NFL Rookie of the Year 2013: Breaking Down Top Candidates for Prestigious Award

Jesse Reed@@JesseReed78Correspondent IDecember 6, 2013

Nov 10, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) runs with the ball as Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin (98) tackles during the third quarter at Lambeau Field. The Eagles won 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With so many rookies making big impacts for new teams in 2013, picking winners for the NFL's Rookie of the Year awards won't be easy. 

However, there have been a few offensive and defensive players who have risen above their peers by regularly making an indelible impression on their opponents. 

With four games remaining on the schedule heading into Week 14, there's still time to make a statement before the winners are decided. Based on how things have gone to this point, though, here's how the top rookies stack up.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

1. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

It can be tough to break into the NFL as a rookie, but Giovani Bernard has been a lightning rod for the Cincinnati Bengals since the start of training camp. 

Through 12 games, the diminutive running back has become a dangerous weapon for Andy Dalton in the passing game, hauling in 43 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns.

He's also been effective on the ground as a change-of-pace back to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, rushing for 521 yards and four touchdowns on 119 carries, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. 

2. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers

After a rough start to the season (three catches on just four targets in his first two games), Keenan Allen has emerged as a go-to receiver for Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. 

The receiver out of California has emerged as the top receiver in his draft class (early returns), catching 58 passes for 843 yards and three touchdowns through 12 games. Five times this year Allen has gone over the 100-yard mark, and he's caught 17 passes for 230 yards in his last two. 

If Allen can put together a few more games like that the next few weeks and add a couple more touchdowns to his resume, he'll have a chance to vault up into the top spot. 

3. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 17:   Eddie Lacy #27 of the Green Bay Packers carries the ball in the fourth quarter against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on November 17, 2013 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.The New York Giants defeated the Green B
Elsa/Getty Images

You have to believe Eddie Lacy would be in better position to win this award if Aaron Rodgers never got hurt. Lacy's production has taken a major hit since Rodgers' injury, but he's still put up impressive totals this year.

Playing in essentially 10 games (he only had one carry in Week 2 and missed Week 3 with an injury), Lacy has rushed for 822 yards and six touchdowns on 207 carries (4.0 yards per carry).

Though not as dynamic as Bernard catching the ball, Lacy has also added 181 yards on 24 catches, which means he's gained over 1,000 yards total.

Like Allen, a strong finish could launch Lacy to the top of this list.

In Contention: Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams; Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans

Defensive Rookie of the Year

1. Sheldon Richardson, DT, New York Jets

Sep 22, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson (91) reacts after sacking Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

No defensive rookie has been as dominant as Sheldon Richardson this year.

The defensive tackle out of Missouri has taken the league by storm, racking up 64 total tackles (36 solo), 3.5 sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and one forced fumble.

Thanks to his ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage on running plays, New York features the league's top-ranked run defense, allowing just 77 yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry. 

The hype surrounding Richardson coming out of Missouri was significant, but after 12 games as a professional, it appears none of it was unfounded.

2. Kiko Alonso, LB, Buffalo Bills

There was a lot of consternation amongst Bills nation when Buffalo selected linebacker Kiko Alonso out of Oregon in the second round. Through most of one season, however, Alonso has made the Bills look smart, and he's quickly becoming one of the most exciting young linebackers in the game. 

Alonso leads Buffalo (by a lot) with 125 total tackles (67 solo), and he's proved himself to be a diverse weapon on defense, racking up two sacks, four interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. 

As a result of his stellar play, fans have made Alonso the top vote-getter amongst all middle linebackers for the Pro Bowl as of Dec. 4, as noted by the Bills on Twitter:

Incredibly receiving more votes than Patrick Willis, Luke Kuechly and others, Alonso has endeared himself to fans this year. 

3. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers

On the stat sheet, Star Lotulelei hasn't come close to making the same kind of impact as the first two players, but his presence on Carolina's defensive line has transformed the Panthers front seven into arguably the league's best. 

Lotulelei has registered 34 tackles (26 solo), two sacks and six tackles behind the line of scrimmage. But his value is measured by more than individual statistics.

Thanks to the constant double-teams he demands in the middle, Carolina's pass-rushers have been able to get after the quarterback. The Panthers rank No. 2 in the NFL in terms of sacks (39), No. 2 against the run (80.3 yards per game), No. 6 against the pass (209.6 yards per game) and No. 1 in scoring defense (13.1). 

In Contention: Eric Reid, S, San Francisco 49ers; Alec Ogletree, LB, St. Louis Rams; Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 


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