2021-22’s Top Contenders for Rookie of the Year
Last year, the NFL’s Rookie of the Year awards went to the LA Chargers’ Justin Herbert (quarterback, offense) and Washington Football Team’s Chase Young (pass rusher, defense). Like this year, most pundits and fans have a clear idea of which athletes will be honored with the AP award.
Still, that doesn’t stop many from closely following top rookies as they enter their first year in the NFL. After all, not all those slated for success will find their footing in the big leagues—most fans remember the catastrophic draft busts like 2007’s JaMarcus Russell and 1998’s Ryan Leaf.
However, in the case of last year’s Rookies of the Year, both Herbert and Young have continued their strong starts from the 2020-21 season. In fact, though Herbert hasn’t managed to steer the LA Chargers into a better position for playoffs (or playoffs at all), he’s seen regular coverage from pundits who cover NFL betting odds throughout the season.
As the Chargers’ roster rebuilds, fans are looking at Herbert to be a strong guiding force. And though a tough loss to the Raiders in Week 18 smashed this year’s hopes for a playoff run, the Chargers may also have this year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year on their team in offensive tackle Rashawn Slater.
However, Slater is only one name amongst a group of qualified rookies that have shaken up early predictions from the 2021-22 preseason. While the top slots seem to be picked out, there is a slew of other mentions worth diving into. Keep reading for this year’s top NFL athletes who put on stellar performances in their rookie year.
Offense: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Bengals
As the most likely candidate to receive this year’s upcoming AP Rookie of the Year Offensive Award, Ja’Marr Chase has his former LSU partner-in-crime to thank: quarterback Joe Burrows. Though Burrows lost out last year to fellow QB Justin Herbert, he and Chase have put on a stellar performance with the Bengals.
As of January 12, Chase has posted 81 receptions for 13 touchdowns and a total of 1,455 receiving yards. It will be hard for other candidates like Slater or the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Najee Harris to compete with these figures—especially considering Chase posted more receiving yards in his first seven games than any other player in NFL history.
Offense: Rashawn Slater, OT, Chargers
Halfway through the season, New England Patriots’ QB Mac Jones may have looked poised to snatch this year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. However, along with Chase, offensive tackle Rashawn Slater has added momentum to their late-season performance. In the case of Slater, it may be enough for him to nab the first-ever ROTY for a lineman.
Though he’s flown under the radar for many pundits, halfway through October, Slater had a win rate of 88.18% for his protection matchups, having lost only 13 of 110 passes. Already, he’s been compared to Penei Sewell; and his numbers are far better than the Lions’ offensive tackle in terms of pressure rate.
Defense: Micah Parsons, LB, Cowboys
To put Micah Parsons’ accomplishments into perspective, he’s not just being eyed as the most likely (if not inevitable) candidate for this year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, but also for the NFL’s general Defensive Player of the Year Award.
As of January 12, Parsons posted 84 tackles and 13 sacks. With 20 tackles for loss against opposing teams, Parsons is the third-highest-rated defender in the league this season. While a missed Week 18 might have slashed his chances for the Player of the Year Award, he’s likely to be on the radar in the coming years.
Defense: Odafe Oweh, OL, Ravens
While many have their eye on Patrick Surtain II as a quality contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year, Oweh was leading the race for the award halfway through the season. While Surtain II is set to become one of the league’s most competitive cornerbacks, Oweh was leading the Ravens’ defense as early as Week 5.
While not quite as solid as other defensive players, Oweh has led defensive rookies in terms of quarterback pressure and forced fumbles. In other words, he’s been able to change the momentum of the game. While he’s had to carry a poorly ranked Ravens defense, he will likely play a critical role in the team’s line in the coming years.