Analysis  

 

Brandin Cooks, Sammy Watkins head Offensive ROY candidates

I produced a list of my top five Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates on Monday. Now it's time to turn my attention to the other side of the ball.

This draft class is absolutely loaded with talent at wide receiver. I could list 10 legitimate Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates solely from that position group. Guys like Jordan Matthews (Philadelphia Eagles), John Brown (Arizona Cardinals) and Odell Beckham Jr. (New York Giants) could put up strong numbers for their respective clubs, but they just missed the cut here.

As it stands today, it looks as though we'll begin the season without a single rookie starting at quarterback. This hasn't been the case since way back in 2007. However, even if we don't see a Day 1 starter emerge from this crop of rookie passers, I feel very confident several of them will get a chance to make their mark at some point during the season. In fact, I'm banking on one of them pushing for rookie hardware.

Without further ado, here are my top five contenders for Offensive Rookie of the Year:

1) Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints
No. 20 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft

Cooks is a dynamic pass catcher who has quickly established himself as one of Drew Brees' favorite targets. He possesses the quickness, strength and route-running savvy to excel both outside and in the slot. It's rare for a rookie receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards in the NFL. Since the turn of the millennium, just five guys have accomplished that feat: Keenan Allen (1,046 yards in 2013), A.J. Green (1,057 in 2011), Marques Colston (1,038 in 2006), Michael Clayton (1,193 in 2004) and Anquan Boldin (1,377 in 2003). I believe Cooks will join that exclusive club this fall.

2) Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills
No. 4 overall pick

Watkins hasn't lit up the preseason, but I've seen enough on college tape to feel confident he'll have a strong rookie campaign. When I stopped by Bills camp a few weeks ago, he put on a show. He made several spectacular catches and the offensive system looked to feature him more than any other skill player. EJ Manuel isn't a top-tier quarterback, but I trust that Watkins will get a ton of touches in this offense.

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3) Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 7 overall pick

Evans brings rare size (6-foot-5, 231 pounds), catch radius and ball skills. I don't expect him to put up big catch or yardage numbers, but I do believe he is the favorite to lead all rookies in touchdowns. He is a physical mismatch in the red zone, and Vincent Jackson's presence will assure Evans sees single coverage on a consistent basis.

4) Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers
No. 28 overall pick

Benjamin has an intriguing mix of size (6-5, 240), strength and sneaky speed. So far in the preseason, he's shown the ability to separate down the field, and he's improved as an intermediate route runner. Benjamin is the top talent at the position in Carolina by far, and I expect Cam Newton to feed him the ball early and often in the 2014 season.

5) Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 3 overall pick

This is a wild-card pick. Jaguars general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley have made it clear that veteran Chad Henne is the clear-cut starter at quarterback. However, Bortles has been outstanding during the preseason, displaying impressive arm strength, touch and mobility. If Bortles continues to show progress on the practice field and Henne struggles, it wouldn't be surprising to see the rookie take over the starting position during the 2014 season. If he logs 12-plus starts, he could pile up impressive enough numbers to emerge as a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate.

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

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