Expert Consensus NFL Rookie Award Predictions
The 2014 NFL draft is now in the books, and whether it's first-round picks like South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans) and Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars) or seventh-round picks like Missouri defensive end Michael Sam (St. Louis Rams), we now know where this year's class of NFL newcomers will begin their professional careers.
Now that the draft's behind us, it's time to begin examining how the 2014 season could play out, including the first-year prospects of this year's top rookies.
With that in mind, we've gathered Bleacher Report's NFL National Lead Writers and Division Lead Writers to hand out some hypothetical hardware.
So, with no further adieu, here's a look at the Bleacher Report expert consensus NFL rookie award predictions.
Rookie of the Year
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (three votes)
There were many candidates for our Rookie of the Year Award, as seven different players received votes. Four youngsters, including No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, received more than one. Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, however, garnered a big, fat goose egg.
In fact, it was Manziel's college teammate, wide receiver Mike Evans, who was the top vote-getter with three, including those of NFL National Lead Writer Matt Bowen and NFC North Lead Writer Zach Kruse.
The 6'5", 231-pound Evans will pair with Vincent Jackson in Tampa Bay to form the NFL's tallest starting wideout duo, and general manager Jason Licht told Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times that size was a big reason why the Buccaneers pulled the trigger on Evans at No. 7 overall:
What stood out? It was what stood up on him. It's an old Houston (Rockets) reference, we've got the Twin Towers now. He's a big guy who can run. Very physical, very tough and has phenomenal hands. Not just good hands, phenomenal hands.
Our panel apparently expects Tampa quarterback Josh McCown to put those hands to good use.
Others receiving votes: Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars (two votes); Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (two votes); Khalil Mack, LB, Oakland Raiders (two votes); three players (one vote each)
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints (five votes)
OK, so apparently our panel likes to shake things up.
Evans garnered the same three votes for Offensive Rookie of the Year (Bowen, Kruse and NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon), but with our experts focused on just one side of the ball, a handful of pundits threw their support behind Oregon State speedster Brandin Cooks.
Cooks' five votes, including a nod from AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst, made the 20th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft the runaway choice for top offensive rookie.
Playing with quarterback Drew Brees in New Orleans certainly isn't going to hurt the 5'10", 185-pounder's chances of making an early impact, but Oregon State head coach Mike Riley told Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune that Cooks brings plenty to the table in his own right:
He's a really, really good player, and if you can believe it, an even better person. His work ethic is at the highest level. His character is at the highest level. And of course, his talent speaks for itself. He is big-time.
It looks like the panel agrees with Riley.
Others receiving votes: Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (three votes); Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars (two votes); two players (one vote each)
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, Houston Texans (five votes)
The $64 question leading up to the 2014 NFL draft was whether the Houston Texans would draft a quarterback at No. 1 overall or choose between the top two pass-rushers in this year's class.
The Texans went the pass-rusher route, and just like general manager Rick Smith, our voters sided with South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney over Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack for this award.
Pairing the uber-athletic 270-pounder with defensive end J.J. Watt could give the Texans one of the NFL's top front sevens, and Clowney told John McClain of the Houston Chronicle that he's ready to get to work:
I used to rush home to watch him play (on television). He’s a role model of mine. He was one of the guys I watched to get amped up. I used to think if I ever got to play with J.J. I’d get a lot of sacks because he gets double-teamed all the time. That would take a lot of pressure off me. Hopefully, I can take a lot of pressure off him.
With that said, Mack was right on Clowney's heels, with four voters (including NFL National Lead Writer Aaron Nagler) pegging the Oakland Raiders' newest linebacker as 2014's top defensive rookie.
Others receiving votes: Khalil Mack, LB, Oakland Raiders (four votes); Aaron Donald, DT, St. Louis Rams (three votes)
Most Passing Yards
Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings (five votes)
There were three young quarterbacks drafted in the first round in 2014. However, if early reports are to be believed, at least two of the teams who selected those signal-callers are in no hurry to get those youngsters on the field.
Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell told the team's website that, despite taking Bortles at No. 3 overall, "Chad (Henne) is going to be the guy" to start the season.
Meanwhile, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam told the Associated Press (h/t Jason Rubinstein of the New York Daily News) that No. 22 pick Johnny Manziel needs to "start acting like a backup quarterback."
Then you have 32nd overall pick Teddy Bridgewater, about whom Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said "will play when we feel like he’s ready, if he’s the best guy, which we hope that he will be,” according to Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
That clear(er) path to playing time for Bridgewater is good enough for our panel, with five voters (including NFL National Lead Writers Dan Pompei and Ty Schalter) predicting that Bridgewater will lead all rookie quarterbacks in passing yards.
Others receiving votes: Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns (four votes); Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars (three votes)
Most Rushing Yards
Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans (nine votes)
This one was the biggest landslide among all the categories in this slideshow.
Of course, it's not that hard to see why. After all, not only was Washington tailback Bishop Sankey the first running back taken (No. 54 overall) in the draft, but only the pedestrian Shonn Greene stands between Sankey and significant early playing time.
General manager Ruston Webster talked up his new running back after selecting him on Friday night, per ESPN.com:
Really what he brings to us is a great deal of versatility, vision, feet, ability to catch the football, which is what we're looking for. The important thing for us in picking one of these backs was to get the right fit for coach's offense and versatility, the ability to play on three downs was really one of the main criteria.
A talented young ball-carrier falling into an ideal situation (from an early production standpoint) was enough for three-quarters of our experts, including AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen and AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz.
Fantasy football enthusiasts take note.
Others receiving votes: Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams (three votes)
Most Receiving Yards
Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints (six votes)
Given that Cooks and Mike Evans dueled it out for the right to be named Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year, respectively, in this little exercise, it's hardly a surprise that the pair are the leading contenders among our panel to lead all rookie receivers in yardage.
In fact, were it not for Hansen casting his lot with dark-horse candidate Odell Beckham of the New York Giants, we'd have a dead heat atop the list.
Still, it's Cooks, who topped 1,700 receiving yards in 2013 for Oregon State, who was the selection of half our experts, including NFL National Lead Writer Michael Schottey.
Others receiving votes: Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (five votes); Odell Beckham, WR, New York Giants (one vote)
Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, Houston Texans (six votes)
Much like with the Defensive Rookie of the Year vote, it was a two-horse race from our panel in regards to who will tally the most sacks as a rookie. And just like with the receiving yards, one "outlier" vote prevented an uncomfortable tie atop the board.
Five of our voters, including AFC South Lead Writer Knox Bardeen, sided with Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, who the Raiders drafted fifth overall.
Mack was viewed as the top overall prospect on a number of draft boards. According to Jerry McDonald of the San Jose Mercury-News, Mack still views himself that way:
I think that I am, but even then I'm at the point now where I'm tired of talking and I want to go out and start proving a little bit if this stuff everybody's been talking about. I can't wait. I cannot wait.
However, just as with the DROY balloting, Mack came up short of Clowney once again, with the first overall pick in the 2014 draft garnering the votes of half the panel.
Others receiving votes: Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders (five votes); Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, San Diego Chargers (one vote)
C.J. Mosley, ILB, Baltimore Ravens (seven votes)
Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack may have hogged most of the headlines on the defensive side of the ball heading into the 2014 NFL draft, but they were far from the only potential defensive stars entering the league.
It's one of the other young defenders, Alabama lnebacker C.J. Mosley, who is the pick of our panel to be this year's leading rookie tackler.
One year after drafting inside linebacker Arthur Brown in the second round, the Ravens spent the 17th overall pick on Mosley, who told Garrett Downing of the team's website that he knows he'll be expected to make an immediate impact:
The atmosphere I’m about to come into, I’m used to that every day at Alabama. I know guys are going to be fired up and ready to be great, and I’m just trying to be that next player that can come in and help this team win and help this team be great.
Seven of our voters, including NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland, look for Mosley to make that rookie impact as well.
Others receiving votes: Khalil Mack, OLB, Oakland Raiders (two votes); three players (one vote each)
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Green Bay Packers (five votes)
The 2014 NFL draft class was very deep in the secondary; of the 32 picks in the first round, nine were either cornerbacks or safeties.
With that said, where the votes are concerned for most interceptions by a rookie, it's all about the safeties. In fact, only Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, the first defensive back drafted (No. 8 overall by the Cleveland Browns) in 2014 got more than a single vote.
Instead, it was Alabama free safety Ha Ha Clinton Dix, whom the Packers selected at No. 21, who was the pick of five members of our panel.
General manager Ted Thompson told Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the 6'2", 207-pounder should make an immediate impact at the back of the Packers' secondary:
We feel good about his ability to come in and play. I think most of the time at all of the different positions as you go down the board, I think there's greater risk that they won't be able to play. So we feel fairly certain Ha Ha will able to contribute.
The experts here at Bleacher Report feel as though Clinton-Dix will not only play immediately, but he will thrive, racking up the most interceptions among first-year players.
Others receiving votes: Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland Browns (two votes); Jimmie Ward, S, San Francisco 49ers (two votes); three players (one vote each)
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