Trying to predict the star rookie performers of the coming season is notoriously difficult. How can you account for unexpected openings through injury or sudden loss of form? It’s not like a break out star from round 6 of the draft is ever called before it happens. A guess the question is: I am heading for a fall here? Well… maybe… But how else are we going to fill the next four NFL-less months? So come with me on this…
It isn’t about who is the best offensive player in each draft class. It would be much easier to call that way, wouldn’t it… It’s about who is likely to get game time and who is going to make an immediate impact for their franchise.
We all know that the deck is stacked in favour of quaterbacks and running backs. They are the highlight reel players- the guys that get the previews and plaudits on Monday Night Football. Sure there’s a smattering of wide receivers that have occasionally gotten the nod as offensive ROTY in years gone by but, to emphasise the point, everyone had Dak and Eziekel Elliot as the standouts in the previous campaign.
Below are who I believe will be in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
People have questioned Howard’s passion for the game. Critics have suggested that he doesn’t hold the same hunger and desire as many of his team mates at Alabama. Without question, though, Howard is a phenomenal athlete and has ridiculous upside potential. He has also landed in a good place at Tampa Bay. The Bucs have a dynamic quarterback in Jameis Wintson with a varied offense consisting of superstar WR Mike Evans, speedster Desean Jackson and up and coming WR Adam Humphries.
Howard excelled in both pass and run blocking at Alabama and should block for a solid and versatile backfield with Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims. He was under-utilized in the passing game during his time at Alabama and his straight-line speed up the seem will make him a mismatch nightmare. Howard will be a problem for teams to scheme against as he is too big for safeties and nickel-corners but too fast for linebackers in coverage. TE Cameron Brate was a great red zone target for Winston last season, but this role will be occupied by Howard who should catch plenty of jump balls and fades in the end zone. Howard can be an immediate starter and should post an extremely productive rookie season, the only concern is that he may get lost in the pack as there’s not enough touches for everyone in this talented offense.
N.B. Engram and Njoku both provide mismatch opportunities, but neither the Giants nor the Browns will give these tight ends the platform to outshine Howard.
If you’re Houston, you don’t fly up the board to take a quarterback as the number 12 overall pick if you have full confidence in your starting play caller. While Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien will likely start the season with Tom Savage under centre, this could change very quickly. O’Brien is a demanding HC and more than happy to pull the trigger on players who aren’t giving him exactly what he wants. There are worse QBs in the league, but is Savage good enough to take Houston to where they want to go? Probably not. There is plenty of scope here for DeShaun Watson to enter the fray mid-season and put up a good showing. The Texans are a ready-made playoff team with a loaded Defense and weapons on offense for Watson to work with. The Texans have speed in abudance on Offense and a strong run game with Lamar Miller should also help Watson develop, if he see’s significant playing time during his rookie season.
N.B. Trubisky is the most ‘NFL ready QB’ and Mahomes has a higher ceiling, but both will sit and learn the game before a later introduction.
Jacksonville has a lot of young talent on their roster. They’ve drafted well. 2017 is bound to be the year that it’s potential is fulfilled. They should be in danger of getting a winning record this time around. Surely? Right?…
The front office gave Blake Bortles a vote of confidence by not chasing a QB in the off season. They have offensive weapons and play in one of the weakest overall divisions. Leonard Fournette is a running back that can just plug and play. The Jags have added real power in the running game and he’ll get plenty of carries in the red zone. His hands are underrated, too. Fourtnette isn’t the most dynamic running back in the draft, but his down hill speed will give his new franchise a balance on offence that has been sadly lacking.
N.B. I think McCaffrey is a more complete prospect than Fournette, especially with his potential ability to play in the slot. With the way they set up, I don’t think the Panthers will see the same productivity from him as the Jags will get from the 4th overall pick (especially with Jonathan Stewart still on the roster seeing a significant number of snaps).
Forget the fact that he holds all kinds of yardage records in college football for a second. Corey Davis makes big, off balance grabs. He isn’t afraid of taking a hit and he is a real red zone threat. With Mariota throwing to him, this young wide receiver will be at home home in ‘Exotic Smashmouth’ country. He might be a bit of an outsider in terms of rookie of the year, but he’s the WR most likely to take the prize, in my opinion.
N.B. We know John Ross is fast, but he’s raw. Mike Williams having Phil Rivers throwing to him is a rookies dream. The transition to LA and the return of the walking wounded on the Chargers roster might count against him. He’ll also be competing with 4 other good receivers for targets.
He may not be a first-round pick, or a ‘glamorous selection’, but Dalvin Cook is in with a great chance of hitting the ground running, if you’ll forgive the pun. The Vikings are a competitive ball club, who are coming to terms with life after Adrian Peterson. Cook will see plenty of action this year. He will also have the benefit of a decent O line in front of him and an experienced quarter back in Sam Bradford beside him. He’s also a three down back and should rack up plenty of yardage catching screens and wheel-routes out the backfield.
N.B. Other 2nd rounders who could be in for a good start are: Juju Schuster-Smith (a wide receiver who’ll make tough catches in Pittsburgh) and a highly gifted RB who shall not be named, who went no.48 to the Bengals. Also keep an eye out for 4th round RB Jamaal Williams in Green Bay.
So who is my overall pick?
I believe the offensive rookie of the year will be TE O.J. Howard. He’s a big physical receiver who will excel in run-blocking, pass-blocking and most importantly pass-catching. He has the potential to develop into QB Jameis Winston’s favourite check down target and a big play threat who can take any play the distance by burning coverage down the seam. He looks ‘NFL ready’ coming out of Alabama and he should hit the ground running, come September.
Editor’s Note: I believe offensive rookie of the year will RB Christian McCaffrey. He’s a do-it-all three-down RB who has the potentially to light up the league in his first season. He could match the production level of Arizona Cardinal’s RB David Johnson. McCaffrey could touch the ball 20 times from the shotgun, 5 times from the slot and also catch a few more passes out the backfield. He looks set to be extremely productive in 2017 and with Cam Newton, Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen and newly added speedster Curtis Samuel – teams will be forced to account for the read-option, a smaller receiver blowing the roof of or Benjamin or Greg Olsen going to work over the middle. This should translate into better looks for McCaffrey and most importantly, plenty of production.