The 2014 NFL rookie class has been one of the most impressive in recent league history. From multiple wide receivers prepared to put up 1,000-plus yards to offensive linemen performing at real high levels, offensive rookies have not been outdone by their counterparts on the other side of the ball.
In keeping with Sportsnaut’s theme of looking at postseason award candidates through the next week or so, we continue this series of articles by power ranking the top-five NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates heading into Week 12.
1. Kelvin Benjamin, Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers
Statistics: 52 receptions, 768 yards and eight touchdowns
It’s hard for any wide receiver to be the central focus of an offense. That leads to a massive amount of double teams and makes it hard for the player to find gaps in the coverage. Now take into account the fact that Carolina has no other outside weapons, and Benjamin’s job has been that much more difficult this season. Heck, rookie receivers shouldn’t have this much of an onus placed on them out of the gate.
With all this said, Benjamin has stood up and showed that he can be a true No. 1 receiver. While his drop rate of 7.4 percent should be something to worry about, more often than not, Benjamin makes the contested catch. Now through 10 games, the rookie is on pace to put up 76 receptions for over 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those are some amazing statistics right there.
2. Zack Martin, Guard, Dallas Cowboys
Insert social media slang (IDC, IDC). Martin might very well be an offensive lineman in a league that’s driven by skill-position players, but what he has done as a rookie is nothing short of exceptional. Through the Cowboys first 10 games, Martin has allowed a total of one quarterback hit and zero sacks. More than that, he grades out as the fourth-best overall guard in the NFL based on Pro Football Focus’ official metrics.
It really is no wonder that DeMarco Murray is on pace to have a record-breaking campaign. Flush with youngsters along the offensive line that also includes Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith, the Cowboys boast the best unit in the entire NFL. And in reality, Martin’s presence is one of the primary reasons for this.
3. Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills
Statistics: 45 receptions, 649 yards and five touchdowns
Recent struggles has dropped Watkins in the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He’s caught a total of seven passes on 17 targets over the past three games after breaking through big time in the previous two games (12 receptions, 279 yards and three touchdowns).
The one primary reason that I won’t drop Watkins down too far on this list is the fact that he has had to deal with a quarterback switch. That’s a tough transition for any receiver, let alone a rookie. Still on pace to put up 72 receptions for over 1,000 yards, Watkins rookie season has been a major success thus far. Let’s see how he performs compared to Benjamin and Mike Evans before writing him off completely here.
4. Derek Carr, Quarterback, Oakland Raiders
Statistics: 59.1 completion, 2,249 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions
Carr’s stats may not blow you away, but what he’s been able to do in what has to be considerd a horrible situation in Oakland has to play a role here. Desite struggling in his two games leading up to Thursday night’s win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Carr has played exceptional football for a rookie that has been thrown into the fire for a last-place, talent-stricken Raiders team.
Any time a rookie quarterback has more touchdowns than interceptions, he’s doing a bang-up job. And now through 11 weeks, Carr is on pace to put up over 3,300 yards with 20 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. That’s not too shabby at all.
5. Mike Evans, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Statistics: 46 receptions, 794 yards and seven touchdowns
It seems that Evans has started to click more with recently inserted starting quarterback Josh McCown. The Texas A&M product has tallied seven catches and over 100 yards in each of his last three games. He’s also coming off a career-high 209-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Washington Redskins.
If Evans keeps up this torrid pace, he will find himself taking home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors when all is said and done. We just need to see it on a more consistent basis for a longer period of time through the final six weeks of the season.