The start of the NFL regular season has just begun and that means this year’s rookies are about to excite or disappoint. This years draft class was far from abnormal, as we saw little surprises in the first couple rounds. Although some players did slip (I.E Lamar Jackson) generally mock drafts stayed fairly consistent with the real draft. The draft has passed, training camp finally wrapping up, and preseason is nearing the end. Now it’s time for the NFL and with that comes the breakout of these four rookie stars who all have a shot at Offensive/Defensive Rookie of the Year respectively.
Round/Pick: 2nd Overall (NYG)
Player Comparison: Ezekiel Elliot
Could I have started with a more obvious prediction? Probably not. But you can’t talk about rookie stars without mentioned Saquon Barkley. Barkley (Penn State) was drafted 2nd overall by the New York Giants behind QB Baker Mayfield. Barkley played three seasons at Penn State and made an impact every season. He rushed for 1000+ yards every year while adding a monstrous 43 TDs in those three years. Barkley was a consensus top-ten pick, it was a little murky where he was going to go. Some saw him slipping to seven (Tampa Bay) while others predicted exactly what happened. Either way, Barkley was going to make a name with whatever team drafted him. The Giants O-line definitely doesn’t scream elite (or even above average for that matter) but the addition of both Nate Solder and Will Hernandez has got to improve this horrid offensive line. Barkley, however, is so elusive and quick that a bad O-line won’t affect him as much as some other RBs. If Eli Manning can provide a decent passing game and this O-line can hold up, Barkley will not only win ROTY, but he will be a top 10 RB in this league.
Round/Pick: 3rd round, 71st pick (DEN)
Player Comparison: D’Onta Foreman
If I had to pick a dark horse for this year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, it would have to be Royce Freeman. After his great stint with the Oregon Ducks, Freeman was picked 71st overall by the Denver Broncos which showed you how deep this draft really was. Freeman had one of his greatest college seasons ever in 2015 when he rushed for over 1800 yards along with punching in 17 TDs. Freeman sits as the 2nd string back for Denver behind Devonte Booker, however, he will have no problem becoming an everyday starter with this team. Leapfrogging Booker early in the season if not before, would be necessary to be in question for this award. With a bottom half O-line led by G Ronald Leary and below average QB in Case Keenum means an uphill battle for Freeman. However, Freeman has all the tools and skill to make this run happen, and all he needs is an opportunity to prove all those teams that passed on him wrong.
Round/Pick: 1st round, 5th overall (DEN)
Player Comparison: Chris Long
Bradley Chubb out of NC State is bound to make an impact in Denver. This 6’4” 22-year-old monster was drafted 5th overall by the Denver Broncos. Chubb was the second defensive player to be taken in this year’s draft. Chubb is responsible for holding the all-time sacks record at NC State (26 sacks) in his four years there. The 2017 ACC Defensive Player of the Year has a lot of hype around him. I would even go as far as saying he is more coveted than Myles Garrett was. This man is the complete package and will for sure be an elite pass rusher in this league for years to come. Chubb scored a 7.3 rating by NFL combine scorers, which puts him right in line with Garrett. Chubb makes tackles look silly on multiple plays a game and with the future Hall of Famer Von Miller rushing with you, Chubb should find loads of success in the Mile High City. He is my pick for defensive ROTY.
Round/Pick: 1st round, 8th pick (CHI)
Player Comparison: Lavonte David
Yes, I picked Chubb to win defensive ROTY but Roquan Smith is no joke. Smith, drafted 8th by the Chicago Bears is often praised for his elite pass coverage. This attributed to his comparison to Lavonte David who is arguably the best coverage linebacker in the NFL. Smith won both the 2017 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and the 2017 Dick Butkus Award in his final year at Georgia. He joins elite company with the Dick Butkus Award. Players such as Patrick Willis, Luke Kuechly, and Von Miller have also won this award. As you can see, he is no joke. Smith totaled 137 TT (total tackles) in his final year with the Bulldogs and came close to leading the squad to a National Championship. Smith joins a fairly good Bears defense and joins former Broncos linebacker, Danny Trevathan. This will be a fantastic linebacking core and should provide some help for the rookie. Both Luke Kuechly and Von Miller were the last linebackers to win ROTY in their respective years, and I could definitely see Roquan Smith joining this elite company.
The NFL season never fails to amaze us with new rookies to love and awe at. This year is no different. All four of the above rookies have proven in college they can be forced on the field. And with that, all have proven they have what it takes to continue this in the NFL. We’ve seen from prior ROTY winners that your spot in the draft means nothing with this award. Take Alvin Kamara and Dak Prescott for example. The NFL always is always full of surprises but right now these are the four that I believe have that mentality to become elite players in this league.