NFL's 2011 rookie class off to a fine start

By ARNIE STAPLETON | September 13, 2011 | 3:30 PM EDT

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) throws against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 28-21. (AP Photo/Matt York)

So, maybe that long lockout didn't hurt the rookies after all — aside from the big hits they took to their wallets.

With the league's new salary structure redistributing the mega-millions to vested veterans instead of first-year players, and encouraging the 2011 draft class to prove its worth, a slew of rookies distinguished themselves on the NFL's opening weekend. That's despite missing months of workouts due to the labor dispute.

The dazzling debuts included those by Green Bay receiver/returner Randall Cobb, Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin, Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and cornerback/punt returner Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals.

None was more impressive — or seemed more improbable — than Carolina's Cam Newton, who broke the NFL record for most yards passing by a rookie in his pro debut.