Buffalo selected wide receiver Sammy Watkins with the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft, which, according to Bovada, makes him the favorite to win the 2014 offensive rookie of the year award.
Since the award was created in 1967, there have been seven wideouts who have won the honor, the last being Percy Harvin with the Minnesota Vikings in 2009. Harvin had the luxury of Brett Favre, who went to the Pro Bowl that year, under center. Buffalo, on the other had, has second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel returning to a passing offense that was 31st in net yards per attempt last season (5.4) in a league where the average was 6.2.
Mike Evans has a decent chance in Tampa Bay, where Vincent Jackson will draw most of the attention from opposing corner backs, but new quarterback Josh McCown may not be given many opportunities to throw in a Lovie Smith-coached offensive scheme, as the Bears ranked 32, 27 and 27 in passing attempts during Smith’s last three seasons as coach.
Brandin Cooks, on the other hand, is in a prime situation in New Orleans with Drew Brees slinging the ball. But, the lion’s share of the receptions go to tight end Jimmy Graham, and after that, is spread around between Marques Colston and the running back corp. It is doubtful Cooks gets enough touches to impress the voters.
Speaking of tight ends, none has ever won the award, so we can discount the chances of Detroit’s Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro of the Jets from contention.
This season’s quarterback group offers some enticing selections. Teddy Bridgewater’s college game should translate well to the NFL but there are still enough question marks to prefer others. Over in Jacksonville, Chad Henne projects to get most of the Jags’ starts in year one, leaving Blake Bortles on the sideline. Johnny Manziel is getting first-team reps in practice, but is still a long shot without Josh Gordon to throw to and could still lose ground to Brian Hoyer.
That leaves the running backs, who have been named the winner more than 68 percent of the time by the voters.
Carlos Hyde will give Frank Gore a run for his money in San Francisco, but Gore has not shown enough decline to be viewed as vulnerable on the depth chart. Tre Mason is getting snaps with the first team but still faces competition from Zac Stacy for the top spot in St. Louis. That leaves Bishop Sankey as the favorite to be the 2014 offensive rookie of the year.
Sankey has the benefit of opportunity. He is expected to be Tennessee’s starting running back from Week 1 behind one of the league’s best offensive lines in the game. According to Pro Football Focus, the Titan’s O-Line ranked eighth in the league for run blocking while their tight end, Taylor Thompson, led his position with a 4.0 run block rating in 2013. Their other TE, Craig Stevens, ranked eighth.
The last seven NFL offensive rookies of the year have come from the NFC, starting with running back Adrien Peterson (MIN) in 2007 and ending with running back Eddie Lacy (Green Bay) last season. Expect Sankey to start a new trend.