With the NFL season almost at the halfway point, most people would have pegged Darren McFadden as a clear-cut favorite for the offensive rookie of the year honor. However, McFadden finds himself in a runningback committee in an abysmal Oakland offense. So, who’s the front runner now?
1. Matt Forte
Yep, the Chicago Bears had to take another tailback in the draft. But guess what? This time, they may have got it right. Matt Forte has been the answer thus far, giving Kyle Orton a chance to throw the ball while defenses are worried about the running attack. Look for Forte to get the nod if the Bears make the playoffs, because much of the credit will go to him.
2. Matt Ryan
Two Matt’s lead the way. Ryan has the Atlanta Falcons looking like a bubble playoff team. He has had several productive games against good defenses with respectable numbers, and possibly most important…few mistakes. If the offensive line can put together a more consistent running attack, the Falcons could be this year’s dark horse.
3. Desean Jackson
Philadelphia has not had the sharpest season. The loss of Brian Westbrook for several games has not helped the situation, but Correll Buckhalter has been more than capable. The burden falls on Donovan McNabb and what has been an erratic passing game. Jackson has been a bright point, but he still has not put up the kind of numbers warranting immediate OROY consideration. His clear flub of celebrating before the touchdown was scored shows just how immature he still is.
4. Felix Jones
Once again, McFadden’s spotlight is stolen by his backup. Jones made as big a splash in the draft as McFadden, signing with the other most controversial owner in football (Jerry Jones). But Jones didn’t stop there; he’s outdone McFadden at every turn. He has a couple long touchdown scampers and his return game is first rate. Marion Barber is still the clear starter in this offense, but I see Jones doing to Barber what Barber did to Julius Jones.
(Note: Is it just me? Or is the name Jones a little overused in the Cowboys organization?)
5. Chris Johnson
Finally, a name from the AFC. He’s fallen a bit under the radar in Tennessee, where it seems that it is a team effort with the undefeated start. The reemergence of Kerry Collins overshadows almost every other player in Tennessee, although Johnson has held his own in committee with LenDale White. Look for his name to pop up more and more if the Titans remain undefeated.
6. Steve Slaton
This guy would have gone in the first round in 2007 if he hadn’t gone back to WVU. The comparisons drawn toward Brian Westbrook look more and more on target each week. If the Texans can find a way to keep Matt Schaub protected, Slaton will continue to be a force in that backfield. The coaching staff also has to give up on over-the-hill Ahman Green.
These six guys all have the potential to be threats for years to come. McFadden falls into the range of disappointments, followed quickly by Rashard Mendenhall and Joe Flacco. Mendenhall is on IR for the season, so that can’t be helped. Flacco has been thrown into a crap situation in Baltimore, where the QB position has been in turmoil since Trent Dilfer left the club. Jonathan Stewart is on the bubble for the disappointment category if DeAngelo Williams keeps stealing carries.