The top 2017 Rookie of the Year candidates

Senior Analyst Sam Monson names the top candidates for offensive and defense Rookie of the Year around the league in 2017.

| 3 weeks ago
Deshaun Watson

(Elsa/Getty Images)

The top 2017 Rookie of the Year candidates


The 2017 NFL Draft is behind us now, but draft coverage wouldn’t be complete without an all-too-early look at the favorites for rookie of the year now we know the situation each rookie has landed in.

Offensive Rookie of the Year:

1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

Any quarterback that performs well has the inside track to Rookie of the Year, and at least on paper, Watson is the only one of the top four that figures to start early. Watson also has a lot to like about his game, and you need look no further than the national title game against Alabama for a look at what he can do. Three touchdowns, no picks, 72 rushing yards, and another score behind an offensive line that was overmatched and overwhelmed much of the game shows elite potential. In that game, his NFL passer rating when pressured was 80.4, and he still completed 50 percent of his passes. If he can eliminate or limit his mistakes, he could have early success for Houston.

Deshaun Watson

2. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings brought over Latavius Murray in free agency, but Cook’s slip in the draft changed everything, and gave them an outstanding talent to vault to the top of the depth chart. Cook broke 92 tackles in college last season, 16 more than any other back in the FBS, and gained almost 1,800 yards behind some blocking that was far from stellar. Cook has phenomenal potential and brings a skill set that can keep him on the field for all three downs, something I question about Leonard Fournette, who would otherwise have a good case for this spot.

Dalvin Cook

3. Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans

Any of the top three receivers from this draft could easily push for this spot, but I love the fit of Davis in Tennessee, because that team has been crying out for an impact receiver and has been prepared to start and lean on rookies to try and find one. Last year, Tajae Sharpe – a fifth-round rookie – saw 77 targets, and if Davis gets that volume of chances he’s going to have a huge impact. Over the past three seasons in college he averaged more than eight yards per reception after the catch, so he can make a lot happen on his own once he gets the ball in his hands.

Corey Davis

Defensive Rookie of the Year:

1. Malik Hooker, S, Indianapolis Colts

Interceptions earn you notoriety in the secondary and though they may not always correlate to elite play, they get you noticed come awards time. Hooker has the best ball skills of any safety to come along in years, and has the ability to make an Earl Thomas-style of impact in the Indianapolis secondary. Hooker has a highlight-reel tape of some of the most astonishing interceptions in college football last season and his biggest problem (missed tackles – 13 of them in 2016) is something that tends to get swept under the carpet a little when evaluating play.

Malik Hooker

2. Reuben Foster, LB, San Francisco 49ers

I’m trusting the San Francisco 49ers medical staff here, but if Foster is healthy, he can make a monster impact in year one for that defense. Foster has no holes in his game, and flows to the football like Luke Kuechly does, and he could rack up a monster number of tackles, defensive stops, pressures and plays in the backfield if he stays out there for a whole season. Foster could be the perfect marriage of highlight-reel play, box-score stats and PFF play-by-play grading.

Reuben Foster

3. Derek Barnett, Edge, Philadelphia Eagles

Myles Garrett is the obvious call here, but I like Barnett’s landing spot a little better with the Philadelphia Eagles. Barnett should be able to be unleashed as a situational pass-rusher on a good defense, and could rack up a big number of sacks early on, not to mention consistent pressure. Barnett not only broke Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee, but notched 187 total pressures over the past three seasons, averaging 62 a season, and if he can translate that consistent pressure to the NFL level, he has a good chance to put up the kind of sack numbers that gets award consideration.

Derek Barnett 2

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Patrick

    Strange list. Watson probably won’t even play this season unless Savage gets injured or Watson masters a very complex offensive scheme before game 1 of the regular season. Both are unlikely at this point.

    Why Cook over Fournette? Fournette’s situation is much better, despite my trepidation about the Jags. Cook is a great talent, but will still be behind one of the worst OLines with Bradford dinking and dunking down the field so that the defense loads the box.

    Have many rookie WRs ever won RoY besides ODB? Mike Evans was a rookie that year as well, but that is unique class. This year’s WR class is underwhelming and I’m not much of a believer in Mariota as a passer.

    And Barnett is probably in a heavy rotation with Curry and Long.

    • LukeCageIsTheRage

      Are you out of your mind? Cook over Fournette is an easy call. Cook plays for the Vikings. Fournette plays for the Jags. Nuff said there. Watson is a better QB than you give him credit for. Instead of regurgitating the same racist, negative stereotypical analysis that comes from 90% of the white media talking heads who always run a smear campaign against every black QB that comes out of college in order to pump up the next “great white hope,” why don’t you learn how to formulate your own UNBIASED opinion based off of TALENT instead of your own preconceived agendas?

      • Christopher Ayers

        You totally lost me when you started in on the racism. This is a website for football discussions. If you could keep YOUR agenda out of it that would be great.

        Vikings had an all time great in Adrian Peterson and couldn’t help him… what makes you think Cook will be different? Use stats and logical arguments this time instead of “nuh uh you’re wrong and racist.”

        • LukeCageIsTheRage

          1st off this IS a football discussion and that’s regardless of how much you’re trying to ignore the fact that racial bias exists in sports. So instead of throwing out false accusations of other people calling you on your obvious agenda, GTF over yours.

          “Vikings had an all time great in Adrian Peterson and couldn’t help him… what makes you think Cook will be different?..” WTF makes YOU think Fournette will do anything with the Jags when they’ve been nothing but bottom feeders the entire time they’ve been in the league? They haven’t had a QB since Mark Brunell! At least the Vikings have one in Bradford who BTW had a very solid yr last year. Mike Zimmer is an excellent coach and his system is tailor-made for Cook’s skill set. THAT’S how I know things will be different. Peterson was a liability in the passing game. Cook won’t be. Before you come back and try and have an actual football discussion try to grow the fk up first instead of hurling more of your elementary “Nu Uh” comments which BTW was a racist dig at street slang toward someone you w/out even fking know what color they are all on your own…

          • Christopher Ayers

            LMAO no one brought up race but you. Troll somewhere else. Your football points are valid. Your trolling is below average at best. My agenda is talk about football. What’s your agenda?

            if this was an article about racial inequality than it would be pertinent to the conversation. No where in the article or comments prior to yours mentions anything about race.

          • Christopher Ayers

            I will no longer be feeding the troll. If anyone would like to talk football please do.

          • LukeCageIsTheRage

            You haven’t talked football since you’ve been here. All you’ve done is post poorly thought out POVs with nothing to back up your words. I think that makes you a troll.

          • LukeCageIsTheRage

            No trolling here, but you already knew that. Typical response from a racist who’s in denial. You told on yourself with that “Nu Uh” comment. Also, you don’t have to mention race in order to be guilty of racism. See, people like you and the so called “scouts/analysts” who’s words you so easily regurgitate whenever you talk about a black QB all have a pattern that’s really gotten old. Every yr you say the exact same things about any black QB prospect coming out of college. You always say they’re “not smart enough to play the position, RBs playing QB, injury prone, too small,” etc while trumping up white QBs who haven’t even had the level of success that the Black QBs you tear down do. You did the same thing this yr with Watson vs Trubisky. That BS actually helped Trubisky get drafted way before he should have. I’m glad you did though because it actually helped Watson go to a true contender while Trubisky went to an NFL laughing stock. He’ll be out of the league in 3 years just like every other white QB you morons thought was gonna be the next John Elway. Watson on the other hand is going to go on to have a career far more relevant than the QBs you all thought were better than him. Put that sht in your corn pipe and smoke that one.

          • RDF

            Re “Every yr you say the exact same things about any black QB prospect coming out of college. You always say they’re “not smart enough to play the position, RBs playing QB, injury prone, too small,” etc” – sadly true in 1967, possibly true in 1977, not at all true today.

        • brian199511

          Peterson WAS a great RB. WAS is the operative term.

          • Christopher Ayers

            We don’t know if it was or is. Minnesota had the 29th ranked oline last year. It’s hard to gauge a RB behind a line that bad.

          • brian199511

            You have a point, but Peterson has been a big zero for a couple of years. If you were starting a team right now would you want Peterson or Cook? I’m taking Cook. Nothing against a ten year career of achievement but time waits for no one.

      • Patrick

        Why did you have to get so negative and call me racist when I clearly never said anything of the like. I’m a huge Watson fan and love his situation and the Texans trading up for him. But I don’t expect him to play much in 2017. That is being objective.

        The Vikings were not a very good team in 2016. Fournette is going to be playing on a much better offense with more opportunities. Give me Fournette all day over Cook’s talent.

    • Christopher Ayers

      A RB is going to win ORY. It was a deep RB class and a really weak QB class. None of the QB’s were early first round talent. QB desperate teams still had to draft them early.

      If I had to guess I would put Fournette over Cook. Jags have a better OLine and Bortles should be enough of a threat to keep DB’s honest. Also Vikings are going to be splitting carries with Murray.

    • brian199511

      Methinks you don’t know what you are talking about. It ain’t the same line as last year, Fournette is a one trick pony and you obviously don’t understand Bradford’s play.

    • Scott VanArsdale

      Uh, Tom Savage sucks…..Watson will be the starter Wk 1……he has a lot of Russell WIlson characteristics in his personality…Wilson was 32nd and last in passer rating thru 4 wks of 2012 season, then was 4th best QB from wk5 on…who’s to say Watson couldn’t do the same?

  • JamesJAllDay

    Agree with Christopher Ayers. Cmon man.

  • Frank

    wow someone was smoking something when they wrote this article!! Corey Davis possibly my money would be on Mixon for offence!! how could you go with anyone but Garrett on defense Maybe Adams! hooker is stuck on a shit team that’s tuff when your a safety.

    • Dave Nelson

      Colts are not a shit team. Last 2 years were tough, but not shit. Jags are shit, Colts building a good defense for once. We will be back on top, mark my words. Grigson gone….Ballard in. We be back!!!

      • Scott VanArsdale

        Luck gets dumped on that shoulder early in the season and you will be fortunate to win 6 games.

  • Robert William Benedict III

    I like seeing Cook as a potential offensive player of the year award. I am guessing with all the bad luck the Vikings had last year they are do for some good luck. The start was getting Delvin as the 41st pick. They release probably the best running back of his time and get the good fortune of another running back that could get greater total yards numbers than Adrian in his first year depending of course on how well the offensive line does. With the Vikings filling in where they had needs this team should assist Delvn and vise versa…Skol up and down…

    • doug brown

      Wait… so you are saying if a team has one year of bad luck then they are due for a year of good luck?
      Has anyone let the Browns know about this process or are they just stock piling “good luck years” like they do draft picks? Trading this years good luck for 2 years of good luck a decade from now & so on & so forth. Hopefully analytics can account for some good luck coming our way for a change lol.

      • RDF

        The “bad luck doesn’t carry over” argument is especially odd with regard to the Vikings. That said, speaking as a Vikings fan, I hope this theory is 100 percent ironclad correct.

      • brian199511

        I think he is talking about a team with bad luck but decent management.

        • doug brown

          Haha… fair enough

    • Patrick

      AP was in a significant timeshare early in his rookie season. That was why he didn’t go for even more yards his rookie season. AP is a generational talent at RB. Cook is not. They are downgrading the RB position as I still think AP has another couple good years left in him. But they were smart to finally move on from AP.

      I still don’t like the Vikings’ offensive situation. The OLine hasn’t seen much improvement in the offseason. Going to be a tough year running behind that line.

      I like Mixon’s or Fournette’s situations much more.

      • Samuel Charles

        *AD

  • brian199511

    Cook would seem to have the inside track on offense. Defense is less clear but picking that QB is like picking the horse that didn’t even race in the Kentucky Derby.

  • Jim Werner

    Since Garrett join the Browns that eliminates him from being a potential Defensive rookie of the year?????? He was called a generational talent but since he’s in Cleveland forget about him making an impact.WTF! He should be first hands down. I’m a buckeyes fan and even I know Hooker couldn’t make a tackle even if his life depended on it.Wow. What a joke.

  • Troy J Orourke

    so trusting the San Francisco 49ers medical staff is a good move you believe? over the 30 other ones ?

  • crosseyedlemon

    Sam has provided a reason why he prefers Cook over Fournette but why is McCaffery being disregarded as a possibility?

  • Robert William Benedict III

    Doug I was definitely taking into consideration that the Vikings had put together a good team last year and seemed to be ready for a run. So what Brian stated was left out of my comment. Now back to the Browns. Actually, it seems like they have gotten good luck now what they do with it will depend on their coaches…