Continuing with our look back at the year in Arizona sports for 2011, we now recognize the player that was either a rookie or new to Arizona sports this year. There were a few good candidates, but we recognize the one that not only had a huge impact, but also gained national recognition.
The winner: Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
Peterson, a cornerback and the team's punt returner, was the Cardinals' first round selection in this year's draft, the fifth pick overall. He made an impact immediately. In his first NFL game, he returned a punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, what turned out to be the deciding score in a Cardinals 28-21 Week 1 victory. Over the course of the season, he would return a record four punts for touchdowns, all of which were more than 80 yards. One of them won the game for Arizona in overtime. His play on special teams earned him a spot on the Pro Bowl.
He was not expected to start on defense immediately, but a season-ending injury to Greg Toler thrust him into the starting lineup immediately. He has growing pains in coverage, but hauled in two interceptions. He improved steadily throughout the year, being matched up consistently against the opposing number one receiver. His teammates have raved about his work ethic and maturity.
His impact on the Cardinals' season, his record-setting performance and his national recognition earn him the honor of being the Newcomer/Rookie of 2011 in Arizona sports.
Honorable Mention: Paul Goldschmidt, J.J. Putz, Marcin Gortat
Only Goldschmidt would be a rookie, but Putz and Gortat joined their teams for the first time this past year. Goldschmidt provided a feared power bat in the middle of the Arizona Diamondbacks lineup in the thick of the pennant race, coming up with several key big hits.
Putz was the linchpin in the Diamondbacks bullpen that changed the pitching on the team. Having a bona fide closer put the other relievers in a set role in which they were effective. Putz logged 45 saves on the season.
Gortat was acquired in a midseason trade from the Orlando Magic to give the Phoenix Suns some size in the middle. He became a fan favorite immediately as his hustle effort brought rebounds and double-doubles to the center position when then-starter Robin Lopez was struggling to produce. He immediately showed that he was one of the most productive centers in Suns history (although this is mainly because the position has historically been unproductive for Phoenix.)
Next up in our SB Nation Arizona awards is Breakout Player of the Year