The NFL regular season has wrapped up and with the playoffs in full swing, talk of the NFL honours ceremony on February 10 has started. The two Rookie of the Year awards always generate a huge amount of hype, and this years is no different. This year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year is almost certainly going to go to Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons. The number 12 pick out of Penn State University has a case to win Defensive Player of the Year at the end of season awards, due to his 84 regular-season tackles, 13 sacks and three forced fumbles and was named as 1st team All-Pro by the Associated Press and was voted into the Pro Bowl. The Offensive Rookie of the Year award is a little bit closer, with it looking to be a two-horse race between New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Here we look at cases for both, as well as a case for some wildcard options that aren’t getting the same attention as Chase or Jones. US betting sites currently have Chase as the favourite for offensive rookie of the year with odds of -1200, and Jones behind him at +600.
The case for Ja’Marr Chase
Last season, Minnesota Vikings star wide receiver Justin Jefferson put together the greatest season by a rookie receiver in the modern era of the NFL. He notched up 88 receptions for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns, and his yardage was the most of any rookie receiver ever. Unfortunately for him, another rookie on offense broke some records of his own, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, and the signal-caller out of Oregon took home the award. This year, Jefferson’s teammate at LSU Ja’Marr Chase would break Jefferson’s records, and put together a truly exceptional season. Chase rekindled his dynamic relationship with his quarterback in college, Joe Burrow to end the season with a jaw-dropping 81 receptions for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns. There were times this season where Chase looked completely unguardable, with the highlight of his season being the Week 17 game against the Kansas City Chiefs where he went off for 266 yards and three touchdowns. When Chase was picked fifth overall by the Bengals, many commenters suggested he was the wrong pick, and that Cincinnati should have instead gone for left tackle Penei Sewell, and after Chase’s training camp where reports suggested he was having problems with drops, those comments saying Chase was the wrong pick got louder. He couldn’t have proved them more wrong, as he was a key reason why the Bengals have made the playoffs this year. The main thing working against Chase in the race for Offensive Rookie of the Year is the fear that like the MVP, the award just goes to the best quarterback. If Justin Jefferson’s record-breaking rookie year wasn’t enough to win the award over a QB, will Chase’s?
The case for Mac Jones
If the award for Offensive Rookie of the Year is just a quarterback award, then there’s only one choice: New England Patriots’ 15th overall pick Mac Jones. Before the season, Jones was certainly not expected to be in the hunt for this award, mostly because the 2021 NFL Draft contained four quarterbacks picked ahead of him. Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence, the Jets’ Zach Wilson, Chicago’s Justin Fields and San Francisco’s Trey Lance all struggled in their rookie years or saw limited playing time, while Jones impressed for the Patriots after he beat out Cam Newton for the job. Being the long-term replacement for Tom Brady is no easy job, but Jones had a solid first season in the NFL, totalling 3540 yards, 21 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, and most impressively, a 67.6% completion percentage, which is just 0.2% behind Dak Prescott’s all-time record for a rookie signal-caller. His 92.5 passer rating is the sixth highest in history for rookies and most importantly, he helped his team to a 10-7 record and playoff berth. While his playoff debut against the Bills was a blowout loss, he was the only rookie QB to play in the playoffs this season, and he is the first first-round QB since 2013 to go above .500 (minimum 10 starts). Quarterback is undoubtedly the most important position in all sport, and a good season from a rookie in the position holds weight. If the Offensive Rookie of the Year is indeed a quarterback-only award like many fear, then there is only one option – Mac Jones.
Look, there is zero chance that an offensive lineman wins the Rookie of the Year award – it has never been done in the award’s history, and unfortunately, it’s just not as glamorous a position as quarterback, wide receiver or running back. However, there are two rookie offensive linemen that deserve praise and should be included in the conversation. Los Angeles Chargers’ offensive tackle Rashawn Slater and Kansas City Chiefs’ center Creed Humphrey. Slater earned second-team All-Pro honours in a season where he allowed just four sacks, and was dominant all year, while PFF graded Humphrey as the best center in the league this season, allowing just a single sack. If all positions were created equal, either of these two players would have an extremely strong case to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year, but sadly, they aren’t. The Chargers and Chiefs surely won’t mind however, as they both now have elite linemen protecting their franchise quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert for the foreseeable future.
If the award is purely for production, then there should be no doubt in the voters’ minds that Ja’Marr Chase is the winner of the award. His rookie year was truly incredible, and he has already cemented his position as one of the league’s premier wideouts. However, a quarterback that wins games, protects the ball and completes passing at a high rate is worth its weight in gold. Mac Jones certainly did all of those things and was undoubtedly very good in his rookie year, but in Chase, his competition should be too stiff, If Jones were to win the award, it would truly cement the award as just a QB award in a similar vein to the MVP.