Rookie Wingmen: A look at who helped Andrew Luck, RG3, and Russell Wilson make the playoffs

History will be made this weekend, when three rookie quarterbacks start for their teams in the playoffs. The combination of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson may go down as one of the greatest quarterback draft classes of all time. Yet, for all the talent and poise these rookies have shown, they haven’t reached the playoffs alone.

Like every ace pilot, every great quarterback needs a good wingman (or two). Maverick had Goose, Iceman had Slider, and each of the rookie quarterbacks playing in wild card weekend have their own rookie wingmen as well. With that in mind, it’s time to pay tribute to the Goose’s of the world, and highlight the wingmen who helped make these unlikely playoff runs possible.

Let’s fly into the Danger Zone.

Alright, I’m done with Top Gun references, for now.

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Andrew Luck and his Entourage

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Being the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the spotlight was and always will be on Andrew Luck. And when you look at the crop of 2012 draft picks by the Colts, he’s clearly the Vinny Chase of the bunch. So, keeping with the Entourage trend, here’s who rolled with Luck as his wingmen this season en route to the playoffs:

T.Y. Hilton – “E” – E was Vince’s most reliable, and trusted friend. As for the rookie class, Luck grew to rely on T.Y. Hilton when he needed a big play, and Hilton almost always delivered. Hilton ended the season with 50 catches, 861 yards, and seven touchdowns. This appears to be the start of a long, healthy friendship.

Coby Fleener – “Johnny Drama” – Coby Fleener gets the nod as Vince’s half-brother Johnny Drama, since Fleener and Luck were teammates at Stanford before reuniting in the pros. While Fleener may have been outshone statistically by Dwayne Allen, Fleener was always there to look out for Luck when he needed to be bailed out of trouble. His big frame and sure hands will undoubtedly be relied on by Luck once the playoffs begin.

Dwayne Allen – “Turtle” – Naming Dwayne Allen the “Turtle” of the group is not a knock against Allen, but more a testament to his knack for doing the dirty work. Allen not only hauled in 45 catches for 521 yards, but he was a key blocker on a number of successful runs for the Colts backfield. Whether it was sealing the edge, or catching checkdown passes, Allen never shied from doing what his team needed.

Vick Ballard – “Dom” – Ballard, much like Dom, was a little late to the party, as he really didn’t get rolling until week 6. Unlike Dom, however, Ballard has the look of a member of Luck’s entourage for years to come. After assuming more of the starting role, Ballard ran for over 800 yards, and added three total touchdowns, giving Luck a more stable ground game to open up opportunities for his bevy of young targets through the air.

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Robert Griffin III & Alfred Morris – “Fire and Ice”

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We found this a fitting moniker for the Redskins dynamic one-two punch of rookie offensive weapons. RG3 is the face of the franchise, and the fire that fuels the entire offense. It’s his duel threat as a runner and a passer that burns defenses when he play fakes, and has sparked the Redskins run into the playoffs. Yet, Alfred Morris, the “Ice” in the tandem, has been just as important as his fiery counterpart. His hard-nosed style of running has punished defenses all season as he’s rumbled for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns. Morris’ importance to this duo, and the Redskins success, has never been more evident than their week 17 win over the Dallas Cowboys to punch their ticket to the postseason. With RG3 still recovering from his knee injury, Morris ran for a career-high 200 yards and three touchdowns, effectively icing the Cowboys playoff chances, and the win for the Redskins.

I’m pretty sure RG3 and Morris had this exact conversation after the game Sunday. Now I’m done with Top Gun, I promise.

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Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner – “The Nighthawks”

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Russell Wilson was the only rookie quarterback who didn’t receive much help from a fellow rookie on offense (sorry, Robert Turbin). Wilson’s rookie wingmen played a much larger role on defense, as both Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner were big reasons the Seahawks finished the season ranked fourth in total defense, and first in points per game. Irvin and Wagner, or “The Nighthawks” as we’ve dubbed them, made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks combining for eight sacks and three interceptions in their rookie campaigns. These two had a knack for stopping opposing offenses short or forcing turnovers, putting the ball back in the hands of their emerging star quarterback. Just like any good wingman should do.

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar

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