The 2014 rookie class has been one of the best in recent memory, with receivers dominating the headlines as arguably the best class in NFL rookie history and defensive front-seven players being asked to shoulder the load of their respective defenses’ success.
Among the loaded receiver unit, Odell Beckham Jr. shined as the most feared offensive rookie. And defensively, Aaron Donald deserves to make it back-to-back defensive tackles winning the defensive rookie of the year awards.
- Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati
The clear best rookie runner in the 2014 class and one of the most productive running backs across the league the last five weeks of the season, Jeremy Hill has shown promise that he could be a top-10 running back by 2015. He took over Giovani Bernard’s feature back role in the Bengals offense, and he showcased every reason why his role shouldn’t be diminished in the playoffs and in the future.
- Zach Martin, OG, Dallas
It’s rare, but not unheard of for an offensive lineman to be considered one of the most impactful rookies in the league. However, it’s possible a rookie guard has never made the type of impact on an offense as Zach Martin has this year. The combination of he, Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith has been the unappreciated key to the passing and rushing success the Cowboys have had this year.
- Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Bucs
If not for Odell Beckham, Evans’s wildly productive season would have been far more appreciated. He finished 68 catches, 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns, all among the best in recent rookie history. The question moving forward is whether the Bucs will look to move Vincent Jackson to save money, now that they have Evans would, while he benefited from Jackson opposite him, is certainly the more cost effective option of the two.
- Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota
While he started off slow in his first few starts as a more game-managing, gameplan limited passer, Teddy Bridgewater has been one of the NFL’s most successful passers the last four weeks of the season, and that’s not an exaggeration. Bridgewater’s concerns from college have been answered: his deep ball accuracy became a strength, his timing and velocity on mid-field routes has been on-point, and concerns over his size have proven (expectedly) to be non-issues.
- Odell Beckham, WR, New York Giants
Outside of Randy Moss’s 1998 rookie season (and one of the most remarkable receiver seasons ever considering how many games he played), Odell Beckham Jr. had the most impressive rookie year of any receiver in NFL history. After missing the team’s first four games, Beckham quickly emerged as Victor Cruz’s replacement (against the Eagles), a nationally known figure (thanks to “The Catch) and one of the most feared receivers in the NFL (finishing with 1300+ yards and 12 touchdowns). He’s my vote for offensive rookie of the year.
- Anthony Barr, LB, Minnesota
While Barr didn’t put up gaudy sack numbers or emerge as the Vikings best defensive player, but his role in the defense as a situational rusher, frequent running back or tight end coverage option, and every-down linebacker has been an awesome surprise. For a raw prospect coming into the draft, Barr will be a key part of the Vikings defense for many years to come.
- Chris Borland, LB, San Francisco
The 49ers weren’t expecting Borland to get a ton of snaps this year. But by season’s end, he was in the running for the team’s defensive MVP, filling in for Navarro Bowman as the team’s catalyst for success in the middle. He’ll likely be relegated to the bench in 2015 thanks to Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman returning, but his value to the 49ers playoff run is undeniable.
- Khalil Mack, LB, Oakland
Mack’s value to the Raiders didn’t show up on the stat sheet in year one, but his disruption as a rusher as well as being the key defender opposing offenses schemed against shouldn’t be valued any less. As the defensive front-seven’s key cog moving forward, the defense will be built around Khalil Mack for the future, regardless of whom the coach and general manager are.
- CJ Mosley, LB, Baltimore
After a 130-tackle season, Mosley’s rookie year reminded of Jerod Mayo in New England, before he went on to a productive early career that has been limited by injuries. Mosley will have his injury woes in his future, but his rookie season’s success in the run game (extremely consistent at filling his gaps) and flash value on passing downs as a rusher and short-area coverage man.
- Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Donald’s true value to the Rams has been his disruption at the line, allowing for teammates to produce more on the defensive line as well as give his secondary an opportunity to make plays in the passing game. His nine sacks, the rookie lead, further make his case as the defensive rookie of the year. The Pro Bowl agrees with his value to the Rams and his impact compared to his counterparts around the league.