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.