Rookie Meter: Cushing finishes on top

Posted Jan. 05, 2010 @ 1:45 p.m.
Posted By Mike Holbrook

While this year's rookie class didn't boast the kind of standout QB play that marked the 2008 class, thanks to Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco leading their respective teams into the playoffs, there was an impressive number of instant-impact first-year players, particularly on defense, including three Pro Bowlers.

The rookies honored by selection to the Pro Bowl — Texans OLB Brian Cushing, Redskins OLB Brian Orakpo and Bills FS Jairus Byrd — fill three of the top five spots on the final Rookie of the Year Meter of the season, and each was deserving of the honor.

However, as can be seen by the rankings, a couple of other rookies also deserved Pro Bowl honors, led by likely Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin of the Vikings and Packers OLB Clay Matthews, who has proved to be a disruptive pass rusher and playmaker in Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme.

The rookie who rose above them all was Cushing, who moved into the top spot on the weekly Meter in October and stayed there the rest of the season, putting up consistently good performances week after week despite being nicked up at various points throughout the season (knee in preseason, foot and ribs late in the year).

Along with free-agent signees Antonio Smith and Bernard Pollard and fellow rookies Connor Barwin and Glover Quin, Cushing helped transform a porous Texans defense into a stout unit that was one of the best in the league the last 13 games of the season. Cushing added a physical presence to the "D" and also proved to be a top-notch playmaker, roaming all over the field to deliver big hits, make tackles and pick off passes. The only time he was really exposed in pass coverage was in Week Nine against Dallas Clark, Peyton Manning and the Colts. However, he worked to improve that aspect of his game and did a solid job overall.

He'll be in a tough fight for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with Orakpo, Rams MLB James Laurinaitis, Matthews and Byrd.

The Offensive Rookie of the Year is a no-brainer, with Harvin excelling in the Vikings' explosive attack and becoming a favorite target of Brett Favre's in no time. He also was a difference maker in the return game and is a threat to go all the way to the endzone each time he touches the ball.

On to the final Rookie of the Year Meter for the 2009 season:

1. OLB Brian Cushing, Texans (first round, 15th overall)
Made six tackles, one sack and one QB hit in a 34-27 comeback win over Patriots that gave the Texans the first winning season in franchise history. Was the first rookie outside linebacker to make the Pro Bowl since Shawn Merriman of the Chargers did so in 2005. On the season, he had an AFC-best (not just rookie-best) 134 tackles and led all linebackers with four interceptions. Was a big reason why the Texans rose to 13th (tie) in overall defense.

2. WR Percy Harvin, Vikings (1, 22)
Caught seven passes for 59 yards and rushed one time for 22 yards in a 44-7 romp over the Giants. Was a triple threat for the Vikings, with 60-790-6 (13.2 avg.) receiving, 15-135-0 (9.0) rushing and 42-1,156-2 (27.5) on kickoff returns. Settled right in as Favre's safety valve, making clutch catches in the middle of the field and on dump-offs and screens and using his great speed in space to turn those short passes into big gains. Was hampered by migraine headaches and a shoulder injury but showed toughness by suiting up in 15 games. Favre's two lowest passer ratings of the season occurred in the one game Harvin missed entirely and one game in which Harvin sat out considerable time.

3. OLB Clay Matthews, Packers (1, 26)
Didn't make a tackle but was his usual terror as a pass rusher, registering three QB hits in a 33-7 romp over the Cardinals. Matthews is a first alternate for the Pro Bowl and deservedly so. He ranks only behind fellow rookie Brian Orakpo in sacks among rookies (10) and added 51 tackles and three fumble recoveries. He has given Green Bay a much-needed playmaker, especially following the season-ending injury loss of fellow OLB Aaron Kampman.

4. OLB Brian Orakpo, Redskins (1, 13)
Appeared to hit the rookie wall late in the season and had just two tackles in a 23-20 loss at San Diego. Despite his lackluster play in the final three games, he was voted to the Pro Bowl, making him the first Redskins defensive rookie to make the Pro Bowl since the 1970 merger. For the season, he had 50 tackles, 11 sacks for 83½ yards lost and one forced fumble. His sacks total is best among all rookies and set a franchise record for most sacks in a season by a rookie.

5. FS Jairus Byrd, Bills (2, 42)
Byrd ended the season on injured reserve after being hampered by a groin injury in his last couple of games before being placed on I.R. on Dec. 23. He finished with nine interceptions, which tied for the league lead, grabbing five picks in the month of October alone. He is the first rookie DB in team history and third Bills rookie since 1970 to be selected to the Pro Bowl.

6. MLB James Laurinaitis, Rams (2, 35)
Made five tackles, one sack and one pass defensed in a 28-6 loss to 49ers. Worked in obscurity to some degree, playing for a 1-15 team, but made all the defensive calls and was tremendously consistent, finishing with 120 tackles, two sacks, seven passes defensed and two interceptions on the season.

7. OT Michael Oher, Ravens (1, 23)
Started at right tackle with the return of Jared Gaither to the OLT spot. Allowed one sack as QB Joe Flacco was sacked four times for the second consecutive week in a 21-13 victory over the Raiders that clinched a playoff berth for Baltimore. Helped pave the way for a running game that gashed Oakland to the tune of 240 yards, 6.9 yards per rush and three TDs. Had an uneven season, with eight sacks allowed and nine penalties, but deserves credit for starting all 16 games and bouncing back and forth between right and left tackle and not missing a beat.

8. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos (1, 12)
Had 14 carries for 50 yards and two touchdowns plus three catches for 48 yards in a 44-24 loss to the Chiefs in the season finale. Finished with a rookie-best 947 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and added two more scores receiving as he caught 28 passes for 213 yards (7.6 avg.) this season. Ran hard and showed a nose for the goal line but must improve upon his ball security, losing all four of his fumbles this season.

9. WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles (1, 19)
Caught three passes for 47 yards in the Eagles' disappointing 24-0 loss at Dallas, giving the NFC East title to the Cowboys and setting up a rematch between the teams on wild-card weekend. Maclin played hurt late in the season after suffering plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Still managed to start 13 games, with 55-762-4 (13.9 avg.) receiving. Has return ability but was limited in those duties as a rookie, with a combined 13 kickoff and punt returns.

10. S Louis Delmas, Lions (2, 33)
Made five tackles, one tackle for loss, one QB hit and one pass defensed in a 37-23 loss to the Bears. Was part of a secondary that was torched by opponents consistently this season, allowing 35 TD passes. Despite that poor mark, he proved to be a big-play maker for the Lions, with return scores on a fumble and an interception and being credited with a safety this season. Finished with 94 tackles, one sack and two interceptions.

On the cusp (listed alphabetically)
WR Austin Collie, Colts (4, 127)
CB Derek Cox, Jaguars (3, 73)
WR Michael Crabtree, 49ers (1, 10)
CB Vontae Davis, Dolphins (1, 25)
OT Phil Loadholt, Vikings (2, 54)
WR Hakeem Nicks, Giants (1, 29)
CB Jerraud Powers, Colts (3, 92)
CB Glover Quin, Texans (4, 112)
OG Louis Vasquez, Chargers (3, 78)
RB Beanie Wells, Cardinals (1, 31)

Also considered (listed by draft order):

QB Mark Sanchez, Jets (1, 5)
OT Eugene Monroe, Jaguars (1, 8)
C  Alex Mack, Browns (1, 21)
WR Kenny Britt, Titans (1, 30)
CB Darius Butler, Patriots (2, 41)
DE Connor Barwin, Texans (2, 46)
OG Max Unger, Seahawks (2, 49)
RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles (2, 53)
OT Sebastian Vollmer, Patriots (2, 58)
RB Shonn Greene, Jets (3, 65)
DT Terrance Knighton, Jaguars (3, 72)
OLB DeAndre Levy, Lions (3, 76)
DT Roy Miller, Buccaneers (3, 81)
WR Mike Wallace, Steelers (3, 84)
CB Chris Owens, Falcons (3, 90)
OT T.J. Lang, Packers (4, 109)
DT Sammie Hill, Lions (4, 115)
WR Louis Murphy, Raiders (4, 124)
WR Johnny Knox, Bears (5, 140)
S Macho Harris, Eagles (5, 157)
KO-ST David Buehler, Cowboys (5, 172)
P-KO Pat McAfee, Colts (7, 222)
WR Julian Edelman, Patriots (7, 232)
RS-ST LaRod Stephens-Howling, Cardinals (7, 240)
PK Ryan Succop, Chiefs (7, 256)
CB Jacob Lacey, Colts (undrafted)


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