As Week 8 of the NFL season wraps tonight with Buffalo taking on the New England Patriots, this year’s NFL season is essentially halfway over. The Draft Network staff would like to mark the occasion and honor the performances of the best rookies of the year thus far. First and second place votes have been submitted for 2018 Mid-Season Rookie of the Year (both offensive and defensive). Here are the results.
Mid-Season Offensive Rookie of the Year
Third Place – Detroit Lions RB Kerryon Johnson
Johnson, the sixth running back selected in the 2018 NFL Draft (43rd overall), has brought life to a place that hasn’t had a running threat in years. Literally. Johnson has exploded for two 100-yard rushing performances in the first half, which may not feel like a whole lot. Until, of course, you remember it had been almost five full years (70 games) since someone in a Lions jersey accomplished the feat.
Johnson has played in 7 games this season (4 starts) and is currently on the cusp of pacing for a thousand yard season. Consistent physicality, yet subtle shiftiness were the earmarks of Johnson’s play at Auburn and he has carried that over into his first half-season in Detroit.
Second Place – Denver Broncos RB Phillip Lindsay
21 running backs were drafted in this year’s NFL Draft. None of them were named Phillip Lindsay. WHOOPS. 32 running backs were invited to this past year’s NFL Combine. None of them were named Phillip Lindsay. Double whoops.
And Lindsay, who holds the Colorado record for all-purpose yardage with 5,760, just kept chugging along before eventually landing with the local Denver Broncos as a UDFA.
At 5-foot-7 and a quarter inches and 184 pounds, Lindsay is probably never going to be THE guy in an offensive backfield. But shoot, he’s logged between 12-18 carries in six of Denver’s eight games this season. That’s the sweet spot.
What he’s done with those carries is even more sweet. Lindsay’s current 16 game projection?
186 carries, 1,062 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns, 36 receptions, 372 receiving yards and 2 receiving touchdowns
That’s a good season for an established veteran, let alone an undrafted rookie. Hell, most years that’s the kind of year that might get you some first place votes for Rookie of the Year. Not this year, however.
First Place – New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley
Barkley was the unanimous choice for first place votes among our staff, and for good reason. The Giants run their offense through two players: WR Odell Beckham Jr and Barkley. To what extent? Let’s take a moment and appreciate the work that requires from Saquon’s perspective.
With 519 rushing yards and 497 receiving yards, Barkley is halfway home to a 2,000 offensive yard season as a rookie. He’s also just 3 receiving yards short of being on pace to become the third player in NFL history to log 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.
The first two? Roger Craig in 1985 and Marshall Faulk in 1999. Barkley is also on pace to log 100 receptions…eat your heart out, Jarvis Landry.
The question, health willing, isn’t if Barkley is going to win the award at the end of the season. It’s how many records he might break along the way.
Mid-Season Defensive Rookie of the Year
Third Place – Indianapolis Colts LB Darius Leonard
Tackles aren’t always a be-all, end-all statistic. Not by a long shot. But when a guy is averaging 12.5 tackles per game and on pace to total 201 tackles in a season? That’s special, I don’t care what other context is required.
Since the NFL started marking tackles as a statistic in the mid-1980s, we have seen three 200 tackle seasons. Two of them were logged by Atlanta’s Jesse Tuggle in 1990 and 1991, the other was accomplished by Hardy Nickerson (214 combined tackles in 1993).
Seems like it’s been a little bit, yeah? Yet here we are, Leonard is flying around like a dude with his hair set on fire and currently has 88 total tackles, 4.0 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in seven games.
Leonard has, in a very short time, become the engine that keeps the Colts defense running.
Second Place – Cincinnati Bengals FS Jessie Bates III
Bates takes second place on this list, but he also received at least one first place vote from a TDN staffer. Watching Bates take control in the middle of the field for the Bengals has been an absolute treat.
A redshirt sophomore leaving Wake Forest last winter, Bates already feels like a do-over that at least a handful of teams (hello, Pittsburgh) would love to have.
Not only has Bates made big plays, he’s made them in big moments. The most obvious choice came just this past weekend, an interception returned for a touchdown to help ice the Tampa Bay Bucs. But Bates also provided the kill-shot of the Miami Dolphins several weeks ago with a game-clinching interception as the Dolphins looked to generate some late points.
Above all, Bates is an impact player who has cleaned up his tackling since Wake Forest. It is because of that we’ve seen a jump in his play.
First Place – Los Angeles Chargers SAF Derwin James
Derwin wasn’t the unanimous first place winner among our staff, but he’s the only defender to be on every ballot. James has been as advertised coming out of Florida State: a heat seeking missile who is a complete force in the box.
With 3.5 sacks and 4 tackles for loss in 7 games, James’ presence has definitely been felt. But it’s also all the little things that he’s done early in his career that give him this recognition.
A good friend of ours, Brandon Thorn, highlighted the versatility James has brought to the Chargers defense. James is *literally* everywhere.
Derwin James is everywhere on tape, its crazy. Lines up everywhere and finds a way to impact the play. Want to find him? Find the ball: pic.twitter.com/DxvGOOneFH
— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) October 3, 2018
It’s hard to meet outrageous expectations. And yet both of our Mid-Season Rookie of the Year winners have entered the NFL and have done just that. There’s just one thing left to do. Finish strong.