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NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates: Kyler Murray leads

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Finding the top challengers for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award can be as much about fit as it is about talent. Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins both posted gaudy totals as Heisman Trophy finalists, but Murray's fit in Arizona appears to give him a distinct advantage over Haskins, who may have some roadblocks in Washington.

Before I began this exercise, I went mining for historical trends that could help piece together this year's OROY puzzle. These are interesting tidbits I found helpful:

» Four of the last six winners have been running backs.
» Only one quarterback has won the award over the last six seasons (Dak Prescott, 2016).
» No tight end or offensive lineman has ever won the award.
» Just three wide receivers have won the award over the last 20 seasons.
» From 2003 through 2012, a running back won the OROY award just twice.
» The OROY award has been won by NFC rookies for 12 straight seasons.

Now, looking ahead to this season, here are my top 10 candidates to take home the 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

1) Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

As a Day 1 starter in Kliff Kingsbury's offense, Murray is considered the favorite to win this award. Arizona's multi-wideout sets will stretch defenses horizontally and vertically, which should allow Murray to have some early success, thanks to his quick release for short tosses and the fact that he has the arm strength to land the deep throws. Kingsbury has called his offense very similar to what Lincoln Riley ran at Oklahoma, which is another reason to expect a smoother-than-normal transition for the quarterback. We haven't even discussed Murray's ability to extend plays with his legs and/or wreck defenses with his scrambling ability. The numbers should pile up in his favor this season.

2) Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders

If Murray wasn't in such a well-suited offense for his talents, Jacobs would be the front-runner in this category. The last three running backs to win this award (Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley) have all been plus run/catch options out of the backfield, and Jacobs fits that mold. Jacobs has a good combination of size and physicality to bang home short-yardage touchdowns, but he also showed excellent ball-tracking and hands as a pass catcher at Alabama. It's worth noting that Cadillac Williams had 310 and 255 touches, respectively, over his first two seasons with Jon Gruden in Tampa. Of course, Jacobs and the Raiders must resolve their reported contract stalemate, or this hype train could come to a screeching halt. (UPDATE: Jacobs inked his rookie deal on Tuesday night. Stalemate averted.)

3) David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears

Of all the running backs in the 2019 NFL Draft, Montgomery might be the safest, based on his size, toughness and creativity as a runner. While Mike Davis may begin the season as the starter, Chicago finished tied for sixth in the league in rushing attempts last season (468), so there should be more than enough carries to go around. The Bears have a solid group of talent along the offensive line, and if Mitchell Trubisky can continue to improve as a passer and force safeties off the line of scrimmage, the running game has a chance to take off with Montgomery leading the charge by midseason.

4) Marquise Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens

"Hollywood" may be slightly built, but his ability to find the paint as a deep-ball option on the outside or a catch-and-run specialist from the slot gives him the nod as the top receiver on the OROY board. Brown is special with the ball in his hands, so look for Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman to load him up with receiver screens and shallow crossers to not only attack defenses but also elevate Lamar Jackson's confidence early in games. Brown has a chance to become the most-targeted pass catcher on the team.

5) A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans

Based upon Corey Davis' 112 targets last season, we know that Marcus Mariota can fall in love with a big, physical target. Well, guess what? Brown is actually a broader, more physical pass catcher and has the ability to become a contested-catch winner from the slot as a safety blanket for Mariota. Brown is unlikely to light it up as a downfield worker, but his toughness and hand strength could warrant target volume, with a chance to build an OROY stat profile.

6) N'Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots

Well, this one is an obvious crapshoot, depending on how Tom Brady and Bill Belichick feel about the talented rookie out of Arizona State. On tape, Harry had a difficult time separating as an outside receiver, but Brady is one of the best at throwing covered receivers open. And keep in mind, the Patriots could utilize Harry's unique size (6-foot-2, 228 pounds) and strength (27 bench press reps) to fill the void in the red zone left by the retirement of Rob Gronkowski.

7) D.K. Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks

Metcalf was one of my highest-rated wideouts in the 2019 draft, but much of my bullish grade was dependent upon his continued improvement as a player and on scheme fit. He may have found the perfect scheme fit and a quarterback who can accelerate his growth as a pass catcher. As a deep threat in Seattle's play-action passing game, Metcalf is unlikely to see pure volume in terms of targets, but he will see plenty of opportunities for explosive plays and long touchdowns, thanks to Russell Wilson's propensity to challenge defenses deep.

8) Dwayne Haskins, QB, Washington Redskins

History tells us that a rookie quarterback has a better chance of winning an OROY award ahead of receivers, but I'm just not sure the necessary elements are in place for Haskins to be that quarterback this season. Granted, Haskins threw 50 touchdown passes in his lone season as a full-time starter at Ohio State, yet the Redskins' receiving corps lacks both the production and experience needed to make Haskins' transition into the league a smooth one. Holding off Case Keenum as the starter throughout the season will be a challenge, but if he does it, he definitely has a shot to take home the hardware.

9) Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos

No offensive lineman or tight end has ever won this award, but in this case, Fant is definitely worth a mention as a relative longshot to break the tight end drought. New Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco has proven his willingness to buddy up with tight ends with plenty of targets. SEE: Ben Watson in 2017 (79 targets), Dennis Pitta in 2016 (121) and Owen Daniels in 2014 (79). Fant possesses exceptional athleticism at a position that isn't very crowded in Denver, but he'll have to find more touchdown catches than Flacco is used to doling out to tight ends.

10) Parris Campbell, WR, Indianapolis Colts

I made the mistake of underestimating Mike Thomas when he was coming out of Ohio State in 2017, but I'm not making that same mistake with Campbell. I was an early backer of Campbell's, thanks to his diversity and explosive traits, and those attributes could serve him well as an OROY candidate this season. Don't sleep on Campbell's deep-ball tools to go along with his extraordinary catch-and-go burst on underneath routes. Andrew Luck's "work-share" mindset could preclude Campbell from loading up on statistics, but his talent as a return man might offset that.

DARK-HORSE CANDIDATE

Darrell Henderson, RB, Los Angeles Rams: I look for explosiveness and touchdown scorers when searching for OROY candidates, and Henderson checks both boxes, having averaged 8.9 yards per carry over his last two years at Memphis and scored 11 touchdowns of 50-plus yards in his final collegiate season. Todd Gurley's lack of postseason success/activity combined with the Rams' desire to re-sign Malcolm Brown and draft Henderson could be a sign that team execs are concerned about Gurley's durability or longevity, which could bolster Henderson's production in that explosive offense.

Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.

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