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Rookie Meter: Bradford, Suh finish 1-2

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By Kevin Fishbain

In our weekly NFList just past the halfway point of the season, it looked as though this year's rookie class would make history. With the regular season over, it's all but certain that Sam Bradford and Ndamukong Suh will be the first No. 1 and No. 2 picks to take home the respective Rookie of the Year awards since 1981.

It's pretty remarkable that it has been that long since the two purported best players in the draft were good enough to bring home the hardware. But Bradford and Suh went essentially wire-to-wire this season as two of the league's top rookies.

Let's take a look back at some of the highlights, lowlights and trends of this year's rookie class:

Injuries kept some rookie backs (Ben Tate and Montario Hardesty) out for the entire season and kept other backs (Ryan Mathews, C.J. Spiller and Jahvid Best) from truly competing for Rookie of the Year. Undrafted LeGarrette Blount, known for his famous punch in college, led all rookies by a wide margin with 1,007 yards in just seven starts.

It was the year of the tight end for rookies, led by Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, who hauled in 10 touchdowns. Tony Moeaki, Aaron Hernandez, Jermaine Gresham and Jimmy Graham combined for 18 touchdown grabs.

Speedy rookies made their name in the return game. Seven rookies took a kickoff back for a touchdown, and Jacoby Ford took three back. Injuries kept Dexter McCluster and Dez Bryant from being among the top rookies on the Meter, but each took a punt back for a score, with Bryant doing it twice. Titans returner Marc Mariani was awarded for his play with a Pro Bowl nod.

With tight ends and running backs being big parts of the receiving game, Mike Williams emerged as the top rookie receiver. Not to pat myself on the back too much, but I did have a feeling about Williams.

Bradford was the clear-cut best rookie quarterback, but injuries and coaching decisions allowed John Skelton, Max Hall, Joe Webb, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow to all start games this season. Tebow, the most popular of the crew, was pretty impressive in his three starts. He ended his rookie season with six rushing touchdowns.

On the offensive line, Maurkice Pouncey shined and was honored with a Pro Bowl selection, playing like a veteran on a banged-up Steelers O-line. Rodger Saffold protected Bradford's blind side all year while 49ers OG Mike Iupati also had a fine rookie season.

On the defensive side of the ball, ball-hawking defensive backs were the story outside Suh. Pro Bowl CB Devin McCourty led with seven picks while Joe Haden had six in just seven starts. Earl Thomas, T.J. Ward and Eric Berry also had solid rookie campaigns.

Usually a rookie linebacker steps up and has a monster year, like Brian Cushing in 2009. That was supposed to be Rolando McClain, but he didn't come on until late. OLBs Jermaine Cunningham and Koa Misi had fine rookie campaigns.

The rookies found ways to get to the quarterback on the defensive line. Jason Pierre-Paul, Carlos Dunlap, Lamarr Houston, Brandon Graham and Tyson Alualu were some of the best rookie D-linemen in picking up sacks.

Graham was one of many rookies to end his season on injured reserve, joining Tate, Hardesty, Bryant, Derrick Morgan and Gerald McCoy.

And two other rookies will forever be etched in history in addition to Bradford and Suh — Bills LB Arthur Moats and Bears DE Corey Wootton. Moats' hit on Brett Favre ended the future Hall of Famer's record 297 consecutive starts, and Wooton's punishing sack of Favre in his Week 15 return will likely go down as the final play for Favre.

But when all was said and done, the first two players to cross the stage at the NFL draft in New York last April finished with the best rookie seasons. Now, on to the final Rookie Meter.

1. Rams QB Sam Bradford (first round, first overall)
Last week's ranking: 1

It wasn't the end of the season Bradford was hoping for. With a chance to win and clinch a playoff spot and the NFC West title, Bradford tossed a costly pick late and threw for just 155 yards and zero touchdowns in the Rams' loss to the Seahawks. He still set two rookie records this season (most completions, most consecutive pass attempts without an INT) and led the Rams' turnaround season from the league's most important position.

2. Lions DT Ndamukong Suh (1, 2)
Last week's ranking: 2

In fitting fashion, Suh concluded his stellar rookie campaign with a sack among his six tackles in the season finale. The Lions won four in a row to end the season, and spirits are high in Detroit. Suh finished the season as the rookie leader with 10 sacks. He also had three passes defensed.

3. Buccaneers WR Mike Williams (4, 101)
Last week's ranking: 3

Williams finished his season with an acrobatic touchdown catch to help get the Bucs their 10th victory. The preseason sleeper dominated rookie receivers, leading in receptions (65), yards (964) and touchdowns (11). The big-play wideout averaged 14.8 yards a catch and over 60 receiving yards a game.

4. Patriots CB Devin McCourty (1, 27)
Last week's ranking: 5

McCourty's play was significant individually, but he also helped a weak Patriots secondary become the league's best in takeaways. He picked off his seventh pass in Sunday's season finale to take over the lead among rookies. He finished with 72 tackles, three for loss, and added nine special-teams tackles. What made McCourty's play so effective was his ability to stay step for step with some of the league's best receivers.

5. Buccaneers RB LeGarrette Blount (undrafted)
Last week's ranking: 4

Who had LeGarrette Blount in their "rookie running back with the most rushing yards" pool? To whoever did, I want you to pick my Lotto numbers. Blount came out of nowhere to rush for 1,000 yards, averaging over 77 a game. He rushed for six touchdowns and had a 19-66 game in the season finale to cap off a surprising rookie year.

6. Chiefs SS Eric Berry (1, 6)
Last week's ranking: 6

Berry gets to take his talents to the playoffs with the Chiefs. He added seven tackles in Week 17 and finished second on the team with 87 tackles and led the team with four interceptions. He also had five tackles for loss, two sacks, and a pick-six. Berry proved to be exactly the playmaker the Chiefs were looking for.

7. Browns CB Joe Haden (1, 7)
Last week's ranking: 7

It's pretty impressive for Haden to lead rookies in passes defensed (18) and come in second in interceptions (six), having won the starting job after the midway point of the season. He had six tackles and a pass defensed in the season finale.

8. Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey (1, 18)
Last week's ranking: NR

To be selected to the Pro Bowl from the center position as a rookie is extremely impressive, and Pouncey snapped to three different quarterbacks in the first six weeks of the season. The former Gator played like a veteran all season, putting up with stiff tests from the league's top nose tackles without a lot of help around him because of injuries on the O-line.

9. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (2, 42)
Last week's ranking: 10

"Gronk" played more snaps than any Patriots offensive skill player not named Tom Brady this season. If he had been targeted more often earlier in the season, instead of deferring to teammate Aaron Hernandez, he would be higher on the Meter. With veteran receivers resting, Gronkowski went 6-102-1 in the season finale, hauling in a Patriots rookie record 10th touchdown catch of the year.

10. Browns SS T.J. Ward (2, 38)
Last week's ranking: 8

At times, Ward looked like one of the top defensive rookies. His season, like the rest of the Browns, didn't end on a great note with a loss to the Steelers, and he was beaten by WR Mike Wallace. But Ward goes into the offseason as the rookie tackling champ with 105 on the year. Four of those were for loss, and he added 10 passes defensed.

On the cusp (listed alphabetically)

Lions RB Jahvid Best (1, 30)
Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap (2, 54)
Raiders WR Jacoby Ford (4, 108)
Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez (4, 113)
Raiders DE Lamarr Houston (2, 44)
49ers OG Mike Iupati (1, 17)
Raiders MLB Rolando McClain (1, 8)
Dolphins OLB Koa Misi (2, 40)
Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul (1, 15)
Rams OLT Rodger Saffold (2, 33)

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