At various points in the season, we made a case here on ESPN.com's Bengals blog for running back Giovani Bernard to be declared the NFL's offensive rookie of the year.
Among running backs, he was one of the most versatile, totaling 1,209 yards rushing and receiving. Only two rookie backs had more.
Yes, it was the young playmaker whose fumble at the 4-yard line began a series of costly turnovers across the final 32 minutes of the Bengals' eventual AFC wild-card round loss at home to San Diego. But it also was Bernard who became beloved in Cincinnati and beyond for his stunning jukes, improbable broken tackles and electrifying runs. His one miscue aside, he had an otherwise strong season.
But was it strong enough to claim the Associated Press' Offensive Rookie of the Year award? We'll find out Saturday night.
Bernard's odds aren't as strong now as they were at points midway through the season. Green Bay's Eddie Lacy led all first-year running backs and receivers with 1,435 total yards. All but 257 of those came on the ground. Chargers receiver Keenan Allen also had a banner year, helping will San Diego into the playoffs with his eight touchdown receptions, five of which came in the season's last five weeks. With 1,046 yards receiving, he was the top rookie pass-catcher in 2013.
Those two are Bernard's stiffest competition for not only the AP award but they're also among his biggest offensive competitors for the Pepsi Next Rookie of the Year year honor that will be handed out Sunday, too. The latter of the awards goes to any player in the league, regardless what side of the ball they play. Two other names to watch for that one are Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson and Buffalo's Kiko Alonso.
Patterson wasn't only a good receiving option for the quarterback-shuffling Vikings all season, he also was an effective special-teams returner. He lit up the Bengals in the teams' Week 16 meeting at Paul Brown Stadium. Alonso, a linebacker, was among the league's top tacklers all season. He's likely to take home the AP's Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
So, will Bernard win anything this weekend? We'll have to watch to find out.
This pre-Super Bowl Friday edition of the Morning Stripes begins with a deeper look at the case for Bernard and the league's top first-year player honors:
For that deeper look, we turn to the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr., who uses statistics, graphs and Pro Football Focus grades as evidence for why Bernard should certainly be considered. Without spoiling too much of his argument, I will point out that his ultimate conclusions mirror mine: that Bernard, as good of a year as he had, probably will finish behind one of the other players outlined.
One second-year Bengal who also had a breakout season was receiver Marvin Jones. He became a true second pass-catching threat behind A.J. Green this season after coming away with 10 touchdown receptions. Now that his star has risen in the Queen City, others across the country are beginning to get to know who he is, too. This story from Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson outlines Jones' hectic Thursday at the Super Bowl. He gave so many interviews to print, television and radio reporters that he joked about how much deeper his voice was getting due to talking so much.