With four games to go, a few players have established themselves as front runners for the NFL Rookie of the Year; of the four most obvious choices, two we expected to see (Luck and Griffin), while two weren't heavily discussed before this season (Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and Tampa running back Doug Martin). A few writers are beginning to throw the question around, so I'll throw in a few links.
Being a Colts fan, I might as well start with some light bias: colts.com has a good article where Phillip B. Wilson, Mike Chappell, and Phil Richards pass a few questions back and forth: who should win? Do interceptions factor into the race? How many candidates are there this year, really? I mean, it's a pro-Luck dialogue, but each writer makes some really valid points.
The Bleacher Report (dangerously addicting, so proceed with caution) has a more methodical approach, identifying their three candidates (Luck, Griffin, and Martin) and their signature plays. Martin's should be the Oakland game, in which he rushed for 251 yards and four touchdowns, and I wisely played him to the tune of 60 fantasy points. Sadly, Alen Dumonjic takes the easy way out and says they all deserve it. Insightful.
Finally, a few rapid fire:
Grantland: Makes it a two person race, calling Griffin's absolute lack of wide receivers and Luck's lack of everything else as pulling points for their claim. Contenders: Luck and Griffin. Verdict: RGIII, given his team's lack of any football talent, but still somehow at .500.
Seattle PI: Takes a pro-Wilson slant (unsurprisingly), but it's good to have an alternate perspective, right? Thing is, Wilson – correctly stated in the article – has beaten the Bears, Packers, and Patriots, three very good teams. Contenders: Luck, Griffin, Martin, and Wilson. Verdict: he won't win, but Wilson should. Cough.
International Business Times. Why? I'll get back to you. Point is, they seem to think it's a three player slog, and forget that running backs still exist. Contenders: Luck, Griffin, and Wilson. Verdict: whoever makes the least mistakes in the last four games.
I look at it like this.
I added IBT because they're right: the final four games will prove a lot. Andrew luck has won eight games; one against a winning team. That's not good. of RGIII's six wins, one is against a winning team. Something very few people talk about – strength of schedule – goes to Russell Wilson, with three over .500 teams. The Seahawks, at 7-5, play St. Louis, Arizona, San Fran, and Buffalo over their last four games, with three of their last four at home. They'll probably finish 10-6, which means that if Luck and Griffin implode, Wilson will have a good claim for ROY.
Andrew Luck stands to gain or lose the most over the next four games. He makes mistakes, but not at the wrong times (excluding in Foxborough, where everyone makes mistakes – including refs), and his team is somehow in command of a wild card berth … with two games against Houston left. The first is in Houston. Were Luck to beat Tennessee and then pull off an upset in Texas, he'll be looking at a much more credible year, a 4-1 divisional record, and a chance at 11 or 12 wins. A victory against the Texans, in Houston, and the Colts QB wins out. Hence, I think Luck's the only contender who really controls his own destiny.
RGIII is the 'fun' choice; he makes mistakes, and they turn into touchdowns. Griffin's like Bruce Lee – he performs all his own stunts, and goes about it in a pretty nonchalant way. The problem here is that Washington's still not good. They're on the verge of being good, yes, but their last four games come against Baltimore, in Cleveland, in Philly, and Dallas. Washigton's 21st in passing yards (well done, RGIII) … and 1st in rushing yards, mainly thanks to their quarterback/running back combo (actually well done, RGIII). Washington might pull off 9-7, might squeak into the playoffs by a hair … but all things considered, Griffin has the easiest path to ROY. He'd have to fall apart at least twice to make Luck a clear #1 choice.
Finally, Doug Martin. He has 1100 yards over 12 games. With almost 400 receiving yards, he's set to turn into another Marshall Faulk type runner, who can do virtually everything (on a team that really needs it). The best case for Martin, however, is that Tamps'a last four games come against Philly (laughable), New Orleans (worst run-defense in the league), St. Louis (… at home), and Atlanta, who may not have anything to play for at that point. If Martin pulls off a few – let's say, two – hundred yard games, and Tampa edges into the playoffs, he'd have to be seriously considered. If not, Tampa's only-11th ranked rushing attack, poor pass defense, and middle-of-the-road record will probably overshadow Martin's bid.
If any rookie QB wins a playoff game, they're almost certainly set to win. Advantage: Luck and Wilson, because Washington will be hard-pressed to make it (and can't come back from a large deficit, unlike Indy).
If any rookie QB sees their team lose three games, they'll be almost certainly eliminated. Advantage: Wilson and Martin, because Seattle has an easy schedule and Martin's not a QB, so he'll be evaluated on his success more than his team's.
If any rookie fails to break out a monster game over the last four games, they'll almost certainly be eliminated. Advantage: Luck, Griffin, and Martin, because Wilson doesn't do big games – hence his back door claim on the race. That, more than anything, is why Wilson won't win – he's unspectacular, and his team's not exceptionally good.
If any rookie falls apart in any single game over the last four weeks, they'll be a second choice. Advantage: Griffin and Martin, because Martin can't really kill his team (as a running back not named Willis McGahee) and Griffin's too explosive for people to care for too long. People are waiting for Wilson to blow a game so they can discuss how 'they saw it coming' and 'he isn't really that good', and Andrew Luck plays on the road twice. Need I say more?
Final verdict: RGIII or Andrew Luck, depending on the Colts in Houston. Wilson's unspectacular (we've been over this) and Martin's a running back who doesn't actually lead rookies in rushing yards (Alfred Morris, Washington's RB, is tied. On the nose. Oddest sub-plot of this entire debate, that). I'm not sold on RGIII, but Luck will have to earn the ROY this year.
Call me biased – I'll call myself biased – but I think Luck's going to.