On Saturday night, the NFL will announce its award winners for the 2012 season in New Orleans and a hotly contested battle for Offensive Rookie of the Year finally will be settled.
With three quarterbacks who directed their teams to the postseason, and a running back that finished second overall in rushing, a strong argument can be made for Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Alfred Morris. But there will be only one winner.
Here’s a look at the case for - and against - each candidate taking home the honor (keeping in mind votes were cast at the end of the regular season) as well as a closing argument for the player the CSNWashington.com crew believes to be most worthy:
For: The Redskins’ quarterback reenergized a disillusioned fan base by leading the team to its first division title since 1999. He rushed for a rookie quarterback record 815 yards, tossed 20 touchdowns passes against five interceptions, and finished with a passer rating of 102.4, another new standard for first-year signal callers. The rating was also the third best mark in the NFL behind Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning.
Against: As dazzling as RG3 proved to be, his durability was an issue. He was knocked out of two regular season games because of a concussion and a knee sprain and missed another due to the same knee injury. In the one start Griffin missed, fellow rookie Kirk Cousins took the reigns and led the Redskins to a comfortable victory in Cleveland.
For: After claiming the starter’s job in training camp, Wilson overcame doubts about his height (he’s listed at 5 foot 11) and early inconsistency (8 INTs in first 8 games) for the 11-5 Seahawks. The third rounder ranked among the league leaders in many categories, including passer rating (100.0, fourth), rushing yards (489, third among QBs) and touchdowns (26, tied for ninth).
Against: Of the three quarterbacks, Wilson joined the team best equipped to find success in 2012. With an elite running back in Marshawn Lynch and a well-rounded defense, Wilson and the Seahawks built on their 7-9 record from the previous season, which ended with consecutive losses - by a combined five points.
For: The Colts were coming off a miserable two-win season when Luck arrived in Indy. By the end of 2012, though, they had claimed 11 wins and Luck had cemented his place among the NFL’s clutch performers, having engineered seven fourth-quarter comebacks. And he did it all with less talent surrounding him than Griffin and Wilson.
Against: Although Luck passed for a rookie record 4,374 yards, it’s hard to overlook his passer rating of 76.5, which ranked 26th. That rating was dinged by 18 interceptions, which was 13 more than Griffin and eight more than Wilson. Yes, Luck threw the ball a lot more. But too often it ended up in the hands of an opposing defensive back.
For: The sixth round pick wasn’t even a lock to make the 53-man roster, but the rugged north-south runner quickly proved to be the perfect fit for Coach Mike Shanahan’s offense. Morris broke the Redskins’ single-season rushing record with 1,613 yards to go along with 13 touchdowns and, by the end of the season, was evolving into an every down player after showing significant progress in pass blocking and pass catching.
Against: It can be argued that a decent amount of Morris’ success was due to the fact that he shared the same backfield with Griffin. The threat of the option often caused defenses to become preoccupied with stopping RG3, thus creating openings for Morris that he wouldn’t have been afforded otherwise.
With all apologies to the others, Griffin should claim the award going away. Although he now faces an uncertain short-term future as he recovers from major knee surgery, the 22-year-old established himself as the face of the NFL (as evidenced by jersey sales) and unofficially led this year's impressive crop of rookies in highlights.
Remember the 76-yard touchdown run against the Vikings? Or the bootleg where he juked Jason Pierre-Paul out of his cleats at the Meadowlands? How about that back shoulder pass to Santana Moss in Dallas on Thanksgiving?
Much was expected of Griffin as the second overall pick out of Baylor. And with an impressive collection of did-he-just-do-that highlights and more wins than almost anyone believed was possible, he delivered. Big time.