Inside Slant: 2012 rookie performance

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
4:10
PM ET
We have spent time this season breaking down the "Fail Mary" and its implications in every way imaginable. In this week's Inside Slant podcast , Mike Sando and I discussed the possibility that the player who threw the infamous pass -- Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson -- could win the NFL's Rookie of the Year award.

The award is highly competitive this season given the performances of Wilson, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III. No one in the NFC North is in the mix, but I thought the podcast would give us an opportunity to review the top rookie seasons in the division here on the blog. One look at eight rookies in the NFC North who merit mention for their performance in 2012:

Player: Minnesota Vikings place-kicker Blair Walsh
Comment: A strong Pro Bowl candidate who has converted 32 of 35 attempts, including an NFL-record 9-for-9 from at least 50 yards, and has the NFL's fourth-best touchback ratio (62.0) on kickoffs.

Player: Green Bay Packers cornerback Casey Hayward
Comment: Tied for fifth in the NFL with six interceptions even though he has only played about 65 percent of the Packers' defensive snaps. Also ranks third in the NFL with 26 pass breakups.

Player: Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil
Comment: Has stabilized the Vikings' pass protection. Quarterback Christian Ponder has been sacked 30 times, the 12th-lowest mark in the NFL, and Pro Football Focus has assigned only one of those sacks to Kalil.

Player: Vikings safety Harrison Smith
Comment: Has brought play making to a position of historic weakness for this team. Has 98 tackles and three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

Player: Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery
Comment: Injuries have limited Jeffery to nine games, but he has proved a physical and dangerous downfield receiver. Among his 20 receptions are three touchdowns.

Player: Detroit Lions offensive lineman Riley Reiff
Comment: Displayed his athleticism in a regular role as a third tight end. Reiff also looked competent in one start at left tackle in place of starter Jeff Backus.

Player: Lions receiver Ryan Broyles
Comment: Like Jeffery, Broyles didn't play much. But over about a third of the season, Broyles showed he could get open. He caught 22 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns.

Player: Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels
Comment: Daniels hasn't played as much as fellow rookie Jerel Worthy, but he has had some nice moments. Daniels has two sacks and made one of the Packers' biggest plays of the season by returning a fumble 43 yards for a touchdown in Week 14.

Did I leave anyone out?

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