One of my favorite things to do each offseason is predict which rookies will take home the coveted AP Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards. What makes this exercise so fun is the sheer uncertainty surrounding rookies—it is impossible to predict with any certainty which 21 and 22-year old young men will avoid injury and succeed in the NFL and which will succumb to the pressure of living up to the hype.
Recent history has shown that quarterbacks are much more likely to win the offensive rookie of the year award than years past. In an eight-year span from 2004 to 2011, five quarterbacks took home the title. Compare that to the previous 37 years, where just one quarterback (Buffalo’s Dennis Shaw in 1970) won AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive linemen and linebacker dominate the victors. The last non DL/LB to win was cornerback Charles Woodson—a truly special talent—in 1998 with the Oakland Raiders. Overall, linebackers have won the award 21 out of 43 years and eight of the last nine.
Now, with that knowledge having been dropped, let’s take a look at five offensive and defensive players who I feel have a good shot at winning rookie of the year. To make things interesting, however, let’s take away the top 10 picks. That eliminates three of the four first-round quarterbacks (Luck/RGIII/Tannehill), the consensus best running back in the draft (Richardson), the consensus best wide receiver in the draft (Blackmon), and the consensus best defensive back in the draft (Claiborne).
Michael Floyd / WR / Arizona Cardinals
1st round / 13th overall / Notre Dame
Larry Fitzgerald, you’re welcome. The perennial all-pro wide receiver finally receives a worthy complement after Anquan Boldin was traded to Baltimore in the 2010 offseason. Floyd was the most productive receiver in Notre Dame’s illustrious history and provides kind of size (6’3”, 220), speed (4.47 40), and explosion (36.5” vertical) you look for in a franchise receiver. With Fitzgerald on the other side drawing safety help on every play, Floyd should see a plethora of 1-on-1 matchups. The big question here is whether Kolb/Skelton can get him the ball.
Brandon Weeden / QB / Cleveland Browns
1st round / 22nd overall / Oklahoma State
A Cleveland Brown winning an offensive award? I must be crazy! Well, history tells me that Weeden has a pretty decent shot. As I chronicled before, quarterbacks are winning rookie of the year more than ever. This is due in large part to rookie quarterbacks (especially first-round draft picks) being inserted into the starting lineups from day one. Weeden should win the starting job against Colt McCoy with relative ease and has the potential to put up solid numbers. With an improved defense and the help of fellow first-round selection Trent Richardson, the Browns might be able to muster up a .500 season, and Weeden’s OROY chances will skyrocket.
Doug Martin / RB / Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1st round / 31st overall / Boise State
I like Doug Martin. He is a very solid running back and has the opportunity to put up some very respectable numbers as a rookie. I think of him as the “jack of all trades, master of none” kind of guy; he’s a decisive ball carrier who can pass protect and catch the ball well. He doesn’t blow me away like Trent Richardson does, but T-Rich is a pretty lofty measuring stick. Tampa Bay added stud offensive guard Carl Nicks to the fold in the offseason and already had a pretty solid run blocking offensive line. Martin and Blount should be a timeshare backfield in Tampa Bay, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Martin given the lion’s share of carries due to Blount’s fumble history and new head coach Greg Schiano’s intolerance for mistakes.
Coby Fleener / TE / Indianapolis Colts
2nd round / 34th overall / Stanford
I’ll admit this is a bit of a stretch. No tight end has ever been named the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year. And, the Colts were the worst team in football last year. But, one most remember that Fleener will be playing with the same quarterback in Indianapolis that he played with at Stanford, the same quarterback who helped him compile 17 TD receptions the past two seasons. Also, Fleener plays more like a wide receiver than a tight end and will probably see a large number of his snaps as a flex tight end as opposed to lining up tight to the offensive line. It’s not likely, but it’s possible that the Stanford connection in Indianapolis could put up some pretty respectable numbers in 2012.
Alshon Jeffery / WR / Chicago Bears
2nd round / 45th overall / South Carolina
I remember thinking after the 2010 collegiate season, “Man, that Alshon Jeffery cannot be stopped.” In 2010, Jeffery hauled in 88 passes for over 1500 yards and 9 touchdowns. All this while playing in the nation’s best conference against some of the best athletes in the world and on the receiving end of a not-so-amazing quarterback in Stephen Garcia. Fast forward to the 2011 season, a season in which Jeffery’s production was cut in half. He was still an effective red-zone target but only surpassed 100 yards receiving on one occasion and was not the dynamic weapon of the previous year. If Jeffery can take advantage of having Brandon Marshall across from him and not many other legitimate receiving threats on the Bears’ depth chart, there’s a good chance he finishes the 2012 season reminding people of just how good he was in 2010.
My non top-10 2012 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year predictions are soon to come!
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Topics: 2012 Nfl Draft, Alshon Jeffery, Bears, Boise State, Brandon Marshall, Brandon Weeden, Browns, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Carl Nicks, Charles Woodson, Coby Fleener, Colts, Doug Martin, Greg Schiano, John Skelton, Justin Blackmon, Kevin Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Morris Claiborne, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Stanford, Trent Richardson