No hardware, but AFC East rookies solid

February, 4, 2011
2/04/11
1:40
PM ET
Winners for the Associated Press 2010 Rookies of the Year will be announced Friday. Both appear to be foregone conclusions.

What a shock it would be if St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh didn't represent his side of the ball.

Still, it's an appropriate time to recognize a few remarkable rookie campaigns in the AFC East.

New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez should get a few votes.

McCourty was forced to grow up fast when Leigh Bodden suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in training camp. McCourty lined up against the opposition's top receivers and finished second in the league with seven interceptions. He was voted to the Pro Bowl.

Gronkowski had 10 touchdown receptions, a Patriots record for tight ends of any age and for rookies of any position. He came two touchdowns short of Mike Ditka's NFL record for rookie tight ends. Gronkowski broke another Patriots rookie record with three touchdowns in one game.

Hernandez broke the Patriots record for receptions from a rookie tight end. He had 45 catches for 563 yards and six touchdowns.

None of the three other teams had particularly stellar rookies, but let's take a look at each team.

C.J. Spiller generated a lot of praise in the preseason. He was the ninth overall pick at a position favorable to rookie awards. But Spiller rushed for 283 yards and no touchdowns and added 157 receiving yards with a touchdown.

Some Bills fans might argue linebacker Arthur Moats was their best rookie. The sixth-round pick gained fame for the hit that essentially ended Brett Favre's career. Moats had 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He added 10 special-teams tackles.

But I submit the Bills' best rookie wasn't drafted. David Nelson caught 31 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns. He didn't get on the field regularly until late in the season. Fourteen catches and all of his TDs came in a three-game stretch in December before an injury wiped out his last two games.

The Miami Dolphins caught a bad break when first-round pick Jared Odrick suffered a hairline leg fracture in the season opener. Second-round outside linebacker Koa Misi had a strong campaign with 4.5 sacks.

Defensive back Nolan Carroll, a fifth-round choice, had a wonderful year. Aside from being known as the guy Sal Alosi tripped at the Meadowlands, Carroll was a regular contributor in the secondary and was the Dolphins' top kickoff returner. His mother also was elected Florida's lieutenant governor.

For all the impressive things the New York Jets did in 2010, rookie production didn't rate. They drafted only four players, and all were disappointments to varying degrees.

First-round pick Kyle Wilson played every game but didn't become the nickelback Rex Ryan said he'd be. Second-round offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse was healthy all season but played in three games. Fourth-round running back Joe McKnight became a punch line for his lack of conditioning and will be known as the player who led the Jets to cut Danny Woodhead. Fifth-round fullback John Conner didn't live up to his "Hard Knocks" hype and was deactivated at the end of the year.

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