Monday, July 4, 2022

Ranking the 2022 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates: A new target for Patrick Mahomes on top

Ja’Marr Chase ran away with last season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award like he was accelerating away from cornerbacks after the catch. It was a dazzling receiving campaign from yet another former LSU star.

Justin Herbert and Justin Jefferson battled for the NFL OROY in 2020, with the electric Chargers passer ultimately winning in large part because he set the NFL record for touchdown passes thrown by a rookie.

What this year’s rookie class lacks in quarterbacks, it makes up for in skill-position players who will play marquee roles on their respective teams. Let’s rank the likely Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates for the 2022 season. 

A reminder here that was considered in these rankings: Only five of the last 20 Offensive Rookie of the Year winners were not picked in the first round of the draft. It’s been five consecutive years in which the OROY was a first-round pick. Before that, Alvin Kamara and Dak Prescott — who were selected in third and fourth rounds, respectively — took home the trophy in back-to-back seasons (2016 and 2017). Also, neither an offensive lineman nor a tight end has ever won the award.

Honorable Mention: Evan Neal, OT, Giants

I was compelled to feature Neal somewhere in this piece because it’s about time an offensive lineman got OROY consideration. Seriously. Of course blocking is vital, and we have plenty of statistics to measure their quality. Creed Humphrey and Rashawn Slater should’ve been serious OROY candidates last year. In 2020, Tristan Wirfs should’ve gotten some votes. In this day and age, it’s preposterous offensive linemen are simply ignored for the award — and most individual awards for that matter. 

If there’s a blocker who could make a sizable enough of an impact to get voter’s attention, it’s Neal, the gargantuan yet impossibly sleek 6-foot-7, 335-pound colossal who’ll align at right tackle — his best position at Alabama — for the Giants. The only place for New York’s offense to go is up — it was 32nd in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA last season — so the marked improvement will be easy to spot. With a healthy Saquon Barkley and some new weapons for Daniel Jones, Neal’s presence on the right side should be a majorly positive one thanks to his size, length, balance, and power. 

He’s simply not higher because I don’t believe in the voting collective yet to push an offensive lineman near the top of the OROY charts. 

11. Jahan Dotson, WR, Commanders

I had a super-early second-round grade on Dotson, so him landing at No. 16 overall felt early, but I love the fit in Washington, with him as a stylistically similar clear-cut No. 2 to Terry McLaurin. Do I love the quarterback who’ll be throwing him the football? Not so much. 

Wentz’s MVP-caliber 2017 — that was a bit inflated by a great defense that provided him a ridiculous amount of short fields — feels like a century ago, and even though a large amount of his stint with buddy Frank Reich in Indianapolis featured what felt like steady play, Wentz didn’t even reach 7.0 yards per attempt, which has become the low-end of the benchmark all competent starters hit today. 

Dotson will make an impact, just not enough to be a major OROY candidate. 

10. Jameson Williams, WR, Lions

Lower than you probably expected Williams, and I don’t think he’ll be hampered injury-wise well into his rookie season. The relatively low ranking is more about the Lions only having 6.5% of “available” targets from their 2021 offense, the lowest percentage in football. Amon-Ra St. Brown and T.J. Hockenson will get theirs. Often. 

Plus, for as much as Jared Goff finished on a high note over the final month and a half of the regular season — 107.1 passer rating in his last five outings — he only threw 19 touchdowns on the season. Even if he settles into Ben Johnson’s new offense, Goff’s days as a 4,600-yard passer feel like they’re long gone, thereby obstructing Williams’ ceiling in Year 1.

9. George Pickens, WR, Steelers

Pickens may have to scrape rust from his game, seeing as though he only played in four games in 2021. Once the final piece of rust hits the turf, the second-round wideout can be one of the most threatening young outside receivers in football. He’s tall, twitchy, plays through physicality with ease and has a catch radius comparable to Chase Claypool’s

Now, the murky quarterback situation in Pittsburgh could slow things for Pickens, but that should work itself out while he’s getting his feet back under him after his March 2021 injury. Perfect. 

The Steelers have less than 25% of their 2021 targets available this season, and Diontae Johnson and Claypool will garner their fair share of looks. But Pickens is that naturally talented to begin as the No. 3 with the Steelers but finish the season with some OROY consideration. I mean, let’s not forget how incredible Pittsburgh’s track record is with non-first-round receivers. 

8. Chris Olave, WR, Saints

The Saints are into Olave. Really into him. The NFL’s perennial kick-the-can-down-the-road franchise traded what felt like the city’s supply of beignets in perpetuity to draft the former Ohio State receiver. He’s going to be a focal element of the offense. But there’s also Michael Thomas. He’s back after missing essentially each of the past two seasons. 

One has to imagine Jameis Winston will force-feed Thomas the football. And Jarvis Landry was just signed. He’ll be the security blanket underneath. I like Olave’s game, it’s NFL-ready. He does run crisp, separation-creating routes and tracks it like a centerfielder deep. He’s at No. 8 because I didn’t see high-level run-after-the-catch capabilities on his film, and it may take time for him to combat the physical nature of NFL corners. 

7. James Cook, RB, Bills

Cook was picked in Round 2 not because Buffalo is a run-centric team, obviously. He was picked because he brings a luxury the Bills have eyed for their backfield during Josh Allen’s elevation to superstardom but haven’t added in a marquee way — game-breaking speed. Cook’s genuine versatility is clearly something Buffalo has plans to incorporate into its dynamic offense this season. The agreed deal — a pact that ultimately went south — with J.D. McKissic proves that. 

Cook’s free-flowing, effortless speed is in his blood. His running style is almost identical to his brother, Dalvin, but instead of possessing his elder sibling’s tremendous vision between the tackles, James excels as a legitimate receiver, a fact which, on the surface, feels super fun in Buffalo’s offense. 

I can envision a scenario in which Cook is the utility weapon in one of the league’s most potent offenses, thereby garnering decently serious OROY consideration.

6. Drake London, WR, Falcons

The Falcons have gone big. Enormous, in fact. They’ll roll out 6-foot-6 Kyle Pitts, 6-5 Auden Tate, 6-4 London and 6-3 Bryan Edwards. If you’re going to miss, Marcus Mariota, miss high. 

Mariota flashed some of the juice we saw at Oregon in his extremely limited action as the Raiders backup the past two seasons. That and his familiarity with Falcons head coach Arthur Smith led to Atlanta signing him. Despite those positive elements to the quarterback situation, I still have my reservations about Mariota as an even semi-competent starter, much less a passer who could realistically “support” an OROY winner. The Falcons do have 287 “available” targets from their 2021 offense, so there will be opportunity for the uber-talented London, who, by the way, was my WR1 in the 2022 class.

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5. Breece Hall, RB, Jets

Hall has the goods to be an all-purpose, stat-generating machine for the Jets in 2022. Although I don’t think he plays quite to the 4.39 speed he demonstrated at the combine, everything else about his game as a ball carrier is special. And Hall is a trusty receiver out of the backfield, important for a young quarterback. 

I had Hall as my RB3 in the 2022 class, with a grade barely lower than Ken Walker and Isaiah Spiller. The only reason he’s not closer to No. 1 on this list is the Jets offensive line. The Laken Tomlinson signing moves the needle. But how much? Is Mekhi Becton going to be in shape? How about the right tackle position? 

4. Garrett Wilson, WR, Jets

If the Jets do take the sizable step forward many believe they will — and they’ll certainly be improved in 2021, but the schedule is absolutely bru-tal — Wilson will be a key catalyst. Since he stepped foot in The Horseshoe at Ohio State, Wilson has been an alpha receiver, even if he was relatively low-volume in 2019. His production increased in each of his three seasons there and his traits were absolutely top-10 caliber. 

Maybe a touch unpolished as a route runner, Wilson negates any issues arising from that aspect of his game now with unreal suddenness and leaping ability like has tiny but industrial-strength springs in the heels of his cleats. With that type of athleticism, he’s stars after the catch too. 

Wilson’s OROY candidacy, of course, is largely contingent upon his unrelated quarterback Zach Wilson taking a step forward. With Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, C.J. Uzomah, and Braxton Berrios, the former No. 2 overall pick should. 

3. Kenny Pickett, QB, Steelers

Three of the last six and six of the last 12 OROYs have been quarterbacks. So if you’re into straight-forward probabilities, flip a coin. If it lands heads, take Pickett as the award winner. Standing in Pickett’s way initially is the presence of veterans Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph. Shouldn’t be challenging hurdles to clear, right? Probably not, but the team was quick to sign Trubisky at the start of free agency, and Rudolph has been in the Steelers organization since 2018 and is on his second contract with the team. 

Either way, if Pickett starts by, say, mid-October — and Week 1 is not out of the question — he’ll have ample time to generate enough buzz to be a OROY candidate. As for the player, Pickett became an aggressive inside and outside the pocket passer with quarterback’s amnesia when it came to taking risks. Love that about his game. There’s subtle improvisational ability to his game, too — a major plus in today’s NFL — although physically he’s not quite up to the raised standards brought forth by Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert. Then again, in terms of arm talent and athleticism, Pickett’s comparable to Burrow, a clear-cut positive to cling to if you’re a Steelers fan. Yes, a Bengals comparison. 

2. Treylon Burks, WR, Titans

The Titans trading A.J. Brown to the Eagles in the middle of the first round engendered more “oh no baby what is you doin?” memes than anything else. Then they selected Burks with the No. 18 overall pick, which sparked, in my head, the “smart thinking” GIF.

I totally understand the value in a known commodity, particularly in today’s NFL, but if you’re going to move off a known commodity, it’s sensible to acquire a commodity with similar characteristics. 

In his final season at Ole Miss, Brown forced 17 missed tackles on 85 receptions (one every five catches, a damn-good rate). Burks forced 15 missed tackles on 66 grabs, meaning he forced a missed tackle once every 4.4 snags. Sure, Brown is a smidge more explosive than Burks, but the film and advanced metrics indicate these are two very comparable prospects physically and stylistically.

The Titans have the highest percentage of “available” targets from their 2021 offense (67.1%, which is insanely high), so I don’t care how much they want to feed Derrick Henry. Well, I do, kind of. But Ryan Tannehill could throw it 450+ times in 2022, and Robert Woods is just good enough to attract attention away from Burks early without stealing too much of the rookie’s imminent thunder. 

1. Skyy Moore, WR, Chiefs

I’ve been a Moore admirer for months. Fell in love with the traits he showcased on film, and my grading system spit out a mid first-round grade on him. Now, he lands in Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes throwing him the football in Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy’s offense. How in the world could I back away from advocating for Moore now? 

The Chiefs have 360 “available” targets from a season ago, and yes, they added Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency. But I’m a firm believer that it’s inevitable the target share after Travis Kelce in Kansas City’s vaunted attack offense will sway toward Moore as the season progresses. He’s that dynamic and complete of a receiver. I legitimately think the league messed up by letting Moore fall into the Chiefs’ lap — they traded back and were still able to pick him in Round 2! The talent and situation combo is dynamite here. Moore is my pre-training camp OROY selection. Easy peasy.

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