The Green Bay Packers focused on the defensive side of the ball early and often with their picks in the 2012 NFL Draft, as the first six draftees played on that side of the ball. However, several of the rookies who played key roles on this year's team were undrafted free agents, picked off the heap of players who got little attention on draft weekend.
This award would more often than not have several candidates, but with injuries and inconsistent play by several of this year's rookies, there is only one legitimate choice for the top rookie: Cornerback Casey Hayward. The second-round pick from Vanderbilt grew up quickly after starting out as a fourth-stringer, taking over dime duties when Jarrett Bush was removed from the starting lineup. Then, when Sam Shields was injured, Hayward moved to the outside and started seven games in Shields' place. Hayward racked up an impressive six interceptions to go along with another 12 or more pass breakups (depending on who's counting).
Equally impressive as his ball skills was Hayward's coverage ability without being penalized. Hayward didn't take a penalty during the entire regular season, nor did he allow a touchdown pass. As Pro Football Focus found out, he gave up less than a 50% completion rate into his coverage and allowed a miniscule 1.05 yards per coverage snap on the way to being named PFF's Defensive Rookie of the Year. Hayward very well could earn that award from the Associated Press as well when it is announced on Saturday. That makes the race for team rookie of the year a landslide.
Instead of voting on the top honor, let's instead turn our attention to the other rookies on the team to find out who the APC community feels would be worthy of second place. A large portion of these rookies received playing time due to injured starters.
He only played in six games before going on injured reserve, but Perry helped bring some pass rush opposite Clay Matthews. He didn't record a lot in terms of sacks (only had two) but he opened up the rush for Matthews, who racked up eight of his 13 sacks in games that Perry also played.
The Packers' second pick dealt with a variety of injuries this season, but started a few games at defensive end. He produced 2.5 sacks in 13 games (four starts) along with a forced fumble. Unfortunately for Worthy, he didn't seem to be a real force rushing the passer, which was thought to be one of his strengths, so the Packers will undoubtedly want to see him improve in that capacity next season.
Daniels is on the list for one reason alone: his scoop-and-score of a Matthew Stafford fumble in the game against the Detroit Lions in Green Bay. That play completely changed the momentum of the game, and helped the Packers continue their decades-long winning streak at home against Detroit. Otherwise, Daniels had a solid but unspectacular year rotating in on the defensive line and helping out on special teams. He had a total of two sacks and two fumble recoveries on the season.
Another training-camp wonder, Moses stuck around and earned far more playing time than Vic So'oto a year ago, starting five games while Clay Matthews was banged up. He put up four sacks and a forced fumble in his limited playing time, and was a contributor on special teams as well.
Barclay took over for the injured Bryan Bulaga and an ineffective T.J. Lang at right tackle, starting the last four games of the season after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of West Virginia. Barclay brought some stability to the running game and was a key component of the offensive line's improved play late in the season.
Which of these rookies earns your vote for second-best Packers rookie this season?