It’s early, maybe too early? No way, Vegas is doing it so why can’t SportsTalk? The early favorites for Offensive Rookie Player of the Year came out and two Clemson players are on the list. Deshaun Watson hovers around a 6-1 favorite for the award while Mike Williams sits back at a 12-1 for the honor. Between the two players there is certainly enough talent to win the award, but if last year’s winner Dak Prescott is any indicator talent and stats are only part of the equation.
The Case for Watson
Dak Prescott paved the way for Watson to in Rookie of the Year.
Prescott proved that you don’t have to put up the best stats to win the offensive rookie of the year award, you just have to win football games. Deshaun Watson will get that same opportunity with the Texans. It’s no secret that a large part of Dak Prescott’s success derived from inheriting one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and phenom rookie running back in Ezekiel Elliot.
Watson will inherit a very similar set of toys with that other football team in Texas. The Texans don’t have the worst offensive line in the NFL (PFF ranked them 18th overall) and Lamar Miller rushed for over 1,000 yards despite missing the final two games to injury. With a capable offense, Watson will fare better than most rookie quarterbacks (that’s you Carson Wentz and Jared Goff) simply because the burden of the offense isn’t set squarely on his shoulders.
The ace in the hole for Watson is the Texans defense. The Houston defense willed the team to the playoffs last year overcoming the recent cohort of ghosts that the team put in at quarterback. With J.J. Watt returning from injury and Jadeveon Clowney’s development into the star he was projected to be, the Texans defense will be able to erase any stalled offensive drive for Watson and set him up with decent field position.
The biggest problem for Watson? He may not begin the season as the starter. Just like bachelor going back to his ex-girlfriend before he dates someone new, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien could go back to Tom Savage to start the season. The Texans front office could feel obligated give one more chance to Savage to see if he can run the team and avoid any locker room drama. Yes, Bill O’Brien gave up two first round draft picks for Watson but the NFL has shown that this league can be a little much for rookie quarterbacks (looking at you again, Jared Goff).
All eyes on Mike Williams
Mike Williams might be the only player drafted from a South Carolina school guaranteed to start an NFL game (barring injury). But when you are the #6 overall pick in the draft, starting a game in the NFL is kind of a gimme.
For Mike Williams to win offensive rookie of the year he’ll need to continue catching jump balls the way he did with Deshaun Watson, but that shouldn’t be an issue with Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers running the show. Rivers has thrown under 4,000 yards just once in the last nine years and has thrown over 26 touchdowns in each of those seasons.
With that level of production fans better believe that Williams will get his looks. But the biggest factor contributing against Williams candidacy is that he will not be the best wideout on the Chargers offense.
Keenan Allen, the top receiver on the Chargers roster, will return from a season ending knee injury suffered early last year and will get the first look from Phillip Rivers. The optimist will say that Williams will benefit from Allen soaking up coverage in the backfield, but the Chargers put out the second worst offensive line in the NFL last year and there might only be time for a single read downfield.
That being said, the top wide receiver spot on the Chargers roster is anything but set in stone. Allen has had four season ending injuries in the last five years and as a result of those injuries Allen has only cracked the 1,000 yard receiving mark once.
Also working in Williams favor? The NFL would love the publicity garnered from giving an award to a new franchise like the L.A. Chargers. Especially when that franchise can only fit 30,000 fans in the stadium.
Five of the last ten Rookie of the Year awards have gone to quarterbacks, three to running backs and only two fell into the open hands of wide receivers. Those numbers bode well for Deshaun Watson, but it is Mike Williams who has a better shot of being a Clemson player with the award. Phillip Rivers will throw the rock more than enough times to get Mike Williams the yards he needs for the award and it is no guarantee that Watson will be the day one starter for the Texans. Between the two Clemson players with the pedigree for the award this season. With that in mind, it’s Williams who gets the nod.