By Steven Keys

There were times in NFL 2012 when all of these guys were nothing short of sublime.

Playing, not like the “R..O..O..K..I..E” imprint on their shiny, new, laminated Ass’n cards, but as if seasoned veterans who’d mastered the game, peerless in pursuit of wins and even having their names dropped into MVP talk on more than one Monday morning.

Then, as it almost always does in professional football (greenhorns occasionally wow in other sports: Magic & Gretzky (‘80) and Posey (’10)), reality sets in, the phenom comes down to earth and their season ends in a thud.

But all budding stars from last season can hold their heads high as they embark on another quest for team glory and personal legitimacy (dissing sophomore slumpage), all a bit wiser, all sporting battle-scars and definitely more job security.

Andrew Luck (QB / Indianapolis Colts)

2012: 16-GS (11-5); 4374 / 627 (pyd-att); 54% (comp); 23 / 18 (td-int); 41 (sk); 7 (gwd); 255 / 62 (ryd); 10 (fmb)

The last time a ‘can’t-miss’ draftee got a legend ‘handed his hat (Favre),’ the replacement (Rodgers) hoisted the hardware in fairly short order. Life can be “sweet (P. Griffin).”

That might bode well for a man named Andy Luck, a 1st-year QB who guided his new Colts team, a company heavy-in-heart with coach Chuck Pagano absent fighting the big battle, to a better-than-expected finish into the post-season.

Now, with their sideline leader back in fold and the young field general with his sea-legs underneath, the sky’s the limit for Hoosier State‘s favorite gridiron gang.

Luck’s TD-ratio red flags, as do the ten fumbles. But you learn from mistakes and this is just the time to take chances and expand your mind. In fact, too-good a ratio and I’d worry he wasn’t bravely venturing-forth enough. The arm strength, the pocket poise and selective mobility (in opposite of fear-flight impulse) are all present & accounted.

Predicting Super Bowl regalia is pure frivolity, but if Jim Irsay & Ryan Grigson can stock their Indy roster as wisely as did Ted Thompson & Co. for their young hopeful, Andrew just might have the same luck in burying his own ghosts of Lucas legend (Manning).

Robert Griffin (Tail-back – QB / Washington Redskins)

2012: 15-GS (9-6); 3200 / 393 (pyd-att); 66% (comp); 20 / 5 (td-int); 30 (sk); 2 (gwd); 815 / 120 (ryd-att); 12 (fmb)

Maybe you heard the report last week of a rehab-rift between Redskins’ coach Mike Shanahan and his budding star, Rob Griffin.

Confrontations, if true here, don’t always foreshadow gloom & doom. In fact, I suspect in this case it clears-the-air and reflects just what you want to see from both men: a player who badly wants back on the field and a coach who wants his men fit as fiddles for play.

Rob’s got gobs o’ talent (could clutch pigskin tighter) and drive to succeed. But two things work against RG: one, the physical toll exacted in his profession, and two, being a flash QB. It’s a cocktail of equal parts fun, excitement and certain headache to follow with all the injuries in store for the typical running-quarterback.

To the first: human body wasn’t made for Walter Camp’s creation, not long, anyway.

Humanoids are funny. On the one hand, if generally healthy, our bodies are a marvel of nature, resilient & tenacious against invaders (bacteria / virus), can work self-repairs and withstand tremendous physical & emotional punishment.

On the other, we’re a house of cards. Everything’s connected. A sticky heart valve, one cell goes wild & crazy and it‘s big trouble. Tiny bone breaks in the ear, deafness, knee ligament snaps, it’s crutch time. Like an auto, one part conks and you ain‘t goin’ nowhere.

NFL equipment continually evolves to provide better protection & mobility but no techno-gear can ever guard against the myriad of strains, sprains, jarring-jolts and hellacious hits that befall every man who toils on the turfdom.

Robert’s sudden stop & turn style of play is especially taxing on a repaired knee or ankle, while downfield jaunts lay the smaller framed QB open to the kind of heavy hits intended for lower-to-the-ground, muscle-bound RBs like Adrian Peterson, who can throw-off defenders like so many rag dolls (CLE ‘09).

If Rob (and 3rd-year Kaep Krusader) wants to last in this League, he’ll need develop pocket poise, lateral mobility and “let (the arm) do the walking.”

That’s an argument Mike Shanahan cannot lose.

Russell Wilson (QB / Seattle Seahawks)

2012: 16-GS (11-5); 3118 / 393 (pyd / att); 64% (comp); 26 / 10 (td-int); 33 (sk); 5 (gwd); 489 / 94 (ryd-att)

Rob, Colin, Rex, Aaron, Tom, Peyton & Adrian get most the ink, but no offensive rookie, hell, no NFL player period, did more to impress serious football fans than did Russ in 2012. And had his Seahawks coaching staff not sheepishly gone prevent-mode after snatching back the late lead in their divisional loss to Atlanta PS, it would’ve likely been the rookie from Badgerland who’d been at center stage come February.

Credit, in part, innovative head coach Pete Carroll for recognizing Wilson’s potential, steering his development and having the chutzpah to undertake a challenge. No surprise. Pete’s the guy who molded Seattle D and grabbed Marshawn Lynch in 2010 (BUF).

Call Wilson, Mr. Balance: pocket poise, passer proficient and run as read, not on instinct.

Luke Kuechly (MLB / Carolina Panthers)

2012: 16-GS (7-9); tackles: 164 (103S – 61A); 1 (sk); 2 (int); 3 (fr)

On defense, Luke was as impressive as any of the above men were on the offensive side, carrying away NFL’s DROY trophy, in complement to the offensive winner, Rob Griffin.

Head on a swivel: Warning that should be standard when taking the field against guys like Luke, cut from same cloth as other stick-men Chad Greenway, A.J. Hawk, Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis.

Defense, at least the timely version, can still be said to win championships, if not hearts of many a fan & media folk. Even fantasy fanatics tend to turn-up noses at TD artists like Luke (tackle & disruption), preferring the glamour stat guys with their sacks & INTs.

But ask Kuechly if he minds getting over-looked. He’d probably answer, ‘No, not really.’ He gets paid well to do what he loves, and like others of his ilk, is admired and feared by all who love the straight on, contact nature of the game.

Alfred Morris (RB / Washington Redskins)

2012: 16-GS (10-6); 1613 / 335 (ryd / att); 4.8 (avg); 13 (td); 4 (fmb)

Talk about bad timing. Rookie Al has one of the greatest rushing seasons in NFL history and it happens same year rehab miracle man Adrian Peterson runs wild in purple & yellow (2097; 6.0 (avg)), AND, teamer Rob gives America neck cramps turning heads nearly every week in awe & admiration.

While Rob risks his future with every downfield scamper and Adrian can’t get Eric or Emmitt out of his head, Al can keep working in media anonymity and maybe inspire his club, a la John Riggins, to the promised land.

Bobby Wagner (MLB / Seattle Seahawks)

2012: 15-GS; tackles: 139 (85S – 54A); 2 (sk); 3 (int)

It’s a QB league and, as such, State of Wilson will get lion’s share of Seahawks spotlight. That’s fine. But anyone who knows NFL knows #1 reason for Seattle‘s turn-around since Mr. Carroll arrived (Misters Lynch & Wilson tie @ #2) is ‘Hawks vaunted defense. If it wasn’t ranked #1 most of 2012 it was right on Niners’ heels. Too bad for Seattle faithful it weakened at the worst possible time (v. ATL). Prevent-defense, ay caramba!

And while Pete had Emerald City defenders on their toes before Bob’s arrival from Utah St. (2R / 47), it’s this rover in the middle who’s helped secure their place atop the marquee.

Blair Walsh (PK / Minnesota Vikings)

2012: 16-GS; 35 / 38 (fg / att); 36 / 36 (ep); 10-10 (50+); 56 (long)

Think kickers don’t belong in football? They pre-date the forward pass in pigskin play, making NFL’s new, convoluted, anti-kicker, playoff OT rules very telling on how little the Cufflinks (Roger & DeMaurice) value NFL tradition or understand the game.

On any given Sunday, any given game, the field goal will, in nail-biting style, decide the hard fought contest. Playoffs shouldn’t be any different.

Not a fan of style? Then ditch football and go do MMA. They’ll fit ya’ right in.

And no one was more foot fashionable in 2012 than Vikes’ rookie place-kicker from Georgia, Blair Walsh, who started on right foot in displacing veteran All-Pro, Ryan Longwell. For his super season, Blair was voted 1st team, All NFL, all around.

Steven Keys

NFL Hunch Line

Photo Credit: Luke Kuechly / Google® “Images”

Statistics (2012):

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