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Year of the rookie
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If 2011 was "the year of the quarterback," then 2012 was absolutely "the year of the rookie."

In 2012, five rookies finished in the top 20 in fantasy points. Cam Newton was the only rookie to accomplish that feat in 2011.

So who were the best of the best? I'm glad you asked. Here are my season-ending rookie power rankings for the 2012 season:

Note: My rankings are based on where I think each player will be taken in next year's fantasy draft. For example, Russell Wilson finished the year with more fantasy points than Alfred Morris (259 to 230) but I'd probably draft Morris ahead of Wilson because Morris was the fifth-best running back while Wilson was only the 11th-best quarterback.

10. Vick Ballard, RB, Indianapolis Colts: Ballard split carries with Donald Brown this season and was still able to finish with the fourth-highest rushing total among NFL rookies. His 814 yards rushing were the most by a Colts rookie since Joseph Addai sprinted for 1,081 yards during the 2006 season. He was especially good down the stretch, averaging 86.5 yards per game in his last four appearances. Ballard outplayed Brown (417 yards in 10 games) this season and should be the team's primary backfield option in 2013.

9. Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns: While not as celebrated as his college teammate Robert Griffin III, Gordon was very solid for the Browns in 2012, reeling in a team-high 805 receiving yards on 50 catches. That total was the third-most among rookie wideouts behind Justin Blackmon and T.Y. Hilton. Next season Gordon should have a chance to become Cleveland's first 1,000 yard receiver since Braylon Edwards in 2007.

8. Justin Blackmon, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: Blackmon ended the year with the most yards out of any rookie wide receiver (865). Most of those yards came during the second half of the season when Blackmon ate up 640 yards on 41 catches. His breakout game came in an overtime loss at Houston during Week 11 (236 yards on seven receptions). That's the most yards by a Jaguars receiver since Jimmy Smith went off for 291 in a loss to Baltimore back in 2000.

7. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts: Hilton was the best of the bunch when it came to rookie wideouts in 2012. He led all rookies in touchdown catches (seven) and his yards per catch average was the NFL's fifth-highest (17.2). Hilton's elite speed (he runs a 4.34 40-yard dash) allowed him to make seven catches of at least 35 yards this season. Three of those seven catches went for 60 yards or more. Not bad for a guy who was taken 92nd overall on draft day.

6. Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns: Richardson set a Browns rookie record with 950 yards on the ground while scoring 11 touchdowns (tied for fifth in the NFL). The amazing part is, Richardson wasn't even healthy. He played most of the second half with broken ribs and a sprained ankle. If Richardson is 100 percent going into next season, sky's the limit. We know who he'll be rooting for in the BCS Championship Monday night. Roll Tide.

5. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks: Wilson tied a rookie record with 26 touchdown passes in 2012. His 100.0 quarterback rating was better than Tom Brady's (98.7). Did we mention that he had a higher completion percentage than Drew Brees (he also had 484 more rushing yards than Brees did)? So why isn't Wilson higher on my list of rookie studs? Well, you'll see.

4. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts: They say looks can be deceiving. Well, so are quarterback ratings. Despite finishing 26th in that statistic (76.5), Luck was seventh in the league in yards (4,374, the most ever by an NFL rookie) and 10th in fantasy points. He's no RG3 when it comes to running but he's not a scarecrow either (255 yards, five touchdowns). If Luck can cut down on the interceptions (he threw 18 of them this season), there'll be no stopping him.

3. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins: Morris may have been the best running back in the league not named Adrian Peterson this season. He finished second in the NFL in touchdowns (13), second in rushing yards (1,613, a team record) and second in first downs (83). He's coming off his best game of the season in Week 17 (200 yards, three touchdowns) and should be in for another big outing Sunday against the Seahawks.

2. Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Martin's game against the Raiders in Week 9 was a masterpiece (251 yards, four touchdown runs). The rest of his season wasn't too bad either as Martin finished with 1,454 yards (a Buccaneers rookie record) and 11 touchdowns. It's close but I give Martin a slight edge over Morris because he was the more effective receiver (49 catches, 472 yards for Martin compared to 11 catches and 77 yards for Morris).

1. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins: Griffin set a rookie quarterback record with 815 rushing yards and he didn't even play in all 16 games. His 102.4 QB rating was also the highest ever by a first year quarterback. More importantly, he got the Redskins back to the postseason for the first time since 2007.

Honorable mention:

Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis Colts

Chris Givens, WR, St. Louis Rams

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins

Blair Walsh, K, Minnesota Vikings

Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans

Take it all in folks. If West Virginia's Geno Smith is really the best quarterback in the draft (he's projected to be a mid to late first round pick), it could be a while before we see another rookie class as strong as the one we saw in 2012.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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