Early NFL Rookie Award Predictions
Rookies, rookies, rookies.
What else is there to talk about in May? Aside from all the courtroom drama, that is.
But which rookies will take home the hardware? Here are my incredibly early predictions for awards—some real, some fake—for the upcoming 2012 season.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
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Trent Richardson, Running Back, Browns
Entering the NFL with a rare opportunity to be the lead back right off the bat, Richardson figures to have a big year and garner this award. Cleveland did not give up fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round picks to move up one spot for Richardson just to ease him into the backfield.
The former Heisman candidate was drafted into a perfect situation to contribute in a big way, with incumbent Montario Hardesty representing the only threat to his playing time. And when was the last time Hardesty was considered a serious threat?
Adding to his allure as the Offensive Rookie of the Year will be the likelihood that Cleveland will also throw fellow rookie Brandon Weeden into the fire as their starting quarterback, meaning they will have him hand off the ball frequently.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
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Mark Barron, Safety, Buccaneers
The waters in the defensive rookie pool are a bit murkier than the offensive side.
Last year, a pass-rusher won this award. Aldon Smith roared back to win it, according to the Pro Football Writers of America and ESPN, after Von Miller had established himself as the early leader. Miller was voted as the Associated Press DROY, however.
There are a few good pass-rushers in this year's class, but no one is expected to light it up the way Smith did. It will be difficult to predict just how well pass-rushers will perform, but there is no such issue with Barron.
The talented safety out of Alabama will start immediately and should make plenty of plays in Tampa Bay's defensive secondary. Lining up at strong safety, Barron should have plenty of opportunities to tally high tackle numbers.
The Cam Newton Rookie MVP
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Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Colts
Where would the Panthers have been last season without Cam Newton? Well, they would probably have Andrew Luck right now.
This made-up award differs from the OROY and DROY because there may be players who are more important to their teams than those guys.
Viewed in that light, there is no better choice than Luck.
Robert Griffin III will be the biggest competition for Luck, but the Colts were downright atrocious last year after Peyton Manning's injury forced him to sit out the entire season. In a mildly shocking revelation, Rex Grossman and John Beck combined to squeak by 4,000 passing yards last year, and the Redskins actually won five games by season's end.
Curtis Painter was terrible, and Dan Orlovsky was almost on his second 0-16 team before Indianapolis pulled out a couple of victories late in the season.
While I do not expect the Colts to be good this season, Luck will do enough to make them respectable. Without him, they could only hope to avoid another winless season.
The Mario Williams Bust of the Year
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Kendall Wright, Wide Receiver, Titans
You may not remember this, but Mario Williams had just 4.5 sacks as a rookie after the Texans were mocked mercilessly for selecting him over Reggie Bush in the 2006 draft. However, he turned out just fine.
It's not that I don't like Wright as a player, it's that I think he will not live up to his first-round status as a rookie for several reasons.
The first and perhaps most important reason is playing time, or lack thereof. The Titans have a trio of talented receivers ahead of him on the depth chart in Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Damian Williams.
Wright could line up in the slot, but 63 percent of tight end Jared Cook's snaps actually came as a slot receiver last year according to Pro Football Focus.
There are simply slim pickings in Tennessee at wide receiver this season.
The other major reason I see Wright as a first-year bust is that he recently picked up his first playbook.
Wright has never owned one as a football player until now, putting him further behind the learning curve than a typical rookie coming from a spread offense. Though I do not doubt Wright will work hard to catch up, this may be too steep of a hill to climb in the short term.
That being said, this is the Bust of the Year award, not Bust of the Draft. I think Wright will eventually play his way onto the field with regularity and figure out this newfangled playbook concept.
The John Randle Undrafted Rookie of the Class
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Vontaze Burfict, Linebacker, Bengals
I struggled with this one.
There were a few other guys who I had slotted here at one point, like Chris Polk and Jeff Fuller, but I could not leave out the talent Burfict brings to the table when he has his head on straight.
After a disastrous draft season that saw his stock plummet faster than Facebook's this week, Burfict fell completely out of the draft. Thankfully for him, Cincinnati is a natural habitat for troubled football players, so they naturally snatched him up in free agency.
Burfict says he has a giant chip on his shoulder, and he intends to prove his doubters wrong. Hell hath no fury like a talented linebacker scorned.
Well, at least that is what I think will happen. If motivation and disciplinary issues are the root of Burfict's shortcomings, he can be fixed. He certainly has the talent to play at a high level if he can keep a lid on that fire.
The T.J. Houshmandzadeh Diamond in the Rough
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Marvin Jones, Wide Receiver, Bengals
A few folks in the draft community, myself included, were dumbfounded when Jones fell all the way to the end of the fifth round. Though he was a bit of an unknown coming out of Cal, he made himself known throughout draft season in the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine.
I suppose that was not enough for NFL scouts and executives.
Jones may not be a household name—at least not the Marvin of the Joneses—but he might just win the starting job opposite A.J. Green over fellow, earlier-round rookie Mohamed Sanu.
He might not light up the league like some other steals in the draft, but he will be a solid player for years to come.
The Tom Brady Steal of the Draft
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Lamar Miller, Running Back, Dolphins
Many tried to hand this award to various teams and players throughout the draft, but there can only be one.
From the second round on, everyone from Mike Mayock to the studio custodian was incredulous that Lamar Miller had not been drafted.
Does this all amount to Miller not being special?
Miller was once touted as a first-round pick, and many still saw him as first-round talent. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said his team had Miller rated as a first-rounder, though why they waited so long to take him if that was the case is a bit perplexing.
Still, they managed to steal him in the fourth round of the draft, and he will turn out to be the biggest robbery of them all. It might just take a year or two before it happens.
The JaMarcus Russell Bust of the Class
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Bruce Irvin, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Seahawks
I projected Irvin to have a good season in my slideshow on first-round projections, but that was the optimist talking. In reality, what will a undersized pass-rusher who does not play the run really be able to do in the NFL?
The Seahawks took a leap of faith when they drafted Irvin with the 15th overall pick in the draft. The snark was not far behind.
Viewed as a third-round prospect up until a few hours before the draft, many feel the Seahawks reached with Irvin.
All this means Bruce Irvin will be Bust in Class.