Your Midseason All-Rookie Team

Posted by Micheal Profetta On November – 2 – 2011

With college teams well into their conference schedules and the NFL season officially at the halfway point, the top 2012 NFL Draft prospects and every NFL teams’ greatest needs are beginning to come into focus. In other words, it’s time for draftniks to get serious.

On that end, Mr. Brad Clark (who is probably absorbing college game tape as you’re reading this) has got you covered with his daily prospect updates here at NFL’s Future. With Brad doing the heavy lifting, I thought I’d take the opportunity to revisit the 2011 NFL Draft with my midseason NFL All-Rookie team. As most of you could have guessed back in April, it hasn’t been a banner season for rookie running backs, safeties or tight ends, but a promising crop of young QBs and potential record-breaking seasons from a few pass-rushers make for exciting early returns on the 2011 NFL Draft class overall.    


Cam is making a joke of NFL defenses


Cam Newton Carolina   Newton is making fantasy football owners who took a flyer on him in the late rounds look like geniuses (*pats self on the back*) with 2,393 passing yards (more than some dudes named Rodgers and Brady) and seven rushing touchdowns (more than McFadden, Foster, Gore and MJD, to name a few). Beyond the unprecedented rookie numbers, Newton has kept a bad Carolina team competitive in every contest, while exhibiting great leadership and legit accountability after losses…you know, just like we all predicted he would.

Andy Dalton gets honorable mention here for the simple fact that he has the Bengals in the playoff hunt, but  no rookie has been more valuable to his team (statistically or otherwise) than Newton.       


Bruce Miller San Francisco   The NFL fullback is dead. Long live the NFL fullback. Miller has made a seamless transition from college defensive end to NFL fullback while stirring memories of Tom Rathman in ‘Frisco. Serving as Jim Harbaugh’s “Owen Marecic”, Miller’s snot-bubble blocking has been instrumental to the success of the 49ers’ grinding ground attack. This seventh-round steal could garner serious Pro Bowl consideration this season.


DeMarco Murray Dallas   Can I pick Cam Newton here, too?

Murray gets the nod over oft-injured and inconsistent competition like Mark ingram and Daniel Thomas solely on the merits of his franchise-record 253 yard outburst against the Rams. Yeah, that’s how bad this year’s crop of rookie runners is. (So bad, in fact, that I gave Indianapolis’ Delone Carter some consideration here…simply because he’s one of the few Colts who has played like he still gives a crap.)

For all of you old-schoolers who love a downhill running game, just wait until next season, when Trent Richardson will bring home the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award for the Browns, Seahawks, Broncos, or whatever team is smart enough to grab him in the top ten of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Wide receiver

A.J. Green Cincinnati   The fourth pick in the 2011 NFL Draft has been everything that the Bengals hoped he would be. He leads all rookies in every receiving stat that matters (33 catches,  516 yards, 5 TDs) and has only scratched the surface of his potential. If he continues to add muscle and refinine his route-running while growing alongside Andy Dalton, Green could emerge as the AFC’s top wideout in short order. 

Doug Baldwin Seattle   The numbers don’t lie. This undrafted free agent has outperformed more heralded rookies like Julio Jones and Torrey Smith with 25 catches, 403 yards (16.1 AVG) and 2 TDs. He’s emerging as a viable weapon for whoever may be under center in Pete Carroll’s weekly QB carousel. Will Baldwin’s level of production continue beyond this season? Maybe not (remember Drew Bennett?), but his production through half of a season demands his inclusion on the midseason All-Rookie team.     

Tight end

Lance Kendricks St. Louis   Kendricks (13 catches, 175 yards) edges out Kyle Rudolph from what has been an uninspiring crop of rookie TEs. Like Rudolph, he’s been largely called on to block due to poor O-line play. Kendricks has struggled with drops, but he flashes some play-making potential, and could emerge as a nice weapon over the middle if the Rams can ever get Sam Bradford, Steven Jackson and Brandon Lloyd on the field at the same time. 

Left tackle

Anthony Castonzo Indianapolis   Castonzo makes the team only for the lack of any other options at left tackle. He was drafted to be the long-term answer on the blindside in Indianapolis, but like everything else in the Colts’ nightmarish season, that plan hasn’t worked out as hoped. A high ankle sprain has limited Castonzo to four uneven games. 

Left guard

Stefen Wisniewski Oakland   Perhaps the best of the rookie blockers, Wisniewski has combined with second-year OT Jared Veldheer to form a nasty duo on the left side of the O-line. Like his uncle Steve, Wisniewski should be a fixture in the Raiders’ lineup (and on the AFC Pro Bowl squad) for the next decade. 


Mike Pouncey Miami   After a harsh NFL baptism in Week One vs. New England (and more specifically, Vince Wilfork), Pouncey has settled in and become one of the few bright spots in a dreadful season in South Beach. He’s allowed just one sack (Wilfork) while playing disciplined, mistake-free football. His ability to get out ahead on screens from the center position is rivaled only by his brother, Maurkice. Like many, I questioned the Dolphins’ “safe” selection of Pouncey at #15 back in April. Thus far, his rookie performance has me gobbling up my words. 

Right guard

John Moffitt Seattle   A rash of injuries and the transition to Tom Cable’s zone-blocking scheme have made for an unsettled offensive line in Seattle, but Moffitt has been a rock. The third-rounder has started all seven games at right guard and showed steady inprovement amid the chaos. He could be the Seahawks’ best guard since Steve Hutchinson.

Right tackle

Tyron Smith Dallas   Smith allowed two sacks and had a rough time in general during the Cowboys’ blowout loss to the Eagles, but overall, he has played very well this season, allowing only one and a half sacks before this Sunday, and commiting very few penalties. He’s outperformed LT Doug Free and could replace Free on the blindside in the near future. Still only twenty-years old, the sky is the limit with Smith.  


Defensive linemen

Marcell Dareus Buffalo   It appears that the Bills made a wise decision back in April, when they passed on Blaine Gabbert in favor of Dareus. Fresh off of a dominant performance (2.5 sacks) against the Redskins’ battered offensive line, Dareus is emerging as a disruptive force from anywhere along the D-line. He may already be the Bills’ best defensive player and shows All-Pro potential.

Adrian Clayborn Tampa Bay   Clayborn has steadily improved through seven games and is quietly emerging as a force in Tampa. At 6-3/285, he’s not your sleek, J.P.P. type 4-3 right defensive end, but he uses his great strength and incredibly heavy hands to completely shut down the run and consistently get into the backfield. Clayborn is a physical tone-setter and leads the Bucs with three sacks.   

Phil Taylor Cleveland   Taylor and fellow rookie Jabaal Sheard are proving to be disruptive forces against both the run and pass. At 6-4/355, Taylor is capable of clogging up the interior and gets a great push into the backfield (his three sacks are tied with fellow behemoth DT Ahtyba Rubin for the team lead). Taylor still has a ton of upside and, along with Rubin, should anchor the Browns’ up-and-coming defense going forward. Very early returns suggest that Cleveland may have got the better of their draft day trade with Atlanta.

Sheard and Houston’s J.J. Watt get honorable mention here.


Aldon Smith is on pace to break the rookie sack record with 6.5 through 7 games

Aldon Smith San Francisco   Smith, my preseason pick for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (*pats self on the back again*), has 6.5 sacks through seven games, putting him on pace to break Jevon Kearse’s rookie sack record (14.5). In an astonishingly short time, Smith has evolved from a sparsely-used pass-rushing specialist into a three-down, all-around terror for the resurgent ‘Niners. Von Miller still has some say in the DROY voting, but with San Francisco and Denver looking like two teams going in opposite directions, my money is on Smith to bring home the hardware. The 49ers’ remaining schedule offers a buffet of piss-poor offensive lines on which Smith should feast (Arizona and St. Louis twice, Washington, Seattle, Pittsburgh). He may not just break Kearse’s record…he could annihilate it.    

Von Miller Denver   Miller has 6 sacks and 2 forced fumbles this season, while holding up surprisingly well against the run as a 4-3 SLB. With Tim Tebow under center and sure to give opponents early leads, Miller may not get enough opportunities to pad his sack total and keep pace with Aldon Smith. Still, he has been (arguably) Denver’s best defensive player and their only source of a pass rush, which makes John Fox’s recent demotion of the dynamic rookie all the more baffling. Maybe there really is something to all of this “Suck for Luck” stuff.   

Mason Foster Tampa Bay   The Bucs have been enigmatic this season, but there’s no doubting that they’re a young team on the rise, thanks in no small part to GM Mark Dominik’s recent, defense-heavy drafts that have netted immediate, solid contributors like Clayborn and Foster. Foster began the season on fire, looking like a darkhorse contender for DROY honors early on, before an ankle injury cooled him off. Still, Foster has played like a seasoned veteran, and with 32 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble and a fumble recovery through seven games, he has been an upgrade from Barrett Ruud and the best rookie ILB.

Ryan Kerrigan Washington    Leading up to the NFL Draft, there were questions regarding Kerrigan’s athleticism and his ability to make the tricky transition from DE to OLB, but he’s put those questions to bed with 40 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 passes defended and an INT returned for a TD through seven games. Obviously, Kerrigan’s uncanny nose for the ball has not been compromised in his transition to the NFL level. Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo comprise the most promising set of bookend 3-4 OLBs in the NFL.

Houston’s Brooks Reed has really come on since replacing the injured Mario Williams at OLB in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme. He gets honorable mention here, along with Tennessee’s Akeem Ayers.

Defensive backs

Patrick Peterson Arizona   The fifth overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft was (and still is) expected to emerge as a legitimate shutdown corner in short order, but he has struggled through seven games. Opposing quarterbacks have targeted Peterson often and have found great success (he’s allowed almost 70% of the passes thrown his way to be completed). Thanks to early injuries to guys like Prince Amukamara, Jimmy Smith and Aaron Williams, Peterson is the top rookie corner almost by default. In Peterson’s defense, the Cardinals’ anemic pass rush hasn’t helped his cause. It should also be noted that Peterson has showed gradual improvement with every game and is coming off his best performance, in which he neutralized Pittsburgh speedster Mike Wallace.  

Marcus Gilchrist San Diego   The second-rounder from Clemson opened some eyes with his aggressive kick coverage before taking over as the #2 corner for disappointing ’08 first-rounder Antoine Cason. Gilchrist has done a solid job as a starter, getting his hands dirty against the run and getting his first NFL interception in a win over the Dolphins. Gilchrist’s emergence probably means a one-way ticket out of San Diego for Cason, who would join Sammy Davis, Larry English, Buster Davis and Ryan Mathews as recent first round wash-outs for GM A.J. Smith. (No, I don’t think it’s too soon to include Mathews. He’s awful.)

Chris Conte Chicago   A popular pre-draft sleeper, Conte has graduated from kick coverage demon to the starting free safety role in place of Brandon Meriweather. At 6-2/197, he has showed good range as the last line of defense and recorded an interception against Tampa Bay. An intelligent player with great leadership skills, Conte could finally bring some stability to the free safety position in Chicago.   

DeMarcus Van Dyke Oakland   Every draftnik worth their salt knew immediately after “DVD” completed his 4.28 forty at the Combine that he was destined to wear the Silver and Black. Van Dyke was the ultimate high upside/zero production prospect coming out of Miami (Fla.), so when the late Al Davis made the marriage official in the third round, most of us snickered. The funny thing is, it may have been a good pick. Van Dyke hasn’t looked overwhelmed in his three starts in place of the injured Chris Johnson. In his most recent matchup against Dwayne Bowe, he held the physical wideout (relatively) in check (76 yards, 0 TDs), while posting four tackles, an interception and two passes defended. The 6-1/180 Van Dyke has showed a physicality that belies his slight frame. He needs to add some weight, but he has a swagger and doesn’t back down from a challenge.  At the very least, DVD should emerge as a solid nickel corner, which isn’t a bad value for a third-rounder. Somewhere, Mr. Davis is laughing.       



Alex Henery Philadelphia   David Akers’ replacement missed two crucial fourth quarter field goals in the Eagles’ loss to San Francisco, but has been solid otherwise…not as solid as Akers has been with San Francisco, but whatever. They’re just kickers. 


Ryan Donahue Detroit   Matt Bosher, for whom Atlanta burned a sixth-round pick (ahead of solid contributors like Tyler Sash, Brian Rolle and Bruce Miller), is currently floundering at the bottom of the punter rankings, while Donahue, an undrafted rookie free agent from Iowa, is hanging out near the top of the rankings with the Andy Lees of the world. The lesson here? Don’t draft punters.

Return specialist

Patrick Peterson Arizona   With a 19.1 yard average and 2 TDs on punt returns, Peterson has lived up to the “big play waiting to happen” hype…on special teams, anyway.

Honorable mention goes to Green Bay’s Randall Cobb, who has averaged 30.5 yards per kickoff return, including a 108 yard TD. His numbers make you wonder what kind of damage he could do if not for the ridiculous new kickoff rule.

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