Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Rookie Awards

NFL StaffContributor IMay 3, 2019

Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Rookie Awards

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    The 2019 NFL draft has come and gone. Starting with Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray and ending with UCLA tight end Caleb Wilson (both of whom landed with the Arizona Cardinals), we now know where all 254 draft picks will begin their professional careers.

    Never mind all the undrafted free agents who have signed since.

    Of course, no sooner did the draft end than assessments of it and this year's rookie class began—whether draft grades or winners and losers.

    That's all well and good. But here at Bleacher Report, we're looking ahead by handing out some imaginary hardware to the players we believe will be the best (and worst) of the Class of 2019.

    So, whether it's the Rookie of the Year or the class's biggest flop, buckle up. It's time for Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Rookie Awards.

              

    Note: The writers who participated in this panel are NFL Analyst Gary Davenport, NFL Features Lead Writer Tyler Dunne, NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman, NFL Analyst Brad Gagnon, NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller, NFL Analyst Brent Sobleski and NFL National Lead Writer Mike Tanier.

Most Passing Yards

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    Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals (7 votes)

    Just as most expected, the Cardinals hit the reset button on the quarterback position in this year's draft, making Murray the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

    That draft status brings with it quite a bit of pressure. But as Herbie Teope reported for NFL.com, Murray said he embraces the expectation that he's the player who will lead the Cardinals back to respectability:

    "As a kid, that's what you dream of: going to an organization and being that guy, turning the program around, organization around, winning Super Bowls. Like I said, I don't shy away from hard work. I feel like I'm not here to lose games or go through the motions. I'm here to change things up, so I'm ready to go. I can't wait."

    The Cardinals didn't just drop Murray into the same offensive situation in which Josh Rosen floundered a year ago. Arizona upgraded a leaky offensive line in free agency and added a pair of wide receivers in this year's draft with slot speedster Andy Isabella and big-bodied Hakeem Butler.

    Those new arrivals are hardly a guarantee Murray will have success as a rookie. Even if he does, ups and downs are inevitable.

    But Murray's also going to be the starter under center in Arizona from Day 1, and that alone makes him an easy choice as the top rookie passer in 2019.

Most Rushing Yards

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders (4 votes)

    In something of a break with recent tradition, no running backs were taken in the top 10 picks of the 2019 draft. Or the top 20 picks. Only one running back was drafted in the first round.

    That tailback was Alabama's Josh Jacobs, selected at No. 24 overall by the Oakland Raiders.

    As Peter King wrote for NBC Sports, the Raiders feared that pick wasn't going to happen when the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to No. 22, and head coach Jon Gruden was not happy about it:

    "The coach, Jon Gruden, who'd irascibly told Mayock he’d better not screw up the Raiders' three-pick first round, jumped out of his chair, seething. 'There goes our running back,' Gruden said. Coach and GM knew the Eagles loved the same player they did, Alabama running back Josh Jacobs, and now, moving up from 25 in trade, the Eagles would be in position to steal the guy Gruden had his heart set on making one of the three cornerstone players in his offense."

    However, the Eagles selected Washington State tackle Andre Dillard, and Gruden got his "cornerstone"—a physical, well-rounded tailback most draftniks considered the No. 1 prospect at the position.

    Jacobs was already going to be tabbed for a significant role as a rookie. Now, with veteran running back Isaiah Crowell reportedly out for the season with a torn Achilles, Jacobs will be counted on to carry the Oakland ground game from Day 1.

    Others receiving votes: David Montgomery, Chicago Bears (2 votes); Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles (1 vote)

Most Receiving Yards

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    Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers (3 votes)

    The 2019 wide receiver class was a wide-open field. No consensus selection emerged as the No. 1 player at the position.

    South Carolina's Deebo Samuel wasn't the first wideout taken—he was the third, behind Marquise Brown and N'Keal Harry—but it was something of a mild upset when the San Francisco 49ers selected the 5'11", 214-pounder with the fourth pick of Round 2. 

    Samuel's physicality stood out to 49ers general manager John Lynch, as the executive said during a guest appearance on ESPN's draft coverage (h/t John Del Bianco of 247 Sports):

    "He always has a smile on his face, but he plays angry. This is a guy that has tremendous hands. He can catch it and when he catches it he has the juice to go. He plays with a hunger. We call it W.I.T, what it takes, what it takes to win championships. Deebo is a physical player and I think that is a common theme throughout our draft. We think we have talented athletes that are physical players and Deebo certainly fits that mold."

    Samuel is a skilled receiver, but his selection here has as much to do with his situation as his talent. The 49ers receiving corps isn't exactly stacked with talent, and Samuel might be San Francisco's best wideout the moment he sets foot on the field. Dante Pettis showed flashes last year but is hardly proven, Marquise Goodwin battled injuries last year, and Jordan Matthews' best season came several years and two teams ago.

    Samuel should see a hefty target share as a rookie, and he's refined enough as a pass-catcher to take advantage of that opportunity.

    Others receiving votes: Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs (2 votes); N'Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots (1 vote); Andy Isabella, WR, Arizona Cardinals (1 vote)

Most Tackles

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Devin White, ILB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4 votes)

    Two off-ball linebackers were selected in the top 10 of this year's draft, and it makes sense those two players were the only ones to receive votes in this category.

    The latter of the two picks was Michigan's Devin Bush, for whom the Pittsburgh Steelers traded up 10 spots to select at No. 10. The hope is that Bush will provide the Steelers with the talent and range inside that Pittsburgh has lacked since Ryan Shazier got hurt in 2017.

    The table is set for Bush to start as a rookie, play in sub packages and pile up tackles. But he came in second in this category to the Devin drafted five spots higher.

    LSU's Devin White—a wildly athletic and rangy 6'0", 237-pounder with a skill set tailor-made for today's NFL—was widely regarded as one of the top overall prospects in the draft. He went fifth overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who needed a replacement after Kwon Alexander bolted in free agency.

    Per KTBS.com, White said he believes Tampa was an ideal landing spot.

    "Being able to be utilized in many ways," the incoming rookie said. "Coach Todd [Bowles], he's got a great defense and I know he's going to use me just right."

    Like Bush, White is a lock to both start and play all three downs as a rookie. And like Bush, he's going to sail into the triple digits in tackles during his first NFL season.

    Others receiving votes: Devin Bush, ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers (3 votes)

Most Sacks

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    Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers (4 votes)

    The 2019 NFL draft was a bonanza where pass-rushers were concerned. Teams looking for help on the edge or the defensive line had any number of options from which they could choose. In fact, even teams that weren't necessarily looking for pass-rushers found it hard to pass on all that defensive talent.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars were relatively well set at defensive end with Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. But when Kentucky's Josh Allen fell into their lap at No. 7 overall, the 6'5", 262-pounder was just too good to pass up.

    The same can be said about Ohio State's Nick Bosa.

    For much of the predraft process, Bosa was the clubhouse leader to be the No. 1 overall pick. But when the Arizona Cardinals opted to take quarterback Kyler Murray, that made Bosa available to the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2.

    As ESPN's Adam Gonzalez reported, Bosa's older brother, Joey, a Pro Bowl edge-rusher and the 2016 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, thinks Nick is a better player than he was when he entered the NFL.

    "He's more flexible than me at this point in his career, and I just think he's got a better understanding of the position right now," he said. "I mean, we'll see. I intend to improve a lot more throughout my career, and I hope he does as well."

    For the record, Joey led all rookies with 10.5 sacks for the San Diego Chargers back in 2016.

    Others receiving votes: Josh Allen, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars (3 votes)

Most Interceptions

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Greedy Williams, CB, Cleveland Browns (3 votes)

    The Cleveland Browns, by just about any estimation, have had a successful offseason. The team didn't have a first-round pick in the draft, but that's only because the Browns dealt that selection in the trade that brought Odell Beckham Jr. to town.

    Every team in the NFL would take that swap. Well, all but one.

    The cherry on top of Cleveland's offseason came at pick No. 46 when Browns general manager John Dorsey landed a first-round talent on many draft boards—and the draft's best cornerback in the eyes of some.

    Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz of USA Today went so far as to call the Williams pick one of the biggest steals of the draft.

    "When it comes to making plays on the ball and blanketing receivers in man-to-man coverage with his length and speed, the consensus All-American is at the top of this draft's cornerback class: Bulking up and learning to play more physically will be necessary steps for Williams to hold up in the NFL, but the Browns landed a first-round talent despite lacking the Day 1 pick after trading for Odell Beckham Jr."

    Pairing Williams with 2018 first-round pick Denzel Ward could give the Browns a formidable duo at cornerback for years to come.

    Right away, Williams' ball skills give him an excellent chance to lead all rookies in interceptions. The 6'2", 185-pounder had eight picks the past two seasons at LSU.

    Others receiving votes: Byron Murphy, CB, Arizona Cardinals (2 votes); Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Indianapolis Colts (2 votes)

Biggest Flop

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants (3 votes)

    Daniel Jones needs a hug.

    No first-round pick in the 2019 draft has been more universally panned than the Giants' selection of the Duke signal-caller with the sixth overall pick. However, Jones insisted he hasn't paid much attention to all the criticism during an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio's "Late Hits" (h/t Giants.com's Dan Salomone):

    "I haven't paid too much mind to that. I think that's key to playing quarterback, to being consistent as a quarterback, is keeping your head in the same place. I think that just comes down to your confidence in yourself, and your confidence has got to come from inside of you. I think if you're looking externally for confidence, then you're also going to be affected by the negative as well. Just finding confidence in yourself and knowing what you can do as a player, as a person, is kind of the way that works and the best way to think about handling a lot of that stuff."

    Apparently, he's spent the last week in a cave.

    With Eli Manning still in New York, the Giants won't rush to get Jones on the field in the early stages of his career. But when New York's season starts to come off the rails—and at some point, it all but certainly will—the pressure will mount for them to see what they have in the youngster.

    What New York has is a player who barely completed 60 percent of his passes and averaged fewer than seven yards per attempt at Duke while playing behind a so-so offensive line with an average (at best) collection of receivers around him.

    Jones isn't exactly in a position conducive to success.

    Others receiving votes: Dexter Lawrence, DT, New York Giants (2 votes); Clelin Ferrell, DE, Oakland Raiders (1 vote); Chris Lindstrom, OG, Atlanta Falcons (1 vote)

Surprise Star

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    Devin Singletary, RB, Buffalo Bills (3 votes)

    Devin Singletary was a wildly productive tailback at Florida Atlantic. In each of the last two years, he topped 1,300 yards on the ground, and he gained over 2,100 total yards back in 2017.

    The Buffalo Bills' third-round pick joins a backfield that features a trio of veterans in LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon. He told Chase Goodbread of NFL.com he's eager to soak up knowledge from those experienced players.

    "I'm in an experienced backfield, so I can learn a lot from those guys on the field and off the field, too," he said. "I'm ready to get there. Frank Gore and LeSean McCoy, that's two guys who I've tried to play like. Two guys who I took something from their game and tried to put it into mine. I know it'll be fun."

    Of course, that crowded backfield could also make touches difficult to come by in the early going.

    But McCoy is a 30-year-old coming off one of the worst years of his career, during which he averaged just 3.2 yards per carry. Gore will be 36 when the season begins. And despite signing Yeldon this offseason, the Bills still saw fit to spend a Day 2 pick on Singletary.

    In other words, while that Buffalo backfield is crowded, it wouldn't be a huge upset to see the rookie get an early opportunity to make his mark in Western New York.

    We've already seen the 5'7", 203-pounder take advantage of such opportunities in the past.

    Others receiving votes: N'Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots (1 vote); Jalen Hurd, WR, San Francisco 49ers (1 vote); Foster Moreau, TE, Oakland Raiders (1 vote); Trayveon Williams, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (1 vote)

Offensive Rookie of the Year

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    Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals (4 votes)

    Last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year race was a two-horse contest between the first two picks of the 2018 draft—Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and New York Giants tailback Saquon Barkley.

    Though Mayfield broke Peyton Manning's record for touchdown passes by a rookie, Barkley (and his 2,028 total yards from scrimmage) brought home the hardware. It marked the third time in four years a tailback won OROY honors, and just once since 2013 has the award gone to a quarterback—Dak Prescott in 2016.

    However, four quarterbacks won the award in the five preceding years (Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan). Much like the MVP award, it's an accolade for which quarterbacks effectively get a head start.

    Taking that into consideration, Kyler Murray is an easy choice as the odds-on favorite here.

    For starters, Murray will almost certainly play the most snaps of any rookie quarterback, provided he stays healthy. There's no Case Keenum, Eli Manning or Joe Flacco standing between him and the starter's job. Arizona general manager Steve Keim has already made clear it will be his from Day 1. 

    The Cardinals have taken steps to upgrade their offensive line in free agency and added skill-position talent in this year's draft. Murray will be playing in a Kliff Kingsbury offense that's tailored around what he does best.

    That doesn't guarantee he will take the NFL by storm as a rookie. It doesn't hurt his chances, either.

    Others receiving votes: Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders (2 votes); Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs (1 vote)

Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers (3 votes)

    If the Mannings are the NFL's first family on the offensive side of the ball, then the Bosas have become the equivalent on defense. John Bosa was the 16th overall pick in the 1987 draft. Joey Bosa was the 2016 DROY and has already become one of the most feared 4-3 defensive ends in the league.

    And as we mentioned earlier, Nick might just be the best of the lot.

    One of Nick's best qualities is that his technique is incredibly refined for a player his age. He has the hand placement and pass-rush moves of an NFL veteran. As his father told Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area, that dates back to Nick visiting Joey at Ohio State while he was still in high school:

    "Nick would spend an hour in the D-line room with Coach [Larry] Johnson watching tape, watching cut-ups of Joe's practices, learning technique, talking about technique. So now you have Nick, who's in high school, learning from the best D-line coach. So he's going to have a little bit of an advantage, not to mention Joey continually updating him on things they were doing. Nick was getting some really good coaching early."

    There's no such thing as a sure bet in the NFL. Nick hasn't accomplished anything in the pros yet, and he's coming off a serious injury that wrecked his last year in Columbus.

    But in addition to all his physical gifts, Bosa is as NFL-ready as any pass-rusher in recent memory.

    He has superstar written all over him.

    Others receiving votes: Josh Allen, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars (2 votes); Devin Bush, ILB, Pittsburgh Steelers (1 vote); Devin White, ILB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1 vote)

Rookie of the Year

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    Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals (4 votes)

    We'll finish things up with an award that's not really an award. Dating all the way back to 1957 on offense and 1967 on defense, the Associated Press has handed out separate Rookie of the Year honors.

    Still, it's fun to wonder what might happen if the awards were combined and, just like with the MVP award, all the NFL's first-year players were fighting for one trophy.

    To be clear, Nick Bosa is all but certainly going to have an excellent first season in the league. In addition to his prodigious talents, he landed on a 49ers team already stocked with talent on the defensive line. DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas and Dee Ford are all former first-round picks. Buckner and Ford alone combined for 25 sacks last season.

    Adding Bosa to the mix creates one of the league's best defensive fronts on paper.

    However, certain realities exist in the NFL irrespective of Bosa's expected success. Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, only two defensive players have been named MVP: Alan Page in 1971 and Lawrence Taylor in 1986.

    If there's just one award for both sides of the ball, odds are good an offensive player will be recognized. And if there's a quarterback in contention for said award, he's more than likely going to get it.

    As we've already detailed, Kyler Murray is a talented player who will take the reins of an ostensibly improved offense specifically structured to accentuate what he does best. Does this mean the Cardinals are going to win more games than they lose? No. 

    But everything is lined up for Murray to shine in his first NFL season.

    Others receiving votes: Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers (2 votes); Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders (1 vote)