The start of the regular season is quickly approaching, and all week the Around The NFL team will be giving its predictions on the league's major awards.
Gregg Rosenthal's picks: Marcus Mariota and Stephone Anthony
The two rookies that looked the best in the preseason were Mariota and Washington Redskins running back Matt Jones. I considered rolling with Jones for this award because he has awesome and obvious talent, but it seemed insane to pick a clear backup running back instead of a franchise quarterback. You don't need to win a lot of games or put up gaudy stats to win Rookie of the Year as a quarterback. (Think Sam Bradford.) You just need to look like a competent starter and improve your team. Mariota will rack up rushing yards, mostly avoid mistakes, and put up the occasional flashy game against weak competition.
The defense award is wide open. It came down to Saints inside linebacker Stephone Anthony or Broncos pass rusher Shane Ray, but Anthony is the safer bet. Anthony has earned a Week 1 starting job, and will probably be calling the plays for his defense. He's just the sort of heady tackle machine that transitions well to the pro game, and puts up stats right away. (Think C.J. Mosley last year.) The Saints need Anthony to be one of the better defensive players this season, and his versatility will keep him on the field all three downs.
Kevin Patra's picks: Amari Cooper and Randy Gregory
Cooper is far and away the best receiving threat on the Oakland Raiders. Fewer talent gaps between the No. 1 pass-catcher and No. 2 exist in the NFL -- only Rob Gronkowski on the Patriots comes easily to mind. Therefore, the rookie will get plenty of chances to put up flashy numbers and swipe the OROY award from the quarterbacks.
Oh, and Cooper is really freaking good. Already he has displayed the speed, size, superb route running, run-after-the-catch ability and hands to make him a top-flight receiving threat. Even as teams load up to slow him down, Cooper will make dynamic plays and often make corners look silly. The rookie has already started, as evidenced with this doozy on Patrick Peterson.
Gregory entered the NFL draft projected by some as the best pass-rushing threat in the NFL. With Greg Hardy's suspension to start the season, Gregory will get a chance to prove it early for the Cowboys. All indications from Dallas thus far have been solid and the coaching staff has praised the rookie's ability to get after the passer.
Talent plus opportunity create production in the NFL. Gregory also boasts the added bonuses of being in the constant spotlight in Dallas and being a pass rusher who can earn flashy stats voters love.
Conor Orr's pick: Jameis Winston and Shane Ray
Jameis Winston will not have as impressive a season as Marcus Mariota, but he will outshine the No. 2 pick in terms of statistics. Winston has better targets and a better scheme at the moment, and he has a better chance of helping the Buccaneers improve on a dismal season from a year ago. While the rest of 2015's offensive rookies fail to have the Odell Beckham season to remember, Winston will steal the nod by default.
Ray will love playing in this defense. There are plenty of sacks to go around, and glamour stats are the ones that win you big awards during your rookie season. Selecting another pass rusher in the first round was a no brainer for John Elway and Co., especially the kind of player who can easily parse a one-on-one matchup and make a quarterback pay.
Chris Wesseling's pick: Ameer Abdullah and Vic Beasley
Amari Cooper could threaten Anquan Boldin's rookie record for receptions (101). An impressive-lookingMarcus Mariota could be the rare quarterback to contend for the award. I chose Abdullah because he passes the eye test with flying colors. It's rare to see a running back who actually appears to pick up speed when he makes a cut. I envision Abdullah making an impact on par with Chris Johnson's 2008 rookie season that featured 1,228 rushing yards, 43 receptions and 10 touchdowns.
Consider this a vote of confidence for Dan Quinn, who already has his pass rushers flying to the quarterback in preseason action. Beasley is a freak athlete capable of piling up double-digit sacks in a rotational role. Judging by preseason action, strong candidates also include Jets defensive end Leonard Williams, Seahawks pass rusher Frank Clark, Broncos pass rusher Shane Ray, Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters and Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson.
Dan Hanzus' pick: Devin Funchess and Leonard Williams
I'm going to roll the dice on Funchess, who the Panthers will lean on to be a Day 1 impact player the same way they did with Kelvin Benjamin last season. Benjamin plays a major role in my decision, of course: He tore his ACL in camp, a crushing setback that turned the organization on its head. Funchess was going to have a big role as a rookie even if Benjamin was around. Now he'll be targeted like a No. 1 receiver. I say he rises to the challenge and the OROY stays with wide receivers for another season. If I'm incorrect, it will only be because Cam Newton decided to target Greg Olsen 1,200 times.
The Jets hit the jackpot with Williams, who fell to Todd Bowles' team with the sixth overall pick in April's draft. Training camp and preseason buzz around Williams has been positive, and he'll play on a line loaded with Pro Bowl talent that includes Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon "Snacks" Harrison and Sheldon Richardson. Speaking of Richardson, the 2013 DPOY will miss at least the first four games of the regular season due to off-the-field shenanigans, clearing the way for an instant role for Williams. I think Big Lenny takes full advantage of the opportunity, turning a great defensive line into the NFL's best.
Marc Sessler's picks: Amari Cooper and Danny Shelton
This exercise is a crap shoot, but the trend of today's young receivers producing right away is not. Cooper has sizzled in camp and looms as Oakland's top pass-catching target. He will keep secondaries honest with his ability to stretch the field, but the Raiders really need someone like Michael Crabtree to step up to prevent Cooper from seeing double teams week after week. That dynamic would slow him down, but it's hard not to love Oakland's new weapon.
The Browns think highly enough of Shelton to let Phillip Taylorwalk. Everything on film makes it clear that Shelton can be a warrior along the line, using his massive lower body to swallow up blockers and create opportunities for Karlos Dansby and Cleveland's crop of linebackers. A big-bodied nose tackle is critical for Mike Pettine's scheme. Shelton has shown NFL-ready traits from the start of camp and will help turn around last year's bottom-ranked run defense.