It’s that time of year. The NFL season is about to begin, and with it comes several interesting storylines that pique the interests of all fans. One of the more intriguing storylines this year is the rookie class set to begin their professional careers. The 2017 NFL Draft was filled with talent, primarily at defensive positions, running back, and tight end. The performances of the class in the preseason have only added to the intrigue as many in the class have played well in limited duty. Even the quarterbacks who were considered a weaker position in the draft have showcased flashes of brilliance.
With multiple rookies poised to make an impact in their first years, the natural question surfaces: who will win Rookie of the Year? Luckily, the Associated Press picks two, an offensive winner and one defensive winner.
Offensive Rookie of the Year Candidates:
As the first non-quarterback taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, Leonard Fournette is an obvious candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Fournette is a running back taken 4th overall that is expected to carry the lion’s share for his team. Sound familiar? It should. This was the same story for Ezekiel Elliott who took home OROY last year. There is one key difference between the two, though: Fournette will be running behind the Jaguars’ subpar offensive line while Elliott had the courtesy to run behind the Cowboys’ stout offensive line.
A very talented running back out of Florida State, it was a surprise when Dalvin Cook fell to the Minnesota Vikings in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft. Cook has exceptional running and receiving ability, making him a threat on every down. Thanks to a training camp injury to teammate Latavius Murray, Cook is expected to have a very productive year, but the Vikings’ porous offensive line is sure to slow him down a bit.
The Carolina Panthers shocked the world when they took Chrisitan McCaffrey with the 8th overall pick in the draft. While gifted, McCaffrey was regarded as a mid-to-late first round pick by most. Still, the Panthers took him and plan to use him early and often in 2017. With a decent offensive line and fantastic receiving ability, McCaffrey should have a great rookie year.
This name may surprise you, but Kareem Hunt will definitely be in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year. After a preseason injury to Spencer Ware, Hunt is set to be the featured back for the Kansas City Chiefs this season. Like his predecessors on this list, Hunt is a versatile back that will be impactful on every down.
As the lone starting rookie quarterback in the league, DeShone Kizer is definitely a candidate for OROY. Kizer has a strong arm, decent pocket movement, and leadership to his arsenal. He has decent weapons around him too. His offensive line is headed by Joe Thomas, his wide receiver corps is led by Kenny Britt, and his tight end group features first round pick David Njoku. However, Kizer is sure to go through some growing pains. This is evident by his 3rd preseason game in which he went 6/18 for 93 yards and 1 INT. Kizer is definitely someone to watch, but other rookies will likely outperform him.
After the Buffalo Bills traded away #1 wide receiver Sammy Watkins, their faith in 2nd round pick Zay Jones became clear. While the Bills did acquire Jordan Matthews in a separate trade, the recent retirement of Anquan Boldin still sets up Jones to be either the first or second option in the Bills’ offense. The problem, however, is being the first or second option in the Bills’ offense isn’t that great. The team only had 3200 passing yards last year and 3600 yards the year before. Expecting Zay Jones to break anything more than 900 receiving yards is tough, and asking for him to statistically compete with the bell-cow running backs on this list is even tougher.
Corey Davis is the wild card on this list. Due to a hamstring injury suffered early in training camp, Davis has yet to play in a game for the Tennessee Titans. But as the 5th overall pick in the 2017 draft, he is a huge threat to produce as soon as he does. For all we know, Davis and quarterback Marcus Mariota will have a great chemistry that will carry him to Rookie of the Year. They could also have a terrible chemistry that leaves fans disappointed. We don’t know which will be true now, but we will soon enough.
Winner: Leonard Fournette
I’ll play it safe here and go with Fournette. He was the top ranked offensive player on my Big Board heading into the draft and should have a very impactful year despite the poor circumstances around him.
Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidates:
We have to start by looking at the first pick in the 2017 draft, Mr. Myles Garrett. Garrett is expected to be the NFL’s next big-time pass rusher and deservedly so. He has tremendous athleticism, decent bend, and adequate ferocity. He flashed in the preseason and is certain to flash in the regular season.
As athletically gifted as Myles Garrett is, Solomon Thomas is not far behind. He blew up the combine and was selected third overall as a result. If he can produce huge numbers, Thomas will put himself in serious contention.
One of the best safeties to come out in a while, Jamal Adams is sure to make an early impact. He’s instinctive, fast, and really, really smart. One thing that might hurt Adams, though, is his inability to fill the stat sheet. Adams only had 1 INT and 1 forced fumble at LSU last year despite playing really well. While those that watch tape will be enamored with Adams play, the voters for DROY may only look at a lacking stat sheet.
With 3 sacks in 3 games, no defensive rookie has been more productive in the preseason than Derek Barnett. Speaking of production, Barnett had a lot of it in college too as he broke NFL legend Reggie White’s sack record at the University of Tennessee. Barnett’s biggest obstacle to DROY will be his teammates as the Eagles currently have a stacked defensive front featuring Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry and more.
Others to watch: Reuben Foster, Marshon Lattimore, Haason Reddick, Malik Hooker, Jonathan Allen, Budda Baker, TJ Watt, Jabrill Peppers, Jordan Willis, Taco Charlton, Gareon Conley
With the 2017 draft being so talented, there are so many other guys that will vie for DROY. All of the rookies above will contribute in their first years, but the question for all will be to what extent.
Winner: TJ Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
This one may surprise you, but I decided to go with a shocker here. With 11 total tackles and 2 sacks in the preseason, TJ Watt has displayed a knack for producing at the NFL level. The Steelers have already stated they plan to play Watt a lot this season, and he has responded to the opportunity. Under the tutelage of Steelers legend James Harrison, I expect Watt to ascend to the DROY award this year. Being related to JJ Watt doesn’t hurt either.