Top 13 final NFL 2012 Rookie Rankings

January 5, 2013

Tabbed by many as "The Year of the Rookie," 2012 has seen a surprising number of first-year signal-callers defying conventional wisdom and leading their teams into the postseason in Seattle, Indianapolis, and Washington.

However, the productivity among rookie performers has not been limited to just those taking snaps under center, as our list below shows that there have been a number of impressive rookies at other positions across the league.

Here is our list of the Top 13 NFL rookies of 2012:

#13 (tie) Morris Claiborne CB, Dallas

Claiborne was one of two solid pickups in the defensive secondary for the Cowboys in addition to physical veteran corner Brandon Carr. The former LSU standout has started all 15 games he appeared in as a frosh performer, and although his play has been unsteady at times, he certainly still has a bright future ahead of him.

Claiborne tallied season totals of 55 tackles and 8 passes defensed, along with 2 fumble recoveries. He has shown good technique in both pass coverage and run support, as well as a good feel at his young age for knowing when to come out of his back pedal and then turn and run with his man.

#13 (tie) Stephon Gilmore CB, Buffalo

Gilmore, a 6-foot, 190-pounder out of South Carolina, has impressed as a rookie. Starting all 16 games for the Bills, Gilmore had 16 pass break-ups. Gilmore has shown good technique in addition to a willingness to stick his nose in there and make tackles, something not always seen from elite pass-covering players on the perimeter. One of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak campaign for the the football faithful in upstate New York.

#11 Casey Hayward CB, Green Bay

Hayward was seen by some to be a reach as a second round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. However, the rookie cornerback out of Vanderbilt has been a revelation for the Packers this year, and just slightly edges out his counterparts listed above.

Benefiting from the presence of veteran defensive back Tramon Williams, Hayward has shown a nose for the ball, dating back to his college days. This has continued during his rookie season in the NFL, as he has tallied 6 picks and 21 passes defensed in just 7 starts. Although opposing teams have continued to target him, thus far, Hayward has proven to be up to the task.

#10 Chandler Jones DE, New England

Jones has done well in filling the hybrid OLB/DE role previously manned by Mike Vrabel and Roosevelt Colvin in Bill Belichick and Pepper Johnson's scheme. The 260-pound, 6'5" Syracuse alum has put up more than respectable stats in his rookie campaign, compiling 45 total tackles, 6 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. Look for Jones' productivity to increase as the Pats defensive braintrust finds more ways to utilize this versatile, budding young star.

#9 (tie) Bobby Wagner LB & Bruce Irvin DE, Seattle

This pair of rookie defenders has been a vital cog in one of the league's most dominant defenses. Wagner came in unheralded out of little-known Utah State, yet raised plenty of eyebrows in racking up 140 total tackles -- including several games with double digit tackles -- and picking off opposing quarterbacks on 3 occasions.

Although he certainly has been more widely celebrated than his rookie mate on the Seattle D, Irvin's play has been feast or famine. Despite his more than respectable 8 sacks, Irvin has a maddeningly head-scratching low season total of just 17 tackles.

Regardless of their inconsistencies, the Seahawks already stout defense has certainly found two diamonds in the rough that figure to shine bright on the defensive side for years to come.

#7 Luke Kuechly LB, Carolina

Although Kuechly's numbers (NFL-best 165 total tackles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 2 interceptions as a rookie middle linebacker on a middling team) certainly pop out of the page, such gaudy stats are nothing new for the Boston College grad who actually put up equally impressive season totals of 183 and 191 tackles in his sophomore and junior seasons as an Eagle, respectively.

#6 Trent Richardson RB, Cleveland

Richardson had considerably less success statistically in comparison with the other two tailbacks on our list. However, it must be noted that Richardson also played on a far less potent offense -- himself notwithstanding -- and played through considerable pain for much of the year.

That being said, it is our belief that Richardson is actually the best all-around back already among the three. This is due not only to his 51 receptions (a much higher than average number of catches out of the backfield), but also to the praise that has rightfully been heaped on him by veteran coaches and opposing players alike for his understanding of pass blocking and blitz pick-up -- an overlooked, but critical skill for any every-down back to possess.

#5 Alfred Morris RB, Washington

Morris averaged 5 yards a carry in rushing for 1,613 yards and accounting for 83 first downs. In addition, he scored 13 touchdowns in his rookie campaign, while starting all 16 games and playing a vital role on a team that surprised many, including this writer, as the last team standing in the brutal NFC East.

#4 Doug Martin RB, Tampa Bay

The Boise State and Bay Area product affectionately dubbed the "Muscle Hamster," slightly edges out his competition as a featured back by nature of his 1,454 yards rushing and 11 scores. Martin also added 49 receptions for another 472 yards.

Martin's rookie year is best remembered for his 251-yard, 4-touchdown game against Oakland in which he became just the second player in NFL history to score on runs of over 70, 65, and 45 yards in a game.

And now, the Cream of the Crop . . .

#3 Robert Griffin III QB, Washington

What more needs to be said? Griffin threw for 3,200 yards, while completing an astounding 65.6% of his pass attempts. He also gained 815 yards rushing to boot, including an unforgettable 76-yard house call against the Vikings.

More importantly, Griffin led his team to a 10-6 record, although he did miss parts of two games due to injury. For that reason alone (durability factor), he gets slightly edged by his two counterparts in Indy and the Pacific Northwest.

#2 Andrew Luck QB, Indianapolis

Luck, the first overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, accumulated an astounding 4,374 yards passing and impressed with a 54.1% completion percentage. He also led his team to an 11-5 record in more than admirably replacing the legendary Peyton Manning.

#1 Russell Wilson QB, Seattle

With 3,118 yards passing, 489 yards rushing, a 64% completion percentage, an 11-5 team record, and 27 touchdowns against just 10 picks, Wilson did everything that was asked of him, and then some. Heady, steady play and unflappable leadership while playing in often less-than-ideal throwing conditions in the blustery Pacific Northwest, gives the former NC State and Wisconsin product the nod as the top rookie of 2012.

Honorable Mention

Matt Kalil LT, Minnesota
T.Y. Hilton WR, Indianapolis
Ryan Tannehill QB, Miami
Brandon Weeden QB, Cleveland
Stevan Ridley RB, New England
Vick Ballard RB, Indianapolis
Fletcher Cox DT, Philadelphia

By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for The Daily Sports Herald

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