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Why Smith-Schuster Deserved To Be A Rookie Of The Year Finalists

The NFL announced the five finalists for the 2017 Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year award on Friday and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster wasn’t included. Since then, I have received a few angry emails from fans of the Steelers stating that his omission is a huge oversight. Let’s have a look.

For starters, keep in mind that the annual NFL Rookie of the Year award finalists list only includes five players and generally that list is heavily dominated by offensive players. That was definitely the case this year as four running backs Alvin KamaraChristian McCaffreyKareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette all made the finalists list along with cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

Now, let’s look at the all-purposes yards stats of the top offensive skill position rookies from this past season sans the quarterbacks:

Player ATT YDS AVG TD TGT REC YDS AVG TD KR YDS KR TD PR YDS PR TD ALL YDS ALL TD
Alvin Kamara 128 728 5.7 8 100 81 826 10.2 5 347 1 0 0 1901 14
Kareem Hunt 272 1,327 4.9 8 63 53 455 8.6 3 0 0 0 0 1782 11
Tarik Cohen 87 370 4.3 3 71 53 353 6.7 1 583 0 272 1 1578 5
Leonard Fournette 268 1,040 3.9 9 48 36 302 8.4 1 0 0 0 0 1342 10
Christian McCaffrey 117 435 3.7 2 113 80 651 8.1 5 58 0 162 0 1306 7
JuJu Smith-Schuster 0 0 0.0 0 79 58 917 15.8 7 240 1 0 0 1157 8
Joe Mixon 178 626 3.5 4 34 30 287 9.6 0 0 0 0 0 913 4
Ryan Switzer 4 5 1.3 0 7 6 41 6.8 0 600 0 256 1 902 1
Cooper Kupp 0 0 0.0 0 94 62 869 14.0 5 0 0 0 0 869 5
Samaje Perine 175 603 3.4 1 24 22 182 8.3 1 48 0 0 0 833 2
Jamaal Williams 153 556 3.6 4 34 25 262 10.5 2 0 0 0 0 818 6
Keelan Cole 0 0 0.0 0 83 42 748 17.8 3 26 0 0 774 3
Evan Engram 1 14 14.0 0 115 64 722 11.3 6 0 0 0 0 736 6

As you can see by the stats above, Kamara, Hunt and Fournette all belong on the finalists list this year and while we are only focusing on offensive rookies in this post, I believe that the lone defensive player, Lattimore, belongs as well. That leaves one spot up for debate. With apologies to running back Tarik Cohen, over 50% of his all-purpose yards came via returns and thus it’s hard to make a strong argument for him to be a finalists.

In short, the battle for the fifth and final finalists spot should probably be between McCaffrey and Smith-Schuster.

Of McCaffrey’s 117 rushing attempts for 435 yards, 36.8% of them were deemed successful plays and that’s on the low side for running backs. Additionally, 15.4% of those attempts resulted in either no gains or lost yardage. 65% of McCaffrey’s receptions, however, resulted in successful plays. Do keep in mind, however, that McCaffrey caught 70.8% of all passes thrown his way this season and that his average length of target was 2.5 yards past the line of scrimmage.

I dont want to bash McCaffrey too hard, but the fact of the matter is that he doesn’t belong to be on the same list as the other running backs, Kamara, Hunt and Fournette. He has yards and that’s about it.

As for Smith-Schuster, the top rookie wide receiver in not only receiving yardage, but all-purpose yards as well, he caught 73.4% of all passes thrown his way during the regular season and his average length of target was 10.3 yards past the line of scrimmage, which is four times that of McCaffrey’s . Additionally, 79.3% of Smith-Schuster’s receptions resulted in successful plays. Smith-Schuster’s average yards per touch stat of 15.8 is nearly triple that of McCaffrey’s as well.

Now, if you are still on the fence between McCaffrey and Smith-Schuster, keep in mid that the Steelers wide receiver had more total return yardage than his running back counterpart did and he even had a touchdown.

One final note to add on this battle and that’s the fact that Smith-Schuster was able to compile his stats in 14 games whereas McCaffrey played in 16. Had Smith-Schuster not missed those two games, I doubt there would even be a debate as to whether or not he belonged on this list instead of McCaffrey.

Now, had Smith-Schuster made the list of finalists it’s doubtful he would have beaten out Kamara for the ROTY award, but with that said, he would have presented the rookie running back a bigger challenge than McCaffrey will.

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