Jameis Winston: AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Candidate
Super Bowl 50 will feature the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. As they look on to this historic event, the Rams, Raiders, and Buccaneers are hoping the story of their next Super Bowl title starts with a rookie of the year winner of their own. Jameis Winston is one of those candidates, and he is a strong one.
On February 6th, the 2015 NFL Honors award show will commence, and this year’s class of awardees will be solidified in NFL history. Among the awards to be given out is the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year award, for which there are many nominees from a draft class which has impacted the league on many levels. Of all the candidates, there are three offensive rookies who were also named to this year’s Pro Bowl, firmly separating them from their peers. One of those vying for the title of offensive rookie of the year, is Buccaneers’ quarterback Jameis Winston.
The number one overall pick out of Florida State, Winston’s season didn’t start as well as he might have dreamed. With his first professional pass being intercepted by Gerald Sensabaugh of the Tennessee Titans, it was clear Winston’s rookie season would be anything other than ordinary.
When the season ended, Winston tallied more than 4,000 yards passing and 22 touchdown passes compared to 15 interceptions. He also added six rushing touchdowns, a Buccaneers’ record for quarterbacks.
His stat line made Winston just the third rookie in NFL history to throw for over 4,000 yards, but he wasn’t done there. Winston also tied the NFL record for passing touchdowns in a single game when he fired five touchdowns to five different receivers against the Philadelphia Eagles. He is the third rookie to ever accomplish the feat, and is the fourth Buccaneer’s quarterback in history to do so.
In the same game, Winston joined fellow rookie Marcus Mariota as the only rookies to throw for four touchdowns in a single half. In total, Winston set or matched six NFL marks, including being the youngest quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards.
Winston’s career could not have started much better from an individual stand point, and his achievements helped lead the Buccaneers to a 6-10 record, tripling the teams 2015 win total. With the new leader firmly entrenched in the Buccaneers’ future, the team has a positive outlook, and capping it all off with an OROY Award seems to be inevitable.
If only it were that easy. There are two other rookies providing serious competition to Winston for the honor; Rams running back Todd Gurley, and Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Cooper was the fourth overall pick out of Alabama, and has since become quarterback Derek Carr’s favorite target. Unfortunately, Cooper’s impressive debut season was also met with some injuries. A quadriceps injury, followed by a foot injury, hampered the star’s rookie campaign contributing to Cooper only reeling in ten catches in the final four games of the season.
While Cooper didn’t miss any games due to the injuries, there’s no doubt his overall contribution would have been significantly better had he been able to avoid these troubles. In the eight games prior to Cooper’s first appearance on the injury report, the rookie hauled in at least four catches in each game totaling 45 catches, and 653 yards. In the eight games following his appearance on the injury report, Cooper hauled in just 27 catches for 417 yards. Clearly, a significant drop in production.
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In total, Cooper caught 72 passes for 1,070 yards, and hauled in six touchdowns. The Raiders rookie far surpassed the rookie seasons of Raiders’ greats, Tim Brown and Fred Biletnikoff. In fact, Cooper set Raiders’ rookie records in receptions and 100-yard games.
The top receiver drafted, Cooper led all rookie NFL receivers in catches, yards, yards per game, and tied with the Seahawks’ Tyler Lockett in touchdown receptions.
Not meeting any NFL records will count against the Raiders receiver as his competition was able to meet league high levels throughout the season, but no matter what, Cooper’s first season shows he has the potential to be one of the league’s best receivers for a long time to come.
Gurley rounded out the top-10 in the 2015 NFL Draft, and concerns surrounded him due to an ACL injury suffered in his last season at the University of Georgia.
After being drafted, Gurley missed three games in the 2015 season due to injuries, and was unable to make his season debut until Week 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even in his debut, it was clear the team did not want to rush the rookie into too much action too soon, as he totaled just six carries for nine yards in the game.
In Week 4, the Rams unleashed the Bulldog and he rewarded them with a 146 yard outburst, leading the team to a win over the eventual NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals. In his first four career starts, Gurley ran for more yards than any other back in the same time span. In total, Gurley ripped off four straight 100-yard games, and totaled 566 yards over that span.
All told, Gurley carried the ball 229 times in those 13 games, and became the NFL’s third leading rusher with 1,106 yards rushing. He added 10 rushing touchdowns, and became the only offensive rookie named to the Pro Bowl without first being an alternate. His performance also earned him a spot on the second team All-Pro list, and was named the Pro Football Writers of America Rookie of the Year.
Providing a boost to Gurley’s chances is in the last decade, the only time the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America have picked a different offensive rookie of the year was in 2013. The AP picked Packers running back Eddie Lacy as their winner while the writers selected Chargers receiver Keenan Allen.
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Ultimately, one of these deserving young players will be named the best rookie this season. It’s too close to call, but no matter who the winner is, all three have bright futures ahead of them.
With the level of competition currently residing in the NFL, it’s no surprise the race is so close. On February 6th, it’ll be Winston and Buccaneers’ fans hoping he can set another team mark, and become the first quarterback in franchise history to be named the Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.