Last week, we used analytics to predict the 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year. This week, we turn our attention to what should be an interesting 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year race.
The 2021 offensive draft class is deep and has a lot of talent at many different positions. Offensive players largely dominated the first night. Teams made it clear that selecting either a talented QB, OT or WR was a priority. The first seven picks – and 12 of the first 15 – were offensive players. This class has many different players that could make a push for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Above are the last 21 Offensive Rookie of the Year winners (2000-20). Of these winners, nine were QBs, nine RBs, and three were WRs. Of the last 21 winners, 14 were first-round selections. Outside of the first-round players, four were second-rounders and the remaining three were picked in later rounds. Eight of the 21 winners were the first at their position selected. Only one player was the second at his position taken, compared to four each for the third, fourth, or any other slot taken at their position.
There wasn’t as much consistency as on the defensive side of the ball, but the majority of the offensive winners still came off the board sooner rather than later. Using the data, the players with the highest chance of taking home the award would likely be first-round picks that were selected first at their position. Historically, players also have better chances if they are a QB or RB, whereas the WR group does not have as many winners. Three RBs won consecutively to kick off the 2000s, which skews the data a little bit. Considering the increase in passing offenses in the league right now, the ideal candidate is a QB.
For the QBs who won OROY, all have been first-round selections outside of Dak Prescott. Three of the QBs have been the first overall picks. Matt Ryan and Vince Young were also the first QB picked, so five out of the nine QBs were the first one off the board. Robert Griffin III was the only one out of the nine to be taken second, while Ben Roethlisberger and the reigning OROY, Justin Herbert, were both the third QB taken in their respective classes. Prescott rounds out the group as the only non-first-round pick and number eight QB drafted in his class.
Looking at the past winners at the position, none of them were early entries. Five of the eight were All-American selections in their last season, and all had very accomplished careers, specifically Vince Young, Sam Bradford and Griffin. There were four former Heisman winners on this list.
Their measurables show that most winners have prototypical size and weight, outside of Kyler Murray. Those who qualified for RAS tested very well, so they were very capable athletes.
QB OROY Candidates
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
As the first overall pick, Trevor Lawrence was always going to have a good shot at winning this award. He will likely be given the keys to the offense right away and looks to have a similar rookie season to the five QB OROYs since 2000 that have been the first QB taken in the draft. Although Lawrence was an early entrant, he is similar to those who won because of how accomplished he was in college, as he was a multiple-time all-Conference player, All-American, and has won ACC player of the year as well. He is a bit light compared to the prototypical 225 pounds and stands above the height threshold at 6-6.
Zach Wilson, QB, New York Jets
The numbers featured would suggest that Trey Lance would get the nod over Zach Wilson, considering that of the remaining four winners, half were the third QB selected. However, Wilson likely has a better chance to start from game one, which more closely resembles the QBs featured in the data. Wilson was also an early entrant and did not have quite as much success as some of the other guys on the list, in terms of his collegiate awards. That being said, he is similar in size to some players on the list and had a great 2020 season, where he set the BYU completion percentage record and led his team to an 11-1 record.
Trey Lance QB, San Francisco 49ers
Like Wilson, Lance did not play against many top-tier college football programs. Lance is very talented and was the third overall pick in this year’s draft. He is helped by the data because he had a decorated 2019, where he was the FCS player of the year. Much like four of the winners on this list, he was the third QB selected in their class. Lance is lower on this list because he was an early entrant and may not get the chance to play right away compared to those above.
Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears
Like Lance, Fields is lower on the list because he may have a hard time showing what he can do by Week 1. Fields did not qualify for the RAS after he suffered hamstring tightness following a lightning-fast 40, so he likely would have scored very highly. Fields was an early entrant as well. To make a case for Fields, he had a very successful college career, earning back-to-back Big Ten Player and QB of the Year awards.
Mac Jones, QB, New England Patriots
Jones projects well in terms of having similar accomplishments to those above. Outside of not having as many starts, he brought home impressive hardware in 2020 and was not an early entrant. He has prototypical size but is only an average athlete. The main reason he is lower is because of the talent of the players ranked above him. Also, no QB picked as late as 15th in the first round or the fifth at his position has won in the past two decades.
Running backs have been very impactful in their rookie year as a group, taking home the OROY award nine times in the past 21 years. Of the nine RBs, four have been first-round picks, three have been second-round picks, and Alvin Kamara and Mike Anderson were selected in the third and sixth rounds, respectively. Three of them were the first RB taken and three of them were the fourth, while Cadillac Williams was the third, Kamara was the fifth, and Anderson was the 21st.
Of the last nine winners at the RB position, the majority were early entrants, as only Anderson, Anthony Thomas and Williams stayed their whole college careers. The RB group was less impressive than others as college players, as many just earned all-conference honors in their final collegiate season. However, Adrian Peterson and Saquon Barkley both had incredible college careers, earning All-American honors, NCAA RB of the Year, and more
Comparing combine scores, most of these backs were on the bigger side for their position. Of those that qualified, four of the five were very impressive, scoring great-to-elite on their RAS, especially Peterson and Barkley. With that information, the best candidate would likely put together a very strong RAS.
RB OROY Candidates
Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Harris was a first-round pick and the first one taken at his position, meaning the numbers slightly favor him. His talent, combined with his versatility and the fact that he should get a ton of touches, helps his case as well. Unlike the majority of past winners, Harris was not an early entrant and was very accomplished in his career compared to winners, earning all-conference, All-American and NCAA RB of the Year in 2020 alone. He did not qualify for the RAS as he did not participate in the Alabama pro day due to injury.
Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos
The numbers may slightly favor Travis Etienne for this spot because he was a first-round pick, but three of the last nine have been second-round picks. Williams may have a better chance to get more touches with a slightly less crowded backfield. Williams was an early entrant and was very successful in 2020, when he was second-team All-American. He also tested well and in the range of past winners, earning an 8.79 RAS.
Travis Etienne, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Etienne is helped by the fact that he was a first-round pick. He is very versatile and is a big-play threat any time he touches the ball. He is a bit lower because it may be hard for him to find many early-down carries. Etienne was in the minority as a four-year player and how accomplished he was in college compared to the winners. Etienne put together four great seasons, where he was a two-time All-American and ACC player of the year. His athleticism also gives him a better chance, as he earned a 9.13 RAS.
Trey Sermon, RB, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have done much of their rushing by committee in the past few years, but Sermon was taken on day two, so he should get a good number of touches. The numbers also back up Sermon, as he was the fourth RB taken in the class, a number at which three other RBs won the award. Sermon had a good college career between two schools, earning second-team all-conference as a senior, similar to the past winners. Sermon also upped his chances by earning a 9.66 RAS. Only three out of the 21 OROYs have been WRs, but in a talented WR class, there is a chance one of these guys can win the award. Two of the winners were first-round picks, however, neither was the first one off the board. Anquan Boldin was a second-round pick and the sixth receiver off the board.
Taking a closer look at the winners, both Percy Harvin and Odell Beckham Jr. were versatile weapons who were early entrants and earned All-American nods in their last years. Whereas, Anquan Boldin flew more under the radar and wasn’t as accomplished compared to the other two
Similarly, Boldin tested very poorly, which is likely the reason he was a second-round pick, compared to Harvin and Beckham who both tested as great athletes according to their RAS. While the sample size is small, the data says that the winner would be an early entrant, have a productive college career, and tested well. Boldin was sort of a rare case, even in the smaller sample size.
WR OROY Candidates
DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
The former Heisman Trophy winner has a chance to add some more hardware this season. He will get the opportunity to come in and demand a lot of targets. The numbers back him up, as he was not the first player one off the board, rather the third, similar to Odell Beckham Jr in 2014. He had some impressive college accomplishments, as in addition to the Heisman Trophy, he was an All-American, WR of the year, and NCAA player of the year. He was also a first-round pick who was not the first receiver taken.
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Chase was a 2020 opt-out after an incredible 2019 season. He was an All-American and NCAA WR of the year, which helped him be picked fifth overall. He was the first WR taken and will look to turn that into an OROY award. He was an early entrant and tested very well on his RAS, scoring a 9.81. He is only lower than Smith because, in the small sample size, none of the winners were the first WR off the board.
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins
Waddle battled injuries in college but was very good when he stayed on the field. He earned numerous awards, such as two-time all-conference. Just like Chase, he was an early entrant and will look to help his former college QB. Waddle did not test but likely would have tested very well. Waddle was the second WR off the board and the sixth overall player. He is a bit lower due to the caliber of the players ahead of him.
Elijah Moore, WR, New York Jets
As an early second-round pick, Moore also has a chance to come in and be a big-time playmaker on the Jets’ offense, who desperately need one. He can act similar to Percy Harvin in his rookie year, where he can do a little bit of everything. Again similar to Harvin, Moore tested very well as he scored an 8.68, was very versatile and had a very impressive 2020, where he earned All-American honors.
5. Rashod Bateman, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Bateman was the 27th overall pick and the fifth WR off the board. He has a chance to be a big target for Lamar Jackson and make an impact as a rookie. Bateman’s chances are helped by the historical data because two of the three former winners were also the fifth WR off the board. Bateman was also a two-time All-Conference selection and the Big-Ten WR of the year award in 2019. He earned an 8.0 on his RAS, as well. One knock on him is the Ravens’ offense is largely based around their run game, so finding targets right away may be a challenge.
Kadarius Toney, WR, New York Giants
Toney was the 20th overall pick and the fourth at the position off the board. Toney is a jack of all trades type of player. He was an All-Conference selection in 2020 and scored a 9.0 on his RAS. Toney is also lower because the Giants have so many talented pass-catchers, so he may have a harder time getting the ball in his hands.
A tight end has not won the award, but it is hard to leave Kyle Pitts off any list talking about outstanding rookies. Pitts was the highest-drafted TE ever and is walking into a potentially explosive offense. There is no doubt that Pitts could be a star, it is just a matter of when.
TE OROY Candidates
Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
Despite all the weapons around him, Pitts could still have a big year. Just like the receivers on this list, Pitts could break in early and show his value from day one. The numbers don’t support a TE winning, but Pitts has already defied the odds of his position and tested off the charts in both his production, where he was an All-American and NCAA TE of the year, and scored a 9.64 on his RAS.
Overall the list would look something like this:
- Trevor Lawrence
- Zach Wilson
- Najee Harris
- Trey Lance
- Javonte Williams
- Justin Fields
- DeVonta Smith
- Ja’Marr Chase
- Jaylen Waddle
- Travis Etienne
- Kyle Pitts
- Trey Sermon
- Elijah Moore
- Rashod Bateman
- Kadarius Toney
BetMGM Betting Odds:
- Trevor Lawrence +275 2.
- Justin Fields +500
- Zach Wilson/Trey Lance +700
- Kyle Pitts +1000
- Najee Harris/Ja’Marr Chase +1100
All college and NFL stats are found from pro-football-reference.com and RAS from relativeathleticscores.com