Handicapping the Rookie of the Year Races

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The rosters say they’re rookies, either true or redshirt freshmen. The film suggests a misprint. In a month, the league will honor its offensive and defensive rookies of the year, achievements captured a year ago by Florida State QB Jameis Winston and Virginia Tech CB Kendall Fuller. This year’s recipients have already made splashes and laid foundations for the future, ascending from wide-eyed underclassmen to cornerstones of their respective units.  

Offensive Rookie of the Year

10. RB Joe Yearby, Miami – Yearby won’t get enough snaps to win the award. But he’s already shown he’ll be a worthy successor to Duke Johnson in the future, turning 72 touches from scrimmage into 532 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

9. WR Travis Rudolph, Florida State – Now that the game has started to slow down for Rudolph, he’s developing into a dangerous complement to star WR Rashad Greene. Rudolph wasn’t a factor in the first three games, but he’s since caught 19 balls for 308 yards and three scores.

8. TE Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech – When the Hokies reach the red zone, the 6-6, 244-pound Hodges becomes one of the preferred targets of the quarterbacks. A former quarterback himself, he’s hauled in 29 receptions for 360 yards and five touchdowns.

7. RB Shaun Wilson, Duke – Wilson has bloomed into an unexpected revelation, a homerun hitter the Blue Devils have lacked out of the backfield. He’s averaging 9.6 yards a carry and has scored five times, peaking with a 245-yard, three-touchdown explosion against Kansas.

6. RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State – The ‘Noles rallied from 21 down to beat Louisville last week. Cook was central in the comeback, scoring twice and rushing for more than 100 yards for the second time in the last three games. Spelling Karlos Williams, Cook has 68 carries for 380 yards and five scores.

5. WR Artavis Scott, Clemson – Scott is enjoying an auspicious debut as a Tiger. The two-time ACC Rookie of the Week has a team-high 45 receptions for 502 yards and three touchdowns, and became the first Clemson player to ever catch 10 balls in consecutive games.

4. WR Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech – Ford is polished well beyond his years, from his smooth routes to his fundamentals as a pass-catcher. He leads the team with 41 catches for 522 yards and five touchdowns, a Hokie record for a true freshman.

3. RB Jon Hilliman, Boston College – Hilliman has been a nice fit for an Eagle offense that likes to wear down the opposition between the tackles. The 6-0, 215-pounder leads all ACC rookies with nine touchdowns to go along with 578 yards on 143 carries.              

2. QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson – Watson was on the verge of turning this race into a rout, when a hand injury shut him down on Oct. 11. At the time, he was among the nation’s leaders in passing efficiency, tossing 12 touchdowns to only two picks. Watson will be back this month to show why he’s one of the budding young stars under center.

1. QB Brad Kaaya, Miami – The ‘Canes have their quarterback of the future. And they’ll build around him for the next three years. Kaaya is maturing exponentially as the leader of the Miami offense, ranking No. 11 nationally in passer rating, while guiding the team to three consecutive victories.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

10. S Josh Jones, NC State – The Pack’s hard-hitting strong safety has started half of his eight games, making his presence felt as a run and pass defender. The 6-2, 212-pound Michigan native has 43 tackles, five pass breakups and two picks, including the game-sealer against Syracuse.

9. DE Wendell Dunn, Wake Forest – Dunn is a key part of what Dave Clawson is building in Winston-Salem. He cracked the starting lineup in the offseason and hasn’t left it since, collecting 32 stops, 5.5 tackles for loss and a couple of forced fumbles.

8. DE Lorenzo Featherston, Florida State – He’s raw and thin, but just wait until the aptly-named Featherston adds more muscle to his 6-7 frame. The true freshman has provided a spark to the Seminole pass rush, making 17 tackles, five stops for loss and a sack as a three-game starter.

7. DT Nazair Jones, North Carolina – Jones may be backing up Ethan Farmer on the inside, but he’s making the most of his snaps. The second-year freshman continues to flash the potential to disrupt by making 20 tackles, a team-high six for loss, two sacks and a pick.

6. DE Dajuan Drennon, North Carolina – Drennon has become the first freshman end to start in Chapel Hill in four years. He’s made 28 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and two sacks, and he’ll continue to improve as he gets more snaps in November.

5. LB Andrew Motuapuaka, Virginia Tech – Motuapuaka will be one to watch over the final month of the season. While he’s only started the last two games, he’s shined in both of them, notching 25 tackles. Motuapuaka has turned heads with his instincts and tenacity since filling in for injured Chase Williams.

4. LB Jerod Fernandez, NC State – Fernandez hasn’t just started seven games in the middle for the Wolfpack—he’s one of only two FBS freshmen leading his team in tackles. Along with his 60 stops, he’s also had a pair of picks.

3. DE KeShun Freeman, Georgia Tech – Freeman has wasted little time becoming the Yellow Jackets’ most feared pass rusher. Undersized and explosive off the edge, he leads Tech with eight tackles for minus yards and 3.5 sacks, adding in a forced fumble and a blocked punt.

2. CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson – Just months removed from high school, Alexander has fit right in on one of the best defenses in the conference. The can’t-miss recruit has started all eight games, and his modest 11 tackles and three pass breakups are testaments to opposing quarterbacks’ quest to avoid him.

1. S Quin Blanding, Virginia – Blanding has been as good as advertised. Nah, he’s actually been better. Blanding is authoring one of the great all-time seasons for a first-year Cav defender, leading the team, the conference and all FBS rookies with 89 tackles.