TheSTN – NFL: 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.”

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