2011 All-Rookie team

Posted Jan. 18, 2012 @ 11:06 a.m.
Posted By PFW staff

They missed out on key preparation time because of the lockout, but even with an abbreviated offseason, rookies emerged as the league's newest stars — some almost as soon as they set foot on an NFL field — in 2011. There were a few surprise standouts among rookies, but the most highly touted prospects didn't disappoint. The top seven picks in last year's draft made the Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America All-Rookie team, and 14 of the 26 players who make up the team were drafted in the first round. Only two players on the team did not get drafted.

 

OFFENSE

QB Cam Newton turned the league's worst offense into one of its most potent and explosive, making history along the way. Newton broke Peyton Manning's record for most passing yards by a rookie, racking up 4,051, and set a record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in one season with 14.

While Newton shined from the start, Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray and Redskins RB Roy Helu had to wait before getting a turn. Murray started for the first time in Week Eight, one game after rushing for a franchise-record 253 yards in Dallas' win over the Rams. He was on his way to a 1,000-yard season before breaking his ankle in Week 14. Helu started in Week Nine and showed his receiving ability in that game, making 14 catches, before rushing for at least 100 yards in three consecutive games in Weeks 12-14.

As Murray and Helu battled for tough yards on the ground, Bengals WR A.J. Green and Falcons WR Julio Jones showed why they were off the board before the seventh pick was made in last year's draft. Green was the Bengals' go-to guy from Day One, and Jones showed rare ability, particularly late in the season. The TE class didn't have any immediate stars, but Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph showed that he's going to be a very good one in the not-too-distant future.

Three of the five offensive linemen on this season's team (Dolphins C Mike Pouncey, Raiders OG Stefen Wisniewski and Cowboys OT Tyron Smith) started every game. Pouncey picked up where his brother, Maurkice (last season's All-Rookie center), left off and fared well against some of the league's top nose tackles. Athletic Patriots OT Nate Solder started 13 games, and Eagles OG Danny Watkins, a gritty blocker, played some of his best ball in the final quarter of the season.

 

DEFENSE

The 49ers knew they were getting a raw prospect when they drafted Aldon Smith seventh overall, but 14 sacks later, no one doubts that San Francisco made the right call on Smith. He thrived as a pass rusher and came within half a sack of matching Jevon Kearse's record for sacks by a rookie.

Smith had company when it came to outstanding rookie linebacker play. A thumb injury hampered Broncos OLB Von Miller late in the season, but he recorded 11½ sacks in his first 12 games and was a disruptive presence on all three downs for a much-improved defense. Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan made a smooth transition from playing with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end at Purdue to standing up in Washington's 3-4 defense. He showed tremendous recognition vs. the run and made 7½ sacks.

In the trenches, relentless DE J.J. Watt energized the Texans' defense, and DE Marcell Dareus was the only Bills defender who consistently affected opposing quarterbacks. Two Browns rookies fill out the D-line. DE Jabaal Sheard, a second-round pick, played like a first-rounder and led Cleveland in sacks with 8½. NT Phil Taylor flashed brilliance, showing more pass-rush ability than some expected.

Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson made progress as he grew more comfortable over the course of the season. He started every game. Although the Cardinals drafted their up-and-coming corner fifth overall, the Seahawks found great value in the fifth round when they selected CB Richard Sherman, who shattered expectations in his first season. He started 10 games and was among the league leaders in pass breakups (21). At safety, the Bears' Chris Conte was solid in his nine starts before suffering a foot injury in Week 15, and undrafted Broncos rookie Chris Harris was a fearless hitter, playing mostly in the nickel package.

 

SPECIALISTS

He also made the All-Rookie team as a corner, but Patrick Peterson is going to the Pro Bowl for his feats as a punt returner. He had a rookie-record 699 punt-return yards and tied the league record for punt returns for a touchdown in one season with four. Packers WR Randall Cobb made his mark on kickoff returns right away, returning one 108 yards for a touchdown in the season opener. He gained 27.7 yards per kickoff return, which was the second-best mark in the league.

Undrafted Cowboys PK Dan Bailey went through his share of ups and downs. He made 26 field goals in a row, and his 86.5 percent accuracy rate for field goals was the seventh-best for a rookie in league history, but he was iced by his own coach before missing a field goal vs. the Cardinals in Week 13 and missed another one in a three-point loss to the Giants one week later.

Falcons P Matt Bosher experienced growing pains, too, but settled in and improved as the season progressed. He's joined on the All-Rookie team by his teammate, LB Akeem Dent, who led the Falcons with 19 special-teams tackles.

 

2011 All-Rookie team

OFFENSE

Quarterback
Cam Newton / Panthers

Running backs
DeMarco Murray / Cowboys
Roy Helu / Redskins

Wide receivers
A.J. Green / Bengals
Julio Jones / Falcons

Tight end
Kyle Rudolph / Vikings

Center
Mike Pouncey / Dolphins

Offensive guards
Stefen Wisniewski / Raiders
Danny Watkins / Eagles

Offensive tackles
Tyron Smith / Cowboys
Nate Solder / Patriots

 

DEFENSE

Defensive ends
J.J. Watt / Texans
Jabaal Sheard / Browns

Defensive tackles
Marcell Dareus / Bills
Phil Taylor / Browns

Linebackers
Aldon Smith / 49ers
Von Miller / Broncos
Ryan Kerrigan / Redskins

Cornerbacks
Patrick Peterson / Cardinals
Richard Sherman / Seahawks

Safeties
Chris Conte / Bears
Chris Harris / Broncos

 

SPECIALISTS

Placekicker
Dan Bailey / Cowboys

Punter
Matt Bosher / Falcons

Punt returner
Patrick Peterson / Cardinals

Kickoff returner
Randall Cobb / Packers

Special-teamer
Akeem Dent / Falcons