I don't want to be the one to deliver the bad news, but in case you weren't aware of it yet, there are only three games left to be played in the NFL this season. I'll give you a moment to let this sink in, and I completely understand if you need to sit down. Take your time. It is true, after this upcoming weekend's pair of Conference Championship Games, all that's left is Super Bowl XLVII and then there will be no more football until the preseason rolls around in August. But fret not! Now is not a time to despair, but rather, commemorate and reflect upon the triumphs and accomplishments that occurred over the course of the 2012 regular season. In particular, it is usually customary to acknowledge the performances which were submitted by the class of rookies who have just finished up their first year of professional football. That is what I will be attempting to do here, by bringing you my selections for the 2012 All-Rookie Team!
Robert Griffin III - (WAS)
Well that wasn't obvious. Griffin had to hold off a late season surge by Russell Wilson, and the first-year signal caller for the Seahawks was definitely impressive in his own right. However, Griffin still beat Wilson out across the board in just about every category you can think of. Completion percentage, total yardage, yards per attempt, touchdown-to-interception ratio, rushing yards, and yards per rushing attempt. Andrew Luck would also be considered for this spot in some circles, but I think it is easy to dismiss him when comparing him to his other two aforementioned contemporaries.
Alfred Morris - (WAS)
It's rather difficult to argue with the choice of Morris here, despite Doug Martin's also notably impressive season down in Tampa. Morris posted the third-highest rushing total of all rookie runningbacks since 1970, and his 1,613 rushing yards were the most by any rookie since Eric Dickerson's phenomenal rookie year in 1983 where he racked up over 1,800 yards for the Los Angeles Rams. All that being said, he is coached by Mike Shanahan, and I fully expect Evan Royster to rush for 1,347 yards next season. No more and no less.
Rhett Ellison - (MIN)
Rhett Ellison played 239 snaps on offense for the Minnesota Vikings this season, and still was only the #2 fullback on their depth chart this season, behind Jerome Felton. He did a lot of blocking for Adrian Peterson, notable NFL runningback who is quite good at the game of foot and ball. Umm...what else do you really expect me to say about a fullback?
Josh Gordon (CLE) & T.Y. Hilton (IND)
Supplemental draft selection, Josh Gordon, was the clear top selection among a very underwhelming crop of rookie wide receivers this past season. He only recorded sixty fewer yards than the leader among all rookies, Justin Blackmon, but with a drastically higher yards per reception figure and catch rate (Blackmon caught fewer than 50% of the balls thrown in his direction, Gordon caught 56.2% of passes thrown towards him). Meanwhile T.Y. Hilton only trailed Blackmon by five yards, and had catch rate and yards per reception numbers very similar to Gordon. Gordon got the nod over Hilton due to his added value as a blocker and Hilton's propensity for dropping passes. An honorable mention should also be given to Chris Givens, fourth-round selection of the St. Louis Rams.
Dwayne Allen (IND)
The Colts may have found a gem in third-round pick Dwayne Allen this past April. The former Clemson Tiger did a little bit of everything for the Colts and did it all exceptionally well. He caught 70% of the passes thrown to him, and was a solid contributor for the passing offense even though his raw numbers don't jump off the page. Allen really made his money in the trenches however, excelling as a run blocker to the point where rushing with their tight end as the leading blocker was the most successful route for them. The Colts didn't have a running game that wowed by any means, but with Allen as the lead blocker their runningbacks gained 420 yards on 96 attempts for a 4.4 YPC average.
Matt Kalil (MIN) & Mitchell Schwartz (CLE)
Matt Kalil was heralded as the next superstar left tackle prospect coming out of USC, and that within a few years we'd be mentioning his name right alongside Joe Thomas and Jake Long as the best in the league. Well Kalil certainly didn't do anything to let us down in his rookie season, submitting the best season of all first-year offensive tackles in 2012. He only gave up two sacks the entire year, and allowed his quarterback to be hit just two other times. To put it in other terms, Christian Ponder was only touched four times by a defender Matt Kalil was responsible for...in 556 passing plays. While Kalil was locking things down on the left side of the line in Minnesota, back down in Cleveland a second-round selection out of California was impressing on the right side. Mitchell Schwartz was plugged in as the starter from day one, and he played every single offensive snap for the Browns throughout the entire season. Over that time frame he gave up five sacks, allowed nine other hits, and nineteen additional hurries. These are numbers that are comparable in 2012 to established NFL right tackles like Tyson Clabo and Andre Smith. Both of these players could serve to improve as run blockers, and I'll give honorable mentions to Kelechi Osemele, and Cordy Glenn - who was on his way to taking one of these spots before getting injured and missing a chunk of the season.
Kevin Zeitler (CIN) & Ben Jones (HOU)
One of these selections was a no-brainer, and one of them kind of got in by default. Zeitler is the former, starting every game at right guard for the Bengals in 2012 and showing off his skills as a pass blocker. To wit, Pro Football Reference has a Pass Blocking Efficiency rating which measures pressures allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting towards sacks allowed. Among all guards this past season, Marshal Yanda graded as #1 in Pass Blocking Efficiency, Andy Levitre was #2, and Kevin Zeitler tied with Jahri Evans for #3. Quite an impressive list of company. On the other hand, Ben Jones finished the season in PBE nestled right in between Jamon Meredith and Jeff Linkenbach. He gets this spot though because while his pass blocking was mediocre at best, he was a fairly decent run blocker and that was the bread and butter of the Texans. There also just wasn't a lot of competition for the spot, as other rookie guards struggled mightily and left Ben Jones looking pretty good by comparison.
Trevor Robinson (CIN)
The Bengals come away with the 2012 Draft with two impressive young offensive linemen in both Kevin Zeitler and Trevor Robinson, an undrafted player out of Notre Dame. After Jeff Faine was signed by the Bengals and was named the starter, he proceeded to play his way out of a starting job by Week 8, and ultimately didn't finish the year on the roster after getting cut. Enter Robinson, who provided a much needed presence in the running game as a big blocker up front to pave the way for BenJarvus Green-Ellis. It certainly helps for Robinson that there were no other rookies in the league this past season that saw any significant time playing at center. But that's besides the point! Robinson and Zeitler combine to form a promising young duo in the middle of the offensive line for the Bengals.