Ranking the 10 Most Likely 2014 Rookie of the Year Candidates
Along with most things at this point in the offseason, trying to predict the NFL Rookie of the Year is like throwing darts.
But we can take a stab at the most likely candidates based on their current situation and what we know of their ability.
Some positions have an easier time winning this award than others, and there is an offensive and defensive split for the award as well.
So we've chosen to do five offensive players and five defensive players we think have a great chance at taking home an award for the best rookie in their draft class.
Teddy Bridgewater, Minesota Vikings
There are probably few quarterbacks from this draft class who will get significant starts; Teddy Bridgewater is one of them.
The situation he falls into is about as good as he could have asked for, with solid receivers, a good offensive line and one of the best running backs to ever play the game. It remains to be seen if he can adapt to the NFL and Norv Turner’s offense.
If he can, he could have a tremendous rookie season.
After he was torn apart by the draft process, wouldn’t winning Rookie of the Year be the best revenge?
Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans
All eyes will be on newly minted Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney now that he’s arrived. His haters will be waiting to nod and say “see, he’s terrible” while his supporters are poised to tout every tackle and sack as proof they were right.
Not only is Clowney motivated to shut all of us up, he’s going to be surrounded by some very gifted defenders who will make it just about impossible to double-team him the way he was locked up his last season in South Carolina.
With J.J. Watt on the other side of the defense and Brian Cushing on the inside, Clowney could find himself in position to pile up some sacks and a ton of tackles.
Whether Clowney does or not though, this defense should give opposing quarterbacks night terrors.
Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
How much do the Buffalo Bills want to have Sammy Watkins as the centerpiece of their passing offense?
Once they’d drafted Watkins, they immediately traded Stevie Johnson to the San Francisco 49ers, as reported by Eric Branch of SFGate.com. They wouldn’t do that unless they were sure he was going to carry the load for them.
It’s tough for a rookie wide receiver to win Rookie of the Year. Normally, a quarterback or running back will push him out of the way, and the transition from college to pro is often a tough road.
However, Watkins appears to have the skills to get the job done.
Perhaps the only thing that may hold him back is the evolution of second-year quarterback EJ Manuel. If Manuel cannot stay healthy or falters, Watkins may have a hard time succeeding.
On the other hand, if he can overcome bad quarterback play, that could lock that award up for him as well.
Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
Much like Clowney, new Oakland Raider Khalil Mack finds himself surrounded by a ton of talent which could make it difficult for offensive lines to focus on him.
Currently listed as a second-string linebacker at Ourlads.com, Mack is behind former New York Giant Justin Tuck at defensive end. This is a unit that also features LaMarr Woodley, Sio Moore, Nick Roach, Antonio Smith and Pat Sims. While most of the players named are getting older and less effective, together, they have the potential to be a very solid unit.
Mack could very easily find himself in a role in which he could come in and take advantage of attention paid to any of the other players to get into the backfield.
Once there, we know Mack can cause the type of chaos that will make the voters sit up and take notice.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We’ve only just gone through rookie minicamps, and already, the reports on Mike Evans are glowing, per Rick Stroud of TampaBay.com. Even when he admits to being the only player to throw up after conditioning, there’s something about it that speaks to the point that he is driven to get better.
Evans will have to vie for targets with veteran Vincent Jackson, but having Jackson across from him could actually work in his favor. Unlike many highly picked rookie receivers, he’s a piece of the offense, not the whole thing, and defenses will have to concern themselves with other pieces more than they worry about him.
Evans has tremendous ability and makes tough, acrobatic catches using his height and leaping ability to get the ball at its highest point.
Like Watkins, Evans could get held back by his quarterback. We don’t know if Josh McCown can replicate what he did last season in Chicago for his new team, and we aren’t sure if Mike Glennon would be any better.
But Evans made a living at Texas A&M by being Johnny Manziel’s go-to guy. He has the size and the ability to do that at the NFL level, which could catch the eyes of voters.
Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams made bigger news for another defensive pick, but the one that will have the biggest impact will be first-round pick Aaron Donald.
Donald lines up with Chris Long, Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn on the defensive line. With an explosive first step, an ability to penetrate the offensive line and be disruptive in the backfield, Donald is going to be awfully tough to stop one-on-one.
With all those talented players around him, Donald is going to see a lot of one-on-one matchups. That means making a huge impact, which makes a lot of noise.
That could make for a Rookie of the Year award.
Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns
There’s a fair chance that this will change sooner than later.
When and if Manziel gets under center, he has the ability to succeed in spectacular fashion.
Manziel can extend a play with his legs and make tremendous plays with those as well as his arm. Further, Manziel has the sort of personality which catches the media’s eye and would generate some great buzz. While the public doesn’t vote on the awards, their interest certainly impacts things like paper sales and Internet clicks, which in turn could impact who gets the award.
Certainly, if Manziel is in the news more and is covered more, he’ll be in the national media’s awareness more.
If he can take advantage of that on the field with the play we saw in college, he could definitely take this award.
Of course, he needs to play well, overcome some of his deficiencies and find a way to succeed without receiver Josh Gordon.
Jason Verrett, San Diego Chargers
It’s been a while since cornerback Eric Weddle had anyone really capable of helping him lock down receivers. The San Diego Chargers paid the price for that issue, ending the season ranked No. 29 against the pass.
With the pick of Jason Verrett, they’re hoping to change that.
Verrett is a bit undersized compared to the prototypical cornerback, but he has great anticipation and instincts as well as great ball skills.
In a division that will see him face Peyton Manning twice, as well as a schedule that features Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, Sam Bradford and Joe Flacco, among others, Verrett is bound to be tested often.
If he can play to the level he achieved in college, he could convince the media he’s the best rookie in the league.
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
The New York Giants lost Hakeem Nicks to free agency, and they needed to get Eli Manning more weapons.
Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top receivers in the 2014 NFL draft and fell into a great situation in New York. Manning is a very good quarterback when he has time in the pocket, and the Giants have done a lot to improve the offensive line so he has that time.
Like Evans, Beckham has a top receiver lining up across the field from him. Victor Cruz is a magnet for defensive backs, and Beckham has the talent to take advantage of the space Cruz creates in the secondary.
If Manning can bounce back from last season’s awful performances and the offensive line improvements actually work, Beckham is in good position to have an excellent rookie season.
Demarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys
After cutting DeMarcus Ware, the Dallas Cowboys were all out of pass-rushers.
Enter second-round pick Demarcus Lawrence, a defensive end out of Boise State. Right now, he’s buried on the depth chart behind Anthony Spencer and Jeremy Mincey, but Spencer has long underperformed, and Mincey doesn’t have Lawrence’s talent.
By the time training camp is finished, we expect to see Lawrence in at least a rotational spot, if not starting.
Lawrence is a tremendous edge pass-rusher who has yet to come close to reaching his potential, with an explosive first step, an ability to hit hard and bring down a running back or a quarterback.
The Cowboys need a big season from him, and if he delivers, it would be hard to argue he didn’t deserve Rookie of the Year.