The dust has settled on the 2018 NFL Draft, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the impact the rookies will have on their new teams. And for a couple players, the 2018 season will end with Rookie of the Year honors.
It’s not too difficult to narrow the list of rookies down to a handful of candidates who have the best shot at winning the awards.
For one, first-round picks have the best shot by a mile.
Since 1989, the only players taken outside the first round to win Defensive Rookie of the Year were linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Kendrell Bell, who were picked No. 33 and No. 39 overall, respectively.
Offensive players not taken in the first round have a little better chance with Alvin Kamara, Dak Prescott, and Eddie Lacy winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in three of the last five years. Prior to that was a streak of nine consecutive first-round winners.
There’s also positions.
Quarterback, running back, and wide receiver are the only three positions to ever win on offense. Duh. Every spot on defense has a good shot except safety — a position that hasn’t won since 1990 — because few are able to rack up the stats to deserve it.
So with those clues in mind, here are 10 players with a good shot at making a big enough impact to get Rookie of the Year honors for the 2018 season:
Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants: This is the easy one. Aside from his physical skills that make him an obvious choice, he’ll probably be among the league leaders in offensive touches. The Giants are going to lean on their investment in a big way, and he has the ability to turn that into a lot of touchdowns in 2018.
2. Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks: He was a surprising pick for the Seahawks, but he’s the kind of big, powerful running back that Seattle likes. In 2017, Russell Wilson led the team in rushing yards while five running backs each had between 45 and 70 carries. None of them cracked 250 yards. Penny is built to be a workhorse for the Seahawks and could get the amount of touches that Marshawn Lynch used to get in Seattle.
3. Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns: The caveat for Mayfield and every other quarterback in the rookie class is that it’ll be difficult to see the field much in 2018. Mayfield will be behind Tyrod Taylor at first, but if he takes over, he could be pretty well set up for success.
4. Ronald Jones, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He’s the only player outside the first round on this list, but Jones stands to see a lot of carries in 2018. Doug Martin led the Buccaneers in that category last season, but averaged just 2.9 yards per carry and was cut after the season ended.
5. DJ Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers: Just two receivers were picked in the first round: Moore and Calvin Ridley. While Ridley will share targets with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu in Atlanta, D.J. Moore is set to be a more featured part of the Panthers’ offense. Devin Funchess and Torrey Smith are the top two receivers in Carolina, so it’s not difficult to envision a scenario where Moore sees a lot of passes from Cam Newton in 2018.
Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates
1. Roquan Smith, LB, Chicago Bears: A good place to start is to watch Smith’s dominant finish to the Rose Bowl in January. It showed everything he can bring to the NFL. And while he’s a little undersized for a middle linebacker at 6’1, 236 pounds, Smith is ready to make an impact right away for the Bears.
2. Bradley Chubb, DE, Denver Broncos: The consensus top pass rusher of the draft class landed on a defense that already has Von Miller. Chubb will probably need to contribute as a rotational rusher with Shaquil Barrett, Shane Ray, and DeMarcus Walker among the other players on the roster. But with Miller absorbing attention, it could quickly become a dangerous one-two punch for Denver.
3. Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns: This was another somewhat surprising pick with Chubb still on the board, but it’ll be worth it if Ward is the man-to-man cornerback the Browns think he is. He’ll likely need to rack up some interceptions to win the award, but another Ohio State product, Marshon Lattimore, was Defensive Rookie of the Year with just five interceptions last year.
4. Rashaan Evans, LB, Tennessee Titans: Taking an Alabama linebacker is usually a good idea. Evans will be an instant starter in the middle of a defense that was No. 13 in yards allowed. It has a pair of pass rushers in Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, and it has a secondary with Kevin Byard, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson. With that much talent around him, Evans should be free to shine.
5. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Dallas Cowboys: The player who the Cowboys believe is “Brian Urlacher 2.0” will be an immediate starter in Dallas. In a Rod Marinelli defense, linebackers are often free to rack up big stats and Vander Esch is versatile to do a little bit of everything.