By Nick Shepkowski-
(CBS) In a year that has seen three rookie quarterbacks lead their teams to playoff appearances and two rookie running backs combine for over 3,000 yards rushing, it’s easy to call this a historic draft class in terms of instant success.
In Indianapolis, it was Andrew Luck who set a new rookie record by passing for 4,374 yards while he took the Colts from 2-14 to 11-5 and the AFC playoffs.
Washington saw the likes of Robert Griffin, III re-energize what had become a sorry NFL franchise by being one of the most electric players in the league while Alfred Morris finished with over 1,600 rush yards despite being selected in the sixth round of April’s draft.
And who can forget Russell Wilson, the preseason surprise who stole the starting quarterback job from Matt Flynn before turning the Seahawks into a playoff team after a historic final six games.
Chances are when the annual Offensive Rookie of the Year award is handed out, it will go to Luck with Griffin, Morris and Wilson all finishing in the top four. It’s likely that Buccaneers running back Doug Martin will crack the top five in voting as well, after finishing the season as the leagues fifth leading rusher.
All of those listed helped produce perhaps the most exciting season for offensive rookies in NFL history. What should also be noted is that nobody outside of Minneapolis is mentioning an offensive rookie stud who had just as dominating and significant season as those previously mentioned.
Last year the Minnesota Vikings finished tied with the Chicago Bears for fifth most sacks allowed after giving up 49, an average of over three per contest. Considering how much the Vikings loved to use Adrian Peterson for 14 1/2 games last season, 49 was a brutal number of sacks to allow.
Enter Matt Kalil, the third overall draft pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and instant beast.
According to Pro Football Focus, who tracks every play in every NFL game – Kalil allowed just 18 pressures on his quarterback in the 411 times he pass blocked this season, a percentage (96.7) good enough for eighth best in the entire NFL. A quick look at the list finds Kalil within 1.1% of the league leader and proven superstar, Joe Thomas (97.8%) and ranked right up with some of the annually best linemen in Ryan Clady and D’Brickshaw Ferguson.
Furthermore, Kalil didn’t get called for his first holding penalty until his 13th game of 2012 – a call that occurred against Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers and one that was ultimately declined. If you’re wondering when Kalil’s first holding penalty that wasn’t declined came, keep wondering because it’s yet to happen.
That’s right. The rookie offensive tackle who started all 16 games for the Wild Card winning Vikings didn’t get called for a holding penalty all season long and allowed just 1.12 quarterback pressures a game, all while allowing just 5.5 sacks ( via STATS, Inc.).
Oh, and it should go without having to state that Kalil played a major role in the over 2,000 yards Adrian Peterson finished with this season. And those 49 sacks the Vikings allowed as a team a season ago? They’re down by an average of over one per game, to just 32 this season.
It has been a year that is nothing short of magical in terms of offensive rookies. In this quarterback-loving league there is no doubt that it will be Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, III and Russell Wilson with the only realistic chances at winning the Rookie of the Year award but in season that saw the Vikings go from division-doormat to the NFC Wild Card, it’s about time we give Matt Kalil the attention he deserves and mention him with the other beastly rookie performers.
Nick Shepkowski works as an Associate Producer on The McNeil and Spiegel Show while being a fill-in host at 670 The Score in Chicago. For NFL and other sports thoughts all year long, follow Nick on Twitter @Shep670.