Rookie of the Year is one of the biggest honors a player can win, establishing his place in the NFL right out of the gate. Last year, we saw Dak Prescott and Joey Bosa – two players with very different draft positions – win the awards, putting together terrific first seasons.
There are a handful of top candidates to be named Rookie of the Year this upcoming season, particularly because of how deep the draft class was. We’ve come up with seven favorites for each award, with none of them being locks to take home the hardware.
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OROY: 1. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars
Fournette is the early favorite to win the award for the simple fact that he’s going to be an absolute workhorse for the Jaguars. Jacksonville is going to look at what the Cowboys did with Ezekiel Elliott and think, ‘We need to keep the ball out of Blake Bortles’s hands. Let’s give Fournette the ball 30 times a game.’
They probably won’t say that exactly, but you can bet the former LSU running back will get a heavy dosage of carries next season. As long as the Jaguars’ offensive line is halfway decent, he’ll eclipse 1,200 yards and most likely have at least 10 touchdowns.
It’s really the perfect situation for Fournette, assuming the offensive line blocks fairly well for him.
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2. Corey Davis, WR, Titans
Davis was the first wide receiver drafted, and he landed with a team that has very few reliable options in the passing game. Davis will quickly become Marcus Mariota’s favorite target, which is a good sign for both the rookie and the Titans as a whole.
He’s the type of player who can do it all, from running deep routes to dominating on intermediate passes over the middle. His combination of size and speed are that of a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, which is something Mariota’s never had.
Expect to see Davis catch a huge number of passes this season as the Titans’ best offensive weapon. Being a receiver, though, it’ll likely take at least 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns for him to be a top contender for the award.
3. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers
McCaffrey isn’t like Fournette. He isn’t going to carry it 25 times a game and score 10 touchdowns on the ground. Jonathan Stewart will probably eat into his touches and steal goal-line carries, hurting McCaffrey’s production.
Where the Stanford product is significantly better, though, is as an all-around running back. He can run between the tackles, catch passes out of the backfield, and return punts for the Panthers. There’s a reason he set an NCAA record for the most all-purpose yards in a season.
He can impact the game in a number of ways, which will drive up his yardage totals. In turn, his chances of winning Rookie of the Year will skyrocket.
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4. Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings
On the surface, Cook doesn’t look like a top candidate. He was a second-round pick, will share the backfield with Latavius Murray, and Minnesota’s offensive line isn’t great. However, when thinking about his chances, they seem pretty good. He’s going to wind up beating out Murray for the starting job based on the fact that he’s a much more versatile back with home run ability.
Despite the fact that the Vikings’ offensive line isn’t great, Cook is the type of player who can create yards by himself. He can make defenders miss and is slippery with the ball in his hands – something Murray isn’t.
Cook will approach 1,000 yards on the ground, and he’ll do even more damage as a receiver out of the backfield.
Associated PressJim Mone
5. Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans
A lot hinges on Watson being able to compete for Rookie of the Year. First, he has to win the starting job with the Texans – which admittedly won’t be easy, even if it is just Tom Savage standing in his way. Then, he’ll have to play far better than he did last season at Clemson.
Throwing 18 interceptions won’t net Watson the award, which is an area of his game that he needs to improve. We all know he can make plays with his legs and throw accurately on short passes, but the other areas of his game are the ones that need refining.
The success of the Texans will also play a role in his chances, particularly if they make the playoffs.
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6. Mike Williams, WR, Chargers
The Chargers love to throw the ball with Philip Rivers at the helm. He led the league in completions and attempts in 2015, and his numbers didn’t dip much this past season, either. That bodes well for Williams, who’s stepping into a great situation with the Chargers.
Keenan Allen is going to draw plenty of attention to one side of the field. That’ll leave Williams with plenty of one-on-one opportunities, which he’ll be sure to win, especially in short-yardage situations.
His touchdown numbers are going to be among the best for rookies, which will also help his case.
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7. Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals
Mixon is joining a crowded backfield in Cincinnati, but his talent will ultimately stand out and earn him the starting job. Once he does that, he’ll become a versatile weapon for the Bengals, similar to the way Le’Veon Bell is for the Steelers.
As a three-down back and receiver in the passing game, few rookies are better than Mixon. He can do it all as a running back, which is a valuable asset in the NFL. Public perception and the optics of his past history could play a role in the league not wanting to give him Rookie of the Year, but his production will be up there with the top guys.
DROY: 1. Myles Garrett, DE, Browns
Defensive Rookie of the Year is often given to defensive linemen because of the way they impact the game against the pass and the run. Three of the last four winners have been D-linemen, which is no coincidence. Garrett could easily make it four out of five if he gets double-digit sacks, which is certainly possible.
Joey Bosa did it in 12 games last season, and Garrett has a good chance of reaching that coveted mark, too. It’ll be difficult to compete with him if he plays up to his potential as the No. 1 pick because he’s a stud pass rusher and is also great against the run. Garrett is the odds-on favorite to take home the hardware.
2. Malik Hooker, S, Colts
Only two safeties have ever won Defensive Rookie of the Year with Mark Carrier being the last to do it in 1990. Hooker could become the third, simply based on the fact that he’s the definition of a ball hawk.
He’s going to be the Colts’ starting free safety, roaming the middle of the field and reading the eyes of the quarterback. His closing speed and ball skills are as good as we’ve seen from a prospect since Earl Thomas, and we all know how he turned out.
For Hooker to win it, he’ll need to pick off at least five passes, which is a tall task. Creating turnovers gets safeties noticed by voters, however, and Hooker did plenty of that at Ohio State.
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3. Reuben Foster, LB, 49ers
Assuming Foster’s shoulder is good to go and doesn’t give him problems as a rookie, he’ll be a top candidate to win the award. Linebackers are always among the favorites to win it, with nine of them doing so from 2003 to 2012. Granted, some were outside linebackers who rushed the passer, but off-the-ball ‘backers are stat-stuffers as rookies.
Foster is going to approach 100 tackles and will probably add a couple of interceptions in coverage, which could be enough to earn him Rookie of the Year honors. In San Francisco’s remodeled defense, he should see plenty of snaps in his first season, which is a big factor in his chances of taking home the award.
4. Jamal Adams, S, Jets
Adams is going to shine as a star player on a defense that lacks talent. Whether it’s playing free safety or coming down into the box as a strong safety, Adams is going to make plays and have a big impact on the Jets’ underwhelming defense.
Will that be enough to land him Defensive Rookie of the Year honors? That remains to be seen, but his tackle numbers are going to be astronomical, which will help his campaign for the award. That alone just won’t be enough.
Adams will need to pick off a handful of passes, force a few fumbles and hold up well in coverage – so basically Landon Collins from last season. That’s Adams’ ceiling, but it’ll be difficult to reach that in Year 1.
Barnett was the more decorated pass rusher than Garrett was, breaking Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee. He’s just not the athlete that Garrett is. However, in the Eagles’ Wide 9 front, Barnett is going to be a force off the edge.
Jim Schwartz is going to get the most out of Barnett as a rookie and he should be among the top first-year players when it comes to sacks. He still has work to do as a pure pass rusher, but his potential is extremely high, especially in Philadelphia’s defense.
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6. Marshon Lattimore, CB, Saints
Marcus Peters is the only cornerback to win Rookie of the Year since Charles Woodson won it in 1998, doing so with an eye-popping, turnover-filled season. In 2015, he had eight interceptions, two touchdowns and 20 passes defensed. He also forced one fumble and recovered three others.
It was truly one of the best rookie seasons we’ve ever seen from a cornerback, and in order for Lattimore to be named Rookie of the Year, he’ll have to put up similar numbers. That’ll be a challenge because he doesn’t have the ball skills that Peters has, despite being sticky in coverage.
He has an uphill climb, but don’t count out the former Ohio State standout.
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7. Solomon Thomas, DE, 49ers
Thomas isn’t the pass rusher that Garrett is, but he can impact the game in multiple ways. Because he can play all along the defensive line, Thomas will be on the field the majority of the time. As a result, he’ll rack up big numbers in both the sack and run-stuff department.
The Stanford product is going to be one of the best players on San Francisco’s defensive line, and should be someone who jumps off the tape when watching him play. Seven sacks and 50-plus tackles are well within reach for Thomas as a rookie.