Can Bridgewater win Rookie of the Year?

Teddy Bridgewater made a strong late-season push that can’t be ignored, but will it be enough to win Rookie of the Year?

Midway through the 2014 season, it’s unlikely that many – if any – would have projected Teddy Bridgewater would be in Arizona Jan. 31 as a candidate for the Rookie of the Year Award at NFL Honors.

For the most part, Bridgewater was feeling his way along as the unexpected starter with the Vikings. He wasn’t lighting defenses up and there wasn’t anything that really stood out. But as he finished the season strong – completing more than 70 percent of his passes in December – Bridgewater was earning the respect of coaches, teammates and fans along the way.

While Bridgewater is still a long shot to win the Pepsi Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, given his position as the only quarterback in the field a case can be made that he deserves to win the award.

Cincinnati running back Jeremy Hill is the only one of the five finalists that made the playoffs. The other three finalists are all wide receivers from non-playoff teams – Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins.

The only candidate who came out of the gate strong was Watkins, who hit his stride with a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds against the Vikings when Minnesota traveled to Buffalo for a heartbreaking loss. However, Watkins seemed to hit a wall late in the season that dropped his numbers down.

The favorite may well be Beckham. After missing the first four games of the season due to injury, it can be argued that no wide receiver made a bigger impact than Beckham over the final three months of the season – rookie or otherwise. It is hard to argue the kind of production he put up on a weekly basis. In just 12 games, he finished with 1,305 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns – the kind of production expected from Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant, not a rookie. As a result, he will be established as the clear favorite to win the award.

Hill didn’t have a huge role in the Bengals offense until an injury to starter Giovani Bernard thrust the rookie into the center of the Cincinnati offense. He finished the season with 1,124 rushing yards and posted five 100-yard games. At a time when running back isn’t being viewed as a power position, Hill made a claim that running backs can still be the focus of an offense and big plays are always a possibility.

Evans thrived in Tampa Bay despite question marks at quarterback, catching 68 passes for 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns. While his college teammate Johnny Manziel struggled to even see the field, Evans became the focus of a run-challenged Tampa Bay offense and responded with a strong second half that saw him finish as his team’s leader in receiving yards and touchdowns.

Then there’s Teddy. The number that a lot of people focused on at the end of the season was that Bridgewater’s 64.4 percent completion percentage was the third-highest for a rookie in modern NFL history, trailing only Ben Roethlisberger and Robert Griffin III. Considering how many rookies have started for teams over the last 40 years, that’s saying something.

But perhaps what makes Bridgewater a sleeper candidate to win the award is that, at a time when rookie quarterbacks were struggling to post wins of any kind, Bridgewater was able to finish with a 6-6 record as a starter – the same win total as Blake Bortles, Derek Carr, Zach Mettenberger and Johnny Manziel combined – doing so without Adrian Peterson as the centerpiece of the Vikings offense.

It can be argued that what Bridgewater achieved was more difficult and more unexpected than what the other candidates brought to the table. He was expected to be an afterthought in 2014, watching from the sideline while others did their thing. Instead, he has given his team hope that the quarterback position is in good hands for years to come.

In the end, it’s likely that Beckham will have his name announced Jan. 31 as the Offensive Rookie of the Year, but if you look at the award as a rookie version of the Most Valuable Player, a strong argument can be made that nobody deserves it more than Bridgewater because he succeeded where so many other rookie quarterbacks failed and, as the Vikings move forward, perhaps none of the finalists will be more critical to the success or failure of their teams than Bridgewater is and will be for the Vikings.

Don’t hold your breath that Bridgewater will win the 2014 Rookie of the Year award, but it wouldn’t be a stunner if he does.

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