Crowning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
After what has been a spectacular season for rookies, especially rookie wide receivers, it's time to crown the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
There are many ways to go about this -- trying to evaluate impact on a given team, yardage totals, touchdowns -- but here we'll take a look at which players had the most impressive seasons based on our Net Expected Points metric (NEP), which measures how many points a player adds or subtracts per play from his team's expected total.
Statistics such as yards and touchdowns don't paint the whole picture about a player, so we can use NEP data to see who is really adding value to his team, increasing the team's expected point total on each play.
The Top Five
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
Total NEP: 116.23
In a season defined by a single catch, Odell Beckham Jr. was not only the best offensive rookie and the best rookie wide receiver but also one of the best players in the NFL according to our NEP metric. Beckham ranked eighth among wide receivers in Total NEP and 14th among all players.
As Joe Redemann explained, the 2014 rookie wide receiver class was one of the best rookie receiver classes ever, and Beckham Jr. was at the top of it. For the season Beckham had 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. And to top it all off, he played the entire season hurt.
Odell Beckham said he did indeed have some muscle damage, two slight tears, during the preseason. Said he's not fully healthy yet.— Conor Orr (@ConorTOrr) January 26, 2015
The 11th overall pick had a season for the ages. He was the best rookie wideout and the best rookie at any position, which is why he should be the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Total NEP: 28.37
There's a reason that wideouts have a stranglehold on the best NEP performances of the season (as you'll soon see). Running backs get penalized for getting stopped at or behind the line, and big plays are few and far between. On the other hand, receivers rack up production on their catches and rarely take a loss. That's why Jeremy Hill deserves some serious consideration for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was not only a Top 10 back according to his Total NEP but also took the starting job from Giovani Bernard midway through the season.
Hill's Rushing NEP (20.63) was fourth-best among all backs this year. Hill didn't have as many memorable moments as a guy like Beckham, but he was very good at his own position.
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Total NEP: 100.30
As if one spectacular season by a rookie wideout wasn't enough, there are more! Mike Evans, the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, broke out midseason posting a Total NEP score of 100.30. Overall, Evans ranked 26th in terms of Total NEP among all players and 14th among wide receivers.
In 15 games, Evans caught 68 receptions for 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns, all with pretty inept quarterback play as both Buccaneer quarterbacks ranked among the worst quarterbacks in terms of NEP. Evans also posted one of the Top 10 NEP Performances of 2014 when he torched the Washington secondary for 209 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers
Total NEP: 97.14
Right behind Evans was another first round pick, Panthers wideout Kelvin Benjamin. With 97.14 Total NEP, Benjamin finished third among rookie wideouts and 15th among all wideouts. He finished 27th among all NFL Players in Total NEP.
Benjamin started 15 of 16 games for the Panthers, catching 73 balls for 1,008 yards and 9 touchdowns. Benjamin gave Panthers quarterback Cam Newton a star wideout to throw to after the departure of Steve Smith, and Newton no longer had to rely on players such as Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Total NEP: 37.06
Teddy Bridgewater finished 19th among quarterbacks in Total NEP. His Passing NEP this year (22.77) was just 21st in the league, and his Passing NEP per drop back (0.05) ranked 20th, but he had one of the most impressive rookie campaigns in recent history.
He finished with the eighth-highest passing NEP of any rookie quarterback since 2000 with a minimum of 200 drop backs. His Total NEP doesn't quite match the top receivers in the class, but when compared to rookie quarterbacks of recent history, Bridgewater deserves some attention.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills
Total NEP: 90.07
The fourth member of this outstanding rookie wide receiver class, Sammy Watkins, the fourth overall pick by the Buffalo Bills in this past year's draft, was the most hyped wideout coming out of college. And while he didn't put up the best numbers of the group, his numbers are on par with Beckham Jr., Evans, and Benjamin.
Watkins Total NEP was 18th best among wideouts, 32nd overall among all NFL Players. In 16 games, Watkins caught 65 passes for 982 yards and 6 touchdowns, barely missing the 1,000-yard mark. Watkins, along with a top 10 defense, led the Bills to their first winning season since 2004.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Total NEP: 78.90
A late comer to the rookie wideout party, Jordan Matthews, was drafted by the Eagles in the second round and started 10 of 16 games for the Eagles, really coming on late in the season. Matthews posted a Total NEP score of 78.90 for the season, good for 30th best among wide receivers and 45th overall.
Matthews really came on late, especially with Mark Sanchez under center, catching 67 receptions for 872 yards and 8 touchdowns. He narrowly missed 900 receiving yards and would have been the fifth wide receiver this year to do so. The other four are above him on this list.