Breaking down the 2009 NFL Offensive Rookie Year candidates

Around this time last year, I compiled a top 10 list of Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates and ranked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan No. 1. He went on to throw for 3,440 yards, 16 touchdowns and led Atlanta to a remarkable playoff appearance, all while making me look like some kind of OROY-predicting genius.

Of course, I also listed Titans running back Chris Johnson at No. 7 behind less-productive names like Darren McFadden (No. 4), Kevin Smith (No. 5) and Rashard Mendenhall (No. 6), hence making me look like some kind of OROY-predicting moron.

To see my top 10 ranking from last year, click here. And for my top 10 ranking of the offensive rookie of the year candidates for this season, see below.

1. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos
While the knee injury he suffered in Denver’s preseason opener is a concern, Moreno is expected to be ready for Week 1 and will be given every opportunity to shine in ’09. Granted, he’s stuck in a crowded backfield and could be eased into the season after hurting his knee, but he has the potential to be an every-down back at some point this year. He was the most complete back in April’s draft, has outstanding vision and should get plenty of opportunities to make plays in Josh McDaniels’ shotgun-heavy offense. He’ll also benefit from running behind the Broncos’ stellar O-line. Expecting him to put up rushing numbers similar to those of Chris Johnson (1,228 rushing yards) last year might be a little ambitious. But if Moreno stays healthy, a 400-plus yard receiving season in McDaniels’ system is certainly doable.

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Tucker: Entering draft is best move for college players

The deadline for underclassmen to decide whether or not to turn pro is today and Ross Tucker of has advice for all of those players on the fence about whether or not to return to school: go pro and never look back.

Mark SanchezFootball is a collision sport that takes a toll on one’s body, whether it be in the NFL or in college. Therefore, every player’s time in the game is finite, no matter how genetically gifted they may be. At some point the body is going to break down. When that time comes, each player will have the opportunity to reflect on his career and decide whether or not he maximized his earning potential. Any top prospect who returns to school, especially those who would have been taken in the first two rounds, is playing an entire season for which they could have been getting paid. That list currently includes Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy, USC’s Taylor Mays and a few others projected as first-day picks if they had entered the draft.

The other rebuttal to my premise concerns education. A player who leaves school early likely leaves without his degree. I thought this was a grave tragedy when I was a youngster. Man, was I naïve. To be clear, I am a huge proponent of education. I chose to attend Princeton because I recognized it was a unique learning opportunity. I would recommend that any player find a way to get his degree so he has something to fall back on when his playing days are over. But you can always go back to school. Besides, most of those who stay for their final year of eligibility drop out of school before the second semester, either to prepare for the Combine or individual workouts or both.

Much of the compensation for NFL players, especially those not fortunate enough to be drafted in the first round, is based upon tenure. A player’s league minimum goes up virtually every season. More importantly, the benefits players receive are based entirely upon years of service. Beginning with a player’s fourth season, every year entitles that player to another contribution into his annuity, 401k, severance and pension. Every year makes a significant difference.

I wonder how much of Tucker’s opinions stem from the poor economy. Because you used to hear pundits say, “If you’re good enough, the money will always be there. So stay in school as long as you can and enjoy the ride.” If we weren’t in economic hell right now would he still be instructing young players to, “get it while they can”?

He makes great points in his article. If a player’s stock is high and he grades out well, then they should enter the draft, make millions of dollars and hopefully go on to have a great career. Strike while the iron’s hot. Mark Sanchez (who is still deciding but is leaning towards entering the draft) and Shonn Greene are two prime examples of players in this year’s draft who are leaving while their stock is high.

But one thing Tucker isn’t factoring into the decision, and something that must be hard for a young player, is the experience they get from being in school. They only get so many years of eligibility and then their college career is over – forever. It’s hard to pass on experiences in life, even when millions of dollars are staring you in the face. The bottom line is that it’s a tough decision and you can’t blame a kid for going either way with their decision.

Quick Hit Observations from College Football Week 12

USC-Stanford– Raise your hand if you thought Stanford would upset USC again when the score was tied 17-17 at halftime. (Hand raised.)

– Not that a ton of people care about Conference USA, but what a statement by Houston. I don’t know what was more impressive, the fact that the Cougars scored 70 points or that they held Tulsa to only 30 points.

– Iowa’s Shonn Grenne (30 carries, 211 yards in a 22-17 win over Purdue) is a legit Heisman candidate for 2009.

– What happened to Kansas? I realize they didn’t play any of the top teams in the Big 12 last year, but they’re better than 6-5 aren’t they?

– They might have won 34-7, but Penn State’s win over Indiana was the least impressive 34-7 victory in some time.

– One of the more underrated rivalries in college football is Georgia-Auburn. And the Tigers easily have one of the more underrated defenses in the nation.

– Early upset watch for Week 13: Nevada over Boise State. The Wolf Pack’s offense is good enough to keep pace with the Broncos’ explosive attack and Boise hasn’t faced a tough opponent all year. (Unless you consider when they faced Oregon and their fourth string quarterback a tough opponent.)

– Worst…Michigan…season…ever.

– Underrated game of the week: No. 14 Ball State at Central Michigan next Wednesday.

– College football fans were cheated by not getting to see Beanie Wells run for a full season. He was amazing against Illinois.

– How about Troy hanging with LSU in Baton Rouge? Had they not turned the ball over three times, the Trojans could have pulled off one of the best upsets in college football this season.

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