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Rookie Meter: Three-QB race for the ages

Posted Dec. 26, 2012 @ 4:24 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

It’s a good problem to have, really. Instead of spending December looking back at the rookie busts — the first-rounders who didn’t pan out — we’re splitting hairs over who should win Offensive Rookie of the Year between three incredibly worthy candidates in the best year for rookie quarterbacks in almost three decades, and possibly ever.

Should it be Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson? A few weeks ago, the Rookie Meter called Wilson the best-ever third-best rookie, but his last four games (four wins, 11 total touchdowns, two interceptions) have made this very much a three-horse race.

Unfortunately for the voters, a breakdown of the stat lines for the triumvirate doesn’t help things much. Just take a look at the chart below.

 

TDs

INTs

Yards

%

Rating

Wins

Rushing numbers

Robert Griffin III

20

5

3,100

66.4

104.1

9

752 yards, 6 TDs

Andrew Luck

21

18

4,183

54.3

75.6

10

254 yards, 5 TDs

Russell Wilson

25

10

2,868

63.4

98.0

10

431 yards, 3 TDs

The trifecta is also rewriting the rookie record book. Griffin already broke Cam Newton’s record for most rushing yards by a rookie QB in a season, will finish the campaign with the best-ever passer rating for a rookie and is likely to top Dan Marino’s rookie-best 20-6 TD-to-interception ratio from 1983.

Luck broke Newton’s record for most passing yards in a season in Week 16 and will add to it in the finale. He also has the most fourth-quarter comebacks in a season by a rookie all-time, with seven.

Wilson trails Peyton Manning’s record for most touchdown passes by a rookie by one heading into Week 17.

So, who gets the nod — the rookie record-holder for passing yards (Luck), passer rating (Griffin) or passing touchdowns (assuming Wilson gets two vs. the Rams)?

Voters will be forced to nitpick, looking at all possible factors to try to set one rookie signalcaller apart. The Redskins and Colts are two of the league’s most surprising teams, having turnarounds due in large part because of their rookie quarterbacks. The Seahawks had some backers as a potential playoff team, but few, if any, expected 10 wins, and Wilson wasn’t even supposed to start.

Wilson does have arguably the best supporting cast — a top-five defense, the league’s second-leading rusher and arguably the best O-line of the three QBs. As colleague Eric Edholm outlined in this week’s “Shorts and Shells,” Luck and Griffin are succeeding with unsung supporting casts.

Luck’s interception total, completion percentage and passer rating are all knocks against him, and he has by far the most passing attempts (599, also a rookie record), but how does one ignore the fact that Luck has brought a team that went 2-14 in 2011 to the playoffs?

Last year's Redskins were a 5-11 squad, and their defense lost two key players, Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker, to injury early this season. The ‘Skins have a rookie at running back, an unheralded O-line and Griffin has been without TE Fred Davis, his leading pass catcher before Davis went down with a season-ending injury in Week Seven.

The order in this week’s Rookie Meter remains Griffin-Wilson-Luck. One big advantage that Griffin will have with the voters is the benefit of a short memory. RG3 will be playing on national television in the final game of the regular season on Sunday night against the Cowboys, with the winner taking the NFC East. Assuming Griffin puts together a solid performance, and gets the win, he should take the award. However, the national stage could backfire on him — if Wilson or Luck has a huge game and Griffin flops in a loss, would voters use that as a reason to go a different direction?

As difficult as the vote will be, it has been a joy for all football fans to see these three rookie signalcallers perform at such a high level under extremely high expectations. And it’s not just on offense — picking Defensive Rookie of the Year is no picnic, likely coming down to Bobby Wagner, Lavonte David, Casey Hayward, Luke Kuechly and Janoris Jenkins.

I will reveal my Rookie of the Year picks, as well as my All-Rookie team, in next week’s final Rookie Meter of the 2012 season.

1. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (first round, second overall)
Last week’s ranking: 1

Griffin completed 16-of-24 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the Redskins’ win over the Eagles. He had a passer rating of 102.4.

2. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (3, 75)
Last week’s ranking: 2

Wilson threw four touchdown passes and one interception, and completed 15-of-21 passes in Seattle’s Sunday night win over the 49ers. Wilson also had six carries for 29 yards and a passer rating of 115.3.

3. Colts QB Andrew Luck (1, 1)
Last week’s ranking: 3

In the Colts’ win over the Chiefs, Luck completed 17-of-35 passes for 205 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions.

4. Redskins RB Alfred Morris (6, 173)
Last week’s ranking: 4

Morris had 22 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown in Washington’s win. He also had a 17-yard reception. Morris enters Week 16 with a 101-yard lead over Doug Martin for the rookie lead in rushing yards.

5. Packers CB Casey Hayward (2, 62)
Last week’s ranking: 8

Hayward had six tackles, one tackle for loss, a QB hit and his 20th pass defensed of the season, tops among all rookies.

6. Seahawks MLB Bobby Wagner (2, 47)
Last week’s ranking: 6

Wagner had nine tackles and a QB hit in the Seahawks’ win over the Niners. He is third among rookies in tackles.

7. Buccaneers LB Lavonte David (2, 58)
Last week’s ranking: 7

David recorded nine tackles, including his rookie-leading 19th tackle for loss, in the Bucs’ loss. He is second among rookies in tackles.

8. Buccaneers RB Doug Martin (1, 31)
Last week’s ranking: 5

Martin had 18 carries for 62 yards and seven catches for 57 yards in the Buccaneers’ loss to the Rams. Don't read much into Martin's drop in the Rookie Meter — it's more of a testament to the play of the top defensive rookies.

9. Panthers LB Luke Kuechly (1, 9)
Last week’s ranking: 9

Kuechly had 13 tackles, one for a loss, an interception and two passes defensed in Carolina’s win over the Raiders. He leads the league in tackles and is second among rookies in tackles for loss.

10. Rams CB Janoris Jenkins (2, 39)
Last week’s ranking: NR

Jenkins scored his fourth touchdown of the season on Sunday, returning an interception for six points. He also had six tackles in the Rams’ win over Tampa. His total of 14 passes defensed ranks third among rookies. His four interceptions is tied for second behind Hayward for the rookie lead.

On the cusp (listed alphabetically)

Buccaneers SS Mark Barron (1, 7)
Titans LB Zach Brown (2, 52)
Bills CB Stephon Gilmore (1, 10)
Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower (1, 25)
Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (3, 92)
Patriots DE Chandler Jones (1, 21)
Vikings OLT Matt Kalil (1, 4)
Browns RB Trent Richardson (1, 3)
Vikings S Harrison Smith (1, 29)
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (1, 8)

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