- Quarterback: Matt Stafford, DET
Even though Stafford only played 10 games for a 2-win team and Mark Sanchez has started every game except one for a potentially playoff bound team, Stafford gets the edge because he was asked to do more for his team than Sanchez was. The Jets have more talent at every position than the Lions do but can you recall any games this year that Sanchez won himself? I can’t but Stafford had his hand in both of the Lions wins: the victory over the Redskins that ended Detroit’s 19 game losing streak and the historic win over the Browns in which Stafford gutted out a serious shoulder injury. That Browns game is what people will most remember about Stafford’s rookie season whereas this video is what we will most remember about Sanzhez’s rookie season.
- Running Back: Beanie Wells, ARI
Wells has really come on in the second half of the season which is when rookies tend to start wearing down. He has averaged 4.8 yards per carry in November and December and has clearly leapfrogged Tim Hightower as the Cardinals #1 back. He’s also shown that he can catch the ball which is something he didn’t do much of at Ohio State. Wells already has more receiving yards this season than he had in his college career. Wells gets the edge over Knowshon Moreno due to the Bronco’s fumbling woes (3rd most lost fumbles in NFL) and his inefficiency (33 RBs have a higher yard per carry average).
- Fullback: Quinn Johnson, GB
Johnson and Carolina’s Tony Fiammetta were the only FBs who played more than a handful of snaps but Johnson gets the nod due to the simple fact he actually touched the ball (2 catches, 4 yards) unlike Fiammetta. Johnson is just one of three fullbacks on Green Bay and his ability to take snaps away from two veterans shows that the Packers’ coaches think highly of him.
- Wide Receiver: Hakeem Nicks, NYG; Mike Wallace, PIT
Nicks has all the makings of a future All-Pro receiver: he reminds me of Sterling Sharpe in that he’s built like a RB and his hands are exceptionally huge. He leads all rookies in receiving yards and he’s already supplanted Mario Manningham as a starter. Wallace may seem like a surprise pick but he’s been superb in his role as the slot receiver in Pittsburgh. Wallace has more touchdowns than Santonio Holmes and he leads the entire NFL, not just the rookies, in average yards per reception with 18.7. I based this decision solely on a player’s performance at receiver; thus, I didn’t take into account Percy Harvin’s special teams play which is why he didn’t make the cut (at this position).
- Tight End: Brandon Pettigrew, DET
The rookie out of Oklahoma State was really starting to come along before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 12. Pettigrew had 18 receptions, 194 yards, and 2 TDs in November alone and all of those numbers are better than what any rookie tight end has put up for the entire 2009 season. The runner-up is Shawn Nelson of the Bills who has 17 receptions for 156 yards. He also has one TD reception which is somehow good enough for tied for 3rd among all Bills players.
- Tackle: Michael Oher, BAL; Sebastian Vollmer, NWE
Even though Oher has only guarded Joe Flacco’s “Blind Side” four games this season, Oher has been above average in protecting the QB. Oher has allowed just 4 sacks this season compared to Phil Loadholt of the Vikings who has allowed 7 sacks despite playing strictly at RT. Vollmer has been playing at arguably an All-Pro level this season. ProFootballFocus.com is a website that I’ve worked for and they track every offensive and defensive play from every NFL game. By their measure, Vollmer is the only offensive tackle in the NFL that has played at least 25% of his team’s snaps without giving up a sack. Vollmer has also only been penalized once all season which is amazing considering that he’s played over 500 snaps this year. The two Smiths (Jason and Andre) have had injury issues that prevented them from getting enough playing time and the two Jaguar rookie tackles have struggled and given up a combined 13 sacks.
- Guard: Louis Vasquez, SD; Max Unger, SEA
Only four rookie guards played a significant amount of snaps and two of them were for Buffalo which may have the worst offensive line in the NFL. Thus, Vasquez and Unger win out. Since Week 4 Vasquez has played every snap and only been called for one penalty and he has also been one of the best screen blockers in the league for LT and Sproles. Unger played center in college but has played right guard for the Seahawks. ProFootballFocus.com grades Unger as the fourth best pass blocker this year among all guards and he has only allowed one sack all season.
- Center: Alex Mack, CLE
If you re-watch Jerome Harrison’s 286 yard game against the Chiefs, you should notice that many of Harrison’s long runs were when he ran behind his center. For the season, Harrison is averaging 6.3 yards per carry when running on either side of the center compared to 4.1 when running off guard or off tackle.