Panthers QB Cam Newton won the 2011 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award after turning the NFL's worst 2010 offense into a top-five ranked unit. That is the formula that the Browns' two high-profile offensive rookies will use to push for the award this season.
It would be drastic to think that Cleveland's offense will catapult from 29th last season to the top of the league like the Panthers' did. Carolina didn't have to contend with three of the top seven defenses in its division like the Browns do.
But first-round picks Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson are both NFL-ready upgrades at two key positions in the offense.
2011 starters quarterback Colt McCoy and running back Peyton Hillis both struggled mightily in a 4-12 season for the Browns. McCoy is now battling to hang on to his role on the team and Hillis is in Kansas City after not being re-signed in free agency.
The rookie duo may not immediately turn the Browns into an offensive juggernaut, but there will be stark improvement in both the passing game and running game. The ROY award rewards positive impact on a team's success, and both of these guys will be primary factors in the improvement that Cleveland makes.
Of course, the degree of improvement will likely determine if either of these guys can actually win the award. If Cleveland wins or competes for a Wild Card spot, then either Weeden, Richardson or both will be at the forefront of the conversation.
It is possible that the two rookies get in each others way. If both perform at a high level, it may make it tough for the award voters to attribute the Browns' success to either one of the players. The award may fall to another high performing rookie in the league instead.
But I'm sure the Browns and their playoff-starved fans would gladly give up the ROY in that scenario if their team is winning games.
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