- Amari Cooper (WR, Oakland Raiders)
- Kevin White (WR, Chicago Bears)
- Maxx Williams (TE, Baltimore Ravens)
- Melvin Gordon (RB, San Diego Chargers)
- Tevin Coleman (RB, Atlanta Falcons)
And of course...
- Todd Gurley (RB, St. Louis Rams)
It's easy enough to pencil him in the group. A 10th overall pick headed into what seems to be a run-heavy system, or at least a run-favorable one. A week ago, we got the first wagering odds that had Gurley as the fifth-favorite to win the 2015 OROY. So yes, there's plenty to ride with here.
A couple complicating factors though:
1.) Gurley's still coming off of an ACL injury with expectations of multiple years of performance, not just immediate production (which the Rams have gotten the last two years out of since demoted/traded running backs).
2.) Tre Mason.
3.) Fisher hates playing rookies in general, let alone top picks who he apparently wants for a long time coming off of a knee injury while he has an acceptable fill-in in the meantime.
It's also worth considering some of the recent OROY award winners.
The top rookie running back was Cincinnati's Jeremy Hill who finished with 1,124 yards and 9 TDs. That was good for eighth in the league in yards and tied for third in TDs. Hill was the second RB taken in the 2014 Draft coming in the second round with the 55th overall pick. He was preceded by one pick by Bishop Sankey who went to the Titans. Sankey finished the year with just 569 yards and 2 TDs. The second-most productive rookie RB? The Rams' Tre Mason who racked up 765 yards.
Five players got votes in the run up for this one. San Diego WR Keenan Allen, Cincinnati RB Giovani Bernard, Detroit OL Larry Warford and Minnesota WR Cordarrelle Patterson all received votes, but the award ultimately went to Green Bay RB Eddie Lacy. Bernard was the first RB taken in the 2013 NFL Draft at #37 near the top of the 2nd round; Lacy came at the back end of it at #61. On the field, Lacy finished with 1,178 yards (8th in the NFL) and 11 TDs (3rd); Bernard had 695 yards (28th) and 5 TDs (26).
Ah, RGIII. Remember that? Fun times. yes, Robert Griffin III beat out Colts QB Andrew Luck and Seattle QB Russell Wilson for the OROY. It was also the season which followed a 2012 NFL Draft that saw three first-round RB selections (Trent Richardson at #3 to the Browns, Doug Martin at #31 to the Buccaneers and David Wilson at #32 to the Giants) and two second-round RBs (Isaiah Pead at #50 to the Rams and LaMichael James at #61 to the 49ers).
The most productive of those in year one was Doug Martin who went off for 1,454 yards (5th) and 11 TDs (5th).
All of that being considered, how does Gurley win the award? Well for one, competition matters most. Doug Martin's 2012 season for a rookie was pretty damn incredible. And I didn't even mention Washington RB Alfred Morris who was taken near the top of the sixth round at #173 overall and then put up 1,613 yards (2nd) and 13 TDs (2nd). Neither got a vote. A year later, Gio Bernard got a vote for roughly half of that, though to be fair Bernard has been very productive as a receiving back, where Lacy took a jump in year two after a mediocre year one as a receiver. Morris rarely figures into the passing game.
So Gurley's chances at winning are first and foremost about his peers. Outside of that, you're looking at 1,000 yards and, what, maybe 8 TDs at a minimum for a shot? Considering that so many Rams fans are comfortable with Gurley resting his knee on the sidelines well into the 2015 season (and that Tre Mason indeed still exists), that's a tall task. If Gurley were to sit out the five games before the bye, which isn't an improbable scenario given his knee and Fisher's proclivity to wait on rookies, that would require a nearly 100 yard/1 TD performance in every game.
Expectations for Gurley don't necessarily need to include the offensive rookie of the year, but as the hype grows, bear in mind how improbable it would be with all the factors working against him.