Rookie Meter: Smith making push for defensive honors

Posted Dec. 20, 2011 @ 4:41 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Just when Von Miller thought he had NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors sewn up, Aldon Smith went out and has a huge game in front of a national audience.

In the 49ers' win over the Steelers on "Monday Night Football," Smith took advantage of an immobile quarterback and racked up 2½ sacks and a whopping seven quarterback hits. The youngster has made his presence felt with his pass-rushing abilities since getting off to a slow start, and he came through in a big way for a signature win for the playoff-bound Niners.

Miller, who has been impressive since Day One, still has the edge, and fellow defenders Ryan Kerrigan and J.J. Watt also have put up good numbers as rookies. Browns OLB Jabaal Sheard and Texans OLB Brooks Reed are just on the cusp of the conversation.

When it comes to Miller vs. Smith, the key is the fact that Miller has become an every-down linebacker and has been very consistent. Looking purely at sacks, Miller has recorded at least half a sack in every game but three this season. Smith has been shut out five times and has 32 fewer tackles than Miller — it took Smith a few games before he made an impact. Playmaking is another factor, and both have gotten their hands on the football.

Here is a by-the-numbers look at how the top four Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates have fared through 15 weeks, with the 2010 stats of last year's winner, Ndamukong Suh, for comparison.

 

Tackles

Sacks

TFL

QBH

FF

FR

PD

Von Miller

63

11½

19

23

2

0

4

Aldon Smith

30

13

11

24

2

1

4

Ryan Kerrigan

60

8

13

4

0

4

J.J. Watt

50

11

13

0

2

1

Ndamukong Suh*

66

10

13

17

1

1

3

 

 

 

 

 

* Suh's stats are from the 16 games in which he played in 2010.

Smith's chances are slim, but it's worth monitoring the race for second and third among the defensive players. All four candidates, numbers-wise, are similar to last year's winner, Suh. Miller and Smith have had games where they have been as dominant against O-linemen as Suh was last season.

The difference — Suh had to wait until this season to get to the playoffs (assuming the Lions don't collapse), and Smith's 49ers already have clinched with Miller's Broncos trying to hold on to first place in the AFC West.

1. Broncos OLB Von Miller (first round, second overall pick)
Last week's ranking: 1

The Patriots were able to keep Miller off the sack scoreboard and he recorded only one tackle, albeit a tackle for loss, of course. Miller is close to wrapping up the award, but he could use another solid game this weekend against the Bills. Facing a banged-up offensive line that has overachieved this season, he could get several chances to sack QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.

2. Panthers QB Cam Newton (1, 1)
Last week's ranking: 2

Newton didn't put up the numbers we are used to, completing 13-of-23 passes for 149 yards, but his two touchdown passes and 55 rushing yards helped the Panthers upset the Texans — their first win over a team with a winning record. Ironically, Newton's least productive day through the air came when he was expected to break Peyton Manning's record for passing yards in a season by a rookie. It won't take him long to beat it next week — he needs 18 yards.

3. Bengals WR A.J. Green (1, 4)
Last week's ranking: 4

Green became the first rookie wide receiver to gain more than 1,000 yards since Marques Colston did it in 2006. Green had six catches for 115 yards on nine targets, including a long of 55 yards.

4. 49ers OLB Aldon Smith (1, 7)
Last week's ranking: 5

With the Steelers playing from behind and often in throwing situations, Smith played a high number of snaps in the second half and made the most of it, combining with Justin Smith to form one of the league's best pass-rushing tandems. Smith has registered four games this season with at least two sacks.

5. Bengals QB Andy Dalton (2, 35)
Last week's ranking: 3

Dalton's meter dip is a testament to the elevated play from Smith. Dalton obviously directly impacts Green, but Newton is the best rookie QB and Green is putting up huge receiving numbers for a rookie, while Dalton's numbers have dropped off a bit. Don't worry Dalton fans — the season is not over yet. Dalton completed 15-of-26 passes for 179 yards and an interception in Cincinnati's win over the Rams, which kept his team in the playoff hunt. He is approaching Sam Bradford's mark of 3,512 passing yards from last season, which would rank Dalton third all-time for rookies.

6. Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan (1, 16)
Last week's ranking: 6

In the Redskins' upset win over the Giants, Kerrigan had three tackles and a sack, helping the front seven rattle Giants QB Eli Manning. Kerrigan continues to set himself apart from other defensive rookies with his ability to get his hand up in the passing lanes and bat down passes, with four on the season.

7. Texans DE J.J. Watt (1, 11)
Last week's ranking: 7

It wasn't a banner day for the Texans' defense, but Watt was productive with seven tackles, a tackle for loss and a QB hit.

8. Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson (1, 5)
Last week's ranking: 9

Peterson almost did it again. In overtime, he returned a punt 32 yards, helping set up the Cardinals in good field position to move the ball downfield and notch their third overtime win of the season. On defense, he recorded two tackles, but on returns, he is squarely in the Devin Hester category of "should we punt to him?"

9. Falcons WR Julio Jones (1, 6)
Last week's ranking: NR

Jones returns to the meter after his big Thursday-night showing, catching five passes for 85 yards and a 29-yard touchdown on six targets. As the Falcons' offense has improved, so has Jones. Jones is gaining 18.0 yards per catch and is third among rookies with his 755 receiving yards.

10. Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray (3, 71)
Last week's ranking: 8

Murray remains on the meter even though he sits on injured reserve after fracturing his ankle in Week 14. After an average game from Roy Helu, Murray still has a very good shot of finishing with the most rushing yards among rookies, which is noteworthy for the meter.

On the cusp (listed alphabetically)

Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin (undrafted)
Buccaneers DE Adrian Clayborn (1, 20)
Bills DT Marcell Dareus (1, 3)
Redskins RB Roy Helu (4, 105)
Titans DT Karl Klug (5, 142)
Browns WR Greg Little (2, 59)
Texans OLB Brooks Reed (2, 42)
Browns OLB Jabaal Sheard (2, 37)
Ravens WR Torrey Smith (2, 58)
Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson (1, 30)

Follow Kevin Fishbain on Twitter