Season's end is fast approaching, and so is award season. The race for Rookie of the Year is particularly exciting this season with so many well-deserving candidates in what turned out to be a fantastic rookie class.
The NFL rookies have exchanged blows, but nobody has landed a Juan Manuel Marquez knockout special. There is still plenty of jockeying left in the remaining three games, but some are in a good position to win.
Ahead, you will find the top six offensive and defensive rookies and their cases for the Rookie of the Year heading into Week 15.
The top offensive lineman in the draft turned out to be a stud for the Vikings.
Matt Kalil has allowed one sack and two quarterback hits total this season, though Christian Ponder has not been able to take advantage of the protection he is being given.
Of course, offensive line is not a sexy position, so there is little chance any lineman will ever be selected as the Offensive Rookie of the Year. It would be a victory for Kalil to crack the top five, but this class has been so strong that there is little chance of that.
Odds to win OROY: 100/1
It seemed like a bit of a head-scratcher when the Vikings moved back into the first round to snag Harrison Smith, who likely would have been there for them near the top of the second round. He has proven worthy of the move.
Mark Barron was the consensus top safety in the draft class, but Smith has outperformed him to date. The hard-hitting safety has been markedly better in coverage than his Tampa Bay counterpart, where he has allowed just a 48.1 completion percentage for a 61.3 NFL rating on passes thrown this direction.
He also has three interceptions—two of them returned for touchdowns—and 10 passes defensed.
The Notre Dame product has been sneaking up on the defensive rookie field, perhaps vaulting himself into the conversation with a fantastic interception and touchdown return against the Bears in Week 14 that proved to be the difference in the game.
There are several better candidates, however, as you will see.
Odds to win DROY: 50/1
Janoris Jenkins has had a nice season for the Rams punctuated with some big defensive plays, but he has the weakest case for Rookie of the Year among the contenders.
The Rams took a bit of a risk by selecting him with a high second-round pick, but Jenkins has been a model citizen in St. Louis thus far. The rookie has been touted for playing well in that secondary, which has been true at times.
Jenkins has three interceptions and 13 passes defensed on the season. He scored three game-changing touchdowns in two recent games, including the game-tying touchdown on a terrible pitch from Colin Kaepernick in the game against the 49ers.
Aside from the big plays, though, Jenkins has been vulnerable in coverage, where he has allowed five touchdown passes and opposing quarterbacks a 88.1 NFL rating. He has also missed 18 tackles, which leads the league at the position.
In other words, Janoris Jenkins is Asante Samuel 2.0.
Odds to win DROY: 30/1
The Buccaneers had a fantastic run at the top of the NFL draft.
First they took Mark Barron, who has been good in that secondary. Then they moved up to snag the aforementioned Doug Martin, their workhorse in the offensive backfield.
With their third pick, the Buccaneers selected Nebraska defender Lavonte David, who plays outside linebacker.
He leads all rookies with 94 solo tackles, which is second in the league to James Laurinaitis' 98. The next-highest total at outside linebacker comes from Jacksonville's Russell Allen, who has 84 solo tackles.
David has not been quite as good in coverage, though, which dings him in the race for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He also does not have the hype of a first-round pick, nor are the Buccaneers considered a great defense.
Odds to win DROY: 40/1
The lead-back role in Cleveland belonged to Trent Richardson the instant the Browns traded up one spot to get him with the third overall pick.
Hence it should come as little surprise that Richardson has benefited from a high volume of work.
Richardson handles half of Cleveland's offensive touches. That means he gets the ball on the ground or through the air on nearly 50 percent of all offensive plays.
He has plenty to show for it—he is third among rookies with 1,217 yards from scrimmage and second with 10 total touchdowns—but he is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry and 2.1 yards per carry after contact, among the bottom third of the league.
He also plays for the Browns. Despite their recent 4-2 run, his team is not enjoying the success that other rookies' teams have enjoyed this season.
Odds to win OROY: 25/1
It should be no surprise that Luke Kuechly finds himself in the thick of the Defensive Rookie of the Year race. He was, after all, the consensus No. 1 linebacker in the 2012 draft, and he has not disappointed in his rookie season.
Kuechly took over for an injured Jon Beason as Carolina's middle linebacker after beginning the season on the outside, and he has shined ever since.
The rookie linebacker has the most total tackles among rookies at inside linebacker. He has been particularly good in run defense.
There is little else to stump for regarding Kuechly as a Rookie of the Year candidate, however. The Carolina defense has not been terribly good overall—though improved from last season—and the team's record is a bit of a hindrance.
Odds to win DROY: 15/1
The last rookie running back to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year was Adrian Peterson in 2007. That is unlikely to change this season, but Doug Martin is giving it his best shot.
The Artist Formerly Known as the Muscle Hamster has had a fantastic rookie season for the Buccaneers, taking the lead back role and running with it. Dougie Howser has made 11 house calls this season—10 on the ground and one through the air—and he is second in the league with 1,612 yards from scrimmage.
Martin is a big reason why the Buccaneers are even in the playoff hunt, an he deserves serious consideration for the OROY award. Unfortunately for him, this is a quarterback-driven league with some fantastic rookie quarterbacks, so he will be lucky to crack the top three.
Odds to win OROY: 15/1
Perhaps the quietest campaign for Defensive Rookie of the Year is being run in Seattle.
The second-round rookie was so good in the preseason that the Seahawks shipped Barrett Ruud off to the Saints for a late draft pick.
Wagner is currently rated as the third-best inside linebacker in the league by Pro Football Focus, behind only Derrick Johnson and Patrick Willis. He is also among the top 10 overall in total tackles with 108.
The Seahawks have a good defense—great when buoyed by the 12th Man at home—and Wagner is a major part of that success.
Much like his offensive counterpart, Russell Wilson, however, Wagner is being overshadowed by his draft status and some other fancy rookies.
Odds to win DROY: 5/1
Perhaps the most underrated rookie in the league is garnering more attention as the weeks pass.
Russell Wilson has the Seahawks flying high right now. The diminutive rookie out of Wisconsin dazzled during the preseason, wresting the starting job from its presumptive heir, Matt Flynn.
While he had some struggles early, Wilson has sparkled in recent weeks. More importantly, the Seahawks are in wild-card position with a serious shot to win the NFC West.
Unfortunately for Wilson, he has a lot of ground to make up. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III get all the hype. Much of it is deserved, but they also have the benefit of being the top two picks in the draft, hence the most recognizable names.
Wilson was a 5'10" afterthought in the third round. Even as the wins started piling up, few took him seriously as a Rookie of the Year contender until recently.
The former Badger went four games without throwing an interception, including a road matchup against the ball-hawking Bears. Incidentally, Wilson engineered two would-be game-winning drives against Chicago—the first being nullified by the improbable field goal his defense gave up—and he has two other game-winning drives under his belt.
The other two were against New England and Green Bay. (Though, to be fair, the Simultaneous Possession Game—a game supervised by replacement refs that seems like a lifetime ago right now—practically deserves an asterisk.)
He does have plenty of help in the form of a strong defense, Marshawn Lynch and the 12th Man in Seattle, though. Many of his peers do not have these luxuries.
Even so, depending on what Wilson and the Seahawks can accomplish in these last three games, he should get serious consideration for the award. Unfortunately for the rookie, his draft status combined with strong seasons from other contenders might be too difficult to overcome.
Odds to win OROY: 5/1
The snow was falling at Lambeau, and the Packers were losing. The Lions had already marched down the field a few times, and they had the ball again.
With injuries to Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Ryan Broyles, Detroit was utilizing Tony Scheffler more and more as a flanker. Casey Hayward drew him in coverage.
It was third down, and Scheffler ran an in-route with Hayward draped all over him. The pass fell incomplete.
Scheffler caught three passes on the day, with his touchdown coming on a play where Hayward wasn't covering him. The tight end has six inches and 90 pounds on the rookie cornerback.
The Packers needed all sorts of help on defense, and they attempted to remedy that in the draft. They may not have expected these kinds of returns from one of their draft picks, Hayward, who was selected late in the second round.
He has severely outperformed the defensive backs drafted ahead of him.
Pro Football Focus has Hayward rated as the top cornerback in the league, and that is with 300-plus fewer snaps to accumulate positive grades than the next-best guy, Antoine Winfield.
Aside from the five interceptions and 18 pass deflections to his name, the rookie cornerback has simply been fantastic. Hayward has allowed just 43.9 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed for a NFL quarterback rating of 30.1. He has allowed zero touchdowns.
If there is a leader in the clubhouse for Defensive Rookie of the Year, it should be Hayward. He would need to have a disastrous final three games to have this slip out of his hands.
Of course, he does play cornerback—a.k.a. not linebacker—so it might not be so cut and dried.
Odds to win DROY: 3/1
Expectations were muted for Andrew Luck's first season, despite the hype that comes with being anointed the best pick in his draft class. The top overall pick was headed into a rebuilding situation in Indianapolis, with a team that was gutted in the offseason and expected to contend for the worst team in the AFC South.
Fast-forward to December, and we find the Colts staring at a likely playoff bid after winning an unlikely nine of 13 games to date, a relatively soft schedule notwithstanding. Luck has played no small part in those victories.
The Stanford product is tied for the league lead with six game-winning drives under his belt, a number that should be seven were it not for the heinous 80-yard touchdown his defense gave up against the Jaguars in the waning moments of that Week 3 matchup. That is 67 percent of Indianapolis' victories.
Unfortunately, he is also tied for the league lead in interceptions with 18. He is also 31st in NFL quarterback rating at 74.5, just ahead of fellow rookies Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill.
Will that be enough to unseat him?
The truth is, Luck is being asked to do more than his competition. Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson have had their offenses tailored to their skill sets. Griffin in particular has been insulated from mistakes by Kyle Shanahan's brilliance, helping him to complete 71 percent of his passes with just four interceptions.
The average depth of target on RG3's throws is 8.6 yards, good for 21st in the league. This is because many of his throws are screens or slants. Luck, by comparison, is No. 1 in the league with an average depth of target of 11.0 yards per throw.
Luck is being asked to run a conventional offense and throw downfield more often than his cohorts, which lends itself to higher interception totals and lower quarterback ratings.
Of course that is no excuse, but it is an interesting juxtaposition nonetheless. Luck still has those league-leading six game-winning drives and a 9-4 record next to his name.
He also has done it with a creaky defense and a relatively poor running game.
Indianapolis was 2-14 last season. If Luck can get the Colts to the playoffs with 10 or 11 victories, he might have the award in his pocket.
Odds to win OROY: 3/2
Robert Griffin III had to perform this season.
After all, the Redskins traded a way a bounty for the rights to draft him in the 2012 NFL draft, and he was handed the keys to a franchise that had been among the most quarterback-starved in the league.
He has rewarded their faith with bountiful returns.
The rookie out of Baylor has been a driving force in Washington's resurgence. The team is just one game out of the NFC East with a great chance to win it considering their favorable schedule down the stretch.
Griffin is currently leading the league with a 104.2 NFL rating, having thrown just four interceptions to 20 touchdown passes. As a rookie. Russell Wilson isn't far behind with a 94.9 rating, but the rest of the qualifying rookie pack is in the bottom 10, including Andrew Luck.
He also leads quarterbacks with 749 rushing yards—just 251 shy of 1,000 with three games to play, though his gimpy knee might not allow for it—and is second to Cam Newton with six rushing touchdowns.
Much like Wilson, though, Griffin has gotten plenty of help.
Kyle Shanahan installed the pistol read-option offense, a college staple that had long disappeared from the NFL. It is an offense that fully utilizes Griffin's unique skill set, though he should be given credit for having the ability and intelligence to run it effectively.
He also has Alfred Morris, the sixth-round dark-horse Rookie of the Year candidate—a notable snub in this list, admittedly—who is just behind Doug Martin for the league lead in rushing yardage among rookies.
Luck might be the leader in the public eye, but Robert Griffin III is making a hard charge for the award. The only thing that might derail him at this point is an injury.
Case in point, Griffin was forced off the field against the Ravens near the end of last week's game, allowing Kirk Cousins to finish what he started.
Odds to win OROY: 5/4