For my awards season, I went through team-by-team within their division and I selected one ‘winner’ from each team and then chose a divisional winner. One winner from the eight NFL divisions then faced off in an ‘Elite Eight’ head-to-head until we named our winner for the Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Coach of the Year.
Today, we look at: Rookie of the Year 2018 season.
NFC EAST Rookie of the Year candidates…
Dallas = Leighton Vander Esch, obviously. No need to discuss further.
Philly = Imagine this…Josh Adams is the Eagles top 2018 rookie! Who would have thought? Oh, yeah…I did. Avonte Maddox and Dallas Goedert are the runner’s up if you’re wondering if I’m being partial.
Washington = DT Daron Payne had a very solid year, on a team without a lot of ROY candidates.
NY Giants = Saquon Barkley, obviously.
Winner: Not obvious. The NFL will flock like lemmings to their precious RB (Saquon). But my vote is easily for Leighton Vander Esch, not even close. LVE put the defense on his back when Sean Lee went down, and the Dallas defense became one of the best 3-5 on football down the stretch. What did Saquon Barkley do? Get a lot of touches and put up a nice stat season, yawn! Who feared the NYG offense or team? Would NYG have won five games without Barkley? Probably.
AFC EAST Rookie of the Year candidates…
New England = A weak return from the NE rookies in 2018. My pick is the fast-emerging J.C. Jackson…from UDFA to starter late in the season. Belichick does it again.
Miami = Easily Minkah Fitzpatrick. Started every game and was very good this season.
NY Jets = You have to go Sam Darnold because they don’t have any rookie any better…which is why the Jets are awful.
Buffalo = Josh Allen over Tremaine Edmunds. Allen had his expected challenges as a passer, but he brought an energy to the team when he was in…running the ball very well and occasionally connecting on passes.
WINNER: Minkah Fitzpatrick. Not only did he start all season and play well, but late in the season he filled in at CB for Xavien Howard and blew me away. Playing safety was why I wasn’t a huge Minkah guy for the draft. As a roving safety, he’s fine…but the real upside was playing CB. It took an injury to force Miami to think of it.
NFC WEST Rookie of the Year candidates…
LA Rams = The Rams had no rookies make an impact this year, really. DE John Franklin-Myers played some snaps, so he gets the nod. Not a great year of drafting for cool, beachcomber GM Les Snead.
Seattle = Easily it’s CB Tre Flowers – the 5th-round pick went right into the starting lineup and was arguably Seattle’s best cover corner.
San Francisco = OL Mike McGlinchy gets the slight nod over LB Fred Warner. McGlinchy started from day one and held his own but had some not-so-great moments.
Arizona = Has to be WR Christian Kirk…he was flashing signs of greatness to come, hidden behind a terrible offense. A superstar of the future, and I’m usually not one prone to gushing over players – I gush here.
WINNER: Have to go with Tre Flowers…amazing for a 5th-round pick to start and be solid at CB as a rookie on a solid defense.
AFC WEST Rookie of the Year candidates…
Kansas City = Dorian O’Daniel…by default. Not many of the KC rookies played much this year. O’Daniel worked his way to starter midseason (and then not late in season) and was a special teams impact guy.
LA Chargers = Derwin James by a mile. Great rookie season. Better tackler than I expected/scouted.
Denver = Could be Bradley Chubb, but I think it’s Phillip Lindsay – he literally put the offense on his back and carried it the whole season…outta nowhere. Undrafted…
Oakland = OT Kolton Miller took over as starting tackle day one and held up decently for a rookie.
WINNER: I think the Chargers would have had a similar season without Derwin James. He’s fine, but…come on…he’s a safety. Phillip Lindsay has the ball in his hands a lot and carried his team. I go Lindsay…somewhat for the amazement that a 185-pound UDFA could lead a backfield.
AFC SOUTH Rookie of the Year candidates…
Houston = Justin Reid wins it. Worked his way to starter pretty quickly and was very solid. Keke Coutee might have had a case if he could have stayed on the field instead of a non-stop hamstring injury.
Indy = Quenton Nelson has to be the winner – Pro Bowl as a rookie, come on! Darius Leonard had a fantastic season but Pro Bowl Guard as a rookie – gotta be Nelson.
Tennessee = DE/OLB Harold Landry in a weak group of options for Tennessee. Landry had some moments but was more a role player.
Jacksonville = I guess Ronnie Harrison? Bad rookie crop for JAX in 2018.
WINNER: Has to be Quenton Nelson. Apologies to Darius Leonard and Justin Reid.
NFC SOUTH Rookie of the Year candidates…
New Orleans = Marcus Davenport had some pass rush pressure impact off and on this season. He’s the Saints’ top guy.
Carolina = Donte Jackson was a starter right away and was never in over his head. Impressive rookie season.
Tampa Bay = Jordan Whitehead was thrust into the starting lineup early due to injury and made 76 tackles and
Atlanta = Foye Oluokun was an unheralded rookie out of Yale…a safety converting to middle linebacker and forced to start due to injuries and had a real nice season.
WINNER: Donte Jackson by a mile – started from Week 1 and was an impact corner not to pick on.
AFC NORTH Rookie of the Year candidates…
Baltimore = Obviously, Gus Edwards! Just kidding…it’s Lamar Jackson.
Pittsburgh = I want to honor Jaylen Samuels for his late season heroics, but Terrell Edmunds deserves the ROY nod from the Steelers. Edmunds took over the starting job early and played well all season.
Cleveland = Denzel Ward or Baker Mayfield? What great draft picking by Cleveland. It’s Baker. Ward helped make the defense better. Mayfield changed an entire organization and city overnight.
Cincinnati = SAF Jessie Bates or Center Billy Price? I’ll go Price by a hair.
WINNER: No offense to Lamar Jackson, but he did not accomplish what Mayfield did. It has to be Baker for turning around a franchise that could barely win a game for years…and made them winners, in an instant.
NFC NORTH Rookie of the Year candidates…
Chicago = Roquan Smith stepped right in an was a starter, but I go with OG James Daniels…who I thought was one of the best players in the draft last year. A game-changer for the O-Line.
Minnesota = Weak year for the Vikes rookie class. I’ll say Mike Hughes, even though he got hurt early and missed most of the season. He was a starter pretty quickly for this defense.
Green Bay = Easy…Jaire Alexander. Once he started, the defense started to improve.
Detroit = OC Frank Ragnow made a big difference this season, and gets the nod ahead of UDFA CB Mike Ford, whom I love.
WINNER: James Daniels for me. Excellent draft pick and nice rookie season.
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EAST v. EAST: Leighton Vander Esch vs. Minkah Fitzpatrick
Impressive job by Fitzpatrick…he showed his versatility by playing safety, a little linebacker, and cornerback late in the season. And it was at CB where Fitzpatrick caught my attention. Stellar job. He should be converted to CB from now til forever, not making the same mistake Dallas did not putting Byron Jones at CB from day one. CBs are so much more valuable than safeties it isn’t even worth debating. However, I’m going to go with Vander Esch because middle of the season, he was one of the most dominating defensive players in the league – he turned the Dallas defense around mid-season and sent Sean Lee to the bench. That’s stunning. LVE for me, here.
WEST v. WEST: Tre Flowers vs. Phillip Lindsay
Tre Flowers was very solid, but Phillip Lindsay was the Denver offense most of the season. A game-changer when he got touches. I’m surprised Flowers started Week 1 and did well. I’m totally stunned Lindsay became a main carry RB star. I thought he’d be a PPR guy, but not the best rookie runner of the year.
SOUTH v. SOUTH: Quenton Nelson v. Donte Jackson
What’s better…a rookie starter at CB, who has a nice season or a rookie guard who starts right away and goes to the Pro Bowl? Quenton Nelson it is.
NORTH v. NORTH: Baker Mayfield v. James Daniels
I’m a big James Daniels fan, but come on…Baker Mayfield changed an entire franchise, while setting records for performance numbers as well. Everyone knows Baker. No one is buying ‘Daniels’ jerseys in Chicago.
FINAL FOUR -----------------------------
EAST v. WEST: Leighton Vander Esch v. Phillip Lindsay
Tough call. LVE grabbed my attention/blew me away when he took over for Sean Lee. He was better than Darius Leonard at times. To some degree, LVE saved the Dallas season. However, what Lindsay did as an 180+ pound RB in the NFL…it’s just not supposed to happen…and not from a UDFA. Lindsay changed the NFL, potentially, with what he did in 2018 – smaller RBs may finally get the chance they deserve to be main-carry RBs.
SOUTH v. NORTH: Quinton Nelson v. Baker Mayfield
In most seasons, this should be the prudent Pro Bowl guard. However, what Baker Mayfield did may have been one of the single greatest feats of football by a rookie in the history of the game. Consider how bad that franchise was/is and the turmoil, etc., and Mayfield just took a team on his back and set the rookie passing TD record while he was at it. Had he started day one, he would have taken the Browns to the playoffs…he was that good. Nelson was great, Mayfield is a god.
Phillip Lindsay v. Baker Mayfield
Whether it was Lindsay or Saquon Barkley…they both would fall to Baker Mayfield in this voting. When Saquon wins the real award (via the football media), I will laugh and smile…knowing that the NFL is still so very out to lunch with its heads rammed up RB’s asses still to this day, when the position has proven to be virtually irrelevant (see: C.J. Anderson and Damien Williams as good as/better than Gurley-Hunt). And if you’re honoring a rookie RB – how about the guy who thrived when no one thought him draft worthy or never-believing that smaller RBs can handle a main workload? Lindsay over Barkley for me for ROY. However…
Baker was a god this year…maybe the greatest rookie season of our lifetime/the history of the game. He should win it in a landslide, but I bet he will be lucky to finish top 3 in the voting. NEVER CHANGE NFL!!!
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