While the NFL won’t give out its real awards until Super Bowl time, I will make my predictions for who will be receiving said awards. Only one thing is certain as of right now: the best of 2012 have a lot to live up to next year. It’s time, for me at least, to tell everyone who will win the awards in February and why.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Luke Kuehly not only led the 10th-ranked defense of the Carolina Panthers in tackles as a rookie. He led the entire division. He led the entire NFC. And just for good measure, he led all of the NFL in tackles as a rookie fresh out of Boston College. Kuechly, a 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound linebacker, finished the season with 164 tackles, 15 ahead of NaVorro Bowman of the 49ers who had 149 on the year. He’s begun to transform the defense of the Panthers, which just last year, was 28th in the league. Out of the 17 defenders drafted in the first round of this past year’s draft, Kuechly was far and away the most productive. The next most was Bucs‘ safety Mark Barron, who had 89 tackles on the year. Carolina gave up 22.7 points per game in 2012 after allowing 26.8 last season. Kuechly was instrumental in holding strong offensive opponents like the Giants, Seahawks, Cowboys and Chargers to seven, 12, 14 and seven points, respectively. My 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year: Luke Kuechly.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: In a season that was definitely going to result in one of the first two picks in the draft winning this award, it just had to be determined whether it would be Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. So, with that being said, my offensive rookie of the year is Russell Wilson. Wilson is just as much of a two-way threat as the other two and threw more touchdown passes than his two fellow rookie quarterbacks. In fact, Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s 1998 record for the most touchdown passes by a rookie with 26 on the year. In the month of December, when the games mattered most, Wilson quarterbacked a Seattle team that put up 150 points in a three-game span. And he didn’t even enter training camp as the team’s starter. His 69.6 QBR was eighth in the league, just behind Griffin and just ahead of Luck, while his 100.0 passer rating was fourth in the league, just behind Griffin and well ahead of Luck. Neither the Seahawks, nor the Redskins or Colts would likely be in the playoffs without their rookie quarterback, so it kind of came down to stats in making this decision. My 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year: Russell Wilson.
Coach of the Year: What a year it was for the Colts. It takes a special coach to turn a 2-14 team into an 11-5 team and make the playoffs in the tough AFC South. It’s even more impressive that he did it in an interim role with all that must have been on his mind after head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in October. Bruce Arians took over the team and, under his direction, they never lost focus and were able to win 11 games. They became just the seventh team ever to win at least nine more games than they did the previous year. Pagano has since returned and will coach the team in the playoffs, but they would not be there without the job that Arians did. To keep the team composed under those unbelievably difficult circumstances and to actually succeed on the field at the same time is so impressive and incredibly unique. Some season highlights for Indianapolis included wins against teams like the Texans, Vikings and Packers. My 2012 Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians.