NFL Draft 2017: 7 Candidates to Win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

The 2017 NFL Draft has seen several phenomenal offensive players come off the board. Is it too early to project who will have the best rookie season? No, it’s not. Here are my way too early picks for offensive rookie of the year.

Every team is looking to replicate the draft magic this year. Every team wants that Dak Prescott, Joey Bosa or Ezekiel Elliot who can ride in from the draft and transform their team. The reality of the situation is that rookies who do perform at a high level do so because they are surrounded by talent when they arrive.

The success of a rookie depends on the situation they fall into. A very good player could end up on a bad team and never make an impact. Conversely, a good offensive player could land in an excellent situation and break out for a spectacular season.

Last season saw Dak Prescott land on a team with the best offensive line and the top running back in the draft. The result? A rookie season in which Dallas boasted the top two vote getters for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

Conversely, Corey Coleman showed up in Cleveland where they used six quarterbacks last season. He played extremely well when Josh McCown was throwing the passes. But when fellow rookie Cody Kessler took over, Coleman’s production took a serious dip.

Situation is just as important as individual talent. Here are five players who landed in great situations and are serious candidates for next season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

5

O.J. Howard

Tight End, Alabama

O.J. Howard came into the draft as the top rated tight end. However, his ability to perform at the level of offensive rookie of the year level was not secured. He was mocked heavily toward teams without consistent quarterback play like the Jets and Browns.

As luck would have it for Howard, he fell to the nineteenth pick where he landed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If ever falling down a draft board helped a player, this is the case. He fell to a team that is on the rise and toward the end of their rebuilding process.

On offense, the Buccaneers have standout wide receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. At running back, they have boast Doug Martin fresh out of rehab and ready to rock the NFL. All these weapons have former first overall selection Jameis Winston throwing the passes around the yard.

In this offense, Howard will be protected when running mid field routes by the speed on the Jackson holding safeties to the outside. Mike Williams will occupy the other safety opening one on one mismatches for Howard.

Also, helping Howard get open in the passing game is his ability to run block. Teams will fall asleep on him as a receiver as he effectively blocks in the running game. O.J. Howard has an excellent chance of winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

4

Corey Davis

Wide Receiver, Western Michigan

Western Michigan sent the most dynamic wide receiver into the draft. Unfortunately, injuries and ankle surgery prevented him from working out in the pre-draft process. Nevertheless, Tennessee took a chance on a great player.

Corey Davis is a polished receiver with size and excellent route running. He uses route running to create separation. He has NFL size and uses it to his advantage against defenders. As his NFL.com draft profile states:

Has second gear to run under the long ball. Excels in intermediate and deep parts of the field. Route running showed improvement in 2016. Variable route speed creates indecision for defenders. Vertical routes are crisp and create tilt in off-corners and safeties that he is quick to take advantage of. Play speed features access to functional burst. Can defeat inside leverage. A quarterback’s friend who works aggressively back to the ball. Dominates in red zone. High-point catcher who uses well-timed leaps and long arms to win the 50-50 throws.

If that does not excite Titans fans, remember that the situation Davis walks into. He joins one of best offensive line’s in the NFL. The Titans running game is one of the best in the league. Plus, the Titans have quarterback Marcus Mariota throwing the passes.

Davis is a major piece of the offense immediately. The running game will bring safeties in the box for run support. Other draft additions Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith will also take the pressure off Davis.

The result? Corey Davis is primed to take the NFL by storm in 2017.

Mandatory Credit: Sam Greene/Cincinnati Enquirer via USA TODAY NETWORK

3

John Ross

Wide Receiver, Washington

3

Joe Mixon

Running Back, Oklahoma

This pick is a combo pick. The Cincinnati Bengals needed serious help at wide receiver after being shut out of the market in last year’s draft. The Bengals running game fell off the map as primary back Jeremy Hill had another disappointing season.

The Bengals remedied their offensive problems quickly by picking John Ross and Joe Mixon. John Ross of the Snoop Dogg fame is the owner of the fastest 40-yard dash time recorded at the combine. Joe Mixon is the infamous running back with the horrible video of him punching a woman.

Mixon is a controversial pick. But the Bengals taking a chance on a controversial is nothing new. This is the team who employs Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict whose shenanigans cost the Bengals a playoff game.

Mixon is just another controversial player to land in the Queen City. He will be absorbed into the Bengal culture and thrive. John Ross’ connection to Snoop Dogg will make him an instant favorite in the club house.

On the field, these two players are the perfect compliment. Ross’ speed will take the top off the defense while Mixon’s running ability will keep safeties in the box. These players are the perfect complimentary pair.

The Bengals hit a home run with these two picks in combination. The Bengals offensive will be scary once they fix their offensive line issues. But don’t be surprised to see either one of these two in the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation.

Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

2

Christian McCaffrey

Running Back, Stanford

2

Curtis Samuel

Running Back, The Ohio State University

The secret to defeating the Carolina Panthers was revealed in SuperBowl 50. Make Cam Newton beat you from the pocket. Newton’s greatest asset is his ability to be a power running back from the quarterback position. However, when the Denver Broncos took that away from him, the lack of other playmakers on offense reared its ugly head.

Some may ask, why take Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel? They do not fit the power down hill running attack employed by Carolina. In fact, former first round pick Jonathan Stewart fits the power scheme better than these picks. The answer?

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Welcome to the new Carolina Panthers offense. Gone are the days of the one-dimensional power run scheme. Gone are the days of stopping the run and containing Newton to win football games. Now the Panthers have two dynamic playmakers who can transform this offense into a more spread style system Newton thrives in.

McCaffrey ran in the power running system at Stanford. He is used to the schemes and has excellent vision. He is the perfect partner for Newton or Stewart in the power run system. Yet he is diverse enough to play wide receiver creating mismatches.

Enter Curtis Samuel. Samuel is another mismatch player like McCaffrey except Samuel’s base position in the NFL will be wide receiver. He ran a blazing 4.31 40-yard dash time at the combine. His speed can take the top off the defense to open the underneath for McCaffrey to work his magic. Samuel played the hybrid back role for Urban Meyer at Ohio State. He is a dynamic playmaker.

The combination of McCaffrey and Samuel could be a portent of the changing offense in Carolina to include more spread style concepts to open the field. Such a change can only make Cam Newton a better player. When Cam is happy the Panthers offense rolls.

If McCaffrey and Samuel are used in similar ways like they were in college, expect one or the other to be in the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

1

Leonard Fournette

Running Back, LSU

Dropping Fournette into Jacksonville was he smartest move Tom Coughlin could make. Coughlin is trying to remake the Jaguars in his own image. Coughlin likes to run the ball and play an old-style smash-mouth football. Fournette is an old style smash mouth running back with new school speed and athleticism.

Fournette is he definition of a power back as his NFL.com draft profile states:

Violent finisher looking to intimidate run-support safeties with crushing blows behind lower pads. Runs feet through any and all contact. Has balance and power to plow through tackle attempts on an angle. Punishing stiff arms go viral. Has experience running from two-back, single-back and off-set looks. Hands are adequate in passing game. Can create for himself with power and speed. Wins in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

The Jacksonville offense struggled with Blake Bortles at the helm. The Jaguars cannot continue to ask Bortles to throw the ball forty times a game to win. The Jaguars have successfully drafted and developed wide receivers in their offense. But they lack a high-end power running back to keep the safeties from sitting on the long ball.

They now have that power running back. If the Jaguars follow the Tom Coughlin plan and give Fournette the ball twenty times a game, expect Fournette to take this offense to a new level and become the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

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