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Rookie wide receivers were the No. 1 takeaway from Week 8 in the NFL, which got us thinking about the Offensive Rookie of the Year race.
Midway through the season, it’s been a trio of first-round wideouts already making dynamic impacts in their first seasons, perhaps even more so than the quarterbacks in their draft class.
Here are the five leading candidates for the the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award at the midway point in the season:
Despite a change of quarterback early in the season, Watkins has been the Bills’ clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver from Week 1 on. Watkins ranks 12th in the NFL with receiving yards (590), which is the tops among the rookie receivers.
As we saw last week, Watkins has helped the Bills’ passing game evolve in 2014. Coming off back-to-back 100-yard receiving games and on track for a 1,000-plus yard campaign, Watkins should be the frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Coming in at No. 2 and perhaps closer to a No. 1A on the rankings is Benjamin. The big target out of Florida State has hauled in 38 balls for 571 yards, good for 14th in the NFL and second among the rookie wide receivers.
Benjamin quickly ascended into being Cam Newton‘s No. 1 target on the perimeter, having to step up in place of the departed Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. Benjamin has thrived early on taking on a bulk of the responsibility, and still has room to grow into one of the league’s best wideouts.
3. Zack Martin
The Cowboys’ offensive line has been the obvious strength of the team through the first eight weeks, and the versatile Martin is a major reason why. Playing at left guard, Martin earned a +4.8 grade by Pro Football Focus through the first six weeks of the season, and that included some early rookie woes.
During the Dallas-Washington battle Monday night, Martin’s intensity was glaring. On a screen pass to DeMarco Murray, Martin was out in space pulverizing defenders to clear space for his running back. Martin could be starting at tackle for a lot of other teams, but he’s holding down the guard spot for the Cowboys and is an integral part of their 6-2 start.
The Saints have not been the offensive juggernaut we’ve come to expect out of Drew Brees & Co. over the years, but as the offense has picked up the slack, we’ve seen Cooks get more involved in the game plan.
Cooks has 40 receptions, most among rookie receivers, for 372 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But the speedy Cooks is also being utilized in the run game, taking an end-around to the house on Sunday night in the win over the Packers. The Saints are still finding ways to take advantage of Cooks’ unique skill-set, but he’s a catalyst for this offense, and the heavier the dose of Cooks the better New Orleans’ playoff chances are.
5. Derek Carr
Not Johnny Manziel, not Teddy Bridgewater and not Blake Bortles, but Carr was the first of the 2014 rookie class to start. Carr was anointed as the Raiders’ starting quarterback prior to the season, setting the first-year signal-caller up for a major uphill battle to begin his career.
Carr has completed 151-of-249 passes for 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, completing 61.0 percent of his passes for a quarterback rating of 82.0. Though it’s not exactly an eye-popping number, as a rookie Carr’s quarterback rating is superior to that of Nick Foles and close to that of Ryan Tannehill, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton.
The Raiders don’t have very much talent on the offensive side of the ball, with Darren McFadden as their top running back and Andre Holmes as probably their top wide receiver. Still, Carr is making the most of the weapons he does have to work with, and is showing signs of being a true franchise quarterback.
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