Mike Anderson was the 189th pick in the NFL Draft, and one of the most unlikely rookie of the year winners ever. He played at Utah in ’98 and ’99, not getting there until four years in the United States Marine Corps and two years at junior college. On the other hand, Anderson’s success wasn’t entirely shocking: perhaps the biggest hurdle to his success was just becoming the team’s starting running back. From ’96 to ’00, Denver’s top running back averaged over 90 rushing yards per game in each season; the Broncos were responsible for 5 of the 21 instances when a rusher hit that mark while playing in at least 12 games.
Last year, Dak Prescott (the 135th pick) became another extremely unlikely rookie of the year winner. He helped turn around a Cowboys passing attack that was the worst in the NFL the prior year. Of course, there was quite an impressive infrastructure in place there, too: in 2014, the Cowboys passing game was great, too.
In 1974, Don Woods took the league by storm in 1974, despite being the 134th pick in the draft. A star quarterback at New Mexico, like most black quarterbacks of his time, he was converted to another position upon reaching the pros. Woods was cut by the Packers, but signed with the Chargers (who already had a pretty good quarterback on the roster). In the final 11 games of the season, Woods averaged over 100 yards from scrimmage and scored 10 touchdowns, while averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
In 1975, RB Mike Thomas was the 108th pick to the Redskins. Thomas totaled 1,402 yards in 14 games, and found himself in the company of the game’s top running backs by topping 75 yards in 12 of 14 games.
The graph below shows where the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year was selected in each season:
This differs a little bit from the defensive list, and even a guy like Eddie Lacy is a good example of why. The 61st pick is late, but remember that about half of all offensive players are ineligible for this award by virtue of being offensive linemen.
In 2013, two quarterbacks went in the first two rounds: And while there were five running backs, none of them went in the first round, and running backs — while devalued by the NFL — have an edge when it comes to winning this award. There were 11 wide receivers and tight ends drafted in the first two rounds, but Lacy was able to show that he was deserving of the award because we have detailed statistics for offensive players. Would he have been able to show that if he was a linebacker?