed, as it was one of the most memorable debuts for a rookie quarterback ever. But surely in Week Two the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers would show him a thing or two? Not so. For Newton launched 432 yards passing, and proved he was much more than a scrambler. It set the tone for the rest of 2011, as Newton threw with accuracy and purpose on his way to an impressive quarterback rating. He also broke the record for rushing touchdowns by a QB. Newton has all the makings of an elite NFL signal caller. The sky's the limit for Superman.
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