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Breaking Down the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Hopefuls by Position

Curt PopejoyContributor IJune 12, 2014

Breaking Down the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Hopefuls by Position

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Every year, the NFL relies more and more on rookies. Success in the NFL draft has become part and parcel of any franchise hoping to have long-term success in the league. 

    Along those same lines, teams have come to count on their rookies more and more every year. It only makes sense. College athletes are coming into the league better and more prepared every season. They also enter the league with minimal financial repercussions, meaning they can replace overpaid veterans more easily.

    This also means trying to predict which ones will be in the running for the coveted Rookie of the Year honors. Every season we put some players up on pedestals from which they always fall. Meanwhile, it isn’t always about the high-profile guy who finds himself on top.

    Let’s break down the top candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year, by position. Who are the front-runners? Who are the long shots? Read on and find out.

Quarterbacks

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    It seems that every draft season, the value of these young quarterbacks becomes inflated in relation to their true draft position. For the most part, that’s the case with the 2014 class as well. There are truly only a couple of these young men with any real shot to start this year.

     

    The Favorite: Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings

     

    The tumble of Bridgewater to the end of the first round was puzzling by all measures. Just the very notion that a campus workout would supersede Bridgewater’s film was nuts. Bridgewater’s loss was the Vikings' gain.

     

    In fact, Bridgewater might have landed in the best spot of any of these rookie quarterbacks, and that makes him the leader of this pack. When you break it down, Bridgewater has the three keys to a successful season: 

    • A solid running game with Adrian Peterson
    • An exciting wide receiving corps (Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph)
    • Just enough defense to keep things interesting

     

    The Long Shot: Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns

     

    All the excitement during the first round of the draft centered on where Manziel was going to land. The Browns saw value in Manziel at pick No. 22 and took him without hesitation. There’s little doubt that Manziel is an exciting player with tons of potential. And if drinking champagne on an inflatable swan figures into the equation, he is in.

     

    Nevertheless, uncertainty with the running game and the possible loss of wide receiver Josh Gordon for a significant chunk of the year means his first year out of the gate is going to be more of a learning experience.

     

    The Rest: Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars; Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

     

    Carr and Bortles are both very gifted quarterbacks. And in five years when we assess this class, either of them might be the top of the class. However, at this point, neither has much talent around them. Also, neither is even assured of a starting spot at any point this season.

Running Backs

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    This running back class is absolutely littered with talent. Unfortunately, most of the top talent in this class went to teams with strong incumbent running backs. This doesn’t mean that these backs won’t be great, but for Rookie of the Year consideration, it is going to take an injury to get them on the field.

     

    The Favorite: Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans

    So, to look at the top candidate we turn to the Titans and Sankey. There isn’t a ton to get excited about in Sankey’s skills, but he is a very good all-around back with one huge advantage: The rest of the Titans running backs stink. That means, for better or worse, he’s going to get the required touches to be in contention.

    The Titans have a big, mauling offensive line built to run defenses over in the run game. It won’t be the most exciting season, but Sankey is the odds-on favorite to be the top offensive rookie right now.

     

    The Long Shot: Andre Williams, New York Giants

    The Giants have cleaned house on their running back depth chart. The only back on the roster from 2013 to finish in the top three in rushing is the oft-injured Peyton Hillis. In other words, competition for the starting running back spot is very much open.

    So, should Williams win those carries, he could find himself in a position similar to that of Sankey—a rather unremarkable running back that could find himself in a remarkable position. The Giants have a more than adequate passing game, which would give a back like Williams some lanes to run on first and second down.

     

    The Rest: Tre Mason, St. Louis Rams; Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals

    Both Mason and Hill are more talented backs than Sankey and Williams but are going to be stuck in a running back-by-committee situation with their respective teams. If, by chance, either of these backs should steal their team’s starting spot, they have the potential for impressive rookie campaigns.

Wide Receiver

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    This wide receiver class is crowded. So much so that five or six of these rookies could find themselves in starting lineups on opening weekend. And the wide receiver who has the best shot to stay there, and be productive, is Tampa Bay's Mike Evans.

     

    The Favorite: Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Evans is going to pair up his massive 6’5” frame with 6’4” Vincent Jackson to form a rather formidable duo. Whether it’s Josh McCown or Mike Glennon under center, these two will be the focal point of the offense. There will be no shortage of targets to go around for Evans, and his knack for the big play is going to keep people interested all season long.

     

    The Long Shot: Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills

    It seems odd to make the top wide receiver in the class a long shot for Rookie of the Year. However, that’s the position Watkins finds himself in. It isn’t because he isn’t talented. And it isn’t because his quarterback is inferior. Watkins actually trumps Evans in both of those categories. 

    No, the reason Watkins comes in as an outsider at wide receiver is because the Bills have many more weapons to distribute the football to. The Bills have Mike Williams and Robert Woods at wide receiver and C.J Spiller at running back to pull targets away from Watkins.

     

    The Rest: Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints; Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers; Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles 

    Any number of these guys could make a serious push for Rookie of the Year. Benjamin is going to get plenty of targets but is just so raw and inconsistent. Cooks is incredibly talented, but will be quarterback Drew Brees’ fourth option at best in that Saints offense. Finally, Matthews has the look of a great all-around player, but he, like Cooks, is among a deep group and won’t see enough balls his way to remain relevant.

Tight Ends

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    Even with the obvious talent in this tight end class, none of these players landed in ideal situations for rookie success. The teams that needed tight ends the most passed on them early, leaving the top prospects in crowded situations.

     

    The Favorite: Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions

    Even top tight end, Eric Ebron is going to have to share reps with Brandon Pettigrew in Detroit. Ebron might be the front-runner among the tight ends, but he’s probably the longest of long shots on any of these lists.

    He could shine to a point that he forces Pettigrew to the bench during the regular season and may be the perfect complement to wide receiver Calvin Johnson. And eventually he will be, but maybe not this initial year.

     

    The Long Shot: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    The Buccaneers are going to be relying heavily on rookies this season. We’ve already covered wide receiver Mike Evans, who is a serious contender for Rookie of the Year. However, his teammate, Seferian-Jenkins cannot be overlooked. Like Evans, he is a huge target who can use his physical advantage to make challenging plays seem easy.

     

    The Rest: Jace Amaro, New York Jets

    The Jets understood that they needed to add some weapons to their offense. Now, we aren’t sure who exactly is going to be playing quarterback, but whomever it is, they should be able to find some throws for Amaro. However, with those questions at quarterback, it is difficult to give Amaro serious consideration.

Offensive Line

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    Giving Rookie of the Year to an offense lineman is a tough call. Guys like running backs and wide receivers that flood the stat sheets and keep their names in the headlines. So, if an offensive lineman is going to make a dent, there has to be a great story to go with it.

     

    The Favorite: Ja’Wuan James, Miami Dolphins 

    After all the problems the Dolphins had in 2013, James has a chance to come in and have a huge impact. That impact will almost certainly translate to team wins, and that helps James’ case. James is a tremendous, experienced player. If he can help foster a turnaround by the Dolphins offensive line, he will be a serious contender.

     

    The Long Shot: Jake Matthews, Atlanta Falcons

    Matthews is another team with a real shot to become part of a tremendous team turnaround. Matthews is going to plug in at right tackle and not only provide quarterback Matt Ryan with a dependable protector, but also greatly improve the Falcons run game.

     

    The Rest: Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans; Greg Robinson, St. Louis Rams

    Both Lewan and Robinson are going to be on the outside looking in, but for different reasons. Lewan is going to be the Titans' starting right tackle from the start of the season. However, there’s a real chance that the Titans are going to stink again this season. If that’s the case, he’s got no shot.

    Robinson is in a different spot. The Rams are a legitimately talented team. However, for all his hype, there’s no guarantee Robinson is going to even start this year. And if he does, it could be at guard. No matter how great anyone thinks he is, it is tough to win Rookie of the Year as a guard.

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