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Bleacher Report’s Expert Consensus NFL Rookie Award Predictions – Bleacher Report

Sports 03 May 2017
Bleacher Report’s Expert Consensus NFL Rookie Award Predictions – Bleacher Report

NFL DraftBleacher Report's Expert Consensus NFL Rookie Award PredictionsGary DavenportNFL AnalystMay 3, 2017

Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus NFL Rookie Award Predictions

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    The 2017 NFL draft has come and gone, and from Texas A&M edge-rusher Myles Garrett at No. 1 overall to Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly at No. 253, we know where the players from the class of 2017 will begin their professional careers.

    From the moment the festivities ended in Philadelphia, there's been analysis galore of this year's draft. Grades have been assigned. Draft classes have been both praised and pilloried. And a plethora of predictions have been offered up for the pro prospects of the top prospects in 2017.

    I know, I know…it's poetry.

    Well, here at Bleacher Report, our NFL writers like predictions as much as anyone else. So we've gathered our intrepid band of scribes at our secret lair in a hollowed-out volcano (or it could have been a Buffalo Wild Wings—it's practically the same thing) to offer up their takes on which first-year players will make the biggest (and in some cases smallest) dents in the NFL in 2017.

Most Passing Yards

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans (9 votes)

    Clemson's Deshaun Watson wasn't the first quarterback selected in the draft, but it's hard to argue he's in the best position for success in Year 1 of his career.

    Whereas Mitchell Trubisky (Chicago Bears) and DeShone Kizer (Cleveland Browns) were drafted by terrible teams and Patrick Mahomes is behind an established starter in Kansas City, the only thing standing between Watson and playing time with the Houston Texans is the immortal Tom "Randy" Savage.

    Oh Yeah!

    Though the Texans dealt their first-round picks in 2017 and 2018 to move up to acquire Watson, Houston head coach Bill O'Brien told ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop that Savage remains the team's starter…for now.

    "As a rookie quarterback, it's a big jump," O'Brien said. "Tom is our starter, and Deshaun will come in and he's going to work hard, and we're going to teach him and feed him a lot of information, and he'll work at it."

    Savage is a fourth-year pro with two career starts. His next NFL touchdown will be his first.

    Houston has aspirations of a deep playoff run in 2017. If—or when—Savage struggles, it won't take long for the clamoring for Watson to begin.

    Is Watson ready to run O'Brien's complex offense? Not necessarily.

    But it's likely he'll get a chance to learn by doing.

    Others receiving votes: DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns (1 vote)

Most Rushing Yards

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    Lisa Lake/Getty Images

    Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars (8 votes)

    For the second consecutive year, a running back was taken with the fourth overall pick in the draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars can only hope Leonard Fournette has the sort of success Ezekiel Elliott had with the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.

    The addition of Fournette gave the Jaguars a 6'0", 228-pound battering ram to build their running game around, and while lauding the pick, ESPN's Todd McShay (via Jim Kleinpeter of the New Orleans Times-Picayune) said it reeked of the influence of Jacksonville's new executive vice president of football operations:

    I don't think there's a player in this draft that could help you transition to focusing on defense, slowing down the game on offense, limiting mistakes and not forcing the defense to be on the field too often. … There's not [a pick] that had that value and can provide that more than Leonard Fournette.

    I love the pick because it has Tom Coughlin written all over it. Philosophically what Jacksonville will transition [to] is play to their strength and their strength is defense. They've got this young, talented defense that was playing at a playoff level in the second half of last season.

    There's little doubt Fournette will slide into the lead role in the Jaguars backfield. I hope T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory are renting, because if all goes well, one or both may be on borrowed time in J-Ville.

    It's not realistic to expect Fournette to match Elliott's league-leading 1,631 rushing yards as a rookie. In addition to his substantial gifts as a runner, Elliott also got to play behind the best offensive line in the NFL.

    Fournette didn't get quite that lucky, but he's an excellent bet to lead all rookie backs in carries in 2017.

    And carries lead to yards.

    Others receiving votes: Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (2 votes)

Most Receiving Yards

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans (4 votes)

    It was a mild upset when Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis was the first wide receiver selected in the draft. Davis was unable to participate in predraft workouts because of ankle surgery, which some predicted could lead to a draft-day slide.

    Clemson's Mike Williams was widely considered the favorite to be the first receiver selected, and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller still expects the No. 7 overall pick to top rookie receivers in yards in 2017:

    Pairing Mike Williams with a Philip Rivers is a recipe for big production right away. Given Williams' ability to beat defenses both over the top with speed and with excellent size and strength in traffic, he's an ideal fit in Anthony Lynn's offense and will give Rivers that big target with a massive catch radius he's lacked since Antonio Gates started to slow down.

    Not only did Davis not slide, however, he did Williams one better. He didn't make it out of the top five.

    The Tennessee Titans made the 6'3", 209-pound Davis the fifth pick, hoping the wildly productive wideout will continue to produce as Marcus Mariota's top target.

    As Jim Wyatt reported for the team's website, the young quarterback is among those who was pleased with the selection.

    "I am excited," Mariota said. "I am excited for our entire draft class. I think we brought in a lot of really good players, and it will be fun getting to know them and build relationships that will hopefully allow us to have some success on the field."

    Assuming Davis is fully healthy, he should be the No. 1 receiver in Tennessee from the moment he steps on the field.

    And if Mariota similarly recovers from his broken leg, the door will be wide open for a highly productive first NFL season by the man who ruled the Mid-American Conference last year.

    Others receiving votes: Zay Jones, WR, Buffalo Bills (3 votes); Mike Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers (2 votes); Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers (1 vote)

Most Tackles

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Reuben Foster, LB, San Francisco 49ers (5 votes)

    Corey Davis may have avoided a slide in the draft, but Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster wasn't so lucky.

    Despite winning the Butkus Award in 2016 as college football's best linebacker, Foster nearly fell out of the first round over concerns about his surgically repaired shoulder and a diluted urine sample at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    However, while some teams had soured on Foster, Peter King of The MMQB, who spent the draft with the San Francisco 49ers, reported the team ranked the 6'1", 228-pounder third overall on its big board.

    So new 49ers general manager John Lynch traded down and still snagged Foster at No. 31. And in doing so, Greg Cosell of NFL Films told Kevin Jones of KNBR that Lynch and the Niners got one of the biggest steals of the draft.

    I think Foster, to me, was the second best prospect in this draft behind Myles Garrett. There's nothing not to like. In fact, I do an Excel spreadsheet, and I go strengths, weaknesses, transition. I had nothing under weaknesses. I think as a player on the field — and I know there are other issues and that's probably why he dropped — some injury concerns, perhaps some other things.

    But I think he's a high-level linebacker prospect. He's got all the athletic and movement traits you look for. He's a physical player; he's a warrior. There's not really a weakness physically, athletically and competitively in his game.

    Our panel appears to agree, with half the votes going to Foster to be the leading tackler among rookies in 2017. If he stays healthy, the opportunities should certainly be there on a team that was historically bad against the run a year ago.

    The vote wasn't unanimous, however. Jarrad Davis, who should start at middle linebacker from Day 1 for the Detroit Lions, landed in a better spot for tackle production, as Bleacher Report's Brad Gagnon argued:

    Davis had 94 tackles in his last full season at Florida, and he's got the speed and range to become a tackle machine at the NFL level. He also might be in the right place at the right time if indeed he can win the starting middle linebacker job in Detroit. While serving in that role last year, Tahir Whitehead—an inferior player—tied for ninth in the league with 132 tackles.

    Foster won the day, though, so he's the pick.

    Democracy at work.

    Others receiving votes: Jarrad Davis, LB, Detroit Lions (3 votes); Jamal Adams, S, New York Jets (1 vote); Zach Cunningham, ILB, Houston Texans (1 vote)

Most Sacks

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns (7 votes)

    The Cleveland Browns got it right in the first round. The team's haul—including three players and an extra No. 1 in 2018—was almost universally hailed.

    That might be a sign of the apocalypse. I'm thinking of building an ark.

    The Browns started the festivities with the pick most expected, tabbing Texas A&M edge-rusher Myles Garrett at No. 1.

    There were those, however, who felt before the draft that Garrett wasn't worthy of the selection. Warren Sapp made his feelings on the subject clear, ripping Garrett on NFL Network.

    As Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported, Garrett heard Sapp's criticisms, and they'll be ringing in his ears as he's chasing quarterbacks:

    It adds more fuel to the fire. It's burning hot right now. Everybody thinks that they can count me out. It doesn't matter what they say. It matters what the pads say, what the grind says when we finally get to the season—how much work you want to put in, how hard you want to prepare. That will speak volumes when you finally get there.

    It's important to note pass-rushers face one of the steepest learning curves upon entering the NFL. Joey Bosa's 10.5 sacks in his first season in 2016 is the exception and not the rule.

    But Garrett was a near-unanimous choice as this year's No. 1 overall prospect by the draft community. The 6'4", 272-pounder possesses the kind of explosiveness and agility that doesn't come along every year.

    If Garrett plays at a level that's even close to his ceiling, he's going to be a regular visitor to Pro Bowls and an annual contender to be named Defensive Player of the Year.

    Given that upside, it's not difficult to see why Garrett was the pick to be the rookie sack leader.

    Others receiving votes: Derek Barnett, DE, Philadelphia Eagles (1 vote); Charles Harris, DE, Miami Dolphins (1 vote); Derek Rivers, DE, New England Patriots (1 vote)

Most Interceptions

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Malik Hooker, S, Indianapolis Colts (7 votes)

    This category is nigh impossible to predict, largely because interceptions are possibly the flukiest stat in football. There just isn't necessarily a correlation between how well a young defensive back plays and how many picks he reels in.

    Well, unless his name is Marcus Peters.

    With that said, given what Malik Hooker accomplished for the Ohio State Buckeyes during his breakout 2016 campaign, the 15th pick in the draft seems a reasonable enough choice to have the stickiest fingers among rookies this year.

    Hooker intercepted seven passes for the Buckeyes in 2016, tying for second-most in the Football Bowl Subdivision. He returned three of those picks for touchdowns, which tied for the most.

    Per Kevin Bowen of the Indianapolis Colts' website, it's that nose for the rock that led new general manager Chris Ballard to take Hooker in the first round:

    I really thought coming in here we needed to add defensive playmakers. I thought Hooker was the best athlete in the draft. And he's got a unique skill set. He's got size. He's got speed. He's got great instincts and ball skills. And guys that can take away the football are hard to find, and we think he can do that at this level.

    Head coach Chuck Pagano echoed Ballard's sentiments.

    "You just look at our ball production last year, or lack thereof; it wasn't good enough, obviously," Pagano said. "You've got to be able to take the ball away. Obviously, this kid can do that, returning three for touchdowns. You get a guy with that rare talent and that rare ability. It will help us."

    You can't expect the 6'2", 205-pound Hooker to snare seven interceptions and return three for touchdowns every season. Well, I suppose you can—but you're going to be disappointed.

    But there's no denying Hooker has tremendous instincts, coverage ability and plays bigger than his size and that safety was a huge area of need for the Colts.

    Others receiving votes: Gareon Conley, CB, Oakland Raiders (1 vote); Quincy Wilson, CB, Indianapolis Colts (2 votes)

Biggest Flop

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears (5 votes)

    Former North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky needs a hug.

    There's not a pick in the first round of this year's draft that was panned more than the Chicago Bears' decision to move up one spot to select Trubisky at No. 2.

    Per Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com, head coach John Fox didn't know general manager Ryan Pace was even planning to make the move. It was the beginning of a draft that left at least one executive from a perennial playoff team scratching his head:

    We don't know what the hell they were doing. It's all anyone is talking about. It's really bad between Pace and Fox. Fox is fuming about being left in the dark on the trade. I don't know anyone who likes their draft. From the first pick on, we can't figure out what they were doing. Go back and look at how many small-school kids they took. People around the league are shocked. It's really bad between Pace and Fox.

    Mind you, it isn't just that Pace sent several picks to San Francisco so he could move up to take a player he all but certainly could have had anyway had he just stayed in the third slot.

    Per Bleacher Report's Sean Tomlinson, it's also a matter of the extra pressure the trade put on Trubisky:

    If Trubisky develops into a franchise cornerstone quarterback, he'll make us all quickly forget about the massive draft trade the Bears made to select him. But that bar is now set exceedingly high for an inexperienced prospect who made 13 starts at the college level. Realistically, only the most elite quarterbacks can justify the draft capital Chicago gave up. And now with three picks gone between 2017 and 2018, plugging in quality young talent around him could be difficult.

    Mind you, the Bears insist Mike Glennon (remember him? Chicago is paying him $18.5 million this season) will start and they are in no hurry to rush Trubisky out there.

    But as the losses start to mount, so will the pressure to roll out the quarterback who has been anointed the Bears' savior, if only by virtue of what Chicago gave up to get him.

    So we have an inexperienced quarterback on a talent-deficient team with fractured leadership who will soon be hearing cries to start the player for whom they paid so much.

    Trubisky is set up to fail.

    Others receiving votes: John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (2 votes); Jabrill Peppers, S, Cleveland Browns (1 vote); Adam Shaheen, TE, Chicago Bears (1 vote); Mike Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers (1 vote)

Surprise Star

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Curtis Samuel, WR, Carolina Panthers (2 votes)

    While we haven't had a unanimous vote so far, most of the categories featured a clear winner.

    That isn't the case with the surprise star. I suppose it's fitting. After all, if everyone voted for the same player, it wouldn't be much of a surprise.

    Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman went with Washington State wide receiver Gabe Marks, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the New York Jets.

    "Marks is the all-time Pac-12 leader in receptions, and I don't think he was a system receiver," Freeman said. "That's the knock on him. I saw differently. I saw a guy who can be explosive at the NFL level."

    Only one player, however, received multiple votes.

    It might seem odd to call a second-round pick a surprise star, but it's fair to wonder where Curtis Samuel's touches will come from since the Carolina Panthers also drafted Christian McCaffrey in Round 1.

    Samuel told Max Henson of the team's website his new coaches informed him he will play in the slot:

    They're going to use me primarily as a slot receiver—that's why they're bringing me in there. They feel like I can help the team a lot. They told me we're going to do some of that too, but they got a great draft pick in Christian McCaffrey, who is a terrific player. I definitely like the way he plays. I'll be primarily in the slot, but sometimes we'll both be in the backfield with Cam [Newton]. I feel like it's going to be great.

    The team needs a couple of things on offense. Newton needs a reliable receiving target to complement Greg Olsen in the passing game, and the Panthers need other dynamic playmakers to step forward.

    If they get Samuel the ball in space, he could be special.

    Others receiving votes: Zach Cunningham, ILB, Houston Texans (1 vote); De'Angelo Henderson, RB, Denver Broncos (1 vote); Brian Hill, RB, Atlanta Falcons (1 vote); Kevin King, CB, Green Bay Packers (1 vote); Gabe Marks, WR, New York Jets (1 vote); Marcus Maye, S, New York Jets (1 vote); Taywan Taylor, WR, Tennessee Titans (1 vote); DeMarcus Walker, DE, Denver Broncos (1 vote)

Offensive Rookie of the Year

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans (4 votes)

    In the weeks leading up to the Draft, among talk that Mitchell Trubisky would likely be the first quarterback drafted, Deshaun Watson made one thing clear.

    Teams that passed on him would do so at their own peril.

    "You're gonna have to live with the consequences that come with it. That's how I see it," Watson told the NFL Network's Good Morning Football (via NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman). "I try to stay in my lane. I try not to take the path. I respect Mitch and what he's done and all the hype he's getting, but at the same time, my result speaks for itself. I feel like I've accomplished everything that I could. I guess if that's who they're gonna roll with, so be it."

    Sure enough, Trubisky was picked second overall by the Chicago Bears. And Patrick Mahomes went to the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 10. And then the Houston Texans grabbed Watson at No. 12.

    When it's all said and done, at least one of those teams is going to live to regret it.

    Watson doesn't have Trubisky's accuracy or Mahomes' arm strength. But the 6'2", 221-pounder has shown at least one ability we've yet to see from either of those players.

    He wins football games. I'm pretty sure that's important in the NFL.

    The Texans can say they aren't going to rush Watson and that Tom Savage will open the season as the starter until they're blue in the face.

    But if Watson proves to be a quick study, that will go out the window. Same thing if the Texans struggle out of the gate.

    This isn't a team undergoing a rebuild like the Bears. Or a team with an established veteran like the Chiefs, who have the luxury of "redshirting" Mahomes behind Alex Smith in 2017.

    You can make a strong argument today that Houston's best chance to make the playoffs again in 2017 lies with Watson under center from the get-go.

    If that's how things play out, and Houston does advance to the postseason, Watson will be a lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    Others receiving votes: Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (3 votes); Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers (3 votes)

Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns (5 votes)

    Four young defenders received votes for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski cast his for San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster:

    Now that the draft is over, with every physical and character blemish exposed during the evaluation process, Foster can get back to doing what he does best: playing football. Based purely on his 2016 tape, Foster was considered a top-five prospect. The 49ers even considered drafting him with the third overall pick if Solomon Thomas wasn't on the board. Instead, the team acquired both, and Foster has a chance to showcase his uncanny sideline-to-sideline tackling ability behind a defensive wall that features Thomas, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Aaron Lynch.

    A pair of Ohio State defensive backs also received at least one vote apiece: Indianapolis Colts safety Malik Hooker and cornerback Gareon Conley of the Oakland Raiders.

    The leading vote-getter, however, was the first defender—and first player—chosen: Myles Garrett.

    According to Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, Garrett landed in the perfect spot to maximize his immense talent.

    "The Browns are desperate for a superstar talent," he wrote, "and that's a good way to describe Garrett. Some worry about the fit with fiery defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, but I think he'll get the best out of Garrett."

    Yes, someone just called Cleveland the perfect place for a player who's actually good.

    Yes, I think that's also a sign of the apocalypse.

    Kidding aside, the attacking four-man front the Browns will deploy under Williams will provide an excellent showcase for the things Garrett does best. He's not going to be tasked with a lot of pass coverage or reacting to plays.

    He's going to be cut loose to tear upfield and get after the quarterback.

    Others receiving votes: Malik Hooker, S, Indianapolis Colts (3 votes); Gareon Conley, CB, Oakland Raiders (1 vote); Reuben Foster, LB, San Francisco 49ers (1 vote)

Rookie of the Year

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans (4 votes)

    It's a fact of life in the National Football League—it's a quarterback's world, and everyone else is just living in it.

    Last year, Dallas Cowboys tailback Ezekiel Elliott spent much of the season chasing Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record. He led the NFL with 1,631 yards on the ground, despite not playing the final week of the season.

    And Elliott still didn't win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, which instead went to teammate Dak Prescott.

    Of course, since the moment Prescott exploded onto the scene, fans and teams alike have been searching for the next Dak Prescott.

    Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier thinks the Houston Texans may just have found him.

    Sort of:

    When searching for the next Dak Prescott, you should not look for the quarterback who is most Dak Prescott-like. You should look for the situation that is most like the one Prescott fell into with the Cowboys. Watson will easily win a starting job for a playoff team with an outstanding defense that will create excellent field position for him, a deep receiving corps and backfield, a pretty good offensive line and a weak slate of division opponents. He can lead the Texans to 11 or 12 wins just by distributing the ball and avoiding mistakes. It's an ideal situation for a rookie, and Watson is the ideal rookie for the situation because he's unlikely to have any of the "game's too big for him" issues that hamper the development of other rookie quarterbacks who didn't play in the highest-profile college football games ever for several consecutive seasons.

    I both agree with the esteemed Mr. Tanier and hope he's wrong.

    Watson was my No. 1 quarterback entering the draft, and he's my No. 1 quarterback after it.

    But if we're right, then the Cleveland Browns will once again have missed out on an opportunity to draft the franchise quarterback they've sought for two decades. Just like they did with Russell Wilson. And Derek Carr.

    And their loss will be the Texans' gain.

    Others receiving votes: Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (3 votes); Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers (3 votes)

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