I had Todd Gurley as my top OROY candidate back in August, and he didn't disappoint. Gurley had the second-highest yards-per-attempt average in the NFL (4.8, behind only Doug Martin's 4.9) among players with 150-plus carries. Despite missing three games, and a portion of another, Gurley gained 1,106 yards.
More so than anybody on offense, Gurley was responsible for the Rams winning seven games this season. A lot of times, a running back has a better opportunity to be special when there's a bona fide quarterback on the team, but the Rams didn't have that, so defenses packed it in to stop Gurley. Still, he managed five games of 125-plus rushing yards. Gurley also did a fine job as a pass protector and receiver. I gave my AP vote to Amari Cooper. His stats are strong, but it goes well beyond the box score. Cooper changed everything for Derek Carr and the Raiders. The dominant neophyte receiver gave them credibility. All you have to know about Todd Gurley is that he made the Pro Bowl despite not starting his first game until October. The Rams waited that long to make sure their first-round pick had recovered sufficiently from a torn ACL. It turns out they might have been too conservative. Gurley ran for 1,106 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. He surpassed the 100-yard mark in each of his first four starts. He also did all this despite being a marked man on a team with constant quarterback problems.
Basically, he could be the best back in the league within two years. There are a lot of worthy candidates -- how do you deny the electricity of Todd Gurley? -- but I go with Jameis Winston here. His impact on the Tampa Bay Bucs was more than just his 22 touchdown passes and the overall improvement of the team. He brought uncommon leadership to a rebuilding team for a rookie, and he compares favorably to other rookie quarterbacks who have won the award.
Consider this: Seven QBs have won this honor. None of them threw more touchdown passes than Winston, and only one -- Cam Newton -- threw for more yards (just nine more, at that). Amari Cooper was the most consistent rookie from the beginning of the season to the end. Todd Gurley had a great span of games -- same with Karlos Williams and Thomas Rawls. But Cooper was the best from stem to stern. Probably the guy who finished third in the NFL in rushing despite starting just 12 games. Todd Gurley was a madman on the field. He's so talented and entertaining to watch (unless you're the opposing defensive coordinator).
The Rams should have the OROY and DPOY: two young stars in Los Angeles. What a script. I'm sure the city will really embrace it. Winston, by the slimmest of margins. He threw the ball for more than 4,000 yards and that team improved in the win column. (They could've very easily been 8-8, too, with a few breaks.) Amari Cooper came in as a rookie and made the Oakland Raiders a better team right off the bat. Jameis Winston didn't have the perfect season, but I saw growth from Day 1 on. The Buccaneers QB was undeniably the leader of that team as a rookie. David Johnson started third on the Cardinals' RB depth chart, but when called upon, he was prepared to carry the load. Johnson did a good job catching the ball out of the backfield and scored a lot of touchdowns. Because of him, the Cardinals had balance down the stretch. They gave him a lot of carries and he held up. He really made a name for himself. Great as Gurley and Cooper were (most weeks, at least), Winston produced 28 total TDs behind a wonky O-line. By the midpoint of 2016, who'll be considered the worst starting QB in the NFC South: Drew Brees or Matt Ryan? Todd Gurley made fans excited about the running game again. Despite not playing the first three games -- and not really getting a full workload until the Rams' fourth contest -- the dynamic rookie finished third in the NFL in rushing. He reminds me of a slimmer, less physical version of Eddie George. Most importantly, the game did not look too big for Gurley.
And he actually made people pay attention to the Rams. Winston had an exceptional rookie season at the most difficult position in sports. Todd Gurley. Missing three games and then putting up the performances he did ... There are other good players, but Gurley was a dominant player. Winston had a rocky start, but his progression throughout the season is the reason the Buccaneers were in playoff contention in December. He was a mature rookie -- he demands attention and respect when he's in the huddle. Despite starting only 12 games, Todd Gurley still gained 1,106 yards. Gurley showed me, from the beginning, that he has rare ability as a back.