by Brandon Martin
On Sept. 8, NFL fans will rejoice as the regular season gets underway. This gives the fans a chance to see their favorite players such as Aaron Rodgers, Odell Beckham Jr., and JJ Watt play, as well as some new faces such as Jared Goff and Ezekiel Elliott take the field for the first time.
Goff and Elliott are big favorites to win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, as well they should be considering they were the first and fourth picks respectively, but in the past we have seen surprises for this award such as Eddie Lacy in 2013 when most considered Tavon Austin, EJ Manuel and Geno Smith the favorites.
Lacy won 10 years after Anquan Boldin won in 2003 when he beat out players such as Carson Palmer, Andre Johnson, Willis McGahee and Dallas Clark who were all selected before him in the draft. In the spirit of the underdogs, here are 10 players that may be surprises for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Laquon Treadwell, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings
Some may ask how a first round pick could be a sleeper pick, but considering he was the 4th receiver taken, many will look towards Corey Coleman or Will Fuller before him. Treadwell had the potential to become Teddy Bridgewater’s go-to receiver this year before Teddy went down with an injury.
With Sam Bradford now the new man in Minnesota, expect some more passing. The Vikings offense last year revolved around Adrian Peterson on his way to leading the league in rushing.
Of course, the Vikings would love to see this kind of production from AP again this season but they may look to expand the offense and that is what Treadwell will do. His ability to go up and get jump balls and complete the catch is something that will help out Sam Bradford on deep throws or fade routes.
At 6 feet 2 inches tall, his height allows him to have the advantage over almost every corner this season.
Cody Kessler, Quarterback, Cleveland Browns
This pick may sound absolutely crazy considering he is not even the Browns starting quarterback, but considering the Browns quarterback lineage and Robert Griffin III’s injury history it is very likely Kessler will find the field this season.
Kessler will have his work cut out for him as the Browns have a very raw receiving core lead by rookie Corey Coleman and former quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Kessler possess great decision making which should limit turnovers, something several rookie quarterbacks struggle to manage. One thing Kessler will have to look forward too is tight end Gary Barnidge who had a break-out season last year for 1043 yards. Kessler never had such a viable receiving threat at the position at USC.
Jordan Howard, Running back, Chicago Bears
Matt Forte’s absence in Chicago is looming as the Bears are looking to rebuild. Most slate Jeremy Langford as the Bears new running back but I would not lock that in yet. Howard was considered by some the second best running back in this class behind Ezekiel Elliot.
At Indiana, he averaged 6.2 yards per rushing for a total of 1213 yards. He is not the fastest back but he is a work-horse. The most telling sign of his season was rushing for 238 yards against a talented Michigan defense.
Assuming Howard wins the starting position, it completely opens the door for his Rookie of the Year campaign. Since 2000, seven running backs have won the honor and Howard could certainly be the eighth.
Tyler Boyd, Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals picked Boyd in the second round after losing receivers Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu in free agency. Boyd looks to be the Bengals number two receiver behind AJ Green.
Boyd benefits from getting the advantage of learning from one of the NFL’s best and gets an experienced QB to work with.
With a 4.58 forty yard dash time, Boyd has some quickness which will help him in the open field to rack up some extra yards. If he and Andy Dalton build chemistry quickly, Boyd has the potential to lead all rookies in receiving yards on his way to a Rookie of the Year nod.
Austin Hooper, Tight End, Atlanta Falcons
Hooper was the second tight end of the board falling to the Falcons in round 3. The Falcons are hoping they drafted a dominant tight end that they have not had since Tony Gonzalez.
The Falcons have been looking for that go to tight end for a while with Levine Toilolo and Jacob Tamme being less than stellar thus far.
In his senior year at Stanford, he racked in six touchdowns on his way to a third team All-American nod. While his stats make him sound like a prodigy, the fact he is a third round pick mixed with knowing a tight end has never won Rookie of the Year makes him quite the sleeper. He has an elite quarterback in Matt Ryan and having wide receiver Julio Jones often forcing double teams which could free up Hooper.
Demarcus Robinson, Wide receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
Every year, you hear the same speech about how the Chiefs finally found their receiver and this year could be it with Robinson. A fourth-round pick from Florida, he had a weak junior year as the Gators shuffled quarterbacks throughout the season.
His sophomore year, Robinson caught seven touchdowns along with 810 yards of receiving. Robinson will have to rise over veterans, Albert Wilson and Rod Streater, as well as fellow rookie Tyreek Hill for playing time but possess the tools to do it.
The Chiefs look to expand their dink and dunk passing game and his ability to be a fielding stretching vertical receiver will be a huge asset to this transition. His biggest issue is not on the field. While at Florida, he was suspended 4 times. If he can stay out of trouble, he should be a huge player in Kansas City’s offense.
DeAndre Washington, Running back, Oakland Raiders
The NFL is becoming a league where speed is everything and Washington possess tons of speed. At 5-foot-8 and 208 pounds, Washington is the perfect shifty back. His biggest strength is his ability to be a receiving threat from the backfield.
Washington has the opportunity to see the field often early on, whether it be on third downs or returns. His versatility makes him extremely valuable if Latavius Murray goes down again.
Murray’s proneness to injury makes Washington’s role expand if called upon to be the main back. Oakland’s offense already showed a lot of focus on the running back in the passing game with Murray catching 41 passes last season.
Aaron Burbridge, Wide receiver, San Francisco 49ers
If any player on this list has an instant impact, it is Burbridge. Looking at San Fran’s receiver depth chart, it is ugly. With Torrey Smith being the team’s most established receiver, there is room for rookies to step up.
Burbridge’s biggest knock is inconsistent hands, which is a trait that can be fixed. He is an extremely talented route runner, especially on breaks. Being placed in the slot may be where Burbridge succeeds the most with quick crisp routes opening him up for several grabs.
What may hurt him this season is San Francisco’s chaos at quarterback. With what may be constant changes of quarterbacks, it could cost him the ability to gain chemistry and could cost him the award.
Jack Conklin, Tackle, Tennessee Titans
No lineman has ever won offensive Rookie of the Year, so if that doesn’t make him a sleeper pick than I do not know what does. Tennessee allowed quarterback, Marcus Mariota, to be hit too much, giving up 54 sacks.
With Conklin on the right side, it gives Tennessee more stability on the line. What would it take for Conklin to win the award, though? A lot honestly, but anything is possible.
First, if he can help protect Mariota allowing him to be sacked 30 times or less would be a huge start. Another thing would be allowing running back, DeMarco Murray to find his own form. If he can run behind Conklin like he did in Dallas, media members may have to give Conklin the nod.
Cody Whitehair, Guard, Chicago Bears
You cannot win the honor of Rookie of the Year without getting on the field. At any given moment, your team will have eleven men on the field and the fight to be one of those eleven is tough. Luckily for Cody Whitehair, he can play five positions.
Whitehair has the rare ability to play anywhere on the offensive line, which makes him extremely valuable and makes it awfully hard for him not to find playing time. Like I mentioned with Conklin, an offensive lineman has never won Rookie of the Year so it makes his chances low.
If he wants any chance to win the honor, he needs to help young running backs, Jeremy Langford and Jordan Howard have breakout seasons to prove his status as an elite offensive lineman.