Matt Miller's NFL Rookie of the Year Rankings Entering 2018 OTAs

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterMay 14, 2018

Matt Miller's NFL Rookie of the Year Rankings Entering 2018 OTAs

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    To win Rookie of the Year, you need moments, stats and impact.

    Rookie of the Year isn't about being the best player—and for that reason no offensive linemen are listed here—but about which rookie can catch the eye of voters. To do that, you need to play a position where you're touching the ball or getting after the quarterback.

    What about the quarterbacks? None of the five selected in the first round are guaranteed to start as rookies.

    Baker Mayfield will battle Tyrod Taylor, and Sam Darnold could sit behind Teddy Bridgewater or Josh McCown to start his career. The same goes for Josh Allen (AJ McCarron), Josh Rosen (Sam Bradford) and Lamar Jackson (Joe Flacco) with veterans in front of them. 

    Of the players likely to make the cut (think skill players and pass-rushers), here are the favorites to win the award.


10. Rashaan Evans, Tennessee Titans

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Rashaan Evans, the No. 22 pick, will be unleashed at linebacker in the Titans' defensive scheme. With his range, instincts and toughness, he'll be able to produce the numbers needed to garner votes.

    Evans is a unique talent in that he's able to impact the game between the hashes as a run-stuffing 'backer, and he's also agile enough to play off the edge in some pass-rushing situations. His versatility could lead to the numbers needed to get serious consideration.

    Evans and teammate Harold Landry should both see snaps early in the Titans' system to make an impact immediately.

9. Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks

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    Rashaad Penny was the surprise of the first round when the Seahawks grabbed him at No. 27 after a trade. Penny will be given a huge role early and has the three-down skill set to make a splash in the Rookie of the Year race.

    Penny might not have had a first-round value on most media draft boards, but that doesn't matter now. He'll be looked at as a safety valve in the passing game for Russell Wilson and used as a dynamic runner with outside speed and off-tackle vision. 

    It doesn't hurt that Penny was drafted onto a roster without much depth at running back. And as a first-round pick, he'll be given every chance to win the starting job in a role that will be similar to what Alvin Kamara had for the New Orleans Saints last year.

8. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Miami Dolphins

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year (Marshon Lattimore) won it by shutting down opposing passing games and grabbing five interceptions for a winning team. Minkah Fitzpatrick is this year's top candidate to win the award based on interceptions and passes defensed.

    The Dolphins will likely plug Fitzpatrick in as a safety, but dating back to his freshman season at Alabama, he showed the coverage skills to be used in a variety of roles.

    If the Dolphins defense frees Fitzpatrick up to be a matchup-style defender where he's sometimes in coverage, sometimes coming downhill to play the run and sometimes blitzing off the edge like he did at Alabama, he'll get the numbers and make the impact needed to receive serious Rookie of the Year consideration.

7. Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Derwin James is another defensive back with a great shot at postseason awards.

    While not an over-the-top coverage safety like Minkah Fitzpatrick, James is a tremendous athlete who will excel in the box and when asked to match up against tight ends. He could post the tackle, sack and passes-defensed numbers that as a collection look good enough to get some hardware.

    An aspect that will help James is that the Chargers defense is quietly very talented. With Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram taking the attention of offensive lines and an All-Pro cornerback in Casey Hayward already in the secondary, James won't be the focal point of game plans.

    With his special athleticism and instincts, James could shoot up this list by season's end.

6. Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Want to be Rookie of the Year? Playing running back is a good start.

    Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette and others were atop the list of candidates for the 2017 award, which makes the top of this list running back-heavy. And while there are bigger names than Ronald Jones, his role in Tampa Bay on an offense with a lot of skill-player talent could get him the numbers needed to make a push.

    Jones has the speed to break off long runs and the hands to impact the game as a third-down back. He has also been drafted onto a roster where he will have the opportunity to make his presence felt immediately. 

    Could Jones have the 1,500 all-purpose yardage Kamara had en route to his Rookie of the Year win? If given touches, he could.

5. Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Marcus Davenport was drafted No. 14 overall and will be expected to step right in as a pass-rushing threat. He might not see the field early in his career as a first- or second-down player, but what he offers as a third-down rusher is eye-opening.

    Davenport is raw, but the Rookie of the Year trophy doesn't get handed out for the most well-rounded player.

    If Davenport can be a 10-plus sack guy on a division champion Saints team, he can get his name into the conversation as a Defensive ROY candidate and also as a straight-up Rookie of the Year option.

4. Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Winning Rookie of the Year as a middle linebacker isn't easy—in fact, since 2002, only one defensive player has outright won the Pepsi Rookie of the Year award (Ndamukong Suh).

    Roquan Smith will have a hard path to winning the trophy, but his instincts and range at linebacker could generate the ridiculous tackle numbers needed.

    Smith will be the playmaker in the middle of the Bears defense, where so many plays will be funneled to him inside. In Vic Fangio's scheme, he will be given every chance to produce at a Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman level.

    If he can do that, the league will notice, and he'll be near the top of every Rookie of the Year list.

3. Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins

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    Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

    The No. 59 overall pick sits third here. Derrius Guice has the talent, toughness and opportunity needed to step into the lineup for the Redskins and take the bell-cow starting running back job from day one.

    Guice slipped in the draft due to personality concerns, but in Washington he's exactly what head coach Jay Gruden has been waiting for. Guice will fit in well with an offense that should rely heavily on the run with Alex Smith at quarterback and a strong offensive line.

    If he can stay healthy after a banged-up junior season at LSU, Guice can be a 1,200-yard rusher with 10-plus touchdowns.

2. Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Bradley Chubb, drafted fifth overall, will see so many one-on-one situations with Von Miller lining up opposite him in the Broncos defense.

    With Chubb's speed, power and pass-rushing tools, he could sneak into the 12-sack range that will be good enough to put him high on Rookie of the Year lists.

    Chubb was the best defensive player in the draft class and was selected into the perfect opportunity. He won't be asked to be the primary focus of the defense with a Hall of Famer on the other edge.

    He is also versatile enough to stay on the field in every situation.

1. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press


    Saquon Barkley was the No. 2 overall pick and drafted into the perfect situation with the Giants. Given his talent as a runner, receiver and returner, the expectations surrounding Barkley should start with a 1,500-yard all-purpose season.

    That will be enough to win Offensive Rookie of the Year and likely the overall Rookie of the Year award.

    The Giants offense will run through Barkley, and he's in an ideal situation with Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. and Evan Engram all taking the attention of defenders. If coordinators leave the box empty, Barkley will dominate as a runner.


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