Frontrunner for Offensive ROTY status?

The hits just keep coming:

The April draft didn’t just give Matt Cassel another offensive weapon. He also got himself a house guest.

In a locked-out offseason full of oddities, yet another strange dynamic developed shortly after the draft. Cassel welcomed a perfect stranger into his home — a stranger who is 6-foot-4, can jump like a basketball star, and who gives the Chiefs’ offense a much-needed vertical threat.

Welcome to the Cassel, home Jon Baldwin. Don’t worry about wiping your feet at the door. Just make yourself comfortable.

“It was great getting to know Matt,” Baldwin said this week. “I stayed at his house. I ate dinner with him and his family. We’re really building a relationship together. We’ve talked a lot of Xs and Os. It’s important. I think (the lockout) is going to crack soon and we have to be ready. We all have to stay in great shape and hit the job at 100 mph when they tell us. When the lockout is over, we have to be in Kansas City the next day, so this work together is important.”

This inspires… shall we say, positive feelings.  And it leads me to ponder about potential offensive rookie of the year honors.

Typically, “rookie of the year” is reserved for running backs and the occasional QB who plays well right out of the gate.  Occasionally, but only rarely, do they go to wide receivers.  I’m not a big hype guy, but I think we have a frontrunner in Kansas City.

In the last ten years (2000-2010), the award has been broken down thusly (after the jump):

2010: QB Sam Bradford
2009: WR Percy Harvin
2008: QB Matt Ryan
2007: RB Adrian Peterson
2006:  QB Vince Young
2005: RB Cadillac Williams
2004: QB Ben Roethlisberger
2004: WR Anquan Boldin
2003: RB Clinton Portis
2002: RB Anthony Thomas
2001: RB Mike Anderson

That’s a high hit-rate for RBs (the result of a much easier conversion to the NFL).  QBs are slightly more successful than receivers (due to their influence on the field), and the stars pretty much have to align for a WR to succeed (because they are less important than QBs, and much, much more difficult to convert to the NFL than RBs).

Here’s the deal, though. I think the stars may be aligning for Johnny Baldwin.

1. There’s only two potential rookie RBs that will have great impact on their teams in 2010:

  • Mark Ingram, Saints.  I happen to think Ingram is overrated, but there is no doubt that he is a frontrunner for offensive ROTY, although there are numerous threats: Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush being two of them.  If either of these players take off in 2011, Ingram may be limited.
  • Daniel Thomas, Dolphins.  Thomas is landing in a great place in Miami.  He is one of the most talented runners of the draft, and landed in an offense that will guarantee him 20 carries a game.  The problem?  His quarterback (Chad Henne) is awful, and defenses will cheat up against the run.
  • Mikel Leshoure, Lions.  Jahvid Best is still the beast in Detroit, but he’s an injury concern.  Leshoure is, in my mind, the best runner of the ‘011 class.
  • Shane Vereen, Patriots & Ryan Williams, Cardinals.  Both of these guys are talented runners but are heading into unpredictable committee arrangements.

2. The lockout will be devastating to all rookie QBs.

Quarterback is the toughest position to adjust to, and teams will be doing everything they can to mitigate the damage by keeping their rookies on the bench for the initial part of the season.  These rookies will have to adjust to radically different schemes, thick playbooks, and a cadre of receivers that are completely different from what they’re used to working with.  Rookie QBs typically struggle.  In 2011, it’s going to be epic.

The only exception to this rule will be players that (a.) are very mobile, and can make up for their lack of polish with great athleticism, and (b.) have zero competition for the starting job: Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, who’s fairly pro-ready and has no other QBs that could possibly unseat him, and Cam Newton in Carolina, but they may trot out Jimmy Clausen for a while so Newton can transition better.  Does anybody believe that the Vikings are going to trot out Christian Ponder, or the Titans will try out Jake Locker, in Week 1?

3. Baldwin is in the best position of all rookie WRs this year.

Baldwin is a walk-on starter for the struggling Kansas City Chiefs WR corps.  He will be starting opposite a Pro Bowler in Dwayne Bowe who will draw the majority of attention.  And lest we forget, he’s a 230 lbs gargantuan with 4.4 speed.

AJ Green lands in a weird transition period in Bengals land, and will probably have a struggling rookie throwing him the ball.  Titus Young (Lions) and Torrey Smith (Ravens) are smaller receivers who will have to be bit players in their rookie season as they get accustomed.  (Greg Little for the Browns is an enticing combo, however, with Colt McCoy. I remain skeptical about the Browns offense, however.)

The only WR that, on paper, seems able to beat out Johnny Baldwin is  Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons.  He’s landed in a great situation there, with Roddy White drawing plenty of attention on the other side and a Pro Bowler in Matt Ryan throwing the ball.  This is a very similar position to the one Johnny Baldwin lands in with the Chiefs. Like Baldwin, the sky’s the limit for Jones. 

The difference?  You just read it in the opening quote of this post.

Baldwin is going over X’s and O’s with the franchise QB of this team, and is getting a ton of time building chemistry on and off the field.  We cannot understate the importance of getting a WR/QB combo with a rookie a head start on everybody else three months into the offseason!  This is really, really promising.

The first eight weeks of the season will likely be the D-Bowe show, with Baldwin in a prominent supporting role.  But by the last eight weeks, we could potentially see some scary production coming out of the Cassel-Baldwin connection.

Percy Harvin won the award in 2009. His stats: 60 receptions, 700+ yards, 6 TDs.  Anquan Boldin, a much better projection for Baldwin, won the award in 2004: 101 receptions, 1,300+ yards, 7 TDs.

I don’t think it’s unrealistic to project Baldwin to land squarely between those two numbers:

80 receptions, 1,000 yards, 6-7 TDs.

I think those numbers give him the offensive ROTY honors.  What do you think?

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