As fans get ready for NFL Rookie watch, they are anxious to see how the new players will fit into their new teams. Everyone is trying to figure out who the gems are in this year’s fantasy football draft. Oops, may have said too much. So let’s take a look at the players in contention of winning Offensive Rookie of the Year.
NFL Rookie Watch:
The Number 1 Pick: Baker Mayfield (Round 1, Pick 1): Cleveland Browns
I’ll admit it, I’m skeptical of any QB coming out of the Big 12. Ready for the list? Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton, Robert Griffin III, Bryce Petty, Landry Jones, Brandon Weeden, Trevone Boykin, Colt McCoy, Geno Smith. With many of these players going in the first round, it’s fair to question how Big 12 QBs will fare in the NFL. So why does this happen? The Big 12 plays absolutely atrocious defense, inflating the numbers of all offensive players in the Big 12.
While I believe Mayfield’s stats are a bit inflated, there’s no denying his talent. The senior from Oklahoma University dropped 4627 yards on 43 TDs to only 6 INTs. This on an insane 11.5 YPA. Let’s not forget his elite 70.5% completion percentage. Baker’s arm talent is undeniable and his accuracy is on point. He is a winner and a competitor at every stage in his career. My concerns with Mayfield stem from his lack of maturity and his size. At only 6’1” Mayfield is a bit undersized for the QB position.
Taking a look at the 2018 season, Mayfield should slide right into the starting QB spot, with no real competition in sight. Mayfield has the talent to succeed and a plethora of weapons to work with. Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman, and David Njoku will all be at his disposal. The Cleveland Browns are not the picture of perfection, but Mayfield has every chance to succeed.
The Favorite: Saquon Barkley (Round 1, Pick 2): New York Giants
Drafted right after no. 1 pick Baker Mayfield, Saquon was born to be a star. At 6’0” 233 lbs, the electrifying running back from Penn State is ready to storm the NFL. Saquon played in the Big 10, one of the toughest conferences in college football. Despite this, he still dropped 1903 yards from scrimmage and a whopping 21 total TDs.
Saquon has elite measurables with his 4.40 40 yard dash, 29 bench press reps, and 4.24 20 yard shuttle. Saquon oozing with potential. The athleticism, cuts, and vision are unprecedented. Saquon is a legit 3 down back, in addition to being an excellent kick returner. With no real limiting weakness for Barkley, the sky’s the limit.
The only real thing that would keep Barkley from winning OROY is the offensive line. New GM Dave Gettleman has done a great job improving this year ’s line from last year’s. However, it still remains to be seen how well this unit can block for Barkley. No matter what, Barkley will make a difference. Barkley is an excellent kick returner and an even better receiver. He will find a way to make his impact felt.
The Most Underrated: Kerryon Johnson (Round 2, Pick 11): Detroit Lions
Here’s one you’ve never heard. The 6’0” 213 lbs running back from Auburn had a fantastic Junior year. Playing in the SEC is no joke. This is regularly one of the toughest conferences in college football. Johnson still managed 1391 rushing yards on 18 TDs, all while averaging a solid 4.9 YPC.
Watching Johnson I had only one thought. Le’Veon Bell. Johnson showed tremendous patience, trusting his offensive line to create holes before busting through. He has a great burst and shiftiness, he’s very good at changing speeds. He isn’t just a speed guy however, he has the bruising ability to knock down defenders. The concern with Johnson is his durability. His smaller frame combined with his play style could shorten his NFL career.
All in all, Johnson is a great runner and a solid receiver out of the backfield. He should immediately slide into the starting RB role for the Lions. Ameer Abdullah clearly isn’t the answer or the Lions. Much like Barkley, the Lions o line will be the determinant of Johnson’s success. Unlike Barkley however, Johnson doesn’t have the supporting cast or versatile skill set to make an impact without a sound o line. Although Johnson has concerns about his longevity, I can see him having a very successful season.
The Surprise: D.J Moore (Round 1, Pick 24): Carolina Panthers
The Panthers stunned the world by making D.J Moore the first wide receiver taken off the board in the draft. The Junior from The University of Maryland has often been compared to fellow terp Stefon Diggs. Standing at 6’0” 210 lbs, Moore is larger than Diggs who is 6’0” 190 lbs, but the comparisons are there. Moore has a great season at UMD finishing with 80 receptions, 1003 yards, and 8 TDs.
Like Diggs, Moore is capable of playing both the slot and outside receiver. He is a monster after the catch. He’s a QB’s best friend, with strong hands and ability to work back to the QB. He is extremely athletic and quick, running an explosive 4.42 40 yard dash at the combine. His main concern is his route running. Running simple hitches and screens in college, Moore will look to expand his route tree in the NFL. His 6’0” frame causes questions on how well he will be able to play as an outside WR at the next level.
While the move to draft Moore was surprising considering Calvin Ridley still on the board, the Panthers clearly saw something in Moore to draft him. Moore will have something of an uphill battle to snaps and targets on a crowded Panthers receiving core. Carolina is already a run-heavy team, D.J. Moore will also be fighting for targets behind Greg Olsen, Devin Funchess, Christian McCaffery, and Torrey Smith (yeah, I bet you forgot he exists). If Moore can work his way up to the no. 1 WR, Moore can have an impactful rookie year.
The Best Situation: Michael Gallup (Round 3, Pick 17): Dallas Cowboys
Michael Gallup has seemingly fallen into a perfect situation. The Cowboys just lost Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, losing a full 272 targets and 169 receptions from a season ago. With Terrance Williams recently getting arrested, the Cowboys are in serious need of help at receiver. Dallas signed Allen Hurns to be their no. 1 wide receiver, a role he will struggle with. With this passing game scaring no one, teams will stack the box to stop star RB Zeke Elliott and will send their best cornerback to cover Hurns. This will leave many mouth-watering opportunities for Gallup to exploit.
So who is Gallup? A player with the athletic ability and talent to go in the first round, he spent his first two years in community college due to low SAT scores. He then transferred to Colorado State University, where he shredded defenses on the regular. Gallup ended up with a 176-2690-21 line in 2 years at CSU. At 6’1” 205 lbs, Gallup is a good athlete and with solid size. He is very quick and runs solid routes. However, Gallup needs to work on polishing his routes a bit. He also needs to be more focused during games He sometimes shows a lack of effort and/or loses concentration when things go wrong.
Gallup is raw, to say the least, but is in the best situation to succeed. He can easily take over as the no. 1 WR in an offense led by up and coming QB Dak Prescott. Gallup certainly has the talent to thrive as a rookie, it will be within himself to find success.
The Most to Prove: Josh Allen (Round 1, Pick 7): Buffalo Bills
The redshirt Junior from Wyoming was one of the hottest debates of the NFL draft. The 6’5” 237 lbs Quarterback has all the physical tools to succeed. Allen had no FBS recruitment interest after high school, so he joined Reedley Community College in California. After a year, Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl recruited Allen to Wyoming. Allen went on to have a very solid sophomore year. He passed for 3203 yards and 28 TDs. His junior year was not so successful, only throwing for 1812 yards and 16 TDs.
So why did Allen go so high? His arm strength is unprecedented for one, it compares to that of Matthew Stafford. He can make every pass in the book, his arm strength is something you cannot teach. He has the prototypical frame for an NFL QB. He moves deceptively well, showing the ability to shake off pass rushers with his size and evading them with his speed. The issue with Allen is his accuracy. He never threw higher than 56.3% in either of his seasons at Wyoming. Some scouts have seriously hinged on this, citing that his accuracy issues may lead to his demise. I took the opportunity to watch Allen play against Central Michigan in the MWC championship game. While I did see Allen struggle with accuracy at times, I believe it is blown out of proportion. Allen had an awful supporting cast, receivers who couldn’t gain any separation at all. I saw Allen make fantastic throws with his lighting quick arm leading to an 11-19, 154 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT game.
Allen is the definition of boom-or-bust. The arm can take only take you so far, as Jay Cutler has shown us all his career. However, Allen has fallen into a solid scenario with the Bills. The team will continue to run through star RB LeSean McCoy. This will give Allen the time to develop as a passer. The play action opportunities created by “Shady” McCoy will present Allen with easier throws than he had in college. Allen will also have the luxury of a real no. 1 WR in Kelvin Benjamin along with solid receivers Jeremy Kerley and Charles Clay. In 5 years, Allen could very be the best QB from this class. The immediate future is not so clear. While the expectation is for Allen to struggle as a rookie, who knows, maybe he’ll surprise everyone.
The Trickiest Situation: Sony Michel (Round 1, Pick 31): New England Patriots
Sony Michel is an interesting case. He was the 2nd best running back draft prospect after all-world talent Saquon Barkley. Michel drew serious comparisons to Alvin Kamara. The 5’11” 214 lbs senior from Georgia was a stud in college. Michel served as a complement to fellow star running back Nick Chubb. Do not mistake that for incompetence on Michel’s part. Michel ended the season with 1227 rushing yards & 16 TDs with an insane 7.9 YPC. This all while playing in the SEC, one of the toughest conferences in college football.
Michel is a great blend of speed, size, and vision. A true 3 down back, Michel is also a very good receiver, adding to his versatility. Michel rips through arm tackles and plows through defenders. He is also a great blocker, understanding blitz pickups very well. The thing teams love most about Michel is his leadership skills. He is a well respected and vocal leader. The issues with Michel are on his cuts. He needs to work on tightening his cuts, making them sharper. He also often tries to bully defenders instead of using elusiveness.
Michel has landed in a crowded backfield including Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, and new FA signing Jeremy Hill. Michel is the most talented of these players, but as everyone has learned, things don’t come easy with Bill Belichick. Michel’s 12 fumbles his senior year will make it increasingly tougher to stay on the field. Belichick is infamous for benching his running backs after just one fumble, never to be heard from again. Michel will be on a short leash. With all the talent at RB on this roster, Michel’s path to bell cow status will be tough. However, Michel does have all the talent to become that starter, it will be interesting to see what happens.
The One You Don’t Know: Mike Gesicki (Round 2, Pick 10): Miami Dolphins
Gesicki is huge. Not just big, he’s huge. I’m talking Jimmy Graham size. At 6’6” 247 lbs, Gesicki towers over his opponents. A shade under Jimmy Graham’s 6’7” 265 lbs, Gesicki is equally fast. Gesicki ran a 4.54 40 yard dash, just a click faster than Graham’s 4.56. Gesicki can also jump out of the building, showcased with his 41.5 inch vertical. For a point of reference, Jimmy Graham has a 38.5 inch vertical.
Playing at Penn State Gesicki was often overshadowed by Saquon Barkley. Do not be fooled by that, Gesicki was still PSU’s best receiver. Big & strong, Gesicki caused matchup problems on the regular, making life easy for QB Trace McSorley to throw it up to him. Gesicki scored 9 TDs, an impressive mark considering the tough defense of the Big 10 and how often PSU would hand the ball to Saquon Barkley at the goal line. Gesicki also has great hands, he dropped 2 of a possible 59 catchable targets. The one knock on Gesicki is his blocking. He struggles as both a run blocker and pass blocker, something he will look to improve on in the NFL. The Dolphins did not draft Gesicki to be a blocker. They drafted a player who can play in-line, split out to the slot, or even be the outside WR. Gesicki will shred the seams and dominate the red zone.
Gesicki’s outlook for 2018 is bright. With the only other real receiving threat on the Dolphins being DeVante Parker. The only possible issue keeping Gesicki off the field is his blocking, And his only real issue on the field is QB play. While QB Ryan Tannehill has yet to prove his worth, he is more than capable of hitting his receivers. Gesicki will be one of the most interesting to cases to watch, the talent is clearly there but, it remains to be seen how everything will come together.
The Unfortunate Legacy: Sam Darnold (Round 1, Pick 3): New York Jets
Butt fumble anyone? Former Jets QB and USC star Mark Sanchez still has his imprints all over this team. USC has never produced a good starting QB. They have produced guys like Cody Kessler, Matt Barkley, and Matt Leinart. Fortunately, Darnold is not any of those guys. Darnold stole the starting QB job as a redshirt freshman. He went on to have a very solid freshman year, which ended with a marvelous comeback victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. A game in which Darnold threw for 453 yards and 5 TDs. Darnold’s last year ended with a very solid 4143 passing yards and 26 TDs.
Darnold has prototypical size for a QB at 6’3” 221 lbs. He is big, strong, and athletic. Darnold has solid arm talent and is a great pocket passer. Although he is a pocket passer, he is still more than capable of scrambling and creating yards. Darnold’s main concern is his 13 interceptions & 11 fumbles his sophomore year. Darnold had the propensity to turn the ball over far too often, something he will need to improve on.
Scouts were in agreement, Darnold was the best QB prospect in this year’s class. The Jets got their man after trading down to no. 3 overall. Darnold’s floor is very high, with the tools and skill to develop into a star. Darnold will step into an interesting situation with a receiving core that overachieved last year. Darnold will need to win the starting job over Josh McCown before anything, then the sky’s the limit for Darnold.
The LSU Prodigy: Derrius Guice (Round 2, Pick 27): Washington Redskins
Life isn’t easy when you lose a superstar running back like Leonard Fournette. It was for LSU however, with star running back Derrius Guice ready to carry the load. Guice was unhealthy for almost all of the 2017 season. Taking a look at his 2016 season, Guice ran for 1251 yards and 11 TDs on an insane 7.6 YPC. Like Johnson and Michel, Guice is a fellow member of the SEC.
At 5’11” 224 lbs, Guice is a big bruising back. He punishes defenders and trucks through them at will. Do not mistake him for a slow power back though, he ran a solid 4.49 40 yard dash, showing off his speed and explosiveness. He has quality vision and creates big plays on the regular. Guice needs to improve as a receiver as well as in pass protection. Guice also takes a large number of hits, which raises questions about his durability in the future.
Guice should easily be able to unseat teammate Samaje Perine for the starting gig in Washington. Perine has shown he’s nothing more than a two down plodder. While some may question Guice’s receiving ability, he is still capable of creating big plays as a receiver. The concerns on Guice’s longevity are valid considering his play style, but you cannot question his potential impact as a rookie. The ball is in Guice’s court, where he goes from here will be up to him.
The Best Fantasy Impact: Ronald Jones II (Round 2, Pick 6): Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While Saquon Barkley has a case here, I believe Ronald Jones II has the better opportunity here. With Doug Martin getting cut this offseason, Jones will easily slide into the starting role. Jones ran a 4.65 40 time, not the time you want to see from a running back. However, the athleticism and explosiveness are more than evident on the game tape. Jones ran for a fantastic 1550 yards with 19 TDs including a healthy 5.9 YPC.
Jones is electric. He is extremely elusive and has elite quickness. Jones has everything you want from an RB. He allows his blocking to set up then uses his ability to get down the field. He was not an amazing pass catcher at USC but is a more than capable receiver. The main concern for Jones is his touch count from last year. Jones had a whopping 275 touch season, causing concern for his durability. Jones’ played next Sam Darnold in USC, he was a perfect compliment for the QB.
Ronald Jones II seems to have fallen right into the great situation. While the Bucs didn’t have the best offensive line last year, they made moves to improve this offseason. A team with inconsistent run games the past few years, they will be looking to get back to that power run game with Jameis Winston still developing. Ronald Jones will be in tremendous shape to win OROY, assuming he stays healthy.
So Who Will Win?
There is a plethora of talent in this year’s draft, all in unique situations. It is tough to determine the winner as it is contingent on so many factors. For rookies adjustment to the NFL is key. Wide receivers need to learn to deal with press coverage. Running backs deal with bigger, faster, and stronger defenders. Tight ends take bigger hits and deal with faster defenders. Quarterbacks need to adjust to the speed of NFL plays and complex coverages of defenses. The situation for each player is also important. Players may have more/less of an opportunity than the next player, but need to prove their talent regardless. Injuries will obviously derail anyone’s season, players will need to stay healthy to be productive.
Considering all the factors I will have to stick with Saquon Barkley as the winner. The stud from Penn State has way too much talent and has landed in a solid situation. I see no way he cannot produce this season.