The 2015 rookie class in the NFL has produced two franchise quarterbacks, special talents at running back and receiver, a pair of special teams studs, a ball-hawking cornerback and so much more.
Sorting through all the talent and picking a best rookie on both offense and defense won’t be easy.
With two weeks left, here is a closer look at the top candidates for both the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards:
Offensive Rookie of the Year
1. RB Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams
Despite playing in just 12 games, Gurley has rushed for over 1,000 yards, with a 4.9-yard average, nine touchdowns and 15 runs over 15 yards. He’s cooled off some from his hot start, when he rushed for over 100 yards in four straight games, but the rookie back is also carrying one of the worst passing offenses in all of the NFL. Gurley is a special talent.
2. QB Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The No. 1 overall pick has started every game for the Buccaneers, who have already tripled their win count from 2014. Winston doesn’t have out-of-this-world numbers, but he’s avoided the hoard of turnovers many thought would plagued his rookie season, while still throwing the football down the field with success (7.5 yards per attempt, 48 completions over 20 yards). Most importantly, the Bucs are relevant again.
3. WR Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
Drops have been an issue, but Cooper has otherwise been exactly what the Raiders wanted in the No. 4 overall pick. He leads all rookies in receptions (68), receiving yards (1,040) and receiving touchdowns (six), while also averaging over 15 yards per catch. His first 14 games have featured seven with at least 100 yards or one touchdown. In Cooper, the Raiders have found a legitimate No. 1 receiver who has the potential to be one of the NFL’s most productive pass-catchers for years to come.
4. RB David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Johnson would probably be topping this list had the Cardinals featured him starting in Week 1. Despite receiving only a few touches here and there to kick off his rookie season, Johnson has still produced almost 900 total yards and 11 touchdowns from scrimmage. He also returned a kickoff 108 yards for a score. His coming out party came this past Sunday, when he turned his 33 touches into 229 total yards and three touchdowns during Arizona’s NFC West-clinching victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Johnson could seriously challenge Gurley if he produced two more big games to finish the season.
5. WR Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
Lockett has been the special teams stud most envisioned as a rookie, with touchdown returns on both a kickoff (105 yards) and punt (57). He’s also in the top five for return yards on both kickoffs and punts. However, Lockett makes this list because of his emergence as a receiver for the Seattle passing game. His current line reads 595 receiving yards and six touchdowns, but five of those scores have come over the last five weeks, when quarterback Russell Wilson has taken off as a legitimate MVP candidate. Lockett has also caught over 80 percent of his targets as a rookie. Everything this kid does is smooth.
Honorable mentions: QB Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans; RB Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks, RB T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars; WR Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings;
Defensive Rookie of the Year
1. CB Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs
Peters hasn’t been perfect, but no rookie cornerback ever is. The Chiefs’ first-round pick does have seven interceptions, with two returned for touchdowns. He’s tied for the league lead in returns for scores, while only one player—Bengals safety Reggie Nelson—has more total interceptions. The rookie is doing it for a Kansas City defense ranked third in points allowed.
2. CB Ronald Darby, Buffalo Bills
Darby has as strong a case as anyone for winning the award, but he just doesn’t have the big volume numbers. Voters typically care about numbers. Only having two interceptions will hurt him, especially when compared to Peters’ seven picks. Still, Darby and his lockdown coverage potential are worthy of the top spot.
3. DL Leonard Williams, New York Jets
Williams will suffer from the same dilemma as Darby. The No. 6 overall pick has been very good for the Jets as part of New York’s defensive line rotation, but his lack of sacks (three) and highlight plays might keep him from getting the notoriety he really deserves. It’s unfair, especially when Williams has been as disruptive as many thought he’d be, but it’s still the way the award works.
4. OLB Markus Golden, Arizona Cardinals
The most productive pass-rusher in this rookie class might just be Golden. The second-rounder has just 3.5 sacks, but he’s also produced a bunch of pressures and quarterback hits, plus two forced fumbles. Golden has strip-sacks of both Andy Dalton and Sam Bradford over the past five weeks. Maybe he’ll make a late push.
5. LB Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings dealt away linebacker Gerald Hodges to clear the way for Kendricks, who is now a mainstay for Mike Zimmer’s defense. Minnesota’s second-round pick is fourth among rookies in tackles (77) and second in sacks (four), while taking over coverage duties in the nickel package. He’s also a preferred blitzer for Zimmer’s patented A-gap pressures.
Honorable mentions: LB Stephone Anthony, New Orleans Saints; CB Damarious Randall, Green Bay Packers; LB Kwon Alexander, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; DB Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys