The grueling NFL Draft process is over, and all the top prospects have found new homes. It's out of the frying pan and into the fire, though, and these players must now compete for game snaps -- in some cases against guys who have been in the league since the rookies were in middle school. For some, it will be a process that takes two or three years; for others, they'll be counted on to be an immediate contributor and core player. So, for 2015, who will those few instant impact players be?
Scheme, depth and talent should all play roles -- but let's take a quick look at a few candidates for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Over the past 20 seasons, there have been 10 running backs who won the award, six quarterbacks and four receivers. Odell Beckham Jr. won it last year after catching 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 12 games. Eddie Lacy grabbed it the year before for the Packers, and Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Sam Bradford the years before that.
Who will it be this year?
Jameis Winston/Marcus Mariota
I'm guessing pretty much everyone is sick and tired of hearing about these two, but you can't really discount the fact that they're both likely to start for their respective teams and be asked to carry the offense for the most part.
It helps that both have good weapons at their disposal -- Winston with Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, Louis Murphy, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and a few others. Meanwhile, the Titans doubled down on the Mariota pick by grabbing Dorial Green-Beckham to augment the receiver corps that has Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Harry Douglas and Hakeem Nicks. Don't forget about Delanie Walker either.
They'll both take their knocks along the way, but they'll also have their fair share of chances at putting up big numbers. As for who has a better shot at Offensive Rookie of the Year? Good question -- I'd say that obviously Winston is more pro-ready due to his style of play and experience at Florida State. However, if the Titans can scheme Mariota correctly, it wouldn't be too weird to see him post efficient numbers as a rookie, plus boost those with some rushing yards and touchdowns.
Derek Carr threw the ball 599 times in 2015 -- seventh-most among quarterbacks in the NFL and more passes than Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers or Aaron Rodgers threw. With James Jones apparently out the door in Oakland, that leaves Michael Crabtree as your de facto No. 1, and then you have a a mishmash of others.
This means, in my estimation, that not only will Cooper start and play very early in his career, but he'll be a heavy focus as one of the offense's top weapons. If the Raiders decide to throw it 600 times again (they may not, with a new coordinator and coaching staff), I'm guessing that Cooper could reap the benefits. His savvy route-running and pro-ready style of play make him a great candidate for a big rookie year.
Look, we all like to make fun of Jay Cutler. We all get together, have a few laughs and it's great. But here's the thing -- despite all that, Cutler still puts up numbers. He finished 10th in the NFL last year in completions and 10th in touchdown passes (just behind Eli Manning and Philip Rivers). The Bears just traded away one of his best weapons in Brandon Marshall, so someone is going to need to fill that role, both in style (and we know Jay likes huck it up and trust his receivers to come down with it) and in targets.
White is bound to see the field early and often, and he has the skill set to make a mark. It wouldn't surprise me much to see Cutler and White develop a good rapport, and White could be in the OROY conversation by the end of the season.
San Diego rushed the ball 25 times per game last year (23rd in league) but mustered just 3.4 yards per carry -- second-worst in the league, only better than Arizona. The Chargers' obvious end game in moving up to draft Gordon is to improve their struggling run offense, and I'm guessing they'll give their rookie plenty of chances to do so.
Gordon will have to fight off Branden Oliver, Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead for his carries, but the absurdly prolific former Badger was not taken that early to be a complementary back. He will get as much of a load as he can carry, and if he can produce, watch for his name in that OROY hat.
Dark horse: T.J. Yeldon
Gus Bradley desperately wants a run game -- it's part of his desired identity of toughness, it would help take pressure off of Blake Bortles in his sophomore season, and it would keep his defense off the field for longer stretches of time. With the addition of Yeldon in the second round and offensive guard A.J. Cann in the third (also Jermey Parnell in free agency), don't be surprised to see Jacksonville's rush attempts per game (23 last year) skyrocket in 2015. If Yeldon can grab the starting job from Toby Gerhart and Denard Robinson, he has a shot at rushing for solid numbers.
Maybe this is an upset, but I gotta go with my gut and pick Marcus "Marioto" Mariota. In the RG3 and Cam Newton tradition, Mariota's dual-threat style will help him rack up some nice stats, and he has several really interesting weapons to throw to.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Over the past 20 seasons, defensive ends or linebackers have been the Defensive Rookie of the Year 17 times. There have been two defensive tackles (Aaron Donald last season and Ndamukong Suh in 2010), and one cornerback (Charles Woodson) during that stretch. This doesn't leave a ton of positions to look at when making your best guess on who takes home the award.
Dante Fowler Jr.
The Jaguars used their first-round pick to grab the former Florida pass rusher, and he'll have a real shot at not only stealing some of Chris Clemons' snaps from the weakside spot, but taking over for him as starter in 2015. Fowler, who notched 15 tackles for a loss, 17 quarterback hurries and 8.5 sacks in 2014, should get plenty of one-on-ones on the outside with the help of Sen'Derrick Marks and newly signed Jared Odrick, since those two draw a lot of attention on the inside.
Fowler has it all -- size, speed, length, athleticism -- and could be a real factor in his first year.
Beasley goes to a great fit in Atlanta, where he'll get personal coaching and direction from head coach Dan Quinn, a defensive line guy at heart. Beasley has freak athleticism, scary explosive attributes and consistently gets a great jump off the snap. Like Fowler, he'll get plenty of one-on-ones on the tackle outside because of a strong interior line with Paul Soliai and Ra'Shede Hageman. While they demand more double teams, Beasley can go to work.
Also important: the Falcons don't exactly have a long list of pass rushers available at the moment, so Beasley should get plenty of snaps.
The Steelers know outside linebackers and know how to get production from that spot. Dupree has all the physical attributes (and more) that you're looking for. He has a little more competition on that Pittsburgh roster than he would elsewhere, but I'd expect that he'll get snaps early and throw himself into the DROY conversation.
Ray is a very polarizing prospect -- you either love him or hate him -- but the Broncos evidently belonged to the former group. There is some question as to his athleticism, but it's hard to argue against his 2014 stats. As a junior, he racked up 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for a loss, both third nationally.
The Broncos are pretty deep at pass rusher with DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller in front of him, but he'll likely get rotated in early and if there's an injury, he can make some noise.
Dark horse: Leonard Williams
Would the AP voters pick another Jets defensive end so soon? They just might have to, as Williams gets set to line up on New York's elite front. Sheldon Richardson grabbed DROY honors in 2013, so there's precedent for players on the Jets' defensive line getting the type of attention they deserve, and Williams remains one of the top players in this class even if he went sixth.
I'm going to go with Vic Beasley, who I think is a perfect match for Atlanta and Dan Quinn's scheme. He'll get after the quarterback a lot.