Halfway through the 2015 season, it appeared Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper was the leader to be the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
After eight games he had 45 catches for 565 yards – an average of 12.5 yards per grab – and three touchdowns.
Cooper and the Raiders offense had become an explosive pairing, and former NFL executive Gil Brandt, now an analyst for NFL.com, wrote, “Cooper is the rare receiver with explosiveness after the catch as well as downfield tracking ability.” Another NFL.com analyst, Daniel Jeremiah, said he would take Cooper over the Giants’ Odell Beckham, who was the top rookie wideout in 2014.
But with the full season now over, is Cooper still the leading candidate for the award? Probably not.
A foot injury late in the season limited his effectiveness and possibly eliminated his opportunity to win the award. In three of his last four games he was held to zero, two and two catches. He had three 100-yard games the first half of the season and just two in the second. He had 27 catches over the final eight games, a big dropoff.
Still, he led all NFL rookie receivers in receptions with 72 and yards with 1,070, both of which were franchise rookie bests.
But it now seems likely that Cooper could finish second to Rams running back Todd Gurley.
Though Gurley missed three games, he rushed for 1,106 yards and 10 TDs while also catching 21 passes. He finished third in the NFL in rushing and had five games with 125 or more rushing yards, the second most ever by a rookie. The Rams went from one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL in 2014 to one of the best.
Late in the season, Brandt listed Gurley as No. 1 in his rating of rookies who deserved Pro Bowl honors.
The fact Gurley had a fantastic season just about a year after a major knee injury was “unbelievable,” wrote Brandt.
Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston – who threw for more than 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns – also is in the running.
The fact that Gurley seems a stronger candidate to win the award doesn’t necessarily mean that the Rams running back will be a bigger long-term NFL star, however.
Cooper admitted recently that he was feeling the grind of his first pro season by the end of 16 games. Next year, and beyond, could prove to be bigger production seasons now that he knows what the game is like, what he needs to do to beat defenses, establishes even more rapport with quarterback Derek Carr and can condition himself for the long haul.
“I’m definitely not fresh,” he told a reporter recently. “Got a couple nicks and bruises that I need fixed in the offseason. But everything will heal up and I’ll be just fine.”