The winners of the AP NFL Rookie of the Year awards for 2013-14 were deserving of the accolades and have bright futures in their respective careers that are worth looking ahead to.
Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy took home top honors on the offensive side of the ball with 35 of 50 possible votes, while versatile New York Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson (23 votes) was tabbed as the league's top first-year defender.
Both players have the talent level around them and the individual styles of play to continue improving and thriving in the pros. While some top-flight rookies experience a sophomore slump of sorts in the subsequent season, both Lacy and Richardson should prove to be surefire Pro Bowlers when their times on the gridiron come to a close.
Let's take a closer look at what each of these gifted players accomplished this past year and what to expect from them in 2014 and beyond after their award announcements on Saturday, Feb. 1.
AP Offensive Rookie of the Year: Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
With a quarterback of Aaron Rodgers' caliber in Green Bay, there's no reason Lacy shouldn't continue to be great. If the Alabama product's rookie campaign is any indication, his star should soar in his second year.
Lacy ran for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns to go with 35 receptions on 44 targets for 257 yards. The fact that he's emerged as a reliable receiver out of the backfield makes his case to be an every-down back even better.
In the Packers' West Coast style of offense, it's ideal to have a back that can catch. That dynamic facet that Lacy has flashed in his game should only continue to improve.
Oh, and he tips the scales at 230 pounds, giving him a compact 5'11" frame capable of sustaining the punishment NFL defenses dish out. The shelf life for running backs is shrinking, but Lacy doesn't have much wear and tear as of yet.
That power and lack of mileage is part of why last year's running backs coach Alex Van Pelt isn't wary of letting Lacy carry the load even more in the days ahead, per ESPNWisconsin.com's Jason Wilde:
I think that’s his game. That’s the guy we knew we were getting, and we’re never going to shy away from asking him to break tackles and running as hard as he can. It’s the type of guy he is. We knew that coming in. He’s a big, bruising back. If you’re those DBs, you see the film, you’re going to make a business decision of whether you’re going to take the big fella on or not. It sends a message across the league as well.
Since Rodgers will alleviate the burden from Lacy often with his brilliance in the passing game, there shouldn't be any pressure for the young bruising back to be the foundation of the offense.
Thus, look for Lacy to light up defenders in pounding his way to another season of 1,000 yards in 2014—the second of what will likely be several more given how Green Bay excels offensively.
AP Defensive Rookie of the Year: Sheldon Richardson, DL, New York Jets
The athleticism Richardson possesses is staggering considering he's listed at 294 pounds. He was one of two first-round picks by general manager John Idzik and a controversial one at that.
NFL.com's Chris Wesseling made a bold proclamation about the 2013 draft, implying that Richardson could go No. 1 overall if it were possible to go back in time:
With the way he fit into all parts of the rotation in defensive genius head coach Rex Ryan's schemes, Richardson's selection at No. 13 overall looks all the more excellent.
Offense has often been the problem during Ryan's tenure, but as long as his teams continue to play elite-level defense, the Jets have a shot at turning things around. Richardson will be a focal point of that effort, and it's scary to think what he'll morph into in the coming years.
With effectiveness as an edge rusher and the instincts to string out running plays and use his natural fluidity to dominate offensive linemen at the point of attack, Richardson piled up 77 total tackles, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
There is little Richardson can't do. Under Ryan's continued tutelage, he's primed for an even bigger and better role on what should be an improved Jets team in 2014—presuming they acquire assets to score more points this offseason.
As for the rest of his career, the sky seems to be the limit for Richardson whether or not Ryan is still around to coach him.