In 2011, Cam Newton had arguably the greatest rookie season for a quarterback in NFL history. In both the passing game and the running game, Newton was a factor and he did exactly what Carolina drafted him first overall to do–take a horrible situation and turn the franchise around. I’m not going to go so far as to say Carolina is going to be NFC South contenders in 2012, but they certainly should score a lot of points.
Before last season, the Panthers had one of the most anemic offenses in the NFL. Despite drafting two running backs in the first round and having a premiere wide receiver on the roster, Carolina just could not put points on the board. When Newton arrived, all that changed.
The same could be true for this year’s prizes of the 2012 NFL Draft, Andrew Luck and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Though a guy like Cam Newton is truly a rare athlete with unmatched size, athleticism, and overall playmaking ability for his position, guys like Griffin and Luck each have what baseball fans would call “five tools.”
Both Griffin and Luck are inheriting some pretty bad offenses, at least dating back to last year. Specifically, I worry about the Redskins’ and Colts’ ability to run the football consistently. Neither team has a premiere running back capable of going for over 1,000 yards with ease, despite the fact that Indy has a former first round pick in Donald Brown, and Washington has up-and-coming Roy Helu Jr. If both of those guys can step up their game in 2012, then I think Luck and Griffin can have excellent rookie years.
I don’t foresee Luck or Griffin being as impactful for their team’s running games as Newton was, but if that area of the team is even improved in the least, these guys should be stars from the get-go.
What am I basing this off of? Well, I don’t know that the Redskins or Colts have a playmaker of the caliber of the Panthers’ Steve Smith, but certainly they have players who can be of similar impact. Reggie Wayne of the Colts is older and past his prime, but he can still be a major target for Andrew Luck in the passing game, as can young tight end Coby Fleener, Luck’s college teammate.
Washington has an array of targets for Griffin to sling the ball to, but Mike Shanahan’s offense is predicated on running the football. Griffin will throw to the likes of Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson, Pierre Garcon, and Santana Moss. I don’t think there’s any doubt about who inherited the more talented group of receivers, but I still think Luck can be just as impactful because of his supreme skills and ability to orchestrate an offense.
This may be the most intriguing couple of rookie quarterbacks the NFL has seen in quite some time.