In a draft which saw 5 quarterbacks drafted in the first 15 picks, 3 of whom became immediate starters, it would’ve been bold to predict anyone other than a QB would win Offensive Rookie of the Year for 2021. Quarterbacks have been dominating this award recently as the league continues to lean more towards valuing that position well above the rest. Trevor Lawrence had long been heralded as a “generational prospect” who would light up the NFL immediately. Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones were all coming off superb seasons at the collegiate level, and Trey Lance was drafted into a good situation in San Francisco. Despite all of that, with Week 17 coming to a close, it would be quite difficult to argue for anyone other than Ja’Marr Chase as the Offensive Rookie of the Year and the first WR to win it since Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014.
A Statistical Look
Chase has 79 receptions for 1,429 yards and 13 TDs after his incredible performance against the Chiefs (11 receptions for 266 yards and 3 TDs). He broke Justin Jefferson’s rookie receiving yards record for the Super Bowl Era that he set last season and needs just 45 more yards to break the all-time rookie record. In this week’s game, his 266-yard performance broke both the single-game rookie record (formerly 255 by Jerry Butler in 1979) and the Bengals’ franchise record (previously 260 by Chad Johnson in 2006). He is also just 12 yards shy of the Bengals franchise record for receiving yards in a season (currently 1,440 by Chad Johnson in 2007).
It is very easy to make the case that his rookie season has been the best season by a Bengals receiver in the history of the franchise. When stacking up against the rest of the NFL, Chase is 4th in receiving yards, 2nd in receiving TDs, and leads all players with 70+ targets in both yards per target and yards per reception. Already a Pro-Bowler and potentially an All-Pro, Chase has been a top 5-10 receiver in the NFL already as a rookie.
Mac Jones has the best stats of the rookie QBs and it’s not particularly close, but his 3,540 yards, 21 TDs, and 12 INTs just don’t look favorable compared to last year’s winner, Justin Herbert. Herbert was able to hold off Justin Jefferson (88 receptions for 1,400 yards and 7 TDs), but Chase has outperformed Jefferson and Jones hasn’t reached Herbert’s levels. Jaylen Waddle has also been a very impressive rookie WR, and he may break Anquan Boldin’s rookie receptions record, but he doesn’t seem like genuine competition for Chase. Elsewhere, Creed Humphrey has been among the best centers in the NFL as a rookie and should warrant consideration, as should Chargers OT Rashawn Slater. Despite this very solid field, Chase’s incredible performance this week should push him over the top, if he wasn’t already leading the pack.
With their win against the Chiefs, the Bengals clinched the AFC North and will be in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Their last playoff win was in 1991, and they’ll obviously be looking to break that drought. Chase’s incredible connection with former LSU teammate Joe Burrow has helped them form one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL, currently 5th in points per game. Going forward, they have an incredibly young core of Chase (21), Burrow (25), Tee Higgins (22), Joe Mixon (25), and Tyler Boyd (27). The OL could use improvement, but Burrow has still excelled in spite of its struggles. With room still to grow, this offensive quintet will terrify other franchises. Expect teams to start sending doubles towards Chase with consistency, as this week he gave a reminder of what he’s capable of if you don’t.
Chase should be the OROY (otherwise, it’s basically just the best rookie QB award at this point), and he has made a good case for a Second Team All-Pro nod as well. Not too bad for a player that many showed concern about in preseason because of a few drops.