NFL Rookie of the Year Watch: Week 8
The main storyline in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race in Week 8 was the reemergence of Minshew-Mania, but there were some notable performances by other rookies as well. However, not all of those performances had equal merit -- in fact, a couple were even deceptive. We'll dig into the risers and fallers shortly.
In this column, we analyze the 2019 batch of rookies through numberFire's metrics -- specifically, Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP measures how much value a player adds to or subtracts from his team's expected points total, using historic down and distance data as a reference point. You can read more about that metric and others in the Terms Glossary. All odds are taken from FanDuel Sportsbook.
Week 8 NEP Leaders
|Player||Current NEP||Week 8 Odds|
The biggest rookie standout in Week 8 was easily Gardner Minshew, who carried the Jacksonville Jaguars to a 29-15 victory over the New York Jets this Sunday. Minshew was electric in this one, making several clutch throws, evading oncoming defenders, and extending plays just long enough to give his receivers time to get open. In other words, it was the kind of highlight-filled performance you'd expect to see in the portfolio of a true Offensive Rookie of the Year contender. It wasn't just a few splashy plays, either -- his 20.07 NEP in Week 8 led all rookies by a wide margin and was the second-best outing among rookies this season. Unfortunately, Minshew has an obstacle to winning the award that others in contention do not -- he still needs to win the starting gig from Nick Foles when Foles returns from injury. In the event that he does win the role -- and he's been doing an excellent job of making the case that he should -- he could have enough momentum to propel him to the front of the pack.
Miles Sanders popped in numberFire's NEP metrics in Week 8 as well. With his contributions in Philadelphia's running and passing games, Sanders added 9.13 NEP to the Eagles expected points total. His 65-yard rushing touchdown alone was worth 6.09 NEP, but Sanders also contributed 44 yards and 3.84 NEP on his three receptions -- second among all Eagles receivers. It wasn't the kind of convincing, high-volume performance you'd like to see from an Offensive Rookie of the Year contender. Still, that elite efficiency should be enough to keep him in contention as a long-shot for now -- assuming he keeps it up and assuming his shoulder is okay.
There was a lot of chatter when the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Mecole Hardman in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, much of it centering around his physical similarities to now-teammate Tyreek Hill. Both Hardman and Hill are extremely fast athletes who had underwhelming collegiate production, to go along with impressive special teams resumes. While it seemed unlikely back in May that Hardman would be able to replicate Hill's success, he's kind of doing it right now. Hardman finished Week 8 with 5.07 total NEP -- second behind Miles Sanders among all non-quarterbacks -- on just two targets. In Tyreek Hill fashion, those two targets were all he needed in order to take one to the house. And like Hill in his own rookie season, Hardman has been a real contributor on special teams -- he's averaged an elite 24.7 yards per punt return and is top-10 in the league in kick return yards. However, it's hard to imagine Hardman winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award on the back of his Hill-like performance when Hill performed at a much higher level in his rookie season without winning the award.
Things are not looking good for Washington first-round pick Dwayne Haskins. Amidst all of the turmoil with that franchise, Haskins has appeared in two games so far this season, both times in relief of an injured Case Keenum. To say that he's been bad in those spots would be an understatement -- he's averaging negative adjusted yards per attempt due to his 4 interceptions on just 22 pass attempts. His appearance on Thursday Night Football did little to boost his Offensive Rookie of the Year odds -- at this point, he's just putting together a bid for Comeback Player of the Year in 2020.
Kyler Murray didn't have a great Week 8, either. Murray cost the Arizona Cardinals 4.23 total NEP in their 9-31 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The loss was expected, but Murray's numbers were still disappointingly low. The Cardinals were unable to capitalize on multiple red zone visits, settling for field goals each time. The lack of touchdowns helps explain why Murray's numbers failed to meet expectations, and it's worth noting that the Saints are one of the league's stingiest defenses to opposing quarterbacks. What really brought Murray down were the 3 sacks he took for a combined 19 yards, which cost the Cardinals an expected 3.83 points. He'll face an even tougher matchup next week against the San Francisco 49ers and their ferocious pass rush.
At this point, it's hard to justify placing bets on any non-quarterbacks other than Josh Jacobs (+200), who had a solid, yet unflashy, Week 8 performance. D.K. Metcalf managed to score two touchdowns but did so from extremely favorable spots -- he added fewer NEP to the Seattle Seahawks expected points total in Week 8 with his two scores than Mecole Hardman did with just one. It's becoming increasingly unlikely that Terry McLaurin (+2000) will be able to overcome the entropy of Washington's franchise, and both David Montgomery (+2200) and Miles Sanders (+2200) haven't done enough to this point to warrant serious consideration.
Gardner Minshew (+500) seems like the strongest bet as of Week 8. His betting odds dropped after a couple of down performances in Weeks 6 and 7, but his sound trouncing of the Jets should have him back among the frontrunners. It's also worth noting that Minshew has won five of seven Rookie of the Week votes according to the NFL's homepage. As of this writing, the votes for Week 8 have not yet been tallied, but based upon his performance, it would not be surprising if Minshew wins yet again. The narrative behind his rise to the starting role is already compelling enough as is but would take another leap if the Jags declare him the starter when Foles returns around Week 11. Before then, he'll have at least one more opportunity to make his case for the starting role at home against a ridiculously banged-up Houston Texans defense.
It probably wouldn't be wise to submit a bid on Daniel Jones (+1600) at this point. He had an impressive Week 8 against a struggling Detroit Lions team, but committed another costly turnover and ultimately couldn't secure a win New York Giants as they moved to 2-6. He simply doesn't stack up against the other options at his position, especially now that he's lost his last four straight games.
With all of the time he's missed due to injury, Marquise Brown (+2000) would have to absolutely tear things up, starting as soon as Week 9. That seems unlikely, considering his opponent will be the elite New England Patriots defense.
One player to keep an eye on is Darrell Henderson (+6000), who is not included in the table at the top of the article. Henderson was notable for much of the season for just how unremarkable he was -- he barely touched the ball at all through the first half of the NFL season. However, his usage has trended upwards over the past few weeks, while the other Los Angeles Rams running backs have dealt with injuries. The team is headed on bye for the week, which would give his teammates time to recover, but it's worth noting that Henderson has shown flashes. However, it's likely too late for Henderson to make the kind of impact necessary to win the award this year.