Tonight’s inaugural NFL Awards ceremonies will feature no less than three prizes reserved for first-year players: AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, AP Rookie of the Year and Pepsi Rookie of the Year. Without question, the favorite for any of those awards is Carolina QB Cam Newton.
In some sense, those prizes started off as Newton’s to lose given the Auburn product’s status as No. 1 overall pick. He didn’t exactly disappoint, throwing for a dazzling 4,051 yards and 21 TDs in his first NFL season.
As brilliant as Newton was, though, it wasn’t all sunshine for Carolina this season. He looked more like a rookie in throwing 17 interceptions on the year, and his defense let him down often enough that Carolina finished just 6-10.
The latter issue will be a particular factor in tonight’s results because three of Newton’s top competitors showcased their skills on playoff teams. Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, San Francisco’s Aldon Smith and Denver’s Von Miller will all get their shares of the ROY voting pie.
Dalton poses the biggest threat to Newton, having managed the extremely rare feat of leading a team to the playoffs as a rookie starting QB. Obviously, Dalton’s numbers (3,398 yards and 20 TDs) don’t measure up to Newton’s, but his team’s superior performance reflects very well on the former TCU Horned Frog.
Miller, for his part, was a crucial addition to a Denver defense that played a much bigger part in the Broncos’ playoff run than the mystical presence of Tim Tebow. Smith put up 14 sacks while contributing to one of the toughest defenses in football, though he had a lot more help around him than any of the other top rookies.
Neither of the defenders is all that likely to outpace Newton in the voting, but both will make the race closer, giving Dalton a shot to steal one of the two overall ROY prizes.
There’s no doubt that Newton deserves to bring home some of tonight’s hardware. It’s just that there were too many outstanding rookies this season to let him capture all of it.