Commentary

Rookie Watch: Awards go to ...

Originally Published: December 21, 2011
By Matt Williamson | Scouts Inc.

Andy Dalton. Von Miller. Those guys' games dropped off as the season concluded, which is what happens to most rookies.

[+] EnlargeNewton
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Panthers' Cam Newton has rare abilities and a strong desire to win.

But Carolina QB Cam Newton, my choice for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, isn't like everyone else. And I don't mean that just compared with the other rookies on this list. I mean it compared with the other quarterbacks in the NFL. Newton's physical tools are just off the chart. Not only does he have a fantastic right arm but his strength at the position is on par with a guy like Ben Roethlisberger and his agility and running skills are superior even to those of Steve McNair in his prime.

He can physically do whatever is asked of him, but the way he took to coaching and the speed of the game as a rookie was astonishing. He handles the blitz well, can go to his second and third reads, and understands ball placement to best help his receivers make the catch and do something with the ball after securing it.

He set records in his rookie year, but Newton also shows excellent leadership on the field. He wants to win -- it is clearly very important to him. Newton is a star, and he is only getting started.

NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: 49ers LB Aldon Smith

I really didn't think I would do it. I thought for sure Miller had this honor locked up. But Miller's play and production fell off a cliff after his thumb surgery, and, although Smith played far fewer snaps and is more one-dimensional than Miller, I had to give him this award.

I actually considered giving it to Texans DE J.J. Watt, as well, but, in the end, this is a passing league and the pressure Smith can put on a quarterback was just too overwhelming to ignore.

Smith has a fantastic body type for rushing the passer off the edge. He is tall with very long arms with big strides. Smith is built for speed. But he also uses those long arms extremely well to hand fight and to keep blockers away from his body. Many players with Smith's dimensions lack power, but that simply isn't the case here. He is a natural knee bender who plays low with leverage, and he can convert his fantastic initial explosion off the snap into bull-rush power. He is adept with stunting and has more than just speed and a bull rush in his repertoire.

Smith was not a full-time player as a rookie, and he still needs work on early downs against the run as well as on his coverage skills. But those things will come before long. Smith is just too good not to be on the field full time.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.