The 2014 NFL Offensive And Defensive Rookies Of The Year Are . . .
By Bill Lund
Now that rookie camps and OTAs are underway, we can begin to look from the 2014 Draft ahead to the 2014 NFL season. Which gives us the chance to ask, Which rookies have the best chance to be the NFL Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year?
Many of the 2014 draftees will be penciled in as starters from Day One, but that doesn’t always translate into production. Sammy Watkins will more than likely be the No. 1 wide receiver for the Bills, but playing with a developing quarterback and against the attention of the AFC East defenses could make Watkins' first year a tough one. Mike Evans is in a prime situation with Tampa Bay, but Josh McCown has had only one good season in the NFL and the QB situation could go either way for the Bucs.
Defensively, Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack will have the opportunity to become defensive stalwarts and will be in the mix for Rookie of the Year honors. But Clowney is raw technically as he moves to outside linebacker, and Mack will be a focal point for many offensive coordinators to neutralize.
For my 2014 selections, I have chosen to take a page out of the 2013 season, when the awards were won by Eddie Lacy and Sheldon Richardson, and look at a running back and defensive tackle as potential rookies of the year.
My choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year is Tennessee running back Bishop Sankey. He is walking into a situation where the incumbent, Shonn Greene, is coming off a bum knee and the Titans released the dynamic Chris Johnson. Johnson’s last season still produced more than a thousand yards but the mileage seemed to be taking its toll on the speed back. The Titans' offensive line has talent, having drafted guard Chance Warmack 10th in 2013 and then adding tackle Taylor Lewan with the 11th pick this year. Those selections have significantly upgraded the group and will give Sankey some room to run.
The biggest factor may be new Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who has been regarded as one of the best and creative offensive minds in the NFL. He helped the Steelers balance their offensive attack on their way to the 2006 Super Bowl title, turning an undrafted Willie Parker into “Fast” Willie Parker, who had back-to-back 1,200-yard rushing seasons during his tenure. Whisenhunt led the lowly Arizona Cardinals into the 2009 Super Bowl, and last year resurrected Phillip Rivers and the Chargers offense. Sankey doesn’t have great speed or quickness, size or power, but he has a good mixture of everything, making him a talented workhorse Whisenhunt can mold.
The defensive rookie selection was more difficult to determine. Clowney is a freak and will be playing opposite JJ Watt, for a defensive guru in Romeo Crennel. Mack is the best all-around defender and wreaks havoc from anywhere on the field. But despite their immense talent, I chose to go with Aaron Donald of the St. Louis Rams. Donald will be playing primarily at a 3 technique, which is essentially a position many team treat like a third defensive end. With Chris Long and Robert Quinn garnering most of the attention, Donald will be able to work over athletically overmatched guards in one-on-one situations. Donald’s speed and first step quickness will make life tough on the interior offensive line. Donald also possesses some pass rush savvy and ability to use his hands to stay clean, which will help him get pressure on the QB. Not being a focal point of the defense on the interior and being as talented as he is makes Donald's situation similar to Richardson's for the Jets last year. With Greg Williams running the Rams defense, you can bet there will be a ton of pressure and an opportunity to pad some sack totals.
Winning Rookie of the Year honors is not solely about talent; otherwise, it would be Watkins and Clowney hands down. It’s about talent, scheme, timing and transition into the pro game. The position of running back and defensive tackle may be the two positions that are the easiest to transition into scheme-wise, and given the situations for Sankey and Donald, make them great candidates.