NFL Draft

NFL Draft 2014: Top Contenders for Offensive and Defensive ROY

Jan 1, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) runs off the field after the second quarter of the Capital One Bowl against the Wisconsin Badgers held at the Florida Citrus Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports
Richard LangfordCorrespondent IMay 4, 2014

In the deep 2014 NFL draft, impact players will be found early and often, but the order in which these guys will go is not exactly clear. 

NFL.com's Gil Brandt helps highlight the uncertainty of this draft:

Still, there isn't much mystery as to the depth of this year's class.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur passed along Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie's thoughts on this class: "We are going to add some impact players. This is a good draft."  

The guys I'm going to highlight as the top contenders for rookie of the year may not necessarily have the greatest NFL career, but they will have the best first seasons.

 

Top OROY Contenders

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

In a deep class of talented wide receivers, Sammy Watkins stands out. He does not have elite size at 6'1" and 211 pounds. He has the tools to make up for this, though. 

Watkins is explosive and strong, and has good hands and excellent ball skills. 

Last season, his junior year at Clemson, Watkins pulled in 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns, as he flashed all the playmaking ability to make him the first receiver off the board. 

Watkins could very well go in the top five picks and will almost certainly be gone by No. 10. The Rams at No. 2, the Raiders at No. 5 and the Buccaneers at No. 7 would appear to be the most likely landing spots. 

Going early means he isn't likely to land on a prolific offense. However, whichever team does draft him will be eager to feature the man it just drafted as its No. 1 option in the passing game. 

Watkins will certainly need to adjust to the increased speed and physicality of the NFL, but he will also come up with plenty of big plays and a strong amount of attention to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

 

Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

Running back is the forgotten position in the NFL draft, but not in the NFL. Running backs take a lot of punishment, and it is the rare back who can handle a starter's load past the age of 28, and it is only a mythical back who can do so past the age of 30. 

Combine this with the fact that teams are getting bargain production from running backs, and the position does not have much value in the draft. 

Last season, not a single running back went in the first round. However, five went in the second, and that includes rookie of the year Eddie Lacy

A similar situation will happen this year. 

Washington's Bishop Sankey is a likely second-round selection, but he will be one of the draft's most productive players next season. 

Sankey ran for 1,870 yards last season, which set a school record. He does not have ideal bulk at 5'9" and 209 pounds. He also doesn't have jaw-dropping explosiveness. 

What he does have is a complete game with consistent production. Sankey uses subtle lateral movement and good vision to find holes and exploit defenses. Behind a good offensive line, Sankey will be a force, and his ability to pass block and catch will keep him on the field in the NFL. 

I expect Sankey to go near the tail end of the second round. The team that does draft him is likely to be ready made for a running back, as the Green Bay Packers were last year for Lacy. Sankey will use this to fuel him to an excellent rookie season. 

 

Top DROY Contenders

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Jan 1, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) knocks down Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon (25) in the first quarter as the South Carolina Gamecocks face the Wisconsin Badgers in the Capital One Bow
USA TODAY Sports

Jadeveon Clowney's freakish athleticism has had him being widely speculated as the first pick in this draft since he almost decapitated Michigan's Vincent Smith in the 2012 Outback Bowl. 

There have been question marks around Clowney after his stats plummeted last season, but there is still no questioning his rare athleticism. 

Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke helps highlight: 

I'm not going to go overboard and say Clowney is a future Hall of Famer or will revolutionize the game, but I can say with complete confidence he will make a big, instant impact.

Clowney's athleticism will make him an instant force in the pass game. He may get pushed around a bit his rookie season in the run game, but offensive tackles are going to have nightmares about keeping Clowney from making their quarterback look like Vincent Smith. 

Barring an injury keeping him off the field, the worst-case scenario for Clowney in his rookie year is that he picks up sacks but nothing else. Considering the value of sacks in the NFL, even projecting his floor production will leave him in contention for this award. 

 

C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama 

Jan 2, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley (32) runs toward Oklahoma Sooners ball carrier during the second half of the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

C.J. Mosley isn't going to fill up highlight reels like Jadeveon Clowney, and he isn't going to pick up a lot of sacks. This is not ideal for picking up an award like this. 

Still, Mosley's rookie year will be impossible to ignore simply due to his sheer volume of stats. 

Mosley is an instinctive and athletic inside linebacker. He is coming out of a 3-4, but he has the speed to be a quality middle linebacker in a 4-3. 

That speed and range will allow Mosley to be a threat all over the field and in both the run and pass game. He has the physicality to shed blocks and the footwork to cover running backs and tight ends. 

Mosley is likely going to go between picks No. 10-20 in the first round, and whichever team he lands on, he will likely lead in tackles. He will also pick up a couple of interceptions and sacks to help round out his stat line and put him in contention for this award. 

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