Four rookies went to the Pro Bowl in 2013. Three played on offense and they all were from the NFC North — the Packers' Eddie Lacy, the Bears’ Kyle Long and Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson. The lone defensive Pro Bowler was San Francisco thumper Eric Reid.
Lacy, the former Alabama running back, was the 61st overall pick in the NFL Draft and was the NFL AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was the first Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY) not taken in the first round since Anquan Boldin won the award for the Cardinals in 2003 with 101 receptions, 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns. Boldin was the 54th pick in the second round of the ’03 draft.
Otherwise, the modern OROY comes from the first round and is most likely a quarterback. From 1971 to 2003, not one quarterback won Rookie of the Year honors but six of the last 10 winners were signal-callers. In fact, Lacy was the first non-QB to win the award since Percy Harvin in 2009. Additionally, Harvin and Boldin are two of the three wide receivers (Randy Moss) to win OROY honors since Carl Pickens in 1992.
With that in mind, here are our favorites for AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2014:
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland (6/1)
Manziel is one of only three players who is both a first-round pick and a quarterback. He is also the biggest rock star of the ’14 draft class, which could both help or hurt his chances at ROY. He has the most big-play ability of anyone in this class at any position and he should earn his way into the starting lineup fairly quickly. He has a chance to perform very similarly to Robert Griffin III two years ago. Win some games, post huge numbers and get hurt at the end of the year.
2. Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee (12/1)
A running back has won 32 of 47 NFL OROY awards and Sankey is the best option in the ’14 draft class. He was a workhorse for Washington, carrying over 600 times in the last two seasons for over 3,300 yards and 36 touchdowns. Most importantly, he was a star against Stanford twice — the toughest defense he faced each year — with 265 yards and three scores on 47 carries (including one win in ‘12). Sankey has the clearest path to extended carries of any rookie back and the Titans are out to prove there was a reason they took him as the first RB off the board in this draft.
3. Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans (10/1)
Only two wideouts since 1999 have won OROY and only eight pass-catchers have ever won the award (since 1967). But if I had to bet on a rookie wide receiver in this class, it would be Cooks. There is a reason the Saints traded up to get the Biletnikoff winner. Cooks caught an absurd 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns last year and is as hard a worker as this class has to offer. He also falls into a great system with a Hall of Fame quarterback under center. Look for big numbers from the rookie out of Oregon State.
4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota (12/1)
Bizarre Pro Day workout aside, there are many who believe that Bridgewater is the best quarterback in this class. With Matt Cassel the only obstacle standing in his way, the odds are Bridgewater is the starter in the Twin Cities very quickly. He has toughness, great leadership, a grasp of the pro offense and an excellent arm. With a superstar at tailback to take the pressure off, Bridgewater might be the best option for Rookie of the Year — if I was a betting man (which I’m not).
5. Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo (4/1)
Watkins is tied with Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans as the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year in 2014. However, unlike Evans, Watkins has the ability to do everything for his offense, despite potential quarterback issues. The former Clemson star can be lined up in the slot, given the ball in the backfield and could be a star on special teams a la Patterson last year. Watkins has rare playmaking ability and he will be put to good use right away in Buffalo. He is a much better bet to succeed than Evans in Tampa (more on him later).
6. Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia (18/1)
Chip Kelly may be many things but stupid isn’t one of them. Matthews was the most productive wideout in SEC history and now he is playing in an offense known for huge numbers, big plays and lots of scoring. The consummate professional, Matthews is as stable and consistent a draft pick as any in the entire ’14 class. Look for an excellent season, regardless of ROY consideration, for the pass-catcher known as J-Matt.
7. Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit (14/1)
The former Tar Heel standout was clearly the most gifted player at his position in this class. And Ebron couldn’t have asked for a better situation than having Matthew Stafford throwing him passes while defenses focus on Calvin Johnson on the outside. Ebron is an instant impact player at a position not known for instant offense. A tight end has never won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and Ebron might be one of the best bets to snap that trend in quite some time.
8. Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati (33/1)
Giovani Bernard is the starter and will likely command more than 200 touches but there is plenty to go around for Hill — a guy with a totally different skill set at 235 pounds. The former LSU workhorse ran for nearly seven yards per carry in the nation’s toughest league and he has plenty of tread left on the tires (just 345 carries in only two college seasons). Hill might be the best back in this class and he should get his fair share of carries this fall, especially around the goal line. The Bengals' bruiser is the best long-shot bet in this draft class.
9. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina (14/1)
Carolina was in desperate need of playmakers after releasing Steve Smith and it went and got one in Benjamin. He won’t flash Megatron-like speed or burst but he has a massive frame and came up big in big-time spots at Florida State. Benjamin should be the go-to target for Cam Newton right away and that alone should put him into the mix for OROY honors in 2014.
10. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay (4/1)
Evans is a nice talent. He has a huge frame and posted big numbers for the Aggies. He also played in a pass-happy system, ran one of two routes, was completely shut down at times, has maturity issues and is playing for a team with a questionable quarterback situation. Again, Evans is a nice player but I wouldn’t bet a penny on him for Rookie of the Year and certainly won’t own him in any fantasy leagues.
Other names to consider:
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants (16/1)
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville (20/1)
Cody Latimer, WR, Denver (20/1)
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Chicago (off)
Marqise Lee, WR, Jacksonville (14/1)
Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay (20/1)