AFC NEWS 'N' NOTES
AFC ROOKIES: REACHING NEW HEIGHTS
The future is bright for a cast of NFL rookies around the league.
Making the transition from college to pro can be just as demanding mentally as it is physically. But year after year, rookies across the NFL emerge as key contributors.
"The strength of rookies coming into the National Football League is so much more advanced each year due to the quality coaching and offseason programs that they get in college," says former Dallas Cowboys vice president of player personnel (1960-1989) and NFL.com senior analyst GIL BRANDT.
A look at a few notable 2012 AFC rookies:
*QB ANDREW LUCK, Indianapolis (Round 1, No. 1 Overall, Stanford): *The Andrew Luck era is well underway in Indianapolis. Through Week 7, Luck has led the Colts to a 3-3 record, already surpassing the Colts' win total from a season ago.
"He's not your normal rookie quarterback," says Colts All-Star wide receiver REGGIE WAYNE. "He does a great job of just taking everything in, not being pressured, not being forced to do something that he's not in control of."
Luck has certainly controlled the Colts offense. He has passed for 1,674 yards in six games and can challenge CAM NEWTON (4,051 in 2011), PEYTON MANNING (3,739 in 1998) and SAM BRADFORD (3,512 in 2010) for the most passing yards by a rookie.
Luck is already one of three rookies in NFL history with at least three individual 300-yard passing games, joining Manning (four, 1998) and Newton (three, 2011). With at least 300 yards against Tennessee on Sunday, Luck would equal Manning's record mark.
DE CHANDLER JONES, New England (Round 1, No. 21 Overall, Syracuse): *At 6-5, 260 pounds, Jones has played a pivotal role in stopping the run and rushing the passer for *BILL BELICHICK's defense. He earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month honors in September with 19 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Through Week 7, Jones leads NFL rookies with five sacks. Jones needs 5.5 sacks for the most sacks by a Patriots' rookie (GARIN VERIS, 10 in 1985).
Jones has two brothers who are professional athletes – ARTHUR is a defensive end for the Baltimore Ravens and JON is a UFC fighter.
*QB RYAN TANNEHILL, Miami (Round 1, No. 8 Overall, Texas A&M): *Tannehill, who became the first Dolphins rookie quarterback ever to start the club's first game of the season, aims to shatter more Miami records.
In Week 4 at Arizona, Tannehill threw for the third-most passing yards by an NFL quarterback this season (431) and the second-most in a game by a rookie quarterback in NFL history (Cam Newton, 432).
"He's ahead of where I thought he'd be," says Dolphins offensive coordinator MIKE SHERMAN. "He's doing things now you expect in the fifth or sixth year for a quarterback. He's off-the-charts smart."
Tannehill is on track to surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (2,210 in 1983) for the most passing yards by a rookie in Dolphins history.
*WR JOSH GORDON, Cleveland (Round 2, Supplemental Draft, Baylor), RB TRENT RICHARDSON (Round 1, No. 3 Overall, Alabama), QB BRANDON WEEDEN (Round 1, No. 22 Overall, Oklahoma State): *Cleveland's rookie trio of Gordon, Richardson and Weeden has been a welcomed addition.
Richardson, the Browns first selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, leads AFC rookies with 348 rushing yards and can challenge Pro Football Hall of Famer JIM BROWN (942 in 1957) for the most rushing yards by a Browns rookie in a season.
"He's extremely tough, he's extremely competitive," says Browns head coach PAT SHURMUR. "This league is about scoring points and eliminating scores, and if you have a running back that can get the ball in the end zone, it's a big value."
Weeden was named the starting quarterback during training camp and is determined to lead the club for many years to come. The strong-armed quarterback has an NFL-best among rookies in touchdown passes (nine). He can challenge the NFL rookie record for the most TD passes in a season (Peyton Manning, 26 in 1998).
At 6-3, 225 pounds, Gordon uses his size and speed to present problems for opposing defenders. Through Week 7, Gordon has an NFL rookie-best with 333 receiving yards. He is on pace to set the Browns' rookie receiving yards record (KEVIN JOHNSON, 986 in 1999).
*WR KENDALL WRIGHT, Tennessee (Round 1, No. 20 Overall, Baylor): *Wright has been a bright spot alongside a talented receiving corps in Tennessee. The Texas native leads NFL rookies in receptions (36).
Through Week 7, the shifty wide receiver has found a knack for getting open. Wright ranks second in the NFL with 16 third-down catches (WES WELKER, 17).
"He's the kind of guy that can do the Jerry Rice-type plays where he catches the five-yard slant, break a tackle and make a big run," says Titans head coach MIKE MUNCHAK. "All that's left now for him is to break a tackle or two and turn those 10-yarders and 12-yarders into bigger plays."
Wright can challenge the franchise rookie record for receptions by BILL GROMAN (72) in 1960.
NFC NEWS 'N' NOTES
NFC ROOKIES MAKING THEIR MARK
As the NFL season approaches the halfway point, rookies around the league are making an impact.
At quarterback, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft – Washington's ROBERT GRIFFIN III– has excelled as both a passer and runner. He ranks third in the NFL in passer rating (101.8) and second among all NFL players with six rushing touchdowns. Seattle's third-round choice, RUSSELL WILSON (No. 75), also earned the starting job prior to the season and has led the Seahawks to four wins, the most of any rookie QB this year.
Running back ALFRED MORRIS, a sixth-round pick (No. 173) by the Redskins, leads the NFC and ranks second in the NFL with 658 rushing yards. After just seven games, Morris and Griffin (468 rushing yards) are on the brink of becoming the first rookie QB-RB teammates in NFL history to rush for at least 500 yards each in their rookie season.
Tampa Bay's DOUG MARTIN, a first-round running back from Boise State (No. 31), has been a dual threat for the Buccaneers and is the only rookie with at least 400 rushing yards (408) and 10 catches (13) this season.
Defensively, cornerback CASEY HAYWARD (second round, No. 62) of Green Bay is tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions while defensive end BRUCE IRVIN (first round, No. 15) of Seattle leads NFC rookies with 4.5 sacks.
And a pair of NFC kickers chosen in Round 6 – GREG ZUERLEIN of St. Louis (No. 171) and BLAIR WALSH of Minnesota (No. 175) – have showed range and consistency. Walsh (63 points) is second in the conference in scoring, while Zuerlein (60) ranks third among NFC players.
A closer look at some of the outstanding NFC rookies in 2012:
ROBERT GRIFFIN III, Washington (Round 1, No. 2 overall, Baylor): The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner leads all NFL players with a 70.4 completion percentage, which is on pace to be the fourth-highest by any NFL player (rookies and veterans) in a single season. Griffin's 101.8 passer rating is also on track to surpass BEN ROETHLISBERGER's NFL rookie record of 98.1 in 2004. He leads all quarterbacks with 468 rushing yards and six touchdowns and aims to be the first QB in NFL history to rush for at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in a single season.
"We feel like we can do anything we want with the ball in his hands," says Washington wide receiver SANTANA MOSS. "When you have a guy that gives you an opportunity every time, even when it's hard, that's a blessing. Not many quarterbacks can do that."
RUSSELL WILSON, Seattle (Round 3, No. 75 overall, Wisconsin):Wilson has led the Seahawks to four wins in his first seven starts, passing for 1,230 yards and eight touchdowns. He's on pace to surpass the franchise rookie records for touchdown passes and wins by a starting QB.
"He's one of the hardest workers I've ever seen at this level," says Seahawks radio announcer and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback WARREN MOON. "When we get on the plane after games, he's the first guy to come up and get the film. And when we land at the facility, he'll go in and watch some more."
ALFRED MORRIS, Washington (Round 6, No. 173, Florida Atlantic): A sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic, Morris leads the NFC with 658 rushing yards. He is on pace to become the first NFL rookie to rush for at least 1,500 yards since CLINTON PORTIS in 2002. That would surpass the club rookie record of 1,063 rushing yards, which was set by REGGIE BROOKS in 1993.
"Alfred came out of nowhere, and he runs like every snap is his last," says Washington nose tackle BARRY COFIELD. "That's what I love about him."
DOUG MARTIN, Tampa Bay (Round 1, No. 31, Boise State): Martin has started all six games for the Buccaneers and has been a consistent contributor, rushing for at least 50 yards in five of the team's six games. He has also proven to be a reliable receiving target out of the backfield and has 253 scrimmage yards in his past two contests (161 rushing, 92 receiving).
"He's the kind of kid who you could just drop on a field, run a toss play and he'll naturally know what to do," says Tampa Bay defensive back RONDE BARBER. "He can make you miss just standing still because you're thinking about all the things he can do."
BRUCE IRVIN, Seattle (Round 1, No. 15, West Virginia): Irvin, the No. 15 overall pick out of West Virginia, leads NFC rookies with 4.5 sacks, already the second most ever by a Seahawks rookie (LEROY HILL, 7.5 in 2005). He also has a forced fumble to his credit this season.
"The sky's going to be the limit for a young guy like Bruce Irvin," says Seattle defensive end RED BRYANT. "He's just starting to scratch the surface of what he can be if he continues to progress and to work the way that he's working."
CASEY HAYWARD, Green Bay (Round 2, No. 62, Vanderbilt): Hayward, who made his first career start last week, has recorded an interception in three consecutive games. He is one of seven rookies with such a streak in the past 20 years, and only the second rookie to accomplish the feat this early in the season since 1990 (JAIRUS BYRD in 2009). His four interceptions this season are tied with THOMAS DE COUD and TIM JENNINGS for the most in the NFL.
"He's been playing at a pretty high level," says Green Bay secondary coach JOE WHITT. "He does not play like a rookie. Thus far, he's been a mature player."
GREG ZUERLEIN, St. Louis (Round 6, No. 171, Missouri Western State): A product of Division II Missouri Western State, Zuerlein has converted five field goals of 50 yards, already the most by a rookie in NFL history. In the Rams' 19-13 win over Seattle in Week 4, Zuerlein became the first kicker in NFL history to convert a 60-yard field goal (60) and a 50-yard field goal (58) in the same game.
"He's been awesome," says St. Louis quarterback SAM BRADFORD. "You can't ask for much more in a kicker. I'm sure he's going to continue to play great for us."
BLAIR WALSH, Minnesota (Round 6, No. 175, Georgia): Walsh got off to an historic start this season, becoming the first rookie in NFL history to kick a 50-yard field goal in each of his team's first three games. He has also set the tone for the Vikings' kickoff unit and leads the league with 27 touchbacks.
"I've been bragging about this guy," says Minnesota running back ADRIAN PETERSON. "I've seen him make a 70-yard field goal during training camp. He's good. He has a good leg."