The NFL's Top 10 Offensive Rookies of 2008
It's been a terrific year for youngsters in the NFL. Rookies have stepped up like never before and carried their teams into playoff contention.
It's not too unusual to see running backs step up in their first pro season, and there have been plenty of them this year as well. What's really been a shocker though is how well rookie quarterbacks, linemen, and receivers have done.
It takes some serious adjustment time to get used to the speed of the NFL, but somehow these players have managed to do so with flying colors.
Most of these guys were relative unknowns coming out of college, not garnering nearly the attention of guys like Adrian Peterson or Reggie Bush in the past.
The fact is that there are two C-USA players on this list and even one Division I-AA player. How players of their caliber managed to slip past all the major colleges blows my mind.
So without further adieu, here's the best of the best of 2008's fantastic crop of NFL offensive rookies.
No. 10: Jonathan Stewart
He hasn't had the number of carries that guys like Steve Slaton and Matt Forte have gotten, which is the only reason he's not higher on this list.
The most impressive thing about this guy is actually how much he's helped improve his counterpart in the Carolina rushing attack, DeAngelo Williams, who has arguably become the most explosive running back in the game of football.
No. 9: Kevin Smith
Statistically, Kevin Smith has had a very average season for a feature back. What you have to consider though, is that he's been running behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL all year, and he's still managing over 4.0 yards per carry.
Add to that the fact that he's been very productive in the passing game as well and Detroit may have finally found their next great running back.
No. 8: Eddie Royal
Eddie Royal was forced to step up from week 1 with Brandon Marshall out for a couple weeks, and he filled those shoes remarkably well. What's impressive is that Royal has managed to be very consistent throughout the course of the season, even once he started losing targets to Marshall.
When Denver gets their running game back on track, the tandem of Marshall and Royal is going to be right up there with Boldin and Fitzgerald.
No. 7: Jeff Otah
Being a Detroit Lions fan, It's beyond the reach of my imagination to understand how Matt Millen did not do everything in his power to draft Jeff Otah, who has become an integral part of one of the best offensive lines in the game. Behind Otah, Carolina has the most feared rushing attack in the NFL.
No. 6: Jake Long
Jake Long was taken as the number one pick in the draft, and he is turning out to be well worth it. He's anchored the resurgent Dolphins offensive line.
An offensive line which has managed to turn Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams into a solid running back tandem. More impressive, however, is that they've managed to give Chad Pennington enough protection to turn him into a competent quarterback.
No. 5: Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson has taken the Titans rushing attack from good to great. He is the ideal speedy counterpart to Lendale White's power style of running. Unlike fellow rookie Jonathan Stewart, however, Johnson is handling the majority of the carries himself, with White handling mostly goal line duties.
He has a tremendous YPC average and has busted out a ton of 20+ yard runs this year. He's the most explosive rookie back we've seen this year.
No. 4: Steve Slaton
It took the Houston Texans a few weeks to realize what kind of talent they really had with Steve Slaton. At first they were using him sparingly, mostly as a change of pace guy. He managed to do so much with the little amount of work he was given though, that it was impossible not to give him more carries.
Now that he has a full workload he hasn't disappointed either. He has given the Texans a dangerous ground game, which has opened up both Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter, and all the sudden the Texans are looking at finishing the season with a winning record.
No. 3: Matt Forte
This guy has had the biggest workload of any of the rookie running backs on this list. He has handled nearly every carry and is one of the team leaders in receptions as well.
He has a solid YPC average and has really given Chicago the ground game that they've been missing since they let Thomas Jones get away. Along with their rock solid defense, he's a big reason they're a playoff contender this year.
No. 2: Joe Flacco
Everybody knows that the Baltimore Ravens have a mediocre offense, and that they rely on their defense to win them games. The problem is that defense can't do everything.
Joe Flacco has managed to put up some very respectable numbers in a pretty horrible offense, and more importantly, he's managing to win games. He has a cannon for an arm and has shown that he can scramble when he needs to as well.
Considering that he has a mediocre running game behind him and one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL, he's done remarkable in his rookie campaign.
No. 1: Matt Ryan
This shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody. Matt Ryan (with help from some guy named Turner), have managed to turn one of the worst teams in football into a serious threat to go deep into the playoffs.
He's been cool and collected in the pocket from day one, and his accuracy is up there with the likes of Peyton Manning. It definitely helps that Roddy White finally decided to show up to work, but you have to contribute a lot of his success to Ryan's ability to get him the ball as well.
The Falcons have made an incredible turnaround this year and nobody has contributed to that more than Matt Ryan. He's a virtual shoe-in for offensive rookie of the year.