Early Rookie of the Year Odds for 2014 NFL Draft Picks
While the curtains have only just closed on the 2014 NFL draft, it's never too early to speculate on the potential impacts made by incoming rookies on their new clubs. In fact, in magnanimous fashion, I've set early Rookie of the Year odds for the top offensive and defensive players selected in this year's draft.
The players will appear in ascending order, so the prospect with the fifth-best odds will come first, then fourth-best and so on until I list the odds-on favorite to claim the award. I started with offense, so the first five players are my top choices to claim Offensive Rookie of the Year, while the latter five are the top options to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The odds were constructed based on a variety of reasons. First, the player's ability was examined, as more heralded prospects obviously garnered greater consideration than lesser ones. But the situation the players entered into was also a massive ingredient (especially on offense), as talent might not be enough to claim the award if there are inquiries concerning the overall quality of the unit or other gifted players in the fold that could potentially steal the spotlight.
The position the prospect plays was also taken into consideration, as some have proved historically to be more likely than others to take home the honors.
Here are my early Rookie of the Year odds for the 2014 NFL draft picks.
Detroit Lions TE Eric Ebron
While new Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron is an immensely talented player, he comes in last on this list of potential offensive rookie of the year candidates because of the crowded offense he's entered into.
There's no doubting Ebron's potential to put up big numbers, but in Motown, he'll have to share the football with fellow tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria, running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, receiver Golden Tate and, yeah, some receiver you might have heard of by the name of Calvin Johnson.
The Lions wouldn't have drafted Ebron unless they intended to make him a focal point of their offense, so he will get his touches, and he projects to be a monster in the red zone.
But because of the skilled players around him, it's unlikely he'll make the requisite impact to be named the offensive rookie of the year.
Cleveland Browns QB Johnny Manziel
Out of all the quarterbacks selected in the draft, the one with the greatest chance to claim offensive rookie of the year honors is new Browns passer Johnny Manziel.
The Jaguars might have made Blake Bortles the first signal-caller selected, but their general manager, David Caldwell, is on record saying that he'd like for Bortles, per ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco, to sit in his rookie campaign. That eliminates Bortles.
The other signal-caller selected on Day 1, Teddy Bridgewater of the Vikings, isn't as likely to play in 2014 as Manziel. Bridgewater was the last pick of the first round, and Minnesota re-signed quarterback Matt Cassel this offseason. The pressure on the Browns to play Manziel will far outweigh that of the Vikings to play Bridgewater.
Even though Browns coach Mike Pettine told Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today that "it will be very difficult for anyone in this draft class to come in and beat (incumbent starting quarterback Brian Hoyer) out," it's difficult to envision a scenario where Manziel doesn't play early and often in Cleveland.
Manziel's odds would be higher if not for the impending suspension of Browns star receiver Josh Gordon, which was first reported by T.J. Quinn and Don Van Natta Jr. of ESPN.com. If Gordon is out for any significant period of time, it'll put a gargantuan dent in Manziel's chances.
But despite that, Manziel's improvisational genius would make Coltrane proud, and he could sparkle as a rookie.
Tennessee Titans RB Bishop Sankey
It took until the 54th pick in the draft for a running back to come off the board, but the Tennessee Titans got a good one in Bishop Sankey, as he's the only rusher to appear on this list of offensive rookie of the year candidates.
That's primarily because of the situation he's entered into. As I wrote on Day 2, Sankey will be given every opportunity to shine in the Music City. He vaults to the top of a depth chart that includes middling options like Shonn Greene and Jackie Battle.
The other top running backs selected—Carlos Hyde (49ers), Tre Mason (Rams), Charles Sims (Buccaneers) and Jeremy Hill (Bengals)—all have significant competition in front of them. The only men standing between Sankey and a prominent role are Greene and Battle, and they aren't exactly Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders.
Although the running back position has been devalued in recent years, it's important to note that last year's offensive rookie of the year was a rusher: Green Bay's Eddie Lacy. He became the first back to claim the award since Minnesota's Adrian Peterson in 2007.
Sankey will have the opportunity to become the second straight running back to take the top offensive rookie honor. Out of all the neophytes at the position, he has the best chance to do so.
Buffalo Bills WR Sammy Watkins
Before you go nuts and rip me in the comments section (it's okay, I don't mind), let me explain why I haven't installed new Buffalo Bills receiver Sammy Watkins as the favorite to claim offensive rookie of the year honors.
While it's true that Watkins was arguably the best offensive prospect in the draft, and that the Bills paid a king's ransom in order to bring him to western New York (the ninth overall pick plus first and fourth-round selections in 2015), the player listed ahead of him enters a more favorable situation and a greater chance for success.
Sure, the Bills didn't trade all those picks to not get Watkins the football. They will get him the ball, and the hope of coach Doug Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley is that he establishes a rapport with second-year quarterback EJ Manuel.
But Manuel has yet to prove that he's capable of either staying healthy (he missed six games last year) or putting up big numbers. The Bills allowed 48 sacks last year, and while they drafted Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio in the second round, the offensive line remains a question mark. If Manuel ends up missing time, it will hurt Watkins' chances.
Watkins is an outstanding player and should have a very productive rookie campaign.
It just won't be enough to claim offensive rookie of the year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans
My favorite to win offensive rookie of the year is new Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans, whom I expect to have a huge first season.
While I prefer Bills receiver Sammy Watkins as an overall prospect, Evans will be afforded a much greater opportunity for success as a rookie.
Evans' quarterback, Josh McCown, showed last year in Chicago that he thrives when throwing the football to tall receivers, and Evans fits the bill at 6'5". His catch radius is immense, and the fact that he'll have receiver Vincent Jackson drawing coverage away from him will only amplify the number of targets he receives.
Don't be be shocked if Evans catches 10 touchdowns in his rookie campaign. If he manages that feat, he'll win offensive rookie of the year.
Cleveland Browns CB Justin Gilbert
A cornerback hasn't been selected as defensive rookie of the year since Oakland's Charles Woodson claimed the award following the 1998 season.
And out of all the players selected at the position in this year's draft, Cleveland's Justin Gilbert has the best chance to become the first cornerback since Woodson to win it.
Considering that he'll play across from 2013 second-team All-Pro Joe Haden, Gilbert will be tested by opposing defenses. If he can hold up and play well, it'll be a major boon to the Browns defense and earn Gilbert positive publicity.
Two things working in Gilbert's favor are his hands and ball skills, as he intercepted seven passes last season at Oklahoma State.
It's not often that a cornerback wins defensive rookie of the year.
But if any of this year's rookies can pull it off, it'll be Gilbert.
Pittsburgh Steelers LB Ryan Shazier
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a tradition of great play from the linebacker position, and they hope that their first-round pick from this year's draft, Ryan Shazier, can continue that longstanding trend.
Shazier is the fastest linebacker to enter the NFL since Brian Urlacher was drafted by the Bears in 2000, and he'll bring dazzling speed and playmaking ability to the Pittsburgh defense. He's slated to start at inside linebacker alongside Lawrence Timmons, and he will have many opportunities to shine.
Shazier compiled 40.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks to go along with seven forced fumbles in his last two seasons at Ohio State, so he is no stranger to making big plays.
He's a true dark horse candidate to claim defensive rookie of the year honors and would be worth a potential flier at four-to-one.
Minnesota Vikings LB Anthony Barr
The fact that new Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is so bullish about his first-round pick, pass-rusher Anthony Barr, should lend confidence to his prospects of winning defensive rookie of the year.
After all, Zimmer is a defensive mastermind who knows how to dial up pressure.
After the selection of Barr at No. 9 overall, Zimmer had this to say about his new linebacker, per Ben Goessling of ESPN.com:
Typically, our 'Sam' linebacker blitzes a lot more than our 'Will' linebacker, for instance. We're thinking of ways to continually try to pressure the quarterback as many times as we can, and the position (Barr) plays is a pressure position. That's why we felt good about him.
Barr compiled 23.5 sacks over his final two seasons at UCLA, and Zimmer clearly has plans to unleash him on opposing quarterbacks.
But the two players above him on this list are both better prospects, and thus, Barr finds himself with the third-best odds to win defensive rookie of the year.
Oakland Raiders DE/OLB Khalil Mack
New Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack has a real opportunity to become the franchise's first player to claim defensive rookie of the year since cornerback Charles Woodson did in 1998.
Mack was an absolute terror at the University of Buffalo, accumulating 75 tackles for loss and 28.5 sacks over his collegiate career (including 19 and 10.5 in 2013, respectively).
In speaking to reporters minutes after the selection of Mack, Raiders coach Dennis Allen compared Mack favorably to Broncos pass-rushing demon Von Miller, per Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News:
I saw a lot of similarities between (Mack) and Von Miller. And the thing that really was attractive about Khalil Mack was the fact that he understands how to rush the passer. And he understands how to rush the passer with power. And to be successful in the National Football League in getting after the passer, I’ve made that statement several times about everything in the National Football League is about affecting the passer. Whether it be offensively with weapons, or whether it be defensively, getting after the passer. He understands how to rush the passer, and yeah, I see a lot of similarities between he and Von Miller.
That's high praise, especially considering Miller accrued 11.5 sacks as a neophyte en route to winning the 2011 defensive rookie of the year award.
If Mack finds himself on that kind of trajectory, he could claim the honors.
But because of the player ranked in front of him, Mack can't be considered the favorite.
Houston Texans DE Jadeveon Clowney
My clear favorite to win defensive rookie of the year honors is Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick of this year's draft.
Clowney, the most talented player in the draft, marries electrifying speed with sheer brutality, and he will join Texans star defensive lineman J.J. Watt to form one of the best pass-rushing twosomes in the NFL.
It's hard to imagine Clowney not using his unbelievable talent to succeed immediately in a Texans uniform, especially considering that defenses won't be able to double-team both he and Watt.
A double-digit sack campaign for Clowney as a rookie is not only a possibility but a likelihood.
There's just no way that any player except Clowney can be the favorite to win defensive rookie of the year. He's the overwhelming front-runner to do so.