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2011 NFL Predictions: Top 10 Offensive Rookie of the Year Candidates

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IAugust 4, 2011

2011 NFL Predictions: Top 10 Offensive Rookie of the Year Candidates

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    With all the movement of players this offseason via trade and free agency, it's pretty easy for the incoming crop of rookies to be overshadowed. 

    Besides, in addition to the learning curve and the growing pains, they were selected back in April: yesterday's news! 

    But by midseason there are going to be some rookies who've made a name for themselves, some to be expected, some a complete surprise. 

    Whoever makes the greatest contribution--and, of course, isn't a defender--throughout the bulk of the 2011 will earn the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    That honor has gone to legends like Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, and Earl Campbell, but also those not bound for Canton like Leonard Russell, Troy Stradford, and quarteback Dennis Shaw, who thew twice as many picks as he did touchdowns as a Bills rookie in 1970. 

    Let that be a lesson: a rookie season doesn't make (or break) a career. 

No. 10: Lance Kendricks, TE, St. Louis Rams

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    College: Wisconsin

    Selected: 2nd round, 47th overall

    Kyle Rudolph went higher, but with Visanthe Schiancoe and a questionable quarterback situation in Minnesota, Kendricks is a better candidate to be the first tight end to claim the award.

    Although Offensive Rookie of the Year almost always goes to a quarterback or a running back, Kendricks will find himself in ideal position to collect touchdowns, obviously a key stat to impress voters. 

    The Rams still don't have an explosive wide receiver who can score the long touchdowns, so look for Kendricks to cap off long drives with a handful of red zone scores. 

No. 9: Ryan Williams, RB, Arizona Cardinals

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    College: Virginia Tech

    Selected: 2nd round, 38th overall

    After former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram Jr. was the only running back to go in the first round, Williams wasn't far behind. 

    The Hokie is young and only spent two seasons at the collegiate level but he has decent speed and ideal size: small, but compact.

    Playing behind Chris Wells in Arizona is an obstacle, but since the Cardinals unloaded Tim Hightower he has a shot. And depending on how his rookie contemporaries perform, there's no reason why splitting carries would keep him from contending for the ROY. 

No. 8: Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers

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    College: Kentucky

    Selected: 2nd round, 64th

    The Packers are obviously loaded with pass catchers: Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Jermichael Finley to name a few. 

    But Cobb brings tremendous speed and a big play threat for that already awesome Packer passing game. If he somehow manages to crack the lineup in the four and five-receiver sets, he's going to catch passes and should a chunk of those be for touchdowns he might get some votes. 

No. 7: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

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    College: Pitt

    Selected: 1st round, 26th overall

    There's really no physical knock on Baldwin: he has good hands and outstanding size (6'4", 230), and he runs a 4.45. The only question about him was attitude, something that should change in an NFL locker room where he isn't the Big Man on Campus.

    The Chiefs running game is their bread and butter, but that didn't keep Dwayne Bowe from catching 15 touchdowns passes last year. Steve Breaston will probably be the starter opposite Bowe, but it's going to be hard for Todd Haley to keep Baldwin on the sidelines. 

No. 6: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

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    College: Auburn

    Selected: 1st round, 1st

    Last year, Sam Bradford became the first number one overall quarterbacks to win the award, so there's no reason to think it can't be done...even if the "he's going to the league's worst team so he'll obviously struggle" argument has merit.

    And with Jimmy Clausen in place, Newton is certainly going to struggle just to get on the field as a rookie, in addition to his perceived shortcomings as a polished passer. But the same things were said--great athlete, not a great quarterback--about Vince Young back in 2006 and he won the award that year.

    As soon as Newton gets on the field he will make plays with his feet and his arm. If that happens in September or October--like it did for Young--he has a good shot at the award. If it happens in December--like it did for Tim Tebow--he has no shot. 

No. 5: Mark Ingram Jr., RB, New Orleans Saints

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    College: Alabama

    Selected: 1st round, 28th overall

    Running backs dominate this awards history, in recent years (Adrian Peterson, Cadillac Williams, Clinton Portis) and historically: 30 of 44 times it's went to a running back. 

    So it stands to reason that Ingram, the first overall back would have the best chance to win the award of anyone.

    But since he landed in New Orleans, where Drew Brees and the passing game is king, and where Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles will be asked to shoulder a lot of the load, carries are going to be hard to come by for the former Heisman winner. 

    Still, since the Saints are going to try to rededicate themselves to the running game, Thomas is coming off an injury, and Sproles isn't really a "feature back," you'd be crazy to count Ingram out of the race. 

No. 4: Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    College: TCU

    Selected: 2nd round, 35th overall

    Dalton may not have the most talent or the most experienced of any rookie QB of this crop (Jake Locker being a four-year starter in the Pac-10 has that status), but he certainly has a ton of both.

    More importantly, he was selected by a team that has an enormous void at the quarterback position....assuming Carson Palmer stays "retired."

    Bruce Gradkowski and even Jordan Palmer have the inside track at the starter's spot, but that can change. And since the Bengals still have a few very good players on both sides of the ball, they won't be bottom feeders again in 2011.

    Keeping Cincy around .500, much like Sam Bradford did last year, would earn him tons of votes. 

No. 3: A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

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    College: Georgia

    Selected: 1st round, 4th overall

    It will probably be a chicken-or-the-egg scenario if either Green or Dalton manages to win this award: there's a good chance both play the bulk of the season.

    But Green is just so talented, so big, so physical that when he learns the offense and his adjustments, he will make an impact. 

    The tough defenses in the AFC North (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Joe Haden in Cleveland) will not make it easy on him, but if he puts up decent numbers--which he can now that Chad Ochocinco is gone--that will be a major factor at voting time. 

No. 2: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

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    College: Alabama

    Selected: 1st round, 6th overall

    No rookie went to a better situation than Jones: superstar-in-the-making Matt Ryan at quarterback, a future Hall of Fame tight end, a very good running game, and Roddy White, an All Pro, on the other side at wide receiver. 

    So he doesn't have the burden of expectation and he won't be looked at to carry the team. That cuts both ways, however, as he probably won't get nearly as many targets and chances to catch the ball as a player like A.J. Green.

    But on the turf of the Georgia Dome, with all the attention on Gonzalez and White, Jones sprinting down field with his 4.32 speed (4.32 on a broken foot, mind you) Matt Ryan will try and get him the ball as often as he can.  

No. 1: Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins

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    College: Kansas State 

    Selected: 2nd round, 62nd overall

    It doesn't matter that Thomas was the fifth running back taken in April's draft: no player has a better shot to excel in 2011.

    The Dolphins passing attack is average at best so they will rely on the run, which isn't necessarily bad news considering how good their offensive line will be: Jake Long is a first-team All Pro, Richie Incognito is a good guard, if Mike Pouncey is as good as his twin brother, he'll be a reliable, solid, 16-game starter.

    And the addition of Reggie Bush will actually help, not hurt, Thomas' chances for a breakthrough season: Bush will be more important to the screen/draw game and as a slot receiver.

    When Tony Sparano wants to do his Bill Parcells impression, he'll look to new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and ask him to run the same plays that Peyton Hillis ran in Cleveland last season.

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