The 2021 NFL draft is a distant memory and rookies are getting ready to head to their first training camp as pros. Which rookies will contend for the coveted NFL Rookie of the Year awards? Not surprisingly, the candidates on offense are primarily quarterbacks while on defense, it’s the guys that get after the passer that tend to garner the most attention.
Both quarterback and edge rusher have become so important in the NFL that both positions have dominated the last eight drafts. Six quarterbacks and two defensive ends have gone No. 1 in the draft over the past eight years. Four straight quarterbacks have gone No. 1, but only one – Arizona’s Kyler Murray – has won an NFL Rookie of the Year award. Could it happen in 2021?
The success of a franchise typically revolves around its quarterback. Tampa Bay signed Tom Brady last offseason and look what happened. The position is so important that the first three picks in this year’s draft – Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance – were all quarterbacks.
Despite their importance and being chosen at or near the beginning of a draft, only three quarterbacks have won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in the last seven seasons. In addition to Murray in 2019, Justin Herbert of the Chargers won it last year and Dak Prescott took home the honor in 2016.
Just as many running backs – three – have won the award in the past seven seasons as quarterbacks. The only other position to win NFL Rookie of the Year is wide receiver. That was Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014.
On defense, the trend is the edge rusher. Four of the past five Defensive Rookies of the Year played either linebacker or defensive line. The only secondary player to win the award in the past five seasons was New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
Favorites to Win Offensive ROTY
There is a reason why former Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence was picked first in this year’s draft. The 6-6, 220-pounder received one of the highest pre-draft quarterback grades since Andrew Luck. Lawrence has all the tools and will fit nicely into new Jacksonville head coach Urban Meyer’s offensive scheme. The question will be is how good are the Jaguars around Lawrence?
Last year, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow was in the mix for the NFL Rookie of the Year. His problem was that his offensive line was awful and then the Bengals No. 1 pick got hurt and missed the rest of the season. Lawrence could be in a similar situation in Jacksonville which went 1-15 in 2020. Still, Lawrence is the overall favorite to win this year’s award if he can come close to the production of Herbert and Murray. Herbert threw for 4,336 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. Murray totaled 3,722 passing yards and 20 TDs as a rookie in 2019.
Challenging Lawrence will be two other rookie quarterbacks – Wilson and Justin Fields who fell to No. 11 and Chicago in this year’s draft. Wilson is in a similar situation as Lawrence in New York. The Jets haven’t been very good recently and have a whole new coaching staff. The Jets also must revamp an offensive line that ranked 29th in the NFL last season. The running game was horrible, but Wilson will play for QB-friendly offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.
Fields probably won’t start the season as the starter, but he will likely take over at some point during the season. He will have a tough time piling up the stats that typically go with a ROTY winner. Plus, his Bears team has been underachieving for the past two seasons.
Favorites to Win Defensive ROTY
At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, former Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at his pro day. That’s pretty impressive for a wide receiver, but for somebody Parsons’ size it is absolutely amazing. Parsons opted out of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus, but he is a freaky talent that will become part of the best linebacking corps in the NFL. New Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will be able to maximize Parsons’ skill set which will give him a great opportunity to pick up the Defensive ROTY award.
A more unlikely ROTY candidate is Washington’s Jamin Davis. He was just a 195-pound freshman when he arrived at Kentucky, but he has turned into a rugged 6-4, 235-pound beast who started only 10 games for the Wildcats. He also ran his 40-yard dash at his pro day in 4.41 and 4.37. Davis also has a vertical jump of 42 inches proving his explosiveness. He joins an already loaded defense, which could free him up to make some noise in 2021.