The end of October marked six months since the NFL Draft and the midpoint of the NFL season. What better time to weigh in on the top performing first-year players, some of whom we covered as they prepared for the 2012 NFL Combine? (Check out STACK's "Path to the Pros" series.)
Here, we rank the top 10 rookies based on the impact they’ve had in the first half of the season.
10. Mark Barron, SS, and Lavonte David, OLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It would be unfair to choose one over the other in terms of which one has had more impact. Both Barron and David have started since Week 1, and both have been key contributors to a Bucs defense that ranks among the top five in rushing yards allowed, a remarkable turnaround for a defense that ranked dead last in stopping the run last season.
9. Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans
Wright is outperforming fellow rookie receivers Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd, both of whom were selected ahead of him. If fact, at the midway point, he has more catches and receiving yards than Blackmon and Floyd combined. Not surprising, considering Wright has been the most targeted receiver on the Titans.
8. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson won the QB competition in Seattle and has the job on lock after leading the Seahawks to improbable wins over Dallas, Green Bay and New England. Not bad for a fourth-round pick whom many had written off as too small to be an NFL quarterback.
7. Luke Kuechly, MLB, Carolina Panthers
This is a guy who averaged 177 tackles as a three-year starter at Boston College. Before the draft, some pundits claimed those numbers were inflated, because a large percentage of Kuechly's tackles occurred downfield after the opponent had already made a big play. That’s not the case this year, as Kuechly leads the Panthers in tackles and tackles for loss through the first half of the season. A quick search around the league shows that his seven tackles for loss currently ranks fourth among NFC teams.
Trent Richardson is the franchise running back the Cleveland Browns have long coveted.
6. Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns
Richardson carried Cleveland to a 7-6 win over the San Diego Chargers on a rainy and windy Sunday afternoon in Week 8, which is exactly what the Browns envisioned when they traded up in the Draft to pick the Alabama running back. After battling injuries early in the season, Richardson appears to be returning to full health and adjusting to the pro style with each game. (Check out the training that has powered some of Richardson's greatest performances.)
5. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
Morris leads all rookie running backs in rushing yards and attempts at the midway point of the season. Talk about draft value: Morris was selected in the sixth round (173rd overall), the 14th running back chosen in the 2012 Draft.
4. Chandler Jones, DE, New England Patriots
Through their first seven games, the Patriots have started as many as four rookies on defense; but none has had more of an impact than Jones, who leads all rookies in sacks and forced fumbles. Jones has been a dynamo, playing in 92 percent of the Pats’ defensive snaps.
3. Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The second running back picked in the draft has been solid all season, but it was his breakout performance against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8 that catapulted the Boise State product to number three on this list. A humble, hard-working player, Martin has the potential to develop into an elite back in the NFL.
2. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
The first overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft has been steady if unspectacular through the first half of the season. He ranks in the top 10 in pass attempts, passing yards and yards per completion. One of the more interesting stats for Luck is his three rushing touchdowns. That’s nearly half as many rushing touchdowns as he scored during his three years at Stanford. (Watch video of Luck's pre-draft training at Athletes' Performance.)
1. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
Very few folks had the audacity to project RGIII ahead of Luck as the No. 1 pick in the draft. Sure, Luck was selected first, but knowing what you know now, would you be surprised if RGIII ends the season as the more successful QB? We sure wouldn’t.
The sky is the limit for RGIII. There is no question that he has had the most profound impact of any rookie in 2012. (Watch RGIII on the practice field as he provides 1-on-1 instruction for becoming a better QB.)
Photo: Jim Prisching