NFL: Top 7 Candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year

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The 2015 NFL Draft is officially in the books, and we now have a much better idea as to what the 32 teams around the league will look like when the 2015 season kicks off in early September. As usual, there were some teams with the ability to be far more aggressive than their competition in adding pieces to the puzzle this offseason. The final piece of the puzzle for most NFL franchises was the draft.

There were few surprises in this year’s Draft, and the simple fact of the matter is that the best players in the draft usually go to the worst teams in the league. In this relatively slow time of year for the NFL, we decided to take a look at which rookies have the best chance at winning the 2015 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

There are two rookie quarterbacks who will likely be Week 1 starters in 2015, and if either one of them lives up to the hype, they have to be considered frontrunners for the award. After that, there are several wide receivers and a trio of running backs who we believe will have standout seasons in their first year in the league. Of course, there will also almost surely be a rookie taken in the late rounds who comes in and surprises everybody.

Without further ado, here is an early look at the top seven candidates for the 2015 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

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1. Amari Cooper, wide receiver, Oakland Raiders

The Raiders’ expectations for Cooper as a rookie are sky high. He will more than likely be the team’s No. 1 wide receiver by the time the 2015 season kicks off, and it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see Cooper end the Raiders’ 10-year drought of not having a 1,000-yard receiver.

The one hold up for the 2014 Fred Biletnikoff award winner out of Alabama is that he may attract more attention from opposing defenses than any other rookie wide receiver in the league this year due to his team’s lack of offensive talent. That said, we still believe Cooper is one of the most polished wide receivers to come out of college in quite a while and will be in the mix for the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year award at the end of the season.

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2. Jameis Winston, quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There will be a significant adjustment period, as well as a steep learning curve for Winston in his rookie season. We could easily see the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner out of Florida State throwing 15 or more interceptions in 2015, but at the same time, we could also envision him throwing close to 30 touchdown passes.

The one distinct advantage Winston has over fellow rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota is that he will have two big, physical Pro Bowl-caliber wide receivers to throw to in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Evans and Jackson both have the ability to make plays that can bail out Winston on bad throws or jump balls, and their presence should make the rookie signal caller’s transition to professional football a whole lot easier.

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3. Kevin White, wide receiver, Chicago Bears

Contrary to popular belief, White may actually have a better chance than fellow rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper at winning the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Where Cooper will be expected to be the No. 1 wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders as a rookie, White will have the benefit of playing opposite of a proven Pro Bowl-caliber wide receiver in Alshon Jeffery.

On top of that, the Bears have a strong running game that should keep opposing defenses honest and open up holes for the 6-foot-3 White to exploit. We believe that White, who is an extremely explosive athlete, will need more time to learn the nuances of the wide receiver position at the NFL level, but given his ideal situation in the Bears’ offense, he could very easily find himself in the running for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award by the end of the season.

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4. Melvin Gordon, running back, San Diego Chargers

The Chargers moved up in the draft to select Gordon, and it would be mildly shocking if the former Wisconsin running back isn’t their Week 1 starter as a rookie. Gordon will be looking to buck the trend of former Badger running backs flopping at the NFL level, and we firmly believe he will be successful in doing so. In fact, if we were picking a favorite for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the year today, it would be Gordon.

He is the only player on this list who will be playing for a team that is expected to be a playoff contender, and he also has the benefit of joining an established offense with a top-tier quarterback. The Chargers are fully committed to improving their running game in 2015 — on top of drafting Gordon, they spent big money on free agent guard Orlando Franklin this offseason. With Gordon expected to be the team’s workhorse back, we believe that the 2014 Heisman Trophy runner-up has a great chance at taking home the 2015 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

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5. T.J. Yeldon, running back, Jacksonville Jaguars

Yeldon is our dark horse candidate for the 2015 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. While he is no lock to be the Jaguars’ starting running back, we believe he is an excellent fit in Greg Olsen’s offensive scheme. The Jags have added several talented pass catchers over the last two years, and if second-year quarterback Blake Bortles is able to show signs of improvement, opposing defenses will be forced to soften up against the run to play more honest against the Jacksonville passing attack.

It may take a few weeks for Yeldon to step into a starting role, but if and when he does, we believe he will put up the kind of numbers that will have him in the running for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

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6. Todd Gurley, running back, St. Louis Rams

When it’s all said and done, Gurley could very well end up being the best NFL player out of the 2015 draft class. Before that even becomes a possibility, however, he will have to fully recover from the ACL injury he obtained during his final season at Georgia. On top of that, his new team, the St. Louis Rams, aren’t particularly strong in any phase of offensive football.

Their offensive line is mediocre, Nick Foles remains a question mark, and they did nothing to address their need for a playmaking wide receiver. On top of that, the Rams have to play the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks twice each, and both teams are great against the run. While we steadfastly believe that Gurley will be a great player in the NFL, it’s hard to envision him winning the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

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7. Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Tennessee Titans

If things go well for Mariota, he could have a rookie season similar to that of Robert Griffin III in 2012 and become one of the top candidates to take home the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. If the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner takes longer than expected to adjust to playing from under center in an NFL offense, he could have a rookie season that more closely resembles that of Blake Bortles in 2014.

We believe Mariota will ultimately be a better NFL quarterback than both Griffin and Bortles in the long run, but his supporting cast in Tennessee doesn’t bode well for his chances at winning the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

At the 11th hour, Vegas released its initial odds for the 2015 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. To see how our list compares to the odds in Vegas, click here.