Saquon Barkley appeared ready to run away with the 2018 offensive rookie of the year award—until Baker Mayfield's recent surge following Hue Jackson's departure from Cleveland. Barkley has been consistently great all year, but Mayfield has sparked a turnaround of the downtrodden Browns—with three games left in the season, the team that went 0-16 last year still has a not-unrealistic shot at the AFC North title. The Giants running back and Browns quarterback are clearly the top two candidates, so let’s take a look at the next-best offensive rookies, a trio of running backs who have broken onto the scene this season.
Phillip Lindsay, Denver
The undrafted rookie wasn't even sure he'd make Denver's roster and is now the Broncos’ leading rusher, and on track to surpass 1,000 yards. He's got 967 yards and nine touchdowns on the season with three games left to play. Lindsay is the only player this decade to average at least 7.0 yards per carry in three consecutive games, he leads the league with 5.8 yards per carry and he has yet to fumble.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland
Mayfield gets all the credit for Cleveland's improvement this season, but Chubb's contributions to the turnaround should not be overlooked. The second-rounder has a 92-yard touchdown run this year, the longest in Browns history. His touchdown against the Falcons on Sunday put him in special company—he became the first Browns player since Greg Pruitt in 1975 with a rushing touchdown in five straight games. Only two Browns backs have ever had longer streaks: Hall of Famers Leroy Kelly and Jim Brown. And Chubb is one of just two running backs in the league averaging more than four yards after contact.
Sony Michel, New England
New England's first-round pick has become the lead back, and carries the Patriots run game. The Georgia product has three 100-yard rushing performances this season and is a reliable rookie cog in New England's offense.
It will take something truly special for any of these three to break into the Mayfield-Barkley debate, but it’s worth acknowledging that those two aren’t the only NFL rookies making an impact on offense in 2018.
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