After a draft with relatively few offensive skill position players in the first round, could a surprise player take home the award?
NFL teams are allowed to start rookie minicamps this Friday, which means its time for us to shift the unrestrained pressure we put on the recent college students from the pre-draft wash cycle to what actually happens on the field.
In that spirit, an interesting question was posed to me this week: Who are the top candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year, coming out of a draft where only eight first-rounders were offensive skill position players (and one of whom, Daniel Jones, isn’t expected to see the field for a while)? This year could be ripe for another mid-round pick to steal the award, which has happened in two of the last three years (Dak Prescott, Alvin Kamara) and also a few other times since 2000 (Eddie Lacy, Anquan Boldin, Clinton Portis, Anthony Thomas and Mike Anderson).
Here’s how I’d break it down today if I were separating the field into tiers….
Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Before the running back boon of 2013-2017, this award was dangerously close to becoming a prize for the best rookie QB anyway. Murray will get the most snaps out of any rookie QB in this class, and, by extension, will be in an offense geared specifically toward his dual abilities as a thrower and passer.
Dwayne Haskins, QB, Washington
Assuming he beats out Case Keenum for the job, Haskins will also have a chance to make his case. Jay Gruden’s offense can let the QB rip if he’s accurate enough, and the former Ohio State quarterback can drop dimes from the pocket. If he gets any help from his receiving core, this could be an interesting battle.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders needing a first and second-down, load-carrying back was one of the most obvious needs in the draft. Jacobs is going to get his touches, and, so long as Isaiah Crowell doesn’t steal his thunder on the goal line, will probably have a few rushing scores to bolster his case.
N’Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots
I think it’s difficult to count out a receiver playing in one of the most consistent, humming offensive machines we’ve ever witnessed. Harry is seemingly an ideal fit for the offense, and Tom Brady can elevate the play of anyone around him. Investing in weapons. Finally!
IN THE RUNNING
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Detroit Lions
The only modern (post 1990) tight end who comes to mind as precedent here is Jeremy Shockey, who caught 74 balls for 894 yards and was named First Team All-Pro by the AP as a rookie in 2002. This is not to say Hockenson’s odds are long; I think sites like Pro Football Focus, which integrate factors like blocking success could more easily bolster his case, but he’d also have to produce heavily through the air.
Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos
Here’s a situation where, if Joe Flacco overloads on the tight end like he’s tended to do sometimes, Fant could be a major recipient. He’s more like a receiver hybrid, and will probably line up as such, which might give him more chances to get his mitts on the ball early.
Marquise Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens
I’ve long been a fan of the Lamar Jackson deep ball, and Marquise Brown can track down a deep ball. Adding some vertical elements to this offense will be a major headache for defenses, and if Brown puts up the type of season reminiscent of a young DeSean Jackson, we could see him hoisting the trophy.
Mecole Hardman, WR, Chiefs
Circumstances may thrust him into an all-encompassing role early in Kansas City, and while it’s dependent on the individual, Andy Reid’s offense is great at getting fast people the ball in space. Hardman could also pop up on special teams.
Andy Isabella, WR, Cardinals
We have no idea what could happen in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, but we do know that very specific players were wrangled in to create his pro-style Texas Tech offense. Isabella told me during the draft that he is a Wes Welker disciple, and putting up those kinds of numbers would certainly raise some eyebrows.
David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears
Another wildcard here. While there’s certainly a pecking order being established in Chicago, Montgomery is a powerful runner who could end up snatching the bulk of the carries away.
Terry McLauren, WR, Washington
Why not? I’d put Parris Campbell in here too, potentially. Both are mid-round guys who could be in position to catch passes from accurate quarterbacks in good offenses early in their careers.
Like this list? Hate it? Find me on Twitter here, and let’s talk.
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NOW ON THE MMQB: Josh Rosen on the trade that altered the NFL world in 2019…. Grading every team’s first-round pick with Andy Benoit…. Dave Gettleman in his own words after the draft that shocked us all.
1. Could Ziggy Ansah finally be on the move?
2. Another Larry Allen is on Dallas’s offensive line depth chart.
3. Las Vegas is siding with decades of football dark magic, and assuming the Browns will implode.
4. Pro Football Focus grades the best undrafted free agent signings.
5. The second-highest TV market for the NFL Draft? New Orleans.
Only 358 days until the 2020 NFL Draft. But anyway…
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