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NFL Rookie of the Year races: Where they stand, how they could finish

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Hunt is key to keeping KC's offense hot (0:36)

Steve Young says that the Chiefs' offense will flow better if it finds a way to get Kareem Hunt the ball more. (0:36)

Kareem Hunt emerged as the early favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but a midseason slump cracked open the race for other young stars. Plus: Marshon Lattimore looked like the front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year, but he has some competition.

NFL Nation reporters make cases for the top five candidates on both sides of the ball, breaking down how players can separate themselves over the final three weeks of the season.


Offense

Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

The case for Kamara: Kamara has been running away with this award for the past two months. The third-round draft pick from Tennessee is already just the third rookie in NFL history with more than 600 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards in a season, and there are still three games to play. He leads the league with 7.0 yards per rush -- nearly 2 full yards better than any other running back. He has been doing it in dynamic fashion for a 9-4 team, routinely creating "wow" moments by breaking tackles or hurdling defenders. Kamara has been especially spectacular since Week 5. He ranks second in the NFL over the past nine weeks with 1,017 yards from scrimmage behind only Le'Veon Bell. And he's tied with teammate Mark Ingram for a league-leading nine touchdowns during that span.

How he can win it in the final three weeks: This is Kamara's award to lose, provided he stays healthy (he appears set to return Sunday from the concussion that sidelined him last week). The only scenario I could see that changes things is if Hunt finishes the season the way he started it and the Chiefs storm back to win the AFC West, while both Kamara and the Saints flop down the stretch. But if Kamara stays on his current pace, he'll finish with close to 800 rushing yards, 800 receiving yards and 13-14 touchdowns to win running away. -- Mike Triplett

Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams

The case for Kupp: Kupp went from being drafted in the third round to being the game's most productive rookie wide receiver through the first 14 weeks. Kupp, who mostly mans the slot for the Rams, ranks third among all NFL rookies in receptions (56) and leads in both receiving yards (783) and receiving first downs (38). Among rookie receivers, he ranks first in targets per route (23.0 percent) and receptions per route (15.2 percent) and is second in receptions per target (65.9 percent). He has also acted as something of a second coach on the field.

How Kupp can win it in the final three weeks: Kupp is 464 scrimmage yards behind Kamara, widely considered the favorite, so he has a lot of ground to make up. But a 1,000-yard season on a playoff team could give him heavy consideration. Kupp, who has already set a franchise record for receptions by a rookie, needs to average 73 receiving yards during the final three games to reach the 1,000-yard mark, which is certainly doable. A handful of touchdowns, to add to his current mark of four, would help, too. Kupp is on pace to be the leading receiver on a team that could lead the NFL in points, which cannot be overlooked. -- Alden Gonzalez

Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants

The case for Engram: No rookie has more receiving touchdowns this season than Engram's six. And a lot of the damage has come with opposing defenses focused on the rookie tight end since the Giants are ravaged by injuries at other positions. Engram has been a consistent threat, tallying at least three catches in seven of his past eight games. With one catch and 5 yards on Sunday against the Eagles he will become the most productive rookie tight end since Jeremy Shockey. Keith Jackson and Shockey are the only tight ends to ever record more than 56 catches as a rookie. Engram sits at 55 entering Week 15. He leads the Giants in catches, yards and touchdowns.

How Engram can win it in the final three weeks: Engram needs to keep producing at the pace that he has for the past eight weeks. If he can somehow get into the end zone at least three more times, that would also help his cause. Only two tight ends in NFL history -- Rob Gronkowski and Mike Ditka -- have done better than nine receiving touchdowns as a rookie. That would open some eyes. So would his first career 100-yard receiving game in an upset of the Eagles. -- Jordan Raanan

Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

The case for Hunt: Few rookies have ever started their careers in a more spectacular manner than Hunt. He rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown and caught two touchdown passes -- one going for 78 yards -- in the Chiefs' season-opening win over the Patriots. He had at least 100 yards from scrimmage in his first seven games, an NFL record. Hunt then went into a prolonged slump that had more to do with problems around him than it did with himself. But Hunt bounced back with a 116-yard rushing game last week against the Raiders.

How Hunt can win it in the final three weeks: A strong finish to the season should be enough for Hunt. He still has a comfortable lead among rookies in rushing yardage, and he's second among all players, trailing Bell by 59 yards. He went over 1,000 yards in last week's win over Oakland. -- Adam Teicher

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

The case for Fournette: Fournette leads all rookie running backs with eight rushing touchdowns, and his 923 yards rushing is second among rookies to only Hunt (1,046). However, Fournette has played in two fewer games than Hunt. Fournette is also doing it against more stacked boxes than any other running back. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Fournette's 80 carries against eight-plus-man boxes is the most in the NFL. That's 35 percent of his total carries. Hunt has only carried against at least eight defenders in the box 34 times, which would be 16 percent of his total carries. Beyond statistics, Fournette has helped establish the tough, physical identity that coach Doug Marrone wanted on offense. That the Jaguars lead the NFL in rushing (and Fournette is seventh overall) is directly related to that.

How Fournette can win it in the final three weeks: Fournette's main competitors for the award are Hunt and Kamara. Their teams are also in the playoff hunt, so there will be a lot of eyes on all three of them. Fournette and Hunt had a lot of early momentum, and Fournette had 596 yards rushing in his first six games, including a 181-yard performance against Pittsburgh. But an ankle injury and being deactivated for a game for violating team rules, as well as less production, cost him support over the past month. He broke out of that minislump with 101 yards and a touchdown against Seattle last Sunday, and his best chance to win the award is to put together a couple of 100-yard games in the final three weeks. It would help his case if the Jaguars won out and took the AFC South, too. -- Mike DiRocco

Defense

Carl Lawson, LB, Cincinnati Bengals

The case for Lawson: According to Pro Football Focus, Lawson leads all rookie edge defenders with 52 total pressures, far outpacing Derek Barnett, who has 35. Lawson also has 7.5 sacks, one more than Steelers rookie linebacker T.J. Watt. Because Lawson usually plays in the nickel packages, he has done it in only 361 snaps, far less than most comparable defensive rookies.

How Lawson can win it in the final three weeks: Because Lawson's team is out of the playoffs, he'll have to make a big showing and pile up some statistics in the next few weeks. Lawson will likely need to reach double-digit sacks, which is going to be difficult due to the Bengals' struggles and a difficult final schedule. Lawson hasn't had a sack in the past two games, and that will have to change to get himself back in the national conversation. -- Katherine Terrell

Marshon Lattimore, CB, New Orleans Saints

The case for Lattimore: Lattimore had emerged as the front-runner for this award before a Week 11 ankle injury sidelined him for nearly three games and tightened the race a bit. But he's back now and still has a great chance to win it after establishing himself as a true No. 1 cornerback for one of the NFL's most improved defenses. The 11th overall draft pick from Ohio State has three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, to go with 10 pass defenses and a forced fumble. Through Week 9, Pro Football Focus said Lattimore was its highest-graded rookie at any position since Adrian Peterson in 2007. And the Saints' pass defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL when Lattimore was on the field from Weeks 4 through 10. They ranked 28th in the NFL from Weeks 11 through 13, emphasizing his value even more.

How Lattimore can win it in the final three weeks: Lattimore will get to show his worth against some very good receivers when the Saints face the Jets, Falcons and Buccaneers. But it's that Week 16 rematch against Julio Jones that will probably make or break his candidacy. If he can lock down one of the game's best receivers while the Saints lock down the NFC South title, he should lock up this award in the process. By his own admission, Lattimore was "just average" in his first matchup with Jones in a 20-17 loss in Week 14 -- the week when Lattimore returned from his ankle injury and had to take several breaks for oxygen on the sideline because of an illness. Lattimore intercepted a pass in front of Jones, but he also gave up three to four passes to Jones and drew two flags for defensive holding. It was the most success any receiver has had against Lattimore this year by a wide margin. -- Mike Triplett

Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns

The case for Garrett: Garrett has not played in every game, but when he has played, he has played well -- though not spectacularly. Two injuries kept Garrett out of five games. And while his raw numbers are not great, Garrett leads the Browns with five sacks. His talent has been evident; he has just not been on the field enough to get big numbers.

How Garrett can win it in the final three weeks: If Garrett can make two of the final three games the breakout games expected of him when he was drafted first overall -- have pressures and get at least two sacks in at least two games -- he can win it. It won't be easy. With Emmanuel Ogbah, Garrett is getting extra attention on almost every play. But if he can do it, he could make a late push for the award. -- Pat McManamon

T.J. Watt, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

The case for Watt: Watt has emerged as a serious playmaker on a defense loaded with veterans and former high-draft picks. His versatility allows him to deftly play in pass coverage or rush the passer, which has kept James Harrison on the sideline for much of the year. Watt is one of a few NFL players with at least 40 tackles, 6 sacks and 6 passes defended. And he has a signature moment, a strip-sack on Joe Flacco in the final seconds that sealed the 39-38 win over the Ravens to clinch the AFC North. Watt picked up the defense quickly and has taken advantage of his increased snaps.

How Watt can win it in the final three weeks: On a big stage against New England on Sunday, Watt has a chance to strengthen an already solid rookie campaign. The Steelers desperately need a solution for Rob Gronkowski, who has eight touchdowns in his past five games against Pittsburgh. Watt said if he's matched up with Gronk, he won't back down from the challenge. And sacking Tom Brady always helps. A few big plays this week will carry serious weight in this race. -- Jeremy Fowler

Tre'Davious White, CB, Buffalo Bills

The case for White: White is tied for the NFL lead among rookies with three interceptions. His nine pass breakups, as tracked by ESPN Stats & Information, rank third among rookies. White has also forced a fumble and recovered two fumbles, including one for a touchdown. His 848 snaps -- 98 percent of the Bills' total defensive snaps -- are the most among rookies leaguewide. Coaches have praised White for his maturity since he began practicing with the first-team defense in May. Although he has not been perfect, White has proven ready to compete against the NFL's top receivers since day one.

How White can win it in the final three weeks: Add at least one more interception to his resume. Statistics remain the best path for players to win postseason awards, especially for those such as White who play in small markets and for a team that does not often play on national television. When voters stack White up against other rookies such as Lawson (7.5 sacks) or Watt (6.0 sacks), they will want to see the playmaking stats to show he belongs in the conversation. -- Mike Rodak