NFL Analysis

12/23/23

5 min read

Should C.J. Stroud, Jalen Carter Win Offensive, Defensive Rookie of the Year?

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) looks at the replay board while playing against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. (Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

Coming into the final three weeks of the NFL season, we can see which rookies will have a lasting impact for years to come. Some are running into the rookie wall or havenā€™t found their footing yet, but there are a few who are already looking at Pro Bowl status.

C.J. Stroud and Jalen Carter have been outstanding and are the betting favorites for offensive and defensive rookie of the year ā€” by a wide margin. Stroud (-1050) leads Jahmyr Gibbs (+4000) and Puka Nacua (+600) in a non-contest on the offensive side of the ball. On the other side, Carter is at -6000 and is ahead of Will Anderson Jr. (+1900) and Devon Witherspoon (+2500), both of whom did not play in Week 15.

Stroud and Carter are putting together fantastic seasons, but with three weeks left in the regular season, should they already be crowned as the rookies of the year as the market implies?

Letā€™s take a look at their profiles, as well as those of their competitors.

Solo shot of C.J. Stroud dropping back in the pocket
Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) drops back to pass during the first half against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Even though Stroud did not play in this past weekā€™s game against the Tennessee Titans and is doubtful to play this coming week against the Cleveland Browns, he is still the prohibitive favorite to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

Stroud leads all rookies in Total Points with 87 (10th in the NFL overall), almost three times the amount of Sam LaPorta, who is in second place with 33. The next closest quarterback is Aidan Oā€™Connell (at 21), who wasnā€™t named the starting quarterback until Week 9 and had only two appearances before that.

From a rest-of-the-league perspective, Stroud ranks near the top of the leaderboard in many other metrics. He is sixth in passing yards and has found success stretching the field. He ranks fourth in average depth of target and has achieved the most air yards. He has the third-highest boom percentage (passes over 1 EPA) among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts.

Even with his affinity for attempting the higher-variance throws, Stroud still ranks seventh in turnover-worthy throw rate at three percent. He is keeping the ball out of harm's way and is able to move the ball down the field at an efficient clip. 

One area of improvement is his processing time. He is getting the ball out two-tenths of a second slower than the average quarterback based on play type, which ranks seventh-slowest among quarterbacks with more than 100 attempts.

From a historical perspective, Stroud is putting together one of the best rookie seasons in the recent era. Since 2015, Stroud ranks second in passing yards and fifth in passing touchdowns through 15 weeks. He ranks third in the SIS Total Points era (since 2016) among rookie seasons through 15 weeks.

Stroud most likely has this award on lock, but that doesnā€™t mean heā€™s the only rookie putting up a great year. Nacua has put up the third highest Total Points among offensive rookies and ranks 12th overall in yards per route run. LaPorta (+8000) is having one of the best seasons for a rookie tight end ever and is tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns this year.


Jalen Carter faces pressure from two Browns players
Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Jalen Carter (98) and Cleveland Browns guard Michael Dunn (68) in action at Lincoln Financial Field. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Carter fell to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2023 NFL Draft but has risen to the top of the odds board for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. However, the metrics indicate this race should be a lot closer than what the market thinks.

Anderson Jr. and Witherspoon are the two other contenders for this race. Metrically, they are very close, and one of them actually has an edge over Carter.

Jalen CarterWill Anderson Jr.Devon Witherspoon
DROY Odds (via FD)-6000+1900+2500
Total Points182642
Pass Rush Total Points14175
Run Defense Total Points41011
Pass Coverage Total Points0026
Pressure Percentage +/-+2.6%+3.5%6.5%
Sacks553
Interceptions001
Forced Fumbles201
Touchdowns101

The tale of the tape suggests the market might have some correcting to do. Even though Anderson Jr. is hurt, he leads Carter in nearly every advanced statistical category. Carter's edge is in the turnover department, forcing two fumbles and returning one for a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys ā€” but itā€™s not like Total Points hasnā€™t already accounted for that.

Even from a Pressures Above Expectation perspective ā€” aka how much more often you are getting pressure on the quarterback than expected ā€” Anderson has Carter beat. Also, Witherspoon is also only two sacks behind Carter and has forced as many turnovers as Carter.

So what gives?

Currently, the main issue is that Anderson and Witherspoon are injured. Anderson is dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out against the Titans and caused him to miss practice Wednesday leading into the Houston Texans' game against the Browns.

Witherspoon is dealing with a hip pointer injury that he suffered against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14. Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll described Witherspoon's injury as ā€œreally deep and really painful,ā€ which makes sense given that he did not practice Wednesday after missing the game Monday night.

With not a lot of time left and awards very much coming down to recency bias, Carter might just take home the trophy. He has had a fantastic year and is a main disrupter on the Eagles' defensive front. However, if Anderson or Witherspoon can get back on the field and make impact plays, this race could get interesting.


This article was written by James Weaver.

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