ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 26: Josh Rosen of UCLA reacts after being picked #10 overall by the Arizona Cardinals during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The NFL is a league in which success is built on a team’s ability to get under the cap. Every year, teams are trying to get the most out fresh first-year players before they have to break the bank just to keep them around.

Last season was a year dominated by rookie running backs with Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt showcasing how the position is rapidly changing. However, the most impressive thing about these two individuals was that they were both selected after the second round of the NFL draft. This shows impact players can be found with any selection and that the rookie of the year doesn’t need to be a top-five pick.

This year’s draft includes a slew of highly talented quarterbacks and running backs with eyes on changing the NFL the way the last few draft classes have. These are five way too early candidates for NFL Rookie of the Year.

5 Way Too Early NFL Rookie of the Year Candidates

5. Baker Mayfield (QB) – Cleveland Browns

Coming off capturing the Heisman Trophy in his last year of college football, Mayfield was taken with the first overall selection by the Cleveland Browns. The pick was made with the intention of finally ending the Browns neverending QB carousel and it would surprise me if he is not starting before week four. Tyrod Taylor has never had a truly impressive season as a starter and if the Browns start the season with a couple losses (or he gets beat out in camp), Mayfield should and will be given the reigns.

What makes Mayfield’s bid for rookie of the year so prominent is his accuracy combine with the talent that surrounds him in Cleveland. If his receivers can find space, he will have success. The Browns have added a lot of receiving help over the past two seasons, all in preparation of adding a QB. Mayfield’s legs will help him make a couple scrambling plays from the pocket but his status as a quality rookie quarterback and the Brown’s future starter will hinge on his ability to hit his receivers.

4. Derwin James (S) – Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles was absolutely thrilled when James fell to them at No. 17 in this year’s draft. The pick of James was incredible value for his time of selection as well as fills a position of need for the Chargers after they passed on Malik Hooker last year. James may have been the most complete defensive back in the draft and will have a ton of opportunities to use his speed to make big impact plays. He was recently quoted in an NFL network interview saying “I’m bringing enforcer mentality”.

James now joins one of the best overall defensive cores in the NFL, spearheaded by defensive end Joey Bosa. In the secondary, James will link up with elite corner Casey Hayward and hopefully Jason Verrett who has lost his last two seasons to injury. With so much talent at the front and back of LA’s defence, the former Seminole steps into an almost perfect role. He will have his opportunities to get to the quarterback, stuff the run, while also likely picking off a few balls. It might be hard for a safety to win overall rookie of the year but there’s is a lot to love about James’ fit in LA.

3. Roquan Smith (ILB) – Chicago Bears

Despite finishing last in their division at 5-11, there was a lot to like about the Bears season on the defensive side of the ball. Chicago had a solid 2017 finishing the year with the seventh most sacks, 11th in rushing yards against and 10th in total defence. Their poor record can mainly be attributed to their dreadful offence. Then after a good haul on offence in free agency, they chose to bring in Smith through the draft. He may have been the safest pick of the entire draft, but he will still flourish in Chicago.

Smith should step in and be a day one starter, lining up beside established playmaker Danny Trevathan with an eye on stopping the run. Considering he will be playing in a base 3-4, he is going to be spending a lot of time in the open middle of the field where he will have a ton of chances to rack up tackles. Smith showed throughout his days at Georgia that even though he is somewhat undersized, he is incredible at wrapping up players at the point of contact and can use his athletic ability to break up occasional passes. If Smith can put up similar numbers to those that C.J. Mosley had in his rookie year, he will be a front-runner for defensive rookie of the year.

2. Josh Rosen (QB) – Arizona Cardinals

Rosen was notably upset that he slid all the way to the 10th overall pick after three other QBs were taken before him in 2018’s draft. This came as a surprise to more people than just himself as he was projected to be a top-five pick as well as judged to be the most NFL ready quarterback in his draft class. With all that fresh on his mind, Rosen is going to embark on a revenge tour of an NFL career whenever the Cardinals put him in.

One of the most comforting things for a rookie QB is having receivers that can bail you out at times and have the ball stick to their hands. Arizona has two of these options in future Hall-of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald and second-round pick Christian Kirk. Rosen also has maybe the best receiving running back in the league; former all-pro David Johnson. These three options combine to form a more reliable receiving unit than any of the other rookie quarterbacks have. If Arizona’s offensive line improves and Rosen has time to throw in the pocket, he should have the best rookie season of all the QBs drafted in 2018.

  1. Saquon Barkley (RB) – New York Giants

Going into the draft, Barkley was perhaps viewed as the number-one overall prospect in the entire draft but risked slipping because of the position he plays. Luckily for him, the Giants went for the immediate and long-time need when they selected the Penn State standout with the second overall pick in the draft. Barkley has a lot of hype to live up to but he will get every chance to match it in an offence that hasn’t had a consistent running back in over a decade.

The only way a good running back stands out in the NFL is with the help of a good offensive line. The Giants line has been an area of concern over the last couple of years but has been significantly upgraded this offseason. Barkley has a ton of talent but he is most lethal when he is manoeuvring around and bouncing off tacklers while using his acceleration in the open field. Not to mention his cuts are absolutely deadly. That talent can be applied in both the running and passing game with the potential of elevating a healthy Giants offence to one of the top units in the NFL. Big Blue just need their offensive line to play ok and Barkley will unleash himself upon the NFL.

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