Five leaders for the 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year Award

PFN predicts the 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Very few NFL awards are coveted more than Offensive Rookie of the Year. Dating back to 1957, prior the NFL-AFL merger, the Associated Press has chosen a winner for the award each year. Of those who have won, 66% have been running backs including three of the last four. So, it’s not surprising that most contributors at NFL.com are expecting Josh Jacobs (RB, Oakland Raiders) to walk away with the award at season’s end.

While opinions matter, numbers are often more reliable and sometimes tell a different story. Let’s take a look at the numbers, including PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), for the top five candidates and see how they stack up against each other. Will the running back trend continue? Could it be the first quarterback since Dak Prescott, who won it three years ago? Or, will the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year go to a wide receiver for the first time since 2014 when it was presented to Odell Beckham, Jr.? 

Terry McLaurin – WR, Washington Redskins

For those who read my last article, you know that there are rookie receivers who have a higher OSM grade than McLaurin. So why is he a candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year yet others, who graded higher, are not? It’s due to his consistency, reliability and production. McLaurin has the most receiving touchdowns (5) of any rookie receiver, which also amounts to more than half of the team’s receiving touchdowns to date. He has also not committed any turnovers. McLaurin is the only rookie receiver to have started in all games played (he missed Week 4 due to a hamstring injury) and has managed to qualify for OSM in seven of those eight games. Other than Preston Williams, McLaurin has seen the most targets through Week 9 and has nearly a seven-point differential in completion percentage compared to the rest of his draft class.

Five leaders for the 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year Award

2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year
Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Marquise Brown – WR, Baltimore Ravens

Marquise Brown didn’t qualify for OSM this past weekend, coming back from an injury which has sidelined him since Week 5. Leading up to his injury, he qualified in each game that he played, with a slightly higher than average OSM than McLaurin, and was becoming a favorite target of Lamar Jackson. Like McLaurin, Brown does not have any turnovers to date. He has been on the receiving end of three touchdowns, which only accounts for about 25% of the Baltimore Ravens passing touchdowns.  However, it’s safe to assume that number would be higher had he not been injured. “Hollywood” Brown’s speed factors into him being a candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, as well. Look at the average yards of separation he has against the league average. Compare that to average yards after catch and you can see how special he is. He simply produces more with less.

Kyler Murray – QB, Arizona Cardinals

Kyler Murray had the lowest OSM grade between he, Gardner Minshew and Daniel Jones leading up to Week 9 (before “Minshew Mania” took a nosedive). So why consider Murray but not Jones, or Minshew for that matter? Both Jones and Minshew have turned the ball over (interceptions and fumbles combined) more times than they’ve thrown touchdown passes. Compare that to Murray who has nearly three times as many touchdowns (passing and rushing) as turnovers. It’s obvious he plays a cleaner, more conservative game and is not making decisions that hurt his team, which the below charts confirm. Murray is the least aggressive quarterback of the three, a measurement used in determining a quarterback’s OSM, meaning he is least likely to throw into tight coverage. However, he has the highest expected completion percentage due to his conservative play and ability to find receivers in the open.

2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year
Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Jacobs – RB, Oakland Raiders

When seeing that Josh Jacobs OSM grade is, at best, half of that of receivers like Terry McLaurin or Marquise Brown, you may question one of two things. The validity of the grading, or the ability of the running back. Compared to other running backs in the league, however, his OSM is higher than average. Running backs inherently have a lower OSM grade than quarterbacks and receivers. They line up many yards behind the line of scrimmage and have more defenders in close proximity when carrying the ball. Different measurements, such as rushing efficiency, produce results that differ from a quarterback’s completion percentage or a receiver’s yards after catch. 

A running back’s efficiency is defined as the number of yards traveled per yard gained, relative to the line of scrimmage. As illustrated below, Josh Jacobs is the most efficient rookie runner in the NFL. He’s also the seventh overall efficient runner through Week 9.  Interestingly, the six runners ahead of Jacobs have not qualified for OSM in most games played, implying that they are primarily used as rotational backs often for short-yardage plays. For an every-down back, Jacobs remains the most efficient in the league. He is also averaging the most yards per carry of any rookie running back that qualifies for OSM and has outscored all non-quarterback rookies with a total of six touchdowns through Week 9.

D.K. Metcalf – WR, Seattle Seahawks

Most NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year predictions do not have D.K. Metcalf listed as a candidate. Although his value may drop with the recent addition of Josh Gordon to the Seattle Seahawks receiving core, his production thus far should put him in the mix. Metcalf has the most yards from scrimmage of any rookie receiver with 536 and his receiving yards are second only to McLaurin. He has one less “touch” than McLaurin, but is averaging nearly two more yards per touch from scrimmage and has the same number of receiving touchdowns (5). Metcalf does have one blemish on his record, an unfortunate fumble in Week 7 resulting in a defensive score for the Baltimore Ravens. As noted in my previous article, one thing that stands out with Metcalf is his forward momentum. It allows him to extend the play more than a yard beyond expectation when he catches the ball, which equates to roughly three times the Seahawks average and an astounding fourteen times the league average.

2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year
Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Honorable Mentions

There are a few other rookies that should be noted. Namely, Diontae Johnson, Mecole Hardman and Preston Williams. All have played exceptionally well and have graded high many weeks for OSM. However, each has had their fair share of turnovers, impacting their Offensive Rookie of the Year candidacy. 

Additionally, Mecole Hardman has only seen five targets over the past three weeks. His stock may rise once Patrick Mahomes is back on the field but his lack of involvement as of late has hurt his chances. Williams, unfortunately, won’t see another target this year as the Miami Dolphins announced on Monday that he will be out for the rest of the season.  Outside of two turnovers, Diontae Johnson has become a very consistent and reliable threat for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s a dark horse in the race for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award but, with 4.5 yards per touch less than Terry McLaurin and nearly 70 less yards from scrimmage than Marquise Brown (who has played in two fewer games), it’s difficult to rank Johnson ahead of either of them at this point in the season. 

Which leads me to the 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year prediction.

2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Jacobs will be the 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

I’m actually surprised by this. I did not go into this analysis thinking Jacobs would prevail as this season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Perhaps I was biased to prove the “experts” wrong. Regardless, the number don’t lie:

  • Most touchdowns from a non-QB rookie
  • No turnovers
  • Most efficient running back in the league

To be fair, it was a very close race between Jacobs, Terry McLaurin and Kyler Murray. The probabilities for each winning the 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, in relation to each other, are listed below.

  1. Josh Jacobs – 30.9%
  2. Terry McLaurin – 29.7%
  3. Kyler Murray – 28.3%
  4. Marquise Brown – 7.1%
  5. D.K. Metcalf – 4.0%

But how does one justify ranking a candidate with an OSM grade of less than 20, over one with a grade higher than 30? The main reason is that the outcome of the play, whether it’s a touchdown, turnover, etc., does not matter. OSM is a measurement of a player’s behaviour and the resulting contributions during the play, designed to mirror the way coaches and scouts evaluate players. Only in Fantasy might you consider a receiver who happened to catch 1 of 10 targets for a 50-yard touchdown in blown coverage having a greater impact than a workhorse running back who carries the ball 25 times out of 40 offensive plays for 100 yards.

OSM was intended to be used as a supplement to other statistics and, when doing so, can be very telling. Consider a running back with an OSM of 15 who produces six touchdowns and a receiver with an OSM of 30 who produces three touchdowns. Who is more efficient?  Who produces more with less? This led me to calculate a scoring efficiency using OSM for each of these candidates in order to rank them and is referenced in the probabilities listed above. It’s not surprising that Josh Jacobs, the most efficient running back in the league per OSM, also leads the way in OSM scoring efficiency and should rightly be named the 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

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