Saturday, November 6, 2010

Midseason OROY: Pouncey v Bradford

With the NFL season approaching its midpoint, various sites around the interwebs have started handing out Midseason awards. One race that was particularly intriguing was the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Clark Judge and Pete Prisco at CBS Sports picked Sam Bradford as their Midseason OROY. Over at Sports Illustrated, Peter King (who picked the Steelers to win the Super Bowl before the season started) named Maurkice Pouncey his Offensive Rookie of the Year.

This sparked some debate on Twitter between us and Will from RamsHerd. We first met Will when he helped us out with our NFC West Draft Preview, dropping some sick knowledge on the Rams on us. Will is a good dude. Hit him up on Twitter if you want to talk about Rams stuff. Chances are, even if you're some joke like we are most of the time, he'll talk to you.

After some discussion, we decided to have a cross-blog debate on the topic.

In defense of Mr. Bradford:

Will didn't bring a lawyer to the proceedings, so the court provided him with one.

As if leading a one-win team back to .500 and shocking respectability wasn't enough, the numbers say Bradford is quietly having one of the three best years for a rookie quarterback ever. If he performs at the same level over the next 8 games, he will have more TD passes than anyone but Jim Kelly and Peyton Manning. His TD-INT ratio will be better than anyone not named Dan Marino, Marc Bulger or Ben Roethlisberger. And he will have thrown and completed more passes than anyone.

Numbers aside, Bradford stands to be the most impactful draft pick the Rams have had since arriving in St. Louis, perhaps the most impactful since the selection of Eric Dickerson in 1983. (That year he replaced a guy named Wendell Tyler on a 2-7 team, and averaged 113 yards per game and score 18 TDs, leading the Rams on a deep playoff run.)

After signing his $50 million dollar deal, Bradford has done everything right, stabilizing a franchise and giving his young team and coaching staff a rock to lean on. Whether or not he wins the ROY award, there is no one else who could have been a better pick for the Rams. And given our checkered draft history, that is an extremely rare statement.

And now, the rebuttal from our crack team of lawyers.

To say that Pouncey is having a good year at center would be the understatement of the century. Consider this: before the start of the 2009 season, the Steelers signed center Justin Hartwig to a four-year, $10 million contract extension. Last season, the Steelers surrendered 50 sacks, part of a string of 4 seasons where the Steelers line surrendered 49, 47 and 49 sacks. What was the constant? Poor play at the center position.

2009: According to Steelers Depot, Hartwig was responsible for 7.5 of the Steelers 50 sacks.
2008: Based on this post from the Footballs Future forums, Hartwig was the worst center in the league at surrendering sacks with 6.5 on the season.
2007: The Sean Mahan Disaster. 

Despite the new contract that Hartwig signed, the Steelers drafted Pouncey in the first round of the draft. By the second week of camp, Pouncey had won the job from Justin Hartwig. By the end of camp, Hartwig had been toted around the trade market and cut from the team while Pouncey assumed the starting role.

Pouncey has been indispensable to the Steelers this season. He is the only offensive lineman to play every snap in the Steelers first seven games. That might not sound all that impressive, but let's consider what this team has been through: back-to-back games in Nashville and Tampa Bay in 90+ degree heat and a game in Miami with temperatures in the high 80s. Granted, Pouncey played at Florida so he should be used to the heat, but it's still a testament to his level of play that he has been the only member of the line to play every snap. 

Pouncey stabilized an offensive line that not only gave up an inordinate amount of sacks the last few years, but also fronted the 19th and 23rd in the league in rushing. This year, Rashard Mendenhall is 8th in the league in yards per game, 10th in the league in rushing yards, and 4th in the league in rushing touchdowns. Additionally, the line has only given up 15 sacks, on pace for 34 sacks on the season (which would be their best total since Jeff Hartings retired). 

As a final thought, there were many in Steelers Nation who were disappointed last year when we weren't able to land Alex Mack and passed on Max Unger in the first round of the draft. However, there are rumblings from outside scouts (including Aaron Aloysius from Draft Breakdown) that Pouncey is better than Mack and Unger. A few Steelers beat writers (Dulac, Prisuta, Wolfley) have even stated on local radio shows that if Pouncey continues his current level of play in the second half of the year, he would be worthy of Pro Bowl consideration. We're not quite ready to jump on that bandwagon yet, but we will go as far as to say that if he doesn't make it this year, he will definitely be there next year. Pouncey is a leader and the kind of player you can build an offensive line around. The Steelers organization is known for their great centers from Mike Webster to Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings. Pouncey's name will be next in that line.

As far as who actually deserves to be rookie of the year? It's hard to say. Bradford has stabilized a franchise and brought more wins in half a season than the Rams saw in the past two. Pouncey has taken hold of an offensive line that was one of the worst in the league the last three years. Bradford has worked his magic with virtual unknowns in the receiving corps. Pouncey anchored a line that was called upon to carry the load with Ben Roethlisberger out for the first four games. The one difference we see is this: the Pro Bowl factor. Does Sam Bradford deserve to go to the Pro Bowl this year? Probably not. Even though it's a down year for the NFC, it's hard to argue that he deserves to be put in the top 3 QBs in the conference (for the record, we're voting for Brees, Rodgers, and Ryan). Let's turn the tables. Two centers go to the Pro Bowl. Is it conceivable that Pouncey deserves to go to the Pro Bowl in the AFC? We say yes. Jeff Saturday is an institution at the position, but behind him, we like Pouncey's chances against the rest of the AFC centers.

With both cases presented, we'll let you be the judge. Who do you think has been the Offensive Rookie of the Year thus far?

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