The Daily Nole

Did Jameis Winston Deserve the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award Over Todd Gurley?

Michael Schwarz/FSU athletics

News came on Saturday night that St. Louis Rams’ running back Todd Gurley was selected as the AP Rookie of the Year. This came as a shock to many Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans, as well as the large amount of Florida State fans who followed quarterback Jameis Winston’s progress in the NFL.

Winston had turned around a team who went 2-14 the previous season, making them a 6-10 squad, competing for a Wild Card spot late into the season. Gurley meanwhile helped a 6-10 St. Louis team edge a little further up to a 7-9 year. From a pure impact perspective, it would seem that the former FSU quarterback had a leg up on the competition.

Many had assumed that Winston was a lock for the award. He had already won the fan vote, and his high profile nature was thought to have made the award a foregone conclusion. But Gurley came out ahead in the voting, and many were left wondering why exactly this was.

For starters, here are the surface level stats:

Total TouchesTotal YardsTotal TD
Jameis Winston589425528
Todd Gurley250129410

Now, those don’t make any sense without the obvious context: Winston is a quarterback, while Gurley is a running back. The expectations are different. So the question is how they did relative to players at their position. This is what many point to as justification for Gurley getting the award.

Compared to quarterbacks around the league, Winston was 11th in passing yards, 16th in passing touchdowns, 12th in yards per attempt, and 17th in yards per game. By and large he registered as a decent quarterback in a pass-dominated sport. That is a fairly big deal for a rookie.

The numbers for Gurley are as follows: third in rushing yards, sixth in rushing touchdowns, eighth in yards per carry, fourth in yards per game. Gurley seems to have proven himself as a top running back in the NFL already. If one was to just look at these stats, the argument doesn’t seem close.

But instead of stopping there, let’s approach the discussion from a different angle.

Let’s compare Gurley and Winston to their fellow rookies at their positions. After all, it’s hard to compare across positions considering how different they are. A more direct approach would look like this.

Rookie Quarterbacks

Total TouchesTotal YardsTotal TD
Jameis Winston589425528
Marcus Mariota404307021

Rookie Running Backs

Total TouchesTotal YardsTotal TD
Todd Gurley250129410
TJ Yeldon21810193
Thomas Rawls1569065
Jeremy Langford1708167
David Johnson161103812
Ameer Abdullah1687803

There was only one other rookie quarterback besides Winston who got significant playing time, and that was the man selected right behind him in the draft. Marcus Mariota could have possibly had the better season than Winston if he had played all 16 games, but injury issues began to appear and the Tennessee Titans would often pull him early in games where they had no realistic shot at winning.

The rookie running back comparison is quite different. Five other rookies besides Gurley got major playing time for their teams, and the race is a lot closer than one would think. Two other rookies had more than 1,000 total yards, but only one had more touchdowns. Frankly, a good argument could be made for David Johnson having a better year than Gurley when all things are considered. Despite 89 less total touches, he still put up two more touchdowns and only 265 less yards than the Rams standout.

A certain reality is made apparent with the two charts shown above. It is inherently more difficult to be a rookie quarterback than it is a rookie running back. If awards considered this factor, it would be almost impossible for a non-quarterback rookie to ever win one. Every team in the league would take a decent first-year quarterback over a good first-year running back, because the former can provide much more value than the latter just by the sheer nature of the position. This is why Winston’s team had four more wins than the previous year, while Gurley’s had only one more.

As a final category, we need to look at the respective rookie seasons in a historical context. Put simply: whose year made more of an impact compared to those before him? Using the query page from, we can look at the current historical standings for rookies of all positions.

As a disclaimer, I added a “greater than or equal to 100 attempts” filter for the rushing yards per attempt number.

For Gurley’s first season, here are where his numbers rank among rookie years all time: 42nd in rushing yards, tied for 32nd in rushing touchdowns, 59th in rushing yards per attempt, and 24th in rushing yards per game.

For Winston’s first season, here are where his numbers rank among rookie years all time: third in passing yards, tied for fourth in passing touchdowns, 25th in passing yards per attempt, and fifth in passing yards per game.

Now this is not exactly the fairest comparison. The NFL has become an increasingly passer-friendly league over the past decade or so, meaning passing records will continue to get broken or surpassed. This might tone down some of what Winston accomplished this season, but it doesn’t necessarily help Gurley. Why?

Since the year 2000, there have been seven running backs that have won the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Mike Anderson, Anthony Thomas, Clinton Portis, Cadillac Williams, Adrian Peterson, and Eddie Lacy are all in the same club as Gurley. So how did they compare to this year’s winner?

Total TouchesTotal YardsTotal TDYds Per. Car.Yds. Per. Gm.
Todd Gurley2501294104.885.1
Mike Anderson3201656155.092.9
Anthony Thomas300136174.384.5
Clinton Portis3061872175.594.3
Cadillac Williams310125964.184.1
Adrian Peterson2571609135.695.8
Eddie Lacy3191435114.178.5

At the absolute highest, Gurley finishes as the fourth best in the list. It is safe to say that Gurley’s rookie season was not overly impressive in the grand scheme of things. Whether the parameters include a broad time span or a relatively recent list of running backs, Gurley doesn’t stand out.

By contrast, here’s how Jameis stacks up against the quarterbacks who have won the Offensive Rookie of the Year since 2000.

Total TouchesTotal YardsTotal TDYds Per. Att.Yds. Per. Gm.
Jameis Winston5894255287.6252.6
Ben Roethlisberger4392765188.9187.2
Vince Young4402751196.2146.6
Matt Ryan4893544177.9215.0
Sam Bradford6173575196.0219.5
Cam Newton6434757357.8253.2
Robert Griffin III5134015278.1213.3

Winston has a serious argument for having the second best rookie season for quarterbacks of the past 15 years. The only candidate not listed here would be Andrew Luck (who lost to Robert Griffin III) but Winston still stacks up fairly well to him.

Keep in mind that it is universally accepted that being a rookie quarterback is harder than being a rookie running back. So not only does Winston finish higher in his own group, he finishes higher in a group that is more exclusive.

But the question will certainly arise: why is the history important?

Because nothing ever happens in a vacuum. Part of the surprise with some rookies is how quickly they can come in and do things that took veteran players years to accomplish. When a new player comes in, does just that, and places themselves in the top of record books, it becomes even more impressive.

As we have seen with Winston and Gurley, only one of them seems to have put together a historically good rookie season. The history behind an award has to mean something. If putting together a potentially top-10 season for a rookie quarterback isn’t enough to win Rookie of the Year, then what is?

Ultimately it comes down to this: If you value historical precedent and context to a season, Jameis Winston is the clear answer. If you want to apply a handicap to positions and solely focus on how a player does in one season, then Todd Gurley is the choice.

So it isn’t all that surprising that Gurley won the award. But Winston and his season will probably stand the test of time a little better.

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