The NFL honors took place on Thursday evening ahead of the Super Bowl. It ended up being a disappointing night for the Los Angeles Rams as Puka Nacua was passed over for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Kobie Turner finished third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, Matthew Stafford fell short in Comeback Player of the Year, and Torry Holt was once again left out of the Hall of Fame.
While some were more disappointing than others, the two decisions that should and need to be questioned are Puka Nacua and Kobie Turner. This isn’t to discredit the things that CJ Stroud or Will Anderson did this year. Stroud had a 23-5 TD:INT ratio with a 100.3 passer rating. To do that as a rookie is incredible. With that said, Nacua broke the rookie receiving yards record that was last set 60 years ago and broke the rookie receptions record in the same season. He got one vote for each major record that he broke. That’s not to mention he had more Rookie of the Week awards than any other rookie this season.
#Texans QB C.J. Stroud received 48 of 50 first-place votes for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Puka Nacua got the other two.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) February 9, 2024
Again, this isn’t to say that Stroud wasn’t deserving. However, when it comes to these types of awards, the media just seems to default to the quarterback. It begs the questions of whether or not the NFL needs separate quarterback and position player awards if that’s the way that it’s going to be going forward. For Puka Nacua’s historical season to be completely dismissed by 96 percent of the NFL media is a total disservice to what he accomplished this season.
With that said, Nacua only receiving two first place votes for Offensive Rookie of the Year wasn’t even the biggest offense. According to Pro Football Talk, Kobie Turner wasn’t listed on nearly half of voters’ ballots. Per PFT,
“Of the 50 ballots, only 27 had Turner listed at all. Turner got 14 first-place votes, six second-place votes and seven third-place votes, finishing third overall behind Will Anderson and Jalen Carter. A full 23 voters didn’t put Turner in the Top 3, which is hard to understand after Turner led all rookies with 9.0 sacks, and did it from the interior defensive line.”
The fact that Turner didn’t even make it onto the ball of almost half of voters is a huge red flag. As noted, Turner led all rookies with nine sacks this season. He should have been on every single ballot. This raises serious questions when it comes to not necessarily the voting process but the overall league knowledge of the voters and the jobs that they’re doing covering the NFL as a whole.
Again, this isn’t to say that Will Anderson shouldn’t have won Defensive rookie of the Year. Anderson probably was the rightful winner here. The issue comes down to the votes that are being cast. The Rams only played two primetime games this year and coming into the season, the running joke was that you couldn’t name anyone on the L.A. defense outside of Aaron Donald. It’s possible that some voters didn’t watch Kobie Turner this year or know who he was. If that is the case, that is a major problem.
It’s also worth asking the question here on how much draft position hurt Nacua and Turner. Since the year 2000, out of the players who have won Defensive Rookie of the Year, all but two were selecting in the first round. The two that were not, were taken at or near the top of the second-round.
Turner was a third-round pick out of Wake Forest. However, not many teams had him graded there and he wasn’t even invited to the NFL Combine last February. Turner wasn’t even listed on the sports books for Defensive Rookie of the Year a month ago. At the time, Turner led all rookies and sacks, but wasn’t part of the conversation. Again, it just shows how known of a player Turner has been. For much of the season, Jalen Carter was seen as the best rookie defensive tackle despite falling off after Week 5. Carter was taken in the first-round, was the betting favorite for most of the season for Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and that’s a player that finished ahead of Turner in voting.
Nacua on the other hand was taken in the fifth-round. Dak Prescott won Offensive Rookie of the Year back in 2016, but he was a quarterback. CJ Stroud was the second overall pick and played the NFL’s most important position. In a similar situation back in 2020, Justin Jefferson had a historic season for a rookie wide receiver. Jefferson lost to Justin Herbert who set the rookie touchdown passes record. Still, drafted in the first-round, Jefferson got nine first place votes. That’s over four-times as many first-place votes as Nacua did despite breaking two major records. Jefferson was an exciting, marketable player and took the NFL by storm almost immediately. He had the allure of being a first-round pick.
In one sense, it says a lot that two Rams rookies were even up for these awards. It shows just how successful of a draft class that Les Snead had, finding Turner and Nacua later on in the draft. With that said, it’s still a shame that those seasons weren’t recognized for a multitude of different reasons.