For most of the season, Saquon Barkley was running away with this award. A late push by Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, though, made it a very close contest.
And while it’s hard to argue with voting for the quarterback who somewhat resurrected the Browns, and who was outstanding at perhaps the toughest position in sports, this award went to the right person. Barkley, the Giants’ 21-year-old running back, was the best offensive rookie in the NFL this year.
His numbers certainly prove that — 1,307 rushing yards, 91 catches for 721 receiving yards, making him just the third rookie in NFL history to have 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Add in 15 touchdowns and the fact that he did it behind an offensive line that was terrible at times, on a team that was a miserable 1-7 for the first half of the season, and his credentials glow even more.
It is the highlight-film runs and moves, though, that surely stuck in the minds of voters. The way he bounced around like a pinball behind the line of scrimmage, avoiding tacklers, and then taking off down the field reminded so many of Barry Sanders. Every time he touched the ball, he was a threat to score and fans had to stop and watch and prepare to be dazzled.
Mayfield was surely a worthy competitor for this award. The No. 1 overall pick was the best rookie quarterback in what is expected to be a terrific quarterback class. In 13 starts and another half game he completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 3,725 yards with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Those are incredible numbers, really, for a rookie at a position where almost all rookies struggle.
And the fact that he went 7-7 (including his relief win against the Jets in Week 3) for a Browns franchise that was 1-32-1 in the 34 games (two-plus seasons) before he was inserted into the lineup? Well, that makes him a miracle worker, for sure.
In fact, if this award was for MVP — or Rookie MVP — he’d probably be deserving. No rookie was more valuable to his team than Mayfield was to the Browns. He did things for his team that Barkley couldn’t do for the Giants, no matter how many highlight-reel runs he ripped off. Perhaps that’s why the Pro Football Writers of America voted Mayfield the “Rookie of the Year” and Barkley the “Offensive Rookie of the Year” a few weeks ago.
But this award, awarded by a nationwide panel of writers assembled by the Associated Press, isn’t about “most valuable.” It’s about who is the best.
And the best offensive rookie this season was Barkley, pretty much from start to finish. He was the most dynamic, the most explosive, and the most exciting to watch. The vote was close — 26 ½ to 21 ½ — and it should’ve been. There’s no arguing with any of the votes that went Mayfield’s way.
But in the end, the right rookie won.