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Award Predictions: Rookie of the Year

Our roundtable discussion of the potential NFL award-winners in 2016 continues as Joe Kania, Andrew Norton and Scott Smith tab their top rookies for both the league and the Buccaneers.

The Buccaneers' 53-Man roster.

Last year, NFL fans voted for Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston as the league's top rookie for 2016, and he was certainly deserving after becoming just the third rookie quarterback to top 4,000 passing yards.

The Associated Press, however, divides its rookie awards into Offensive and Defensive  categories, and it was St. Louis Rams running back Todd Gurley who took home the former honor over Winston. In this case, it was a matter of the 10th-overall pick in the draft edging the first-overall selection for a bit of hardware.

Predicting the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year has never been as easy as going with the first-overall pick (or the first offensive player taken). Over the past 20 years, the only players drafted first overall to win that award have been Cam Newton in 2011 and Sam Bradford in 2010. However, it probably does make sense to concentrate on first-round picks. Fifteen of the last 20 OPOTY winners have been first-rounders, and four of the five exceptions were second-rounders. If you're contemplating your predicting strategy, it's worth noting that all of those non-first-rounders were running backs, including sixth-round pick Mike Anderson in 2000. The one running back selected in the second round this year: Alabama's Derrick Henry, by Tennessee.

As for the defensive side, 18 of the last 20 winners have been first-round picks, and none have been lower than 39th overall. Also, 13 of those 20 have been linebackers, though that includes a number of 3-4 pass-rushing types

This week, Joe Kania, Andrew Norton and I are trying our hands at predicting five of the NFL's major player awards for 2016. In each case, we're making one selection for the league as a whole and one for just the Buccaneers. Here's our schedule for the week:

As I noted yesterday, our selections in the rookie category are going to be something of a hybrid of the two types of awards mentioned above. That is, we're not going to pick separate offensive and defensive winners, but just a single rookie overall. That should allow for more options when it comes to picking the Tampa Bay-only winner. Joe, you get to go first this time.

Joe Kania's NFL Prediction: Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott
Joe Kania's Buccaneers Prediction: DE Noah Spence


The NFL, in this day and age, is geared towards offenses. Noah Spence and Vernon Hargreaves could be considered for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but since we're combining it to make one award, I'm going to lean toward offense for my league-wide Rookie of the Year award.

Many of this year's rookies will be leaned on by their new teams, but perhaps none more than Elliott. He'll share some time with Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris, but behind Dallas' offensive line, and with how special Elliott is, I think he'll have a tremendous season. 

For the Buccaneers, Hargreaves would be the logical selection as the team's first-round draft pick. Many considered him to be the best cover corner in the draft, and with an established Pro Bowler in Brent Grimes, Hargreaves could find himself targeted often. But the Buccaneers have been searching long and hard for a dominant edge-rusher, so if Spence can get somewhere in the ballpark of double-digit sacks, his impact could be more significant.

Andrew Norton's NFL Prediction: Jacksonville LB Myles Jack
Andrew Norton's Buccaneers Prediction: DE Noah Spence


It looks like I'll be doing a whole lot of agreeing with Joe this week. While I do think that Elliott is the odds-on favorite to win the awards (as will most experts in the coming month, I assume), for the sake of some variety I'm going to name my defensive prediction. And obviously, since Scott Smith teed me up with the "18 of the last 20 defensive rookies of the year have been first-rounders" statistic, I'm going to pick a second rounder, Myles Jack.

Jack fell to the second round because of injury concerns, but he should be starting right away for Jacksonville. More importantly for his ROTY hopes, he should be starting nearly every down for his new NFL team. He has the speed to drop into coverage, rush the quarterback and track down running backs, which could give him a well-rounded stat line of tackles, turnovers and sacks. Helping his case, the Jaguars (like the Buccaneers) have been pegged as a young team with a bright future. By getting some wins under their belt, the Jags could be on the receiving end of more national attention, helping Jack's chances if he can carry over his college success.

As for the Buccaneers Rookie of the Year, I'm going to stay in the second round with Noah Spence, who I gave some gaudy stats to in our defensive bold predictions column last week.

Being the first Buccaneer since 2005 to post 10+ sacks would definitely be enough to put Noah Spence on the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year radar, but just providing consistent pressure on the edge for the Buccaneers will be enough to make a major difference in this team. By proving that he is one of the best pass-rushers in his draft class, the extra attention from opposing offensive lines frees up space for Gerald McCoy, Robert Ayers and the rest of the Bucs' defensive line to dramatically add to their 38 sacks from last season. Not to mention the affect that an edge rush would have on the secondary with quarterbacks being forced to release the ball sooner. The game is won in the trenches and Noah Spence's play will go a long way in returning this defense to its former glory.

Scott Smith's NFL Prediction: Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott
Scott Smith's Buccaneers Prediction: CB Vernon Hargreaves


Joe's pole position really helped on this one. I tried to follow your lead, Andrew, and make a different pick, but ultimately I couldn't do it just for the sake of variety. It's Ezekiel Elliott all the way.

There is no other offensive choice that seems nearly as good to me. Derrick Henry's in a timeshare with DeMarco Murray, and he's the only other running back to go in the first two rounds. First-round quarterbacks are always a good proposition, but I'm not high on Jared Goff's chances to succeed right away and I'm not sure how much Carson Wentz or Paxton Lynch are going to play this year. Receivers generally have to explode in an Odell Beckham/Randy Moss kind of way to have even the slightest shot at the award.

On defense, I strongly considered DE Robert Nkemdiche in Arizona. If we were breaking these up into two awards, he would be my choice. But Elliott is simply being put into too good of a situation to ignore. Rookie running backs generally have less trouble adapting to the NFL, and all Elliott has to do is adapt to running behind the league's best O-Line. He's probably more talented than Murray, who went ballistic behind that line in 2014.

As for the Buccaneers, I'm surprised my two colleagues doubled up on the same pick because there are at least four reasonable choices. Spence and Hargreaves figure to play a ton and have every opportunity to make an immediate impact. By the nature of his position, Roberto Aguayo will have a big impact on the Bucs' season, and if it's an overwhelmingly positive one he could end up being the biggest difference-maker of the group. The dark horse is sixth-round tight end Danny Vitale, who may end up in a very interesting hybrid role that gives him a large number of ways to make his mark. I'll go with the first-rounder, who will walk away with the award no matter what his rookie teammates do, if he leads the team with 4-6 interceptions.

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