Marcus Mariota burst onto the scene with a four-touchdown performance during his professional debut, but the Tennessee Titans quarterback hasn’t run away as the favorite for the 2015 NFL Rookie of the Year honor.
Now, the Associated Press extends the award to one rookie on offense and one on defense, but this piece takes a look at the top five first-year players overall.
Keep in mind the rankings are based on performance to date and a player’s role moving forward. Thomas Rawls had an outstanding game, but he’s not about to overtake Marshawn Lynch on the Seattle Seahawks depth chart.
Let’s do this.
Honorable Mentions: Stephone Anthony, Jordan Hicks and David Johnson
5. Todd Gurley, Running Back, St. Louis Rams
The Rams eased Todd Gurley into action while he continued recovering from an ACL injury, and their patience has already paid off.
He gashed the Arizona Cardinals for 146 yards, topping 100 yards in the second half and helping seal the win. One week later against the Green Bay Packers, Gurley received 30 carries and racked up 159 yards, the fourth-highest mark for any player this season.
Even behind a shaky offensive line, he’s destined to lead rookies in rushing yards. Gurley proved he’s ready to carry the load, and St. Louis will likely oblige.
4. Marcus Peters, Cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs
Character issues led to Marcus Peters being kickoff the University of Washington football team, but he’s caused a few problems for NFL quarterbacks.
Now, opposing gunslingers have also successfully picked on Peters, since the rookie has dealt with a league-high 57 targets. However, that trial-by-fire experience will help Peters for the remainder of the 2015 campaign.
Peters has already nabbed three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. Additionally, the 18th overall pick has logged 31 total tackles, defended 13 passes and only missed one tackle while in coverage, per PFF.
3. Marcus Mariota, Quarterback, Tennessee Titans
Mariota completed 13-of-15 passes for 209 yards and four touchdowns in his first NFL game, and he temporarily silenced critics. Mariota hasn’t played at that level since, but he’s still made the best of a relatively mediocre situation.
The Oregon product has tallied more five touchdowns, completed 64.0 percent of his attempts and nearly topped the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills.
“Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” the saying goes, but considering the uphill battle Mariota faces, he’s done well.
2. Ronald Darby, Cornerback, Buffalo Bills
The 50th pick of the 2015 draft, Ronald Darby has immediately performed as a lockdown corner in a talented Buffalo secondary. His 13 passes defended only trails teammate Stephon Gilmore (14) for the league lead.
In addition to 29 tackles and two interceptions, Darby has only surrendered 25 catches on a stunning 49 targets, according to Pro Football Focus. Plus, the 47.8 quarterback rating he’s allowed is fifth-best in the league for corners. Darby seems like a star in the making.
1. Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Oakland Raiders
It’s only taken six weeks for the concensus to read that Amari Cooper will be a star, and the praise isn’t merely coming from those involved with the Oakland Raiders defense.
Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle notes Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden said of Cooper: “He’s going to be legit. His stop and start is special.”
Through five games, Cooper has amassed a rookie-best 28 receptions, 386 yards, two touchdowns, six gains of 20-plus yards and two of 40-plus. He’s a true No. 1 receiver, and the Raiders offense will be a competitive unit this season because of Cooper’s presence and impact.