The NFL regular season is officially less than one month away. The race for Rookie of the Year honors begin in earnest. Last year's winners, Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons were successful early in the year and stacked positive games week after week. Who is in that position this year?
Betting favorites and promising long shots are identified on each side of the ball.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Before diving into the favorites and sleepers to win the award, it is important to review the trends and history. Since 2010, quarterbacks have won the Associated Press' award six of 12 years. Running backs have won four times over the same time period. Cincinnati's Ja'Marr Chase was the first wide receiver to win the award since Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014. Until Los Angeles' Justin Herbert in 2021, an AFC player had not won Offensive Rookie of the Year since 2006; now the conference has won the last two.
Here are the favorites, as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Caesars Sportsbook:
- Steelers QB Kenny Pickett: +800
- Jets RB Breece Hall: +900
- Falcons WR Drake London: +1000
- Titans WR Treylon Burks: +1000
- Jets WR Garrett Wilson: +1200
- Steelers WR George Pickens: +1200
- Saints WR Chris Olave: +1200
A year ago, most would have expected a quarterback to win Rookie of the Year, but New England's Mac Jones was the only one in the conversation. Fast forward to 2022 and the race is wide open on the offensive side of the ball. The odds of a wide receiver winning the award have increased given the current state of the league. Comparatively, the odds for a running back are decreasing unless that player is equally productive in the pass game.
Pickett has to be viewed as the favorite based on the historical context of the award. The chances of him seeing that through diminish immensely if Pittsburgh rolls with Mitchell Trubisky or Mason Rudolph early in the season. London and Burks are going to be force fed targets because there are few obstacles on the roster. Will there be enough team success to strengthen their respective arguments? It is easy to construct a case against any of the favorites. For that reason, there may be more value in sprinkling on a few long shots.
Chiefs wide receiver Skyy Moore (+1400) is a player that piques interest beyond that initial group. After losing Tyreek Hill, Moore fills that yards after the catch role for Patrick Mahomes. Two long shots that could be worth monitoring are Browns wide receiver David Bell (+3000) and Giants wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson (+6000). Cleveland has few options at wide receiver beyond Amari Cooper; targets have to go somewhere. There is a world where Bell is a volume pass catcher for that offense, especially after the season-ending injury to Jakeem Grant. As for Robinson, it is difficult to shake the feeling that New York drafted him with a specific plan in mind. They have other options at wide receiver but a point could be made with the Robinson selection.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Since 2010, the breakdown of Defensive Rookie of the Year winners is relatively split: four edge rushers, three defensive tackles, three linebackers -- Dallas' Micah Parsons being the most recent -- and two cornerbacks. Within that sample size, five of the past six winners, including Indianapolis' Shaquille Leonard and Parsons, averaged 9.7 sacks. Leonard had seven sacks as a rookie, which was the lowest for a non-cornerback over that same time period. The NFC has won four of the last five awards. Here are the defensive leaders, according to Caesars Sportsbook:
- Lions EDGE Aidan Hutchinson: +350
- Giants EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux: +400
- Jaguars EDGE Travon Walker: +500
- Jaguars LB Devin Lloyd: +900
- Jets EDGE Jermaine Johnson II: +900
- Packers LB Quay Walker: +900
It should come as no surprise that the three favorites are edge rushers and neither the Jets' Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner nor the Texans' Derek Stingley Jr. are present. Rookie of the Year is often a stat-based award and it is difficult for cornerbacks to accumulate those necessary sacks. In 2020, Falcons rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell was targeted on 107 passes. Commanders edge rusher Chase Young had 435 pass rush snaps that same year. Opportunities are more available to edge rushers.
Thibodeaux would be the personal choice because he has the explosive qualities that would allow him to get to that 9-10 sack threshold. Hutchinson is an understandable bet as well.
It is more difficult to find a defensive sleeper than an offensive. Since 2000, only three players taken beyond the first round have won the award; all three were taken in the second round. No player taken beyond No. 56 overall has won Defensive Rookie of the Year since the turn of the century.
To find that sleeper, I become the yodeler from Price is Right climbing the mountain past a few of my pre-draft favorites -- Chiefs edge rusher George Karlaftis (+2000) and 49ers edge rusher Drake Jackson (+3000) -- before settling on the landing of Falcons edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie (+4000). Ebiketie was picked No. 38 overall so he falls within the viable range. While at Penn State, he showed explosive traits and is on an Atlanta defense that should shower him with pass rush snaps.