The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a pretty good draft class, is the general consensus, but does that mean they could get their first Rookie of the Year award since Cadillac Williams in 2005?
Generally speaking, there are only two recognized Rookie of the Year awards, both voted on by the Associated Press: one for offense, and one for defense. Jameis Winston did win the fan-voted NFL.com Rookie of the Year award in 2015, but mostly, folks don’t really count those.
This year, the Bucs could finally get one of them, though. And they have several candidates—none of them strong, but all of them possible contenders: first-round pick O.J. Howard, second-round pick Justin Evans, and fifth-round pick Jeremy McNichols.
Howard could win it, but he’d have to one ridiculous rookie season. Tight ends generally struggle in their first year—even Rob Gronkowski only managed 542 receiving yards as a rookie—and the tight end position is very important, but doesn’t generally put up the splashy numbers that receivers and running backs do.
Justin Evans might have a better shot. Both because there are very few really strong defensive rookies every season, and because he’s a very splashy player. He’ll make mistakes, but he’ll also pick off a bunch of passes—if he gets on the field enough, and that will be his biggest challenge in year one. That, and adjusting to the speed of the NFL, which is particularly hard for a safety.
Of all the Bucs’ rookies, Jeremy McNichols might actually have the best shot. The fifth-round rookie could, if everything goes well for him, grab the lead running back role in training camp. A few strong showings with Doug Martin suspended until week four could earn him a massive share of the rushing load, and a big share leads to big numbers leads to awards.
It helps that each of the last two seasons, a running back has won the Rookie of the Year title--even with a few quarterbacks playing some pretty good football. It’s easy to adjust to the NFL as a rookie running back, and it’s relatively easy to make an impact and put up shiny numbers.
Of course, there will be many other rookie running backs for whom all of this is true, too. And McNichols has a long way to go before he can come close to claiming this award. But of the Bucs’ three rookies who could realistically win a Rookie of the Year award, McNichols is most likely to get it.