2015 NFL Honors Predictions: Rookies of the Year
Who will win Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year?
On January 31st, the evening before the Super Bowl, the fourth annual National Football League Honors Show will air on NBC and NFL Network. The NFL’s version of the Academy Awards, yearly awards will be handed out to the best players and coaches in the NFL. Among standard awards such as Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, there will also be awards like the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award and the Fed Ex Air and Ground Players of the Year. In anticipation for this exciting night I decided to select each player or coach I believe deserves to win the award. To be honest, there are a few cases were the player I feel SHOULD win isn’t the player I think WILL win. Over the next week or so I will write an article for each award and each winner for said award. Some of the selections are pretty much a given, others are up in the air. It’s always fun to make our guesses at who will win, so please feel free to submit your own thoughts in the comments.
AP Offensive Rookie and AP Defensive Rookie of the Year
With the NFL draft fast approaching, speculation on the next big talent in the NFL will be abuzz almost the moment the confetti starts falling during the Super Bowl conclusion. Last year Johnny Manziel was the talk of the draft, along with Jadeveon Clowney and Sammy Watkins. It’s comical how a “home-run” pick like Clowney ends up posting a displeasing inaugural season. Didn’t the Browns CB and QB picks in round one look like steals at first? Oh how much can change in just nine months. It’s never a good idea to judge a whole NFL career based on the rookie season alone. Legends like Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, and Peyton Manning all disappointed early on but followed that up with Super Bowl winning Hall of Fame careers. That being said, there’s nothing quite like a rookie who explodes onto the scene and electrifies the NFL with his talent and poise that stretches far beyond his years.
In 2014 there were some incredible athletes on both sides of the ball that made the transition from College to the NFL look as easy as a PAT, unless your Tony Romo. The wide receiver class had the best rookie campaign in the history of the NFL—and if they keep it up, they’ll go down as the greatest class ever. Rookie quarterbacks showed their growing pains, but also showed promise of the stars they are capable of becoming. Early selections from the draft lived up to their big names—meanwhile little known late round picks played like seasoned veterans. But who was the best? Who had the biggest impacts? It’s never easy to decide the rookies of the year, but this year seems tougher than most. Not because no player truly stood out, but because so many stood out. 2014 was a rookie year to remember, and seeing what these players could still become is almost scary.
Let's start out with the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year:
Khalil Mack: Other than Clowney, no defensive player came into the draft with more hype than Khalil Mack. His raw talent, physical gifts, and passion for the game are evident on every snap. One of the concerns for Mack was that he’d be a work in progress; that he’d probably impact the pass rushing game immediately but the rest of his game would take time to develop. Put those concerns to rest. Mack was perhaps the most fun defensive rookie to watch this season. His motor is endless and he always seems to gravitate towards the ball. His pass rushing and run stopping ability is incredible. While a player like CJ Mosley is more of a wait and come to me tackler, Mack’s aggressive penetration is eye-opening. He continually bursts through the offensive line to disrupt passing plays and tackle runners from behind the line. His 75 tackles were fourth best on his team and his 4 sacks were second. The Raiders are young and building talent and the defense will build around Khalil. Beware of the Silver and Black in the coming years.
CJ Mosley: The Ravens have been looking for a replacement to Ray Lewis since five years before he even retired. They found him in CJ Mosley. Although perhaps not the leader on the field the same way Lewis was, his impact on the field is just as powerful. From an inside linebacker you want a tackling machine, a playmaker, and total consistency. With 133 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, and a forced fumble Mosley provided all of that and more. His 133 tackles led the Ravens and all rookies, also putting him seventh in the whole league. Mosley is also among only four rookies to make the Pro Bowl this year.
Aaron Donald: With the thirteenth overall pick, the St. Louis Rams selected defensive tackle Aaron Donald. And with that pick the Rams solidified its defensive line that became one of the top front fours in the NFL. Aaron Donald led all rookies with 9 sacks, which was also second on his team. The Rams defense is stout against the run and opponent's quarterback rarely leave with a clean shirt. Donald made big plays all year, impacting the game on a regular basis and always made a play when it counted. Donald’s Rams play in one of the toughest divisions in football, but the Rams still played hard all year. Still, playing on a 6-10 team might hurt Donald’s chances of taking home the Defensive Rookie award, especially since one of his biggest rivals is in the playoffs. Donald also made the Pro Bowl in 2014.
Anthony Barr: Barr had splashes of brilliance as well as rookie bumps and bruises in his 2014 campaign. He ended the season with 70 tackles, 4 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Those numbers are very nice, and his walk off fumble recovery for a touchdown in overtime against the Tampa Bay Bucs was beautiful. But Barr also needs to be more consistent. The Vikings had a great first round with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr. Both have potential to be great.
Chris Bolard: A third round pick by the 49ers, Chris Bolard played inside linebacker as good as anyone on the team. Both Navorro Bowman, injured reserved, and Patrick Willis have been some of the best inside linebackers in football. With Bowman missing the season and Willis battling injuries all year, Chris Bolard stepped in admirably. His 107 tackles led the team. One might wonder if this team just knows how to draft and develop All-Pro level linebackers or if the system is just a perfect system. Either way the 49ers will have three inside linebackers that could start and lead the team in tackles on any city in the NFL. Bolard also led all rookie defensive players with 3 rookie defensive player of the week honors.
Who should win: Aaron Donald—his impact on his defense can’t be understated. He and Mosley are the two Pro Bowlers, but Donald is the more explosive and disruptive player.
Who will win: Mosley/Donald—it’s a tossup as to who will walk away with the award. The voters love inside linebackers, tackles is an easy stat to look at as a bench mark. But Donald’s penetration, sacks, and game changing plays are what should give him the edge over Mosley.
My favorite to watch: Khalil Mack—no one flies like Mack does. If he can continue to grow, he could be the best defensive player of the whole class when it’s all said and done.
Now onto the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year:
Odell Beckham Jr- Have you seen his numbers?
Odell Beckham Jr: Did you see that catch?
Odell Beckham Jr: Do you see his impact?
Odell Beckham Jr: Is this even a competition?
Okay okay okay, you probably get my point. This is an absolute run away to be honest. OBJ is the most sensational rookie wide receiver since Randy Moss. Let me rephrase, he’s the most exciting, thrilling, and dominate rookie of any position to play in over a decade. Sometimes all you need is the eye test. Watch film, watch any game this year of OBJ and he pops off the screen as the most talented man on the field. Beckham at any given point is the best player in the stadium and he was the best player for the Giants all year. Odell led all rookies in receptions and yards and tied Mike Evans with 12 touchdowns. His 1,305 yards were tenth in the league, his 91 catches were ninth in the league, and his 12 touchdowns were fourth best. Perhaps most impressively is that he did all of this while missing the first four weeks. Imagine his numbers if he played all season. Anyone not voting for Beckham is the same type of person who only likes the first record of every band, doesn’t like Starbucks, and thinks anyone who shops anywhere else but Trader Joe’s is a horrible human being.
But for the sake of giving credit where credit is due, here are the other rookies who would have been considered if OBJ’s ludicrous season didn’t exist.
Jeremy Hill: Number 32 was the number 1 running back in the NFL in December. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard were splitting carries for the first half of the season, the one two punch was admirable. But Hill was given the reigns as the bonafide starter towards the end of the year and he deserved it. Hill’s 1,124 yards were best among rookie running backs and eighth in the entire league. And his 9 rushing touchdowns were third in the NFL. Hill possesses good speed and power and is one of the best young running backs in the league. Cincinnati should be building their offense entirely around Jeremy Hill. Andy Dalton isn’t even the best quarterback on the roster (Muhammad Sanu still has a perfect passer rating). Dalton isn’t good enough to carry the team, Hill is.
Zack Martin: The Cowboys selected Zack Martin with the sixteenth overall pick and made waves for NOT picking Johnny Football. It turns out Jerry Jones can make smart decisions every once in a while, with the help of his son who was an advocate of Martin of course. Zack is a 320 pound guard from Notre Dame and one of the most effective rookies at the position in years. He seems like the type of player who will be a consistent and high level starter for the next decade. It’s always hard to judge a lineman’s play. But considering the fact that Demarco Murray led the NFL in rushing and Tony Romo played the best December football of his career, it’s safe to say Martin had a major role. He, along with Odell Beckham, was the only offensive rookie voted to the Pro Bowl.
Mike Evans: At the halfway mark of the season, Evans seemed to be running away with this award. He has been the most dependably productive rookie all year, on any side of the ball. His 1,051 yards are second behind only OBJ and his 12 touchdowns are tied for the most. His combination of strength, speed and size is very impressive. No rookie receiver was able to hone their skills like Evans. If he had a small corner back facing him, he would out muscle him at the line and out jump him at the point of attack. If he was matched up against a tall physical defensive back, he would match the muscle and then out run him to the ball. Whenever Tampa Bay needed a big play, Evans was there making beautiful deep catches in the back of the end zone.
Sammy Watkins: Of all the players of the NFL draft in 2013, Sammy Watkins seemed to be the safest and most NFL ready. Coming into the NFL, every player has his critics and his weaknesses, it seemed like Watkins was the only exception. Watkins rookie campaign was very good. Although he didn’t have the same season as Evans or Beckham, he consistently made plays and didn’t have many low lights. Watkins beats Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin for the final spot here because Benjamin had too many terrible moments. Watkins has sure hands, he’s the best route runner of the rookie class, and his speed and size combination should give defenses fits for many years to come.
Who should win: Odell Beckham Jr- He’s the best player on his team’s roster, he had the best year of any rookie receiver in a decade, and his big play ability is perhaps already the best in the entire league.
Who will win: Odell Beckham Jr- I don’t see the voters going for anyone else. Zack Martin may get a whisper or two and Evans and Hill had great years. But if Beckham doesn’t win I want a Robert Muller investigation on what went on in the voting room!
My favorite to watch: OBJ- I LOVE watching football. I love the history, I love the wow moments, I love the rivalries, I love the passion, I love it all. Of course if you ask me what my favorite moments in NFL history are, I’m going to mention the Steelers Super Bowls, Ben to Holmes in Super Bowl 43, Harrison’s Pick 6 in the same game, Troy Polamalu’s dominance agasint the Ravens over the years, every moment Antonio Brown touches the football etc. But if I’m talking about a non Steelers game, where I’m going from a Steeler fanatic to just a spectator and straight up football fan, then I’d tell you there was a split second this year that blew me away like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I saw OBJ’s catch live on Sunday Night Football and I’ve never been more amazed by a single moment before. My eyes widened and my jaw dropped like a kid on Christmas morning. “The greatest catch I’ve ever seen” is the first thing that came out of my mouth. Beckham says he hopes it’s not the greatest, because he hopes he’s got plenty more to come. I hope so too