At the midseason point, the top two picks from April's draft are looking to repeat the history we saw made last season.
The No.1 overall pick, Panthers QB Cam Newton, is the front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. The No. 2 pick, Broncos OLB Von Miller, is arguably the midseason favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Last season, the top two picks took home the rookie honors, as Rams QB Sam Bradford was the Offensive Rookie of the Year and Lions DT Ndamukong Suh took home the hardware as the Defensive Rookie of the Year. It was only the second time in NFL history that the top two picks were the league's top rookies. In 1981, George Rogers and Lawrence Taylor received the honors.
It's a difficult feat to accomplish, as not only do the top two picks have to live up to their potential, but logistically speaking, one needs to be an offensive player and the other needs to be defensive.
Colleague Dan Arkush took an in-depth look at the top 1-2 punches in the history of the NFL draft in the 2011 PFW Preview magazine, with the 1983 combo of John Elway and Eric Dickerson being considered the greatest first two picks in the same draft of all time. There have also been some 1-2 busts (Jeff George-Blair Thomas) and polar opposites to start the draft (think Manning-Leaf).
Could Newton and Miller accomplish this rare feat and go down as one of the better 1-2 combos?
There is a wide gap between Newton and the other top offensive rookies, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. Like the MVP award, a good quarterback will always beat out other position players, everything else being equal. QBs have won four of the last seven Rookie of the Year awards.
Dalton's advantage is that his team has been winning, but Newton is putting up ridiculous numbers through the air and is finding the endzone with his legs.
Miller will have a tougher time holding up his end of the bargain. 49ers OLB Aldon Smith has come on strong of late and is leading all rookies in sacks. This will likely be a back-and-forth battle throughout the season. It's worth keeping an eye on Marcell Dareus and Ryan Kerrigan, as well, but Miller's top competition will be Smith. Linebacker has dominated the Defensive Rookie of the Year award lately, as Suh ended a streak of seven consecutive linebackers to win the award.
Even if the 2011 pair can't make history, the Panthers and Broncos have to be pleased that, based on early returns, they hit home runs with their respective crucial picks.
1. Panthers QB Cam Newton (first round, first overall)
Last week's ranking: 1
On the surface, this looked like another game where the Panthers' lack of personnel around Newton let him down. But his two lost fumbles led to 14 Vikings points in the 24-21 loss. Newton did have another exceptional game, though, throwing for 290 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another 53 yards; he just needs to improve his ball security.
2. Broncos OLB Von Miller (1, 2)
Last week's ranking: 2
Miller racked up a pair of tackles for loss among his three tackles in Sunday's blowout loss to the Lions. He also had three quarterback hits on Matthew Stafford. Miller gets more respect for his play when you consider that he is one of the few Broncos defenders making big plays.
3. Bengals WR A.J. Green (1, 4)
Last week's ranking: 3
Another week, another impressive Dalton-to-Green connection. Green had four catches for 63 yards on 10 targets, including a 43-yard touchdown catch. He has a sizable lead among rookies in receiving yards and touchdowns, benefiting from the injury to the Falcons' Julio Jones. His five touchdowns have him tied for fourth among all NFL receivers.
4. 49ers OLB Aldon Smith (1, 7)
Last week's ranking: 4
Smith regained the lead in rookie sacks with another one in Sunday's win over the Browns. His 6½ sacks are seventh in the league. Smith had two tackles in the game. A league evaluator had this to say about Smith in this week's Audibles: "But the guy that has been most impressive there is the rookie. If (Smith) were starting right now, he'd be leading the league in sacks, hands down. His snap-to-sack ratio is ridiculous."
5. Bills DL Marcell Dareus (1, 3)
Last week's ranking: 7
The No. 3 overall pick had his best game yet. Moving inside to replace Pro Bowler Kyle Williams, Dareus was a monster in the Bills' 23-0 win over the Redskins. He notched 2½ of the team's nine sacks, had four total tackles and three QB hits. Dareus had no problem getting penetration up the middle and helped open things up for his fellow D-linemen.
6. Bengals QB Andy Dalton (2, 35)
Last week's ranking: 8
Another win for Dalton, coming on the heels of a report that Bengals owner Mike Brown wanted to draft Ryan Mallett instead of Dalton. Dalton completed 18-of-29 passes for 168 yards and two scores, but he also tossed two interceptions. He is completing 62.4 percent of his passes, which is 13th in the NFL.
7. Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan (1, 16)
Last week's ranking: 5
Kerrigan had another productive day getting in the opponent's backfield, recording two tackles for loss among his five tackles. His Redskins defense, though, has been struggling after getting off to a hot start.
8. Texans DE J.J. Watt (1, 11)
Last week's ranking: 6
Watt recorded five tackles in the Texans' win over the Jaguars on Sunday. With Mario Williams out, Watt's role is very important going forward, and he is still being productive for a Texans defense that is one of the more improved units in the league. His drop in the rankings is more due to solid games from Dalton and Dareus.
9. Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin (undrafted)
Last week's ranking: NR
Baldwin benefited from the return of QB Tarvaris Jackson, catching five passes for 73 yards on eight targets. Baldwin continues to be a big-play receiver, averaging 14.6 yards a catch Sunday. His average on the year is 16.1 yards a catch. He is second to Green among rookies in receiving yards. Eighty percent of Baldwin's catches have gone for first downs.
10. Browns DT Phil Taylor (1, 21)
Last week's ranking: NR
Taylor swaps places with teammate Jabaal Sheard on this week's meter after recording a sack in the Browns' loss to the 49ers on Sunday. He has three sacks on the year and 25 tackles — a high number for an interior D-lineman. Taylor also notched a forced fumble on Sunday, his first in the NFL.
On the cusp (listed alphabetically)
Buccaneers DE Adrian Clayborn (1, 20)
Buccaneers MLB Mason Foster (3, 84)
Saints RB Mark Ingram (1, 28)
Falcons WR Julio Jones (1, 6)
Titans DT Karl Klug (5, 142)
Browns WR Greg Little (2, 59)
Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray (3, 71)
Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson (1, 5)
Browns DE Jabaal Sheard (2, 37)
Dolphins RB Daniel Thomas (2, 62)
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