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After the rookie RB class of 2008 stole the show a year ago, '09 was all about receivers and linebackers, as more than a few players emerged as stars at each position. With that, here is the Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America All-Rookie team.
Numbers don't always tell the whole story. While Jets QB Mark Sanchez tossed 20 interceptions compared to just 12 touchdowns in his 15 starts, he played steadily enough down the stretch to lead New York to an unexpected playoff berth. He also displayed composure and leadership skills well beyond his years.
Although not as productive as their '08 predecessors, the '09 All-Rookie backs are a formidable duo. Denver's Knowshon Moreno led all rookies with 947 rushing yards, adding 213 yards receiving and scoring nine times despite sharing the workload. Similarly, the Cardinals' Beanie Wells was also part of a split backfield, but he emerged as the go-to guy late and wound up running for 793 yards and seven TDs.
Offensively, wide receivers ruled the roost among '09 rookies, with Percy Harvin and Austin Collie standing out most. Harvin made an impact for Minnesota right away, as the athletic phenom finished with 60 catches for 790 yards and six TDs. Collie, meanwhile, wasn't expected to be a major contributor for the Colts but got an opportunity after an injury to Anthony Gonzalez. He became a favorite target for Peyton Manning and had 60-676-7 receiving.
In a weak TE class, the Lions' Brandon Pettigrew showed more than his positional mates. Although a torn ACL limited him to 11 games, Pettigrew showed flashes of being an outstanding blocker and adequate pass catcher.
Up front, C Alex Mack started all 16 games for the Browns and brought stoutness to the position, not making mistakes and living up to his lofty billing.
On either side of Mack are the Bills' Andy Levitre and San Diego's Louis Vasquez. Playing mostly at left guard, Levitre played well and proved to be durable, starting every game for a very banged-up unit. With Vasquez, the Chargers found an effective player who was up and down but did what was asked of him. He started 14 games and helped keep Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers upright.
Anchoring the outside of the line are Baltimore's Michael Oher and the Vikings' Phil Loadholt. Although much was made of his ability to protect the blind side, Oher mostly manned the right side for the Ravens and was a 16-game starter. He was solid as both a pass protector and run blocker, clearing the way for a huge year from RB Ray Rice. Also starting at right tackle, Loadholt turned out to be the big, nasty lineman Minnesota needed. He was able to stay low despite his 6-foot-8 frame and kept Brett Favre clean.
An athletic player with some question marks coming out of Temple, Jaguars DT Terrance Knighton exceeded just about all expectations. He was tops among all rookie linemen with 45 tackles and started every game. Next to him inside is B.J. Raji, a top-10 draft selection who played the nose in Green Bay's 3-4 scheme. Although he was plagued by an ankle injury all year, Raji made his presence felt when Ryan Pickett went down.
Lining up at the ends are AFC West foes Matt Shaughnessy of Oakland and Tyson Jackson of Kansas City. An injury to Greg Ellis opened the door for Shaughnessy to make an impact as a rotational player, as the third-rounder piled up four sacks. Jackson, meanwhile, did not live up to the hype after being the third overall pick last April, but he was a full-time starter and finished with 38 tackles, a fair number for a 3-4 end.
Defensively, linebacker is clearly the spot at which this class shined. Nobody was better than the Texans' Brian Cushing, who set a physical tone for the Houston "D." He proved to be an all-around star, piling up 133 tackles, four sacks and four INTs on his way to a Pro Bowl nod. Not far behind Cushing is former USC teammate Clay Matthews, who improved the Packers' defense greatly once he entered the starting lineup. He was a big-play machine, recording 10 sacks and three fumble recoveries, and he was named to the Pro Bowl team as a replacement. Lastly, the Redskins' Brian Orakpo stood out while rotating between linebacker and D-end, an impressive feat for a rookie. His 11 sacks helped land him on the Pro Bowl roster.
Manning the corners for the All-Rookie club are the Dolphins' Vontae Davis and the Colts' Jacob Lacey. Although he gave up some big plays, Davis frequently put his top-notch physical skills on display, finishing with four interceptions and 52 tackles. Not even drafted in April, Lacey turned out to be a godsend for an Indy secondary that was decimated by injuries. Despite making just nine starts, he had a terrific 85 tackles, 13 passes defended and three picks.
Rounding out the defense are safeties Jairus Byrd of the Bills and Louis Delmas of Detroit. Byrd proved to be quite a ballhawk in Year One, tying for the league lead with nine interceptions and helping Buffalo rank No. 2 against the pass; he's headed to the Pro Bowl. Delmas, meanwhile, was the lone bright spot in a dismal secondary. A tough player and hard hitter, he had 94 tackles and two picks, one of which he returned for a 101-yard TD.
PK Ryan Succop, "Mr. Irrelevant," proved quite relevant for the Chiefs, drilling 25-of-29 field-goal attempts. For the Colts, Pat McAfee did more than just punt, also emerging as the best kickoff guy the team has had in years.
In addition to being an All-Rookie receiver, Percy Harvin also made the squad as a kick returner, averaging 27.5 yards and taking two kicks back for scores. The Bengals' Quan Cosby was also a very effective return man in Year One. Despite going undrafted, he made explosive plays and gained 11.9 yards per punt return.
Arizona's LaRod Stephens-Howling, a seventh-rounder, stepped up as an exceptional special-teams gunner. In Week 12 alone, he downed three punts inside the opponents' five-yard line.
2009 All-Rookie team
Mark Sanchez / Jets
Knowshon Moreno / Broncos
Beanie Wells / Cardinals
Percy Harvin / Vikings
Austin Collie / Colts
Brandon Pettigrew / Lions
Alex Mack / Browns
Andy Levitre / Bills
Louis Vasquez / Chargers
Michael Oher / Ravens
Phil Loadholt / Vikings
Tyson Jackson / Chiefs
Terrance Knighton / Jaguars
B.J. Raji / Packers
Matt Shaughnessy / Raiders
Brian Cushing / Texans
Clay Matthews / Packers
Brian Orakpo / Redskins
Vontae Davis / Dolphins
Jacob Lacey / Colts
Jairus Byrd / Bills
Louis Delmas / Lions
Ryan Succop / Chiefs
Pat McAfee / Colts
Quan Cosby / Bengals
Percy Harvin / Vikings
LaRod Stephens-Howling / Cardinals
To see the other awards given out by Pro Football Weekly and the Professional Football Writers of America, get a copy of the Jan. 24 issue of PFW, now on sale at newsstands and bookstores or online at PFWstore.com.
PFW has launched its brand-new NFL Draft Newsletter series, with the second issue now ready for mailing and a third issue focusing on underclassmen to be published in the next few weeks. Produced by PFW's player personnel department under the direction of Nolan Nawrocki, the series consists of four information-packed issues. For more info or to subscribe — click here for PDF e-pub or here for print format. You can also find details about other draft-related publications in the PFW store.