NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Watch: What Do the Numbers Say?
Being the new guy is never fun. Whether it's at a job, school, or being a member of the Miami Dolphins, life can be rough for rookies. But today, we're buying the dinner, paying for the trip to Vegas, and celebrating the best offensive rookies in the NFL.
After all, the league has set aside the Rookie of the Year award to specifically honor the best first-year players in the league. And with only a month left of the NFL season, it's time to start seriously considering who should be the NFL's top rookie and walk away with an award.
But here at numberFire, we're not going to just look at simple statistics like quarterback wins and total yardage to figure out the best rookies. Instead, we'll use our advanced metrics to see which rookies have had the biggest impact on their teams this season.
Specifically, we'll use Net Expected Points and Success Rate, which you can learn more about by clicking here and heading over to our glossary. But as a quick reminder for those familiar with the site, Net Expected Points, or NEP, is the amount of expected points a player gains or loses through his actions (gaining yards, earning first downs, turning the ball over, etc.). Success Rate takes NEP a step further, and considers how often a player makes a play which has an NEP greater than zero, or in other words, a play which increases his team's expected points for that possession.
2012 was a banner year for rookie quarterbacks, as first-year signal callers dominated the Rookie of the Year ballots. This year, teams didn't have quite the same luck (I'm sorry, I had to.) with their selections under center.
So who emerges as the leading candidate from the pack? Believe it or not, it's undrafted rookie Matthew McGloin of the Oakland Raiders.
McGloin has only appeared in four games in his young career, but he's made quite the impact on his team's expected points during that time. The Penn State product has the 12th highest Passing NEP per play (.12) among players with 100 or more passing attempts. He's tied with Tony Romo in that category, and is ahead of Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan among many others.
His Success Rate isn't quite as high, so he's not consistently producing positive plays for the Raiders. But at 45.95 percent, his Success Rate as a passer is still higher than Andrew Luck, Mike Glennon and Colin Kaepernick.
But to be fair to the other rookies, McGloin has a very small sample size due to his late arrival as starter for Oakland. Therefore, it's not really fair to dub him as anything until we see more.
Mike Glennon has dropped back to pass almost three times more than McGloin. And the Tampa Bay rookie quarterback has done a decent enough job with his time calling the shots for the Buccaneer offense, registering a Passing NEP per play of .01, meaning he's just barely above average and not actively hurting his team on the average play.
Glennon and McGloin are the only rookie passers with positive NEP numbers, meaning they stand out as the Rookie of the Year candidates for the position.
E.J. Manuel gets an honorable mention for his solid .27 rushing NEP per Play, but his passing NEP of -.08 leaves much to be desired. But it's nothing compared to the -.24 Passing NEP per Play of Geno Smith, who is actively destroying the New York offense every time he drops back to pass.
The quarterback nomination would go to McGloin for his impressive start, but given his lack of volume, Glennon is the man. Regardless, none of the quarterbacks have really warranted any Offensive Rookie of the Year consideration.
It was a seemingly different story heading into the 2013 draft, as there were no high-profile options at running back, and teams passed on the position for most of the first two rounds.
But there have been three runners who have stood out in their debut campaigns, and the most eye-catching has to be fifth-round rookie Zac Stacy for the St. Louis Rams.
Stacy appeared to be buried on the depth chart in St. Louis early in the season, as Daryl Richardson earned the majority of the touches on offense for Jeff Fisher's team. Stacy only had one carry before October, but spent his next eight appearances making up for lost time.
The former Vanderbilt tailback is the only rookie runner with more than 100 carries to post a positive Rush NEP per play. Running backs have a hard time cracking positive NEP, because it's tougher to pick up chunks of yards and first downs on the ground in the NFL than it is through the air.
So to put Stacy's per play NEP into perspective, it's better than the .01 per play posted by Marshawn Lynch, and the even 0 per play earned by Matt Forte. And Stacy's Success Rate of 41.25 percent is higher than Forte, Reggie Bush, and Frank Gore.
Unlike the quarterback position, there's a very tight battle at the running back position for the top spot. Eddie Lacy of the Packers has a higher success rate than Stacy, but boasts a slightly lower NEP per play number. Both are having very impressive seasons for rookies, and are important to their respective offenses.
Not to be forgotten is the exciting Gio Bernard, who boasts the best Success Rate of any of this trio of backs, and also blows the other two away with his incredible numbers in the passing game. Only four running backs in the NFL with more than 100 carries do more on a per play basis as a receiver than Bernard, who is a true dual-threat at running back for the Bengals.
So despite his barely negative Rushing NEP per Play, the nomination goes to Bernard as the running back for Offensive Rookie of the Year because of his outstanding play as a receiver and high Success Rate as a rusher.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
There are two rookie receivers and two tight ends in their first year this season who stand out from the rest, and they're posting numbers that rival the best players in the league.
Let's start with the unheralded tight ends, and look at Tim Wright of the Buccaneers. The undrafted rookie who was converted from wide receiver has .81 Receiving NEP per Target, which ranks seventh among tight ends with 25 or more receptions. That places him ahead of Tony Gonzalez, among others.
But he's been overshadowed by Jordan Reed of the Redskins, who, at .95 Rec. NEP per Target, is ninth among all receivers and tight ends with more than 25 catches, trailing only Julius Thomas and Vernon Davis at the tight end position.
Neither of these tight ends have the sort of Success Rate as Aaron Dobson of New England, however. The Patriots' rookie earns positive NEP on over 94 percent of his receptions, which places him fifth in the league using the same criteria. This is mostly, however, due to his ability to catch the deep ball.
But there can only be one Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate, and for the pass catchers, there's no question that Keenan Allen stands alone as the deserving one. Stepping up the criteria to only include players with 50 or more catches, Allen ranks eighth in Rec. NEP per Target with .86, and has a Success Rate of 87.93 percent, good for 17th in the league.
Allen has the volume and consistent production to easily eclipse the others in this category and earn the nomination for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
So from the three nominees, which one is deserving of the overall title of "Rookie of the Year?"
Mike Glennon is a nice story, but he hasn't done quite enough to be in consideration against the other two contenders for the award. So that narrows it down to Gio Bernard and Keenan Allen.
And despite Gio's explosive playmaking ability, the sheer amount of production from Allen makes him the most deserving rookie for the league-wide honor as the best first-year player on offense.
The rookie from Cal is on pace to eclipse 1,100 yards and has been a vital part of the San Diego offense after a rash of injuries wiped out the veteran depth ahead of him. He's been efficient and reliable, and for those reasons, he's the obvious choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year with four weeks to go in the season.