By: Jonathan Janas, KCOU Sports
Almost halfway through the 2014-15 NFL season and I am finally morally allowed to start talking about the award races around the league. The Rookie of the Year Award race is heating up and is about to welcome a young star into the company of Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, and Eddie Lacy. I’ll be sticking on the offensive side of the ball throughout this piece but never fear, Defensive ROY race article coming soon. Here are the players who lead the charge for the coveted Offensive ROY trophy.
Kelvin Benjamin – Carolina Panthers
The Florida State receiver should sit pretty at the top of everyone’s list of best young players in the NFL. Benjamin has settled into his role as a vertical threat, and the deep ball threat in the Panthers offense. When former Rookie of the Year Cam Newton wants to move the ball down the field through the air, he has had no problem finding the 6 foot 5 inch weapon for an average gain of 14 yards per reception (the most of all rookie wide receivers). Benjamin also ties with tight end Greg Olson for most touchdowns on the squad with 5. If Kelvin can keep up this production and pending a breakout from another rookie, I see Benjamin being the first receiver to take home the award since Percy Harvin.
Derek Carr – Oakland Raiders
Derek Carr has an unfair advantage over other rookie quarterbacks such as Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater, and that is he’s been the starter since week 1. However, Carr also has a disadvantage; he plays for the Oakland Raiders. The lack of protection, receiving weapons, and defensive support has kept the Fresno State alum winless. Carr certainly looks solid and comfortable on the field; he just has yet to string together continuous productive drives. With 8 touchdown throws and 1,189 yards, Carr leads all rookie QBs. His 5 interceptions blemishes his stat line but if Carr can limit those turnovers, create scoring opportunities, and dare I say… win a game, we might see a rookie Raider quarterback finally be considered… good.
Jerick McKinnon – Minnesota Vikings
McKinnon is the stretch of the group. He is highly talented, extremely athletic, and has big play capability. The reason McKinnon makes the list and fellow rookie running back Brandon Oliver doesn’t is because pending injury, this is McKinnon’s backfield for the rest of the season. Eventually the backs in San Diego will return and see a reduced number of touches for Oliver whereas McKinnon is causing the decrease in touches for other halfbacks in Minnesota and I don’t see that changing. With 309 rushing yards in just two games as the starter, the only thing holding McKinnon back is the fact that he has yet to find the endzone. Expect that to change, soon. The man from Georgia Southern is a dark horse for the award but a good one at that.
We’re still not even halfway through the season so things could change very quickly, but for now, expect these young stars to get more attention as the season’s end draws closer.