In the history of the NFL, an offensive lineman has never won the league’s offensive rookie of the year award. This despite the fact that since 1997, an offensive lineman has been taken with the top overall pick in the draft three times. And in this year’s draft, three offensive lineman were taken before the Dallas Cowboys selected Notre Dame guard Zack Martin 16th overall. Now, there are rumors that Martin could be a possible offensive rookie of the year candidate. But could he actually win?
The hardest thing about nominating an offensive lineman for this award is his lack of statistics. Although stats aren’t everything, they are a ruler which helps measure a player’s performance against his peers. For example, Auburn tackle Greg Robinson (2nd overall), Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews (6th overall) and Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan (11th overall) were all selected ahead of Martin in this year’s draft. But without statistics, it’s difficult to compare how well each of these lineman have perform against one another. Much less quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers who do generate stats.
Other than the eye-ball test, which honestly many of us are unqualified to analyze correctly, the improved performance of the team’s offense as a whole is often used as the measuring stick by which all lineman are judged. There are many players who frequent the Pro Bowl based on this fact alone.
Using that criteria, Martin certainly has a case for the award this year. In 2013, the Cowboys running offense finished the season ranked 24th in the NFL with 1,504 total yards gained on the ground. This year, through six games, Dallas is the number one ranking rushing offense in the league with 962 yards. Last year, the Cowboys averaged 94.0 rushing yards per game. This season, an incredible 160.3!
Now is Martin solely responsible for this incredible increase? Absolutely not. But his play has certainly contributed to the Cowboys early success. Pro Football Focus ranks Martin as the third best right guard in the NFL through Week Five. And he’s considered the seventh best overall guard in the league. The highest ranked offensive lineman by PFF selected ahead of him in this year’s draft is Matthews, who currently sits at no. 71 amongst all NFL tackles playing 25% snaps or more.
Should Martin be considered for the rookie of the year award? Yes. But no position other than quarterback, running back and wide recevier has ever won it since 1967. In fact, the last Dallas Cowboys’ player to win the award was running back and Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith in 1990. Not surprisingly, three of the last four winners have been quarterbacks. But with Cowboy players breaking records left and right this season, Martin making history by becoming the first lineman to ever win the rookie of the year award would now seem about par for the course.