We've made it through the first eight weeks of the 2012 NFL season. I know, I can't believe it's gone by so quickly either. And what a fun and unpredictable season it's been too; what with all the rookie quarterbacks, a defensive player being a serious candidate for MVP (Mr. J.J. Watt), and more bounty talk than you can shake a stick at. And who could forget that time Rob Gronkowski scored a touchdown in London, then went back to the sidelines and started partying with Lucy Pinder. Wait, that didn't happen? What?! How can we export The Gronk overseas and not have to deal with some sort of international incident? I'm disappointed. Let's just move on. Time to determine who the top rookies have been halfway through the 2012 season. The defense will be up tomorrow.
Quarterback - Robert Griffin III (WAS):
It's really hard to justify giving the quarterback spot on this team to anybody else besides RG3. He's completing nearly 67% of his passes while holding an average YPA of 8.0, even though he's attempted only 15 passes all season that have traveled more than 20 yards through the air. He's only thrown eight touchdown passes thus far, but he doesn't make mistakes and adds a significant amount of value with his legs as well (Griffin ranks 17th this year in rushing yards with 476). Go ahead and pick any statistic or measurement that you want really, and there's not much of a chance that Griffin isn't tops among all rookie QBs in the league this year. Luck and Tannehill have been good too, and Wilson and Weeden have shined at times as well, but Griffin currently is outpacing them all, and it's not really too hard of a question.
Runningback - Alfred Morris (WAS):
Expecting someone else here? It's a close race between three talented rookie runners who have shined thus far, but I give the slight edge to the sixth-round pick in Morris over a pair of first-rounders in Trent Richardson and Doug Martin. With 717 yards and 4.7 YPA to go along with five touchdowns, Morris has added his name to the laundry list of little-known backs who have broken out playing for Mike Shanahan, and paired with RG3 the Redskins have a very promising young duo in their backfield.
Fullback - Rhett Ellison (MIN):
What? Fullbacks are people too! As a matter of fact, the Vikings are the most progressive team in the league in that department. They have not one, but two fullbacks who have seen over 100 snaps this season in Ellison and Jerome Felton. Both have been proficient as blockers, and Ellison has added value with four receptions for 56 yards.
Wide Receivers - Alshon Jeffery (CHI) & Josh Gordon (CLE):
I'm going to be honest, the rookie wide receiver class has been really mediocre this year. Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, and Kendall Wright have failed to perform like first round picks so far. Second-round picks Brian Quick and Stephen Hill have respectively failed to get on the field and play with consistency. Alshon Jeffery sees a fair amount of snaps in the Bears offense and has been the best of a rather weak bunch. He's caught 14 of the 23 balls thrown his way for 184 yards and two touchdowns so far, with no dropped passes yet either. Those kind of numbers are good enough to make him the best rookie wide receiver so far.
The other wide receiver spot is practically a tossup between Gordon and St. Louis Rams fourth-round pick Chris Givens. Both specialize as deep threats, Gordon possessing the highest yards per reception average among all qualified receivers at 22.3, though Givens would best that mark by over a full three yards if he were qualified, sitting at 25.6 yards per reception himself. The supplemental draft pick in Gordon gets the slight edge though based on having a higher number of receptions, a higher completion percentage, more yards, and more touchdowns. Of course, all of these margins are rather slim, but Gordon still separates himself and that's what matters.
Tight End - Dwayne Allen (IND):
Dwayne Allen beats out his teammate and only real competition for this spot, Coby Fleener, based largely on the impressive performance he's put on as an extra blocker. Not that he hasn't been a good weapon in the receiving game too; Allen has caught 17 of the 22 passes aimed in his direction for a modest 174 yards and two touchdowns. His real impact has been in the running game though. Pro Football Focus has Allen rated as the fifth-best run blocking tight end in the league so far, not an easy feat for a rookie. I thought Allen was the best tight end in the 2012 draft class. So far his performance has vindicated my beliefs.
Offensive Tackles - Matt Kalil (MIN) & Mike Adams (PIT):
What a surprise! The player billed as the next elite left tackle shows up here. Matt Kalil has been positively spectacular protecting the blindside of Vikings' QB Christian Ponder thus far, having given up just one sack and only two other hits in 321 pass blocking snaps. As a matter of fact, Kalil has played every single snap for the Vikings this season. It hasn't all been roses for Kalil though. He has struggled in the run blocking department, sticking out even more than usual considering how good the rest of the Vikings' offensive line has been in this area. Running behind his left tackle, Adrian Peterson has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry on fifteen attempts. Compare that to his overall stat line - 775 yards rushing on 151 attempts and 5.1 yards per carry.
And no, that is not an error. Forced into a starting role after yet another wave of injuries crashed down upon the offensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Adams has actually looked the part of a solid starter at right tackle. He's flourished in the past two games since he was named the starter, showing the ability to both pass protect and run block. This is especially encouraging after the less than impressive preseason he had, where opposing defensive ends carved him up like hot butter. Whether or not this is just temporary or a sign of things to come, it's not exactly like Adams had much competition for this spot. Mitchell Schwartz and Kelechi Osemele have been far too inconsistent, and Jonathan Martin and Bobby Massie have just been too bad. If only Cordy Glenn hadn't had his season tragically cut short...
Guards - Kevin Zeitler (CIN) & Ben Jones (HOU):
Anybody who has kept up with the Rookie Report articles knows just how much I love Kevin Zeitler. He's been one of the best guards in the NFL this year period, not just one of the best rookie guards. He's given up just one sack and allowed only a further five hurries on quarterback Andy Dalton, and has been exceptional as a run blocker too. The running game for the Bengals has been disappointing as a whole, but Zeitler has been one of the few bright spots. He's rightfully earned a Pro Bowl selection, and even though he won't get any love because he's an offensive lineman (and a right guard no less), should really be in the discussion for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Meanwhile, deciding who the second best rookie guard has been so far is akin to sifting through a mound of crap, trying to find the shiniest turd. Ben Jones essentially wins by default despite lackluster performance overall. The Texans are an interesting team in the fact that they have seven offensive linemen on the team who have played over 100 snaps each, but the Texans haven't had any injuries on the line either. They've had the same starting five offensive linemen in every game, yet Jones and Ryan Harris have both gotten onto the field for over 100 snaps.
Center - Michael Brewster (JAX):
Representing for all the underdogs, Brewster is the only undrafted free agent to show up on offense for the All-Rookie team at the halfway mark. I'm actually cheating a little bit here. Brewster hasn't seen any snaps at center yet this season, but there have been no rookie centers this year and Brewster was billed as one coming out of Ohio State. He's actually seen most of his playing time at left guard, where he's performed decently enough. He's had a couple of poor games, but generally has been average overall. It's not exactly a glowing review, but I did say that there haven't been any rookie centers this year either.