Due to an excellent draft and a few untimely injuries, many of the rookies for the Arizona Cardinals were given huge opportunities and were allowed to play plenty of snaps, despite Ken Whisenhunt's reluctance to do so. We saw three rookies start at their respective positions this season, all of them making positive impacts for the team. Others saw huge jumps in playing time after occasionally outperforming the guy ahead of them on the depth chart.
But who was the best rookie from the 2011 draft class? Let's look at some of the candidates and see who gets my vote after the jump.
Peterson was forced into the starting role at cornerback after Greg Toler suffered a torn ACL before the season was even underway. Peterson played quite well as a rookie corner, picking up 64 tackles, two interceptions and a sack. He was burnt down the field a few times and he collected the most pass interference flags of any corner in the NFL this season, but that is to be expected when your rookie is guarding the opponent's best receiver every week.
Where Peterson was really able to make an impact was on special teams as a punt returner. Peterson tied an NFL record by taking four punts back for touchdowns, all of them being brought back 80 yards or more. It seemed like every time he was able to get his hands on the ball, he was going to take it to the house for six.
After replacing Joey Porter as the starting outside linebacker after six games, Acho really found his stride. In the ten games he started, Acho accumulated six sacks and four forced fumbles. He ended the season with 40 tackles and seven sacks overall. With that number, Acho had gathered the second most sacks for a rookie in Cardinals franchise history. He showed himself to be a very good pass rusher in what was just his first NFL season and it seems that the Cardinals have finally hit on an outside linebacker through the draft.
Sherman is the type of fullback that every team wishes they had on their roster. Not only is he a great lead blocker for the running back, but he is also very versatile and can be used in many different positions on the field. His name was consistently being called as the guy tackling the kickoff returner on special teams. Also, he was a great safety net that either Kevin Kolb or John Skelton could dump the ball off to if they were unable to find a wide receiver that was open down the field.
Reagan Maui'a replaced him due to an injury Sherman sustained part of the way during the season, but that just made his absence even more noticeable. Sherman was definitely an overlooked player on this Cardinals roster and there is no doubt he has a bright future with the birdgang.
Carter was drafted in the sixth round as a defensive tackle out of UCLA in the anticipation that he could come in and give starting nose tackle, Dan Williams, a breather every once in a while. As it turns out, some thought that he was beginning to challenge Williams for that starting position after playing so well early on.
Carter played in all 16 games this year and collected 16 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble in his limited playing time. He also has the versatility to play at almost any position on the defensive line and will definitely be a part of this franchise's plans going forward.
If I had to cast my imaginary ballot for the Cardinals rookie of the year, I would have to go with Peterson. He lived up to all the hype, in my opinion. After going up to training camp in Flagstaff and watching him return punts, I knew he was going to be a special player in that department. His play on defense still needs some refining, but I love what I have seen so far. He made big plays all season and gave the Cards opportunities to win ball games. I honestly can't wait to see what he brings to the table next season.
Who do you think should be the Cardinals rookie of the year? Feel free to vote in the poll, but also leave some of your comments below. Let us know what you think.