Offensive Rookie of the Year:
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
This is an easy pick. The best running back prospect in the last few years drafted to the team with the NFL’s best offensive line. If Elliott doesn’t win the OROY award, it will be a disappointment. Now that Darren McFadden’s injury woes have resurfaced, look for Elliott to tote the rock time and again for the Cowboys next year.
The Strong Cases:
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Treadwell is a physical receiver with great hands. Other than last year’s sensational rookie Stefon Diggs, Minnesota has few weapons in the passing game. Look for Treadwell to get a high number of catches in the Minnesota offense, and be one of Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite targets.
Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams
The number one pick in this year’s draft also happens to play the most important position in football. He also plays in one of the country’s largest TV markets for a team that just moved there. While the Rams receiving corps needs improvement, Goff should put up great numbers and if Elliott doesn’t meet expectations, Goff could take home the award.
Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
Thomas may have been a second round pick, but he is a perfect fit in the Saints scheme. With Marques Colston retiring, the Saints need a phsyical target they can rely on to make plays. Colston may well lead all rookie receivers across the board because of the role he has to play.
Paul Perkins, RB, New York Giants
I’ve been on the Paul Perkins hype train since watching his tape in February. So, when he was snatched up in the fifth round by New York, I thought it was a steal. Perkins is an all-around back with elite elusiveness. If Perkins can win the job over past-their-prime Shane Vereen and Rashad Jennings early, look for a monster year.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami Dolphins
Outside of Jay Ajayi, the Dolphins lack talent at running back. Kenyan Drake spent his Alabama career in the shadow of TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Drake’s speed and ability to catch the football make him an immediate threat to win the starting job in Miami. If that happens, look for him to surpass the 1000 yard rushing mark.
Paxton Lynch, QB, Denver Broncos
Paxton Lynch should not be a starting quarterback next season. Lynch played in a spread, “pick and stick” system at Memphis that was very different from the one he will run in Denver. However, the next best option for Denver is Mark Sanchez, who will forever be known for the Buttfumble and being carried to two AFC championships by a nasty defense. If and when Lynch wins the starting job, he will have two great receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. With that talent, spotlight, and opportunity, Lynch could put up monster numbers.
Defensive Rookie of the Year:
Jalen Ramsey, DB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jalen Ramsey is an athletic freak who perfectly fits the mold of the modern cornerback. At 6’1″, with long arms, good speed and a 40 inch vertical, Ramsey has all the tools to be a monster at the pro level. If he cures the issue that caused him to drop so many potential picks in college, look for Ramsey to be a massive game changer in Gus Bradley’s defense.
Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers
I’ll be honest. I thought Joey Bosa was very overrated. His athletic numbers weren’t very impressive, he doesn’t have the hip flexibility to bend the edge, and I thought the hype surrounding him was a bit ridiculous. That being said, he is very good against the run and has an NFL body. I don’t know if he’s a good fit for San Diego’s scheme, but his hype and ability to rack up tackles in the run game makes him a contender.
Reggie Ragland, LB, Buffalo Bills
Reggie Ragland is a beast; a 250 pound boulder in the middle of a defense. Ragland’s strength and tenacity should allow him to pile up tackles in his rookie season. With Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams eating blocks at defensive tackle, look for Ragland to dominate teams trying to run the football. While not great in coverage, Rex Ryan should be able to hide Ragland from teams wanting to throw the football by playing him in zone coverage in the middle of the field.
The Strong Cases:
DeForest Buckner, DE, San Francisco 49ers
DeForest Buckner is an absolute man. His size and length make him a matchup nightmare. His punch and power off the line of scrimmage were impossible for college linemen to stop. Buckner’s problem is not his talent, but his role. He will play for a 49ers team that has been decimated in recent years by retirement, and may have to face special attention from offenses if he starts the year off strong.
Karl Joseph, S, Oakland Raiders
At West Virginia, Karl Joseph proved he was a playmaker. His hard hitting run support and propensity for interceptions caught the eye of several teams and scouts. However, Joseph tore his ACL while in college, and the injury hasn’t fully healed. While Joseph will be 100% by the time the season starts, missing so much of the offseason hasn’t helped his case. If he can stay healthy, look for Joseph to make big plays for Oakland.
Myles Jack, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Myles Jack was a unicorn among draft prospects. Not only could he take on blockers at the point of attack, Jack would routinely line up in man to man coverage on slot receivers. He was also an adequate pass rusher. Jack’s athleticism was so good he played running back as well as linebacker. Not only does he have the versatility to play all three linebacker positions (Sam, Mike, and Will), he can also play strong safety. Unfortunately, like Joseph, Jack also suffered an injured knee, and doctors are divided on how well he will play upon his return.
The Dark Horses:
Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Arizona Cardinals
In researching last year’s draft, some players had games that were just fantastic to watch. Paul Perkins against Stanford, Jaylon Smith against Clemson, and Myles Jack against anybody were all impressive. But the most impressive game I remember watching was Robert Nkemdiche’s performance against Alabama. At 300 pounds, Nkemdiche is a dominant athlete with the quickness to shoot gaps and split double teams, and the strength to overpower guards. Nkemdiche fell in the draft due to character concerns. While he will play in a loaded front seven in Arizona, his talent is undeniable.
Vonn Bell, S, New Orleans Saints
The Saints got an absolute steal at the end of the second round. Vonn Bell’s cover skills were second to none in this class. While Keanu Neal is a better thumper and Karl Joseph a better playmaker, Vonn Bell is the best pure coverage safety in this draft. The Saints badly needed defensive help, and Bell will be a day one starter. If he can rack up several interceptions and help get the Saints to the playoffs, Bell could steal this award.
Charles Tapper, DE, Dallas Cowboys
Fourth round draft picks rarely contend for rookie of the year honors. Players drafted this late either have big injury or character red flags, need a few years to develop, or lack the measurables and/or athleticism needed to compete at the next level. Charles Tapper has the athleticism and size to be an edge rusher in the NFL, and he has no character red flags. Tapper needs to work on his pad level and hand usage if he wants to be a long term player in the NFL. Since Dallas has multiple pass rushers suspended to start the season, Tapper will have a huge opportunity to prove his skill and rack up stats.