Best of the Best: NFL Rookies 2016[the_ad id=”63198″]We have reached the midpoint of what has been an NFL season full of surprises. With every team having already played at least seven games, the picture for award season is rounding into shape and becoming clearer by the day. Two races in particular have been especially intriguing, the battles for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
The Honorable Mentions
Jacksonville Jaguars (#20 / Cornerback)
In what has been by and large a forgettable year for the Jacksonville Jaguars, a pair of rookies have given the fan base something to hang their caps on. It was generally expected for fifth overall pick Jalen Ramsey to be a high level player and while his play has cooled off a bit after his hot start, he has played as advertised for the most part – as Amari Cooper’s 4 catches for 29 yards in week 7 can attest. Ramsey has arguably been the biggest catalyst in Jacksonville’s turnaround in pass defense, after finishing 2015 ranked 29th in Football Outsiders’ pass defense ranks, they have since climbed to 13th place.
Jacksonville Jaguars (#91 / Defensive end)
While many might have predicted Ramsey’s inspired play, one thing that wasn’t expected was the emergence of third round pick (69th overall) Yannick Ngakoue. The former Maryland Terrapin has hit the ground running, becoming the team’s sack leader with four while tallying an interception for good measure. Coming into the season most probably expected fellow rookie (technically) Dante Fowler to be the neophyte who brought a much-needed pass-rushing element to the team, instead it has been Ngakoue who has made life difficult for opposing signal callers.
San Diego Chargers (#57 / Linebacker)
Little was expected from fifth round pick (175th overall) Jatavis Brown after he declared for the NFL draft out of the University of Akron. Instead, the third day draft pick has become one of the more pleasant revelations of the young season. While his run defense leaves a little to be desired, he has more than made up for it with his heady play in pass coverage, earning a 78.6 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus. He has also been impressive when asked to rush the passer, receiving a 72.9 grade on the year. In fact, Brown is currently PFF’s 31st ranked linebacker in the entire NFL. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a knee injury during week 8’s divisional contest against the Broncos but it’s not expected to shelve him for too long.
San Diego Chargers (#99 / Defensive end)
It says a lot about the kind of season that Bosa is having that he’s the likely frontrunner for the award despite missing the first four weeks of the season. Although he didn’t play his first professional snap until week 5, the rookie out of Ohio State has accrued four sacks, seven quarterback hits and 26 total pressures on the year. Bosa has played a large part in San Diego having the 7th ranked defense according to Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). While it’s probably not likely that he will keep up this torrid streak, he’s on a legitimately historic pace. It’s difficult to pick anyone other than Bosa for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
The Honorable Mentions
Tennessee Titans (#78 / Tackle)[the_ad id=”66786″]No offensive lineman has won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award since Richmond Webb did so for the Miami Dolphins in 1990. A streak that almost assuredly won’t end in 2016, nevertheless, Conklin’s season merits discussion. The rookie right tackle has partnered with left tackle Taylor Lewan to become what could be the best set of offensive line bookends in the NFL. While much has been made of DeMarco Murray’s resurgent campaign – with good reason – none of this would be possible without the big fellas up front. It’s not just in the run game where the former Michigan State Spartan has made a name. To date, Conklin has yet to allow a quarterback hit and after last week’s showing against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he is now the highest graded right tackle in football per PFF.
New Orleans Saints (#13 / Wide receiver)
After starting the year relatively quietly, Thomas has played ~80% of the Saints’ offensive snaps since week 3 per PFF. In that time he leads the Saints in every counting statistic: targets, yards and even red zone targets. Were he to continue producing at the rate he has, Thomas would finish the year with 96 catches for 1,142 yards and 7 touchdowns. Assuming the old Marques Colston role as the possession receiver in the middle of the field, Thomas has clearly earned the trust of quarterback Drew Brees and might have become the Saints most consistent receiver in the process.
Dallas Cowboys (#4 / Quarterback)
No discussion about the 2016 rookies is complete without talking about the Dallas Cowboys’ 4th round (135th overall) quarterback out of Mississippi State. Prescott has been a revelation for Dallas, putting every criticism that he was merely a rehashing of Tim Tebow to rest. By now few need reminding that he broke Tom Brady’s record for consecutive passes without an interception to begin a career. He has helped lead the Cowboys to a 6-1 record and already has two come-from-behind wins under his belt. Prescott has thrown for 1,773 yards, 9 touchdowns through the air and chipped in another 105 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground. In his showing against the Eagles he was less composed than he had been up until that point but was able to shake off the poor start and capped off the overtime period with a Romo-esque rollout to find Jason Witten for the game winning touchdown.
Dallas Cowboys (#21 / Running back)
Upon drafting Ezekiel Elliott out of Ohio State fourth overall, many pundits criticized the Cowboys for not addressing their struggling defense and making what was viewed as a luxury pick. The train of thought was that running backs are heavily devalued with the NFL being a predominantly passing-inclined league. In his seven games, Elliott has made evident why the Dallas brass didn’t hesitate to draft him. He leads the league with 799 rushing yards despite somewhat stumbling out of the gate initially; he is fourth in the NFL in rushing touchdowns and is lapping the field with his 43 converted first downs. However, his contributions to the team go beyond just running the football, as his elite pass blocking has been crucial in helping keep Dak Prescott upright and his pass catching ability has given the rookie quarterback another safety valve to lean on. Taken collectively, this all leaves little doubt that Elliott is the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year at the halfway point of the season.
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Carlos is a Colombian-born native of the Bronx, New York and a lifelong fan of the Dallas Cowboys. He is a copywriter by trade and an avid lover of football who relishes any discussion on the topic; the more obscure the subject, the better. He was raised in New York, so naturally, he’s never been to the Statue of Liberty, but has perfected the art of the tourist dodge and can spot a substandard slice of pizza from a city block away.