LANDOVER, Md. -- Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman insists that teammate Russell Wilson should be this year's Offensive Rookie of the Year over Washington's Robert Griffin III and the Colts' Andrew Luck, but Griffin disagrees, saying that if he had a vote he wouldn't cast it for Wilson, Luck or himself. He'd choose teammate Alfred Morris instead.
All that is swell, except that neither Wilson nor Morris wins the award. Luck or Griffin will, and, with a month until ballots are tabulated, the election is too close to call. So let's handicap the field:
ANDREW LUCK, QB, Indianapolis
Why he will win: When Luck first stepped into the lineup, the Colts looked like a club one step above an expansion team. They fired their head coach. They fired their GM. They even fired their Hall-of-Fame quarterback. There wasn't much left behind except a few recognizable names like Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne, and there wasn't much hope, either. So what happens? What happens is that the Colts become the best feel-good story in a season where a lockout, "Bountygate", concussions, Junior Seau and Jovan Belcher grab headlines. The Colts are winning despite the loss of a head coach battling cancer and have become a virtual lock for the playoffs. Wait a minute -- playoffs? Playoffs. Yes, Jim Mora, there is a Santa Claus. This team is going where that team could not, and I can tell you why in two words: Andrew Luck. He doesn't have the numbers or passer ratings of Griffin or Wilson, but he has more victories -- winning his eighth game in 12 starts where Peyton Manning won his eighth in his 23rd start. Luck is poised, accurate and unflappable, rallying the Colts to memorable come-from-behind defeats of Green Bay and Detroit, and while he isn't as electrifying as RG3 or as unpredictable as Wilson or as accurate as either, he is more successful. And, for what it's worth, he's also more underrated --- as a runner, that is, with one less touchdown (five) than Griffin and five more than Wilson. But the bottom line with Luck is that he wins, and he wins with a club that was supposed to be the bottom feeder in a weak AFC South. Griffin has experienced veterans around him and a head coach who won two Super Bowls. Wilson has the league's fourth-ranked defense and Marshawn Lynch to serve as safety nets. But Luck? What you see is what you get. The guy's done more with less than anyone in the competition, making him a slam dunk for one of the top two spots.
Why he won't win: We live in a fantasy football world, and there are people out there who like nothing more than deciphering numbers before declaring a winner. So they'll tell you that Luck doesn't have the passer rating of Wilson or Griffin, and they're right. They'll tell you that Luck hasn't thrown for as many touchdowns as Wilson and doesn't have as many rushing yards as Griffin, and they're right. They'll tell you he has more interceptions than Wilson and Griffin combined, that he's beaten only one team with a winning record (Green Bay), that he's the league's 29th-rated passer, behind Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker, for crying out loud, and ranks 32nd in completion percentage, And, of course, they're right again. But he's 8-4, people, with a young lineup that includes a cast of nobodies, including six rookie starters. Check, please.
Bottom line: If the vote were held today, it'd be a photo finish, with Luck inches ahead.
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ROBERT GRIFFIN, III, QB, Washington
Why he will win: There is no more entertaining, no more dangerous and no more dynamic offensive player in the game, with RG3 reminiscent of a young Michael Vick -- only with accuracy. He completes nearly 70 percent of his passes. He's a dangerous downfield threat. He's an elusive running back, with more yards than all but 20 guys, including Michael Turner and Fred Jackson. He's a track star with speed that Giants' coach Tom Coughlin described as "devastating." Heck, he's so talented the Redskins once had him playing wide receiver before wising up. Like Luck, he raised the Titanic. Like Luck, he has the Redskins in the playoff picture. Like Luck, he exceeded first-year expectations. But unlike Luck, he's near the top of the league's passer ratings, ranked third behind only Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning -- and maybe you heard of them. Washington hasn't just been a moribund franchise for years; the Redskins flat-out stunk since Joe Gibbs left, and you can look it up. Not only haven't they had a winning season since 2007, they were 11-21 the past two years under Mike Shanahan, the worst record of any coach in the Dan Snyder era. Then RG3 came along, and, suddenly, you understand why Shanahan fell in love with the guy and was willing to mortgage the future for him. He's "unbelievably believable," as his trademarked name says. Already he's set a league rushing record for rookie quarterbacks, and there are still four games left. But RG3 is about more than numbers, and if you heard an overflow audience chanting his name Monday night at FedEx Field you know what I'm talking about. He's energized a community that has been waiting for something, anything, not named Stephen Strasburg to cheer. So along comes Griffin, and he beats Philadelphia with four touchdown passes. Then he beats Dallas with four touchdown passes. Then he beats the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The guy's got game, and he keeps proving it week after week -- with six passer ratings of 101.9 or better, a perfect score vs. Philadelphia, one interception in his last five starts and a nationwide audience of admirers.
Why he won't win: The Redskins aren't a playoff club -- not yet they're not, and, yeah, I know, he's not to blame. I get that. But when you look at the big picture, that could be a factor. Voters will look where Luck took Indianapolis, see Wilson having Seattle this close to the finish line and point out that this award is not just about style points; it's about winning, too -- with RG3 reminding listeners after Monday's victory that "stats don't matter." Well, stay tuned, because the Redskins' schedule looks favorable this month, especially with how Griffin and the team's defense are playing. Then there's this: Griffin doesn't face a Top-10 defense from here on out; Luck faces two (Houston twice). I keep seeing Carolina's Cam Newton channeling Superman when he reaches the end zone, but Newton isn't Clark Kent; this guy is. At least he is now, which is why the Giants' Justin Tuck called him "a nightmare."
Bottom line: He's neck and neck with Luck, but might not make it if the Redskins finish out of the playoffs again. I know, Newton did it a year ago with a 6-10 Carolina club, but Luck's story is more compelling than last year's runner-up, Andy Dalton. He's done all the heavy lifting on a team with zero expectations.
RUSSELL WILSON, QB, Seattle
Why he will win: I understand why Sherman is so high on this guy. He keeps overcoming the odds. He beat Chicago with a last-minute touchdown pass, he beat New England with a last-minute touchdown pass and he beat Green Bay with a last-minute -- OK, so he had help there. Anyway, he's a 5-foot-11 third-round draft pick who was supposed to serve as Matt Flynn's caddy -- only he's not. He has the Seattle Seahawks in the thick of the playoff picture and in hot pursuit of San Francisco in the NFC West. No, I don't think they catch the 49ers, but I'd never bet against these guys at home -- and that's where they play San Francisco next (Dec. 23). In fact, they have three contests left there, and do the math. Let's say they win all three. That puts them at 10 wins. Let's say they beat Buffalo in Toronto, too. That puts them at 11. Yeah, their defense is so tough it ranks third in points allowed, and Lynch is one of the game's most underrated running backs. But you can't talk Seattle without mentioning Wilson. He has more touchdown passes (19) than either Griffin or Luck. He has more victories than Griffin. And he has a better passer rating than Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Eli Manning. Seattle spent the last three seasons looking for a quarterback, a search that took them from Matt Hasselbeck to Charlie Whitehurst to Tarvaris Jackson to Flynn and now to Wilson, and the grind took its toll on the team. Seattle hasn't had a winning season since 2007. Now it could. Correction, now it should, and tell me that would've happened without Wilson -- because it wouldn't.
Why he won't win: Not only is there too much competition at the top, there's too much competition at the position he plays. The leading candidates are quarterbacks, and, just a hunch, but if you lined up 20 GMs or player personnel directors and asked them to choose quarterbacks -- Luck, RG3 or Wilson-- 10 might choose Luck, 9 go for Griffin and Pete Carroll would take Wilson. But I can see why. He's talented. He's charismatic. He's smart. And he's remarkably poised for a rookie. Oh, yeah, he also knows how to win. But he's up against a tough field. So what's holding him back? Nothing -- except this: He has more help with his supporting cast than Luck or Griffin. Not only does he have the league's second-leading back in Lynch; he has its fourth-best defense, and, trust me, those are considerations when voters pull the curtains. Cynics will charge that he's really a quarterback of a 6-6 team that benefited from a horrendous call (calls?) against Green Bay, and they're right -- but the Seahawks don't get there unless Wilson escapes the pocket and throws to the end zone. But there's one other thing worth mentioning, too, and that is this: Like or not, Luck and RG3 get more -- and I mean far more -- exposure than Wilson. That shouldn't count for anything, but it does. And it will.
Bottom line: He might get votes, but unless Luck and Griffin absolutely crater down the stretch he's playing for the bronze.
ALFRED MORRIS, RB, Washington
Why he will win: Forget that he's one of the top rookies. He's one of the best running backs in the game, period. It is Morris who gashed the Giants for a career-best 124 yards Monday. It is Morris who set a Washington record for rookie rushing yards. It is Morris who became the first Washington rookie to produce five 100-yard rushing games since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. And it is Morris who's tied for the NFL's third top back, with more yards than guys like C.J. Spiller, Frank Gore and Ray Rice. When RG3 says he'd vote for Morris as Offensive Rookie of the Year, I get it. Griffin understands what Morris does for his game, which is to keep defenses from collapsing on him. But he also understands what he's done for his team, which is to make it the league's best at running the ball.
Why he won't win: Again, there's too much competition at the top. Plus, there's a better rookie on his own team. When fans left Monday's game, they were chanting, "RG3! RG3! RG3!" They weren't raving about Morris, but that's the way it goes. It's what is known as reality, and the reality is this: Morris doesn't have the juice to rattle the leading candidates.
Bottom line: I can't imagine him pulling down more than a vote or two.
DOUG MARTIN, RB, Tampa Bay
Why he will win: He's second only to Adrian Peterson in yards from scrimmage, he averages nearly as many yards (4.7) per carry as Morris (4.8), he runs for as many yards (1106) as Morris and he has more touchdowns (nine) than Morris (six). Oh, yeah, he also produced more 200-yard games than Morris, and, OK, so it's one. It's one more than the competition at his position. Plus, he's on a team with as many victories as Morris and RG3.
Why he won't win: His candidacy hit the wall the past two weeks when opponents held him to 106 yards on 39 carries, a less-than-glittering average of 2.71. Martin is a good story, but he's not a threat to the leaders. Plus, he's not the best rookie running back in this class. Morris is. I know, he ran for 251 yards in one contest and made fantasy-football owners everywhere rich for one week. But there's a disclaimer there: It was against Oakland.
Bottom line: if he gets a vote, it's only because someone slipped Josh Freeman a ballot.