Position Power Rankings  

 

Top 10 Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates

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Welcome to the 2015 NFL season! Every week in this space, I will roll out the power rankings for one specific NFL position, attribute or award.

First on the docket is Around The NFL's list of the Top 10 Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates.

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Since the award was instituted in 1967, the winners have included 32 running backs, nine wide receivers, seven quarterbacks and zero tight ends or offensive linemen.

Whereas first-year quarterbacks typically carried a clipboard prior to 21st century, five of the seven winners have come in the past decade.

From 1920 to 2007 -- a period of 87 years -- only 13 true rookie quarterbacks started every game in their first NFL season. From 2008 to 2014, 10 true rookies started every game.

That is a seismic shift. First-round quarterbacks are now baptized by fire in an increasingly pass-heavy league, greatly enhancing their odds of taking home the hardware.

With those historical trends in mind, let's forge on to the rankings:

The favorites


1. Ameer Abdullah, Lions running back: Abdullah passes the eye test with flying colors. When I studied his college film in mid-July, I saw a rare runner who actually seems to pick up speed when he cuts in tight spaces as well as in the open field. Abdullah went on to steal the show in Lions camp, highlighted by defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's lament that his defenders couldn't even get a finger on the Senior Bowl MVP.

Abdullah didn't disappoint in his preseason debut, breaking off a pair of electric runs that inspired Jets coach Todd Bowles to invoke Barry Sanders comparisons. To be clear, Abdullah is not Barry Sanders. But he is a special talent in an offense that has high-flying potential with a strong-armed quarterback passing to Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and breakout candidate Eric Ebron. It doesn't hurt his chances that incumbent starter Joique Bell missed the entire offseason and preseason after undergoing knee and Achilles surgeries.

2. Amari Cooper, Raiders wide receiver: Alabama sources told NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport that Cooper was the best and most NFL-ready receiver the school has ever produced -- including Falcons superstar Julio Jones. The Raiders view the No. 4 overall pick as a bigger Randall Cobb, capable of playing inside or outside. Cooper drew raves all offseason for his precocious route running and playmaking ability. The only concern is whether Derek Carr will make enough progress in his second season to unlock Cooper's full potential.

3. Marcus Mariota, Titans quarterback: What more could Mariota have done to silence his pre-draft skeptics this summer? He drew persistent raves from teammates and coaches for his "unbelievable" accuracy, mental acuity and leadership in an "essentially flawless" training camp. Mariota went on to finish his first preseason with an impressive 70.0 completion rate for 10.9 yards per attempt and a 102.9 passer rating. More important than the numbers was his unshakable poise and composure. Don't be surprised to see Mariota running Chip Kelly's offense after the Titans coaches slow-played the rest of the league in August.

Instant impact?


4. Phillip Dorsett, Colts wide receiver: Don't count out Dorsett just because the Colts have so many mouths to feed on offense. The first-round pick was the talk of Indy's offseason, generating hype not only with his NFL-best wheels but also with his attitude, instincts and aptitude in picking up Pep Hamilton's offense. The coaching staff believes it has landed a potential superstar with a carbon copy of DeSean Jackson's skill-set. If you recall, Jackson made a strong run at the OROY award with 1,460 all-purpose yards in 2008.

5. Jameis Winston, Buccaneers quarterback: The opportunity is there for the taking. Winston isn't afraid to pull the trigger on shot throws to twin towers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, which will result in a bevy of big plays. The flipside is a high turnover rate, which will likely be exacerbated by a patchwork offensive line that struggles to keep the quarterback upright. I see the Bucs offense as another year away from consistent success.

6. Melvin Gordon, Chargers running back: Gordon's playmaking ability in open space is obvious. The concern is that he hasn't been able to shake the indecisiveness that was the one knock on his game coming out of Wisconsin. On paper, San Diego's overhauled offensive line should be a premier run-blocking unit once it gels. If he's more of a developmental project, will Gordon be able to take advantage of that front in a committee attack with Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver?

7. DeVante Parker, Dolphins wide receiver: The No. 14 overall pick in the draft is back on the radar after returning from foot surgery to play in the preseason finale. Although Jarvis Landry appears to be locked in as Ryan Tannehill's go-to target out of the slot, Parker has a chance to bypass Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills as Miami's top outside receiver.

8. Tyler Lockett, Seahawks wide receiver: As the mythical preseason MVP, Lockett's playmaking ability is undeniable. Of the nine wide receivers to win the award, though, none was primarily a kick returner. Louis Lipps (1984) and Percy Harvin (2009) excelled on punt and kickoff returns, respectively, but both also cleared 900 yards from scrimmage. Will Lockett play enough snaps to make a dramatic impact on offense?

Every game, all season

9. Devin Funchess, Panthers wide receiver: Funchess was one of the most polarizing players in the draft, with some teams viewing him as a tight end. Because he was sidelined for a hefty portion of August with a hamstring injury, there's a dearth of game film to judge his talent level. What he has in his favor is a vacancy atop Carolina's depth chart following Kelvin Benjamin's ACL tear. Funchess is the lone receiver on the roster with the size and physicality to consistently reel in Cam Newton's often errant passes.

10. Todd Gurley, Rams running back: If Gurley wasn't coming off an ACL injury, he might be viewed as the heavy favorite. As it is, he has already been ruled out for the season opener and is likely to miss the first three games. Even when Gurley is 100 percent, coach Jeff Fisher plans to use a rotation in the backfield because second-year back Tre Mason is "special."

Sleeper: Now that Boom Herron is spending the season on injured reserve, Colts sixth-round pick Josh Robinson is the favorite for backup duties behind Frank Gore. While I expect Gore to excel against lighter boxes in a pick-your-poison offense, 32-year-old running backs are no strangers to the trainer's room. If Gore goes down for the season, Robinson is in the perfect situation to enter the OROY race.

Honorable mention: T.J. Yeldon, Nelson Agholor, Breshad Perriman, Duke Johnson, Tevin Coleman, Dorial Green-Beckham, Matt Jones, David Johnson, Ty Montgomery, Jarryd Hayne

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