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Predicting Offensive, Defensive Rookie of the Year hopefuls

The offseason calendar has finally reached the point where teams are able to conduct full practices. Coaches are able to see how their prized rookies fare within their schemes while also crafting additional plans to help them emerge as impact players when the season kicks off in a few months.

Naturally, we expect to see several first-round picks vie for the top individual rookie honors, based on the high expectations preceding their arrivals. But of course, last year, a Day 3 pick (Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, a fourth-round selection) walked away with the 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. With that in mind, I thought I would take an early stab at predicting which rookies could be in line to snag the 2017 Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards -- looking at potential candidates through a few different lenses. Here's my take:


THE FAVORITE: Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

After Cowboys back Ezekiel Elliott claimed the NFL's rushing crown as a rookie in 2016, expectations are through the roof for the Jaguars' new RB1, who -- like Elliott in 2016 -- was drafted fourth overall. Fournette is expected to give the team an identity as a hard-nosed runner with a violent running style that strikes fear into the hearts of defenders. He is also slated to carry the Jaguars' offense to new heights as the workhorse for an offensive-minded head coach (Doug Marrone) intent on building a tougher and more physical squad on both sides of the ball. With Fournette set to receive a heavy workload that features 20-25 carries per game, the rookie runner should top the 1,000-yard mark and finish among the top five rushers in yards.

THE SEXY PICK: Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

Despite starting the offseason program behind Tom Savage, Watson is well-positioned to be the team's starting quarterback, based on his supreme confidence, competitiveness and winning pedigree. The No. 12 overall pick thrives on the biggest and brightest stages, which will serve him well as the starter on a team with championship aspirations. Watson's big-game experience will come in handy on a team with a stellar supporting cast on offense and a championship-caliber defense that returns three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. If Watson quickly builds chemistry with receiver DeAndre Hopkins and masters the basics of coach Bill O'Brien's playbook while displaying his usual flair at the position, he will rack up enough wins and style points to make a serious OROY run.

THE SLEEPER PICK: Samaje Perine, RB, Washington Redskins

The fourth-round pick (No. 114 overall) must unseat "FatRob" Kelley for the RB1 job, but he could flourish as the starter behind Washington's monstrous offensive line. Perine is a big, downhill runner perfectly suited for playing in the power-based scheme. The 5-foot-11, 233-pound banger runs through contact and punishes defenders at the end of runs with his violent style. With the Redskins looking to lighten the load on Kirk Cousins as the veteran quarterback breaks in a revamped WR corps, Perine's role as RB1 -- provided he can swipe the gig, of course -- could lead to a surprising 1,000-yard season from a bruising back.


THE FAVORITE: Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns

Garrett has all of the physical tools to take over the game from the edges, possessing a rare combination of size, strength, balance and body control. Although his hand skills and pass-rush ability are still a work in progress, it is hard to block an ultra-freakish athlete with outstanding "wiggle" and movement skills. On the strength of his athleticism alone, Garrett could finish with at least 10 sacks and a number of forced fumbles as the defensive sparkplug off the edge. Given how sacks and pressures disrupt the rhythm of the quarterback, the impact of the No. 1 overall draft pick could make him the runaway winner for the top defensive honor.

THE SEXY PICK: Jamal Adams, S, New York Jets

The Jets' new pack leader should make an immediate impact on a defense that lost its way a season ago. Adams will not only control the action between the hashes as a "seek and destroy" hitter, but he should stuff the stat sheet as a versatile playmaker in the box. From tackles to sacks to forced fumbles and interceptions, the sixth overall pick should finish the season with a smorgasbord of big plays that set the tone for the defense. I expect he will quickly reveal his impact potential as a first-year starter on a defense that suddenly has a young, dynamic nucleus (Leonard Williams, Darron Lee and Adams) to build around.

THE SLEEPER PICK: Carl Lawson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals might've snagged the best-kept secret at the edge rusher position when they selected Lawson with the No. 116 overall pick. The 6-2, 261-pound power player has a rugged game built on brute strength and physicality, yet he also flashes enough quickness and agility to win with finesse from a two- or three-point stance. On a defense that's looking for a player with juice off the edge, Lawson's combination of athleticism and pass-rush skills could help him carve out a role as a designated pass rusher and deliver enough sack production to crack the top-10 list.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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