Quarterback - Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Coming fresh off his 2010 BCS National Championship and Heisman Trophy winning season for the Auburn Tigers, Cam Newton is no stranger to the spotlight, however, there was plenty of doubt and criticism around the football world as to whether he was going to be a NFL caliber quarterback. The Carolina Panthers took a chance and used the first pick of the 2011 NFL Draft to select Newton. He was named the starter for the Panthers before the season started. He rose to the challenge by throwing 420 yards in the first game of the season, establishing a new rookie record for passing yards in a game. The next week, he broke that same record by throwing for 430 yards. He threw for 4,051 yards, 21 TDS, 17 INTs. His 14 rushing touchdowns is also an NFL record for quarterbacks.
Running Back - DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
This rookie running back was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft. Five other running backs were taken ahead of him, including Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram. Murray spent the first 5 games of the season serving as the backup to starter, Felix Jones. Jones suffered an ankle injury during the fifth game of the season and Murray was named the starter the following week. In his first game as the starter, DeMarco set a new Dallas Cowboys team record with 253 rushing yards, including a 91 yard touchdown run. He finished the season with 897 rushing yards. 824 of those yards came in the final 11 games of the season. His 5.5 yards per carry tied Buffalo Bill, Fred Jackson, for best in the NFL among running backs with over 100 carries.
Running Back - Ben Tate, Houston Texans
Despite only starting two games all year, Ben Tate exploded on the the scene in 2011 with 4x 100 yard rushing games, 942 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. Serving as the backup to Arian Foster, Tate was too good to keep on the sideline. The Houston Texans used him as much as they could as he and Foster rushed for almost 2,200 yards.
Wide Receiver - Victor Cruz, New York Giants
If the New York Giants were going to have a superstar wide receiver this year, it most certainly looked like Hakeem Nicks would be that guy. While Nicks finished with almost 1,200 receiving yards, the superstar wide receiver ended up being undrafted free agent out of the University of Massachusetts, Victor Cruz. He spent his entire first season (2010) on the sidelines with an injury and 9 out of the first 10 games of 2011, he came off the bench. He ended up finishing third in the league with 1,536 receiving yards and 9 touchdown receptions.
Wide Receiver - Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
During his first three NFL seasons, Jordy Nelson had a total of 1,268 receiving yards.and 6 touchdown catches. In 2011, he hauled in 68 receptions (30th in the league). That's not much to write home about, but his 18.6 yards per catch helped this Green Bay Packers wide receiver gain 1,263 yards (9th in the league) and 15 touchdown receptions (3rd in the league).
Wide Receiver/ Running Back - Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos
I almost had Tennessee Titanas wide receiver, Nate Washington in this spot, but I just cannot get over how good Willis McGahee was in 2011. I know he had three 1,000 yard seasons in his first four years, but the last one was in 2007. Due to the emergence of Ray Rice as the Baltimore Ravens featured running back, McGahee's numbers declined sharply in 2008, then again in 2009 and again in 2010, when he had less than 500 yards of total offense. This led to his departure from Baltimore. The Denver Broncos signed Willis McGahee as backup to Knowshon Moreno. Moreno was injured during week 1, and McGahee stepped in to the starting role. 1,199 rushing yards later, he finished 8th among NFL running backs. Led by MacGahee, Tim Tebow, and Lance Bell, the Denver Bronocs led the NFL with 164.5 rushing yards per game.
Tight End - Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
When you've got a quarterback like Drew Brees throwing for almost 5,500 yards, you know you're going to put up huge receiving numbers. That's exactly what New Orleans Saints tight end, Jimmy Graham did in 2011. During his rookie year of 2010, Graham hauled in 31 catches for 356 yards. His sophomore campaign saw those number triple as he caught 99 passes for 1,310 receiving yards and added 11 touchdowns. He was second among tight ends in receiving yards (Gronkowski had 1,327) and 7th among all receivers (WRs, TEs and RBs). The next closest tight end was Jason Whitten, whose 942 receiving yards were good enough for 28th overall. Elite tight ends are very hard to come by. If you had Graham on your team, chances are you did very well.
Defense - San Francisco 49ers
2011 was the Year of the Quarterback. It was also the year in which the San Francisco 49ers returned to the top of the football mountain. Their defense dominated opponents by allowing under 15 points per game. Nobody could run against their defense that allowed an NFL best, 77 yards a game, so teams decided to throw. The 49ers secondary took care of that threat by snagging 23 interceptions while the defense line collected 42 sacks.
Kicker - Dan Bailey, Dallas Cowboys
Finding an elite kicker is just as important as finding an elite tight end. Usually there are about a handful of kickers that blow away the rest of the field. If you were able to pick up Dallas Cowboys kicker, Dan Bailey, you did good. This rookie out of Oklahoma State was 39/39 in PATs and connected on 32/37 field goals, including a 51 yarder. His 135 total points launched him right into the mix with guys like Mason Crosby, David Akers, and Stephen Gostowksi.