Best bets for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

Apr 27, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson on stage after being selected by the Indianapolis Colts fourth overall in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 27, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson on stage after being selected by the Indianapolis Colts fourth overall in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2023 NFL Draft concluded just a few days ago and the NFL season doesn’t kick off for another four months, but NFL Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year odds are out. It may be absurd to start thinking about who could win these awards before any of these players have even signed their NFL rookie contracts, however history shows that there’s truly only a select few who will likely be competing for the accolades this fall.

Looking at the previous 15 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year winners (2008-2022), it’s been dominated by first-round picks. In that timeframe, 12 of the winners have been first-round picks with 10 of them being selected in the top-10 and seven in the top-five. The average draft position of the winners is 23rd overall.

The only non-first-round picks to win the award in that timeframe have been Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (fifth-round), New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (third-round), and former Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (second-round). No player other than Dak Prescott — who is a complete outlier — taken outside of Day 1 and 2 of the NFL Draft has won the award since former Denver Broncos running back Mike Anderson in 2000.

Of the 15 winners, seven have been quarterbacks with four apiece being running backs and wide receivers. Bad news for tight ends and offensive linemen, but the voters don’t seem interested in them. History tells us, unsurprisingly, that the smartest bet for Offensive Rookie of the Year is a quarterback that was selected top-five.

If a quarterback goes top-three, they almost always contend for it with Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, and Kyler Murray all bringing it home. But being the first quarterback selected doesn’t guarantee you the award, Prescott, Griffin III, and Justin Herbert were all picked after other quarterbacks had gone off the board and still won.

Alternatively, Matthew Stafford, Blake Bortles, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Mitchell Trubisky, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance all went top-three and didn’t win it. It might be a telling sign if your top-three pick at quarterback doesn’t win the award, with just Stafford, Goff, Burrow, and Lawrence being clear NFL starters from that group.

When looking for long-shot non-first-round picks to bet on, it has to be a running back, with as many non-first round backs (Kamara and Lacy) winning the award as first-round backs (Todd Gurley and Saquon Barkley). Both Gurley and Barkely were top-10 picks.

Looking at the wide receivers who have won, three of them (Garrett Wilson, Ja’Marr Chase, and Odell Beckham Jr.) were selected in the top-12, while only Percy Harvin was selected in the back-half of the first-round (22nd overall). That doesn’t necessarily bode well for the wide receivers taken in the first-round of the 2023 NFL Draft, but doesn’t count them out if they land in the right spot.

Landing spot is key because being the go-to target is an important piece of this puzzle too. Only Harvin didn’t lead his team in targets as a rookie, he of course got a bump for being a dominant kick returner and a player used as part of the rushing attack in Minnesota.

So, which new offensive playmakers have history backing them in their goal to take home Offensive Rookie of the Year?

*All odds from FanDuel Sportsbook

The quarterbacks

Bryce Young, QB, Carolina Panthers (+460)

The most obvious Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate has to be the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft, especially when they go No. 1. Not only does Bryce Young have the big name pop, Heisman prestige, and draft pedigree to back him, he’s landed in a spot where he can find success quickly when compared to the other quarterbacks taken top-five.

Unlike CJ Stroud with the Houston Texans and Anthony Richardson with the Indianapolis Colts, the Carolina Panthers didn’t hire a first-time head coach. Frank Reich has five seasons as a shot caller under his belt with a 40-33 record and two playoff appearances. Not only that, but Reich put together an incredible coaching staff led by offensive coordinator Thomas Brown.

The infrastructure is there with the staff for Young to quickly get comfortable, and it should only be made easier by the fact he’s surrounded by an experienced group of playmakers and a well-built offensive line. Adam Thielen, DJ Chark, and Hayden Hurst are trustworthy starters while rookie Jonathan Mingo can provide instant explosive plays. Having a savvy veteran at center like Bradley Bozeman should help in Young’s adjustment to the NFL.

With his magician-like ability to escape pressure, extend plays, and find open receivers, Young will also generate plenty of social media buzz with his improvisational skills. That type of poise and precision when plays breakdown will only help his case.

Expectations will be high for Young with proven coaches and playmakers around him (and a strong defense), especially given the Panthers real chance to win the NFC South. Over the last 15 seasons there’s been nine quarterbacks taken No. 1, they’ve averaged 3,288 passing yards with 17 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions while adding 272 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns.

Just two of them brought home Offensive Rookie of the Year (Cam Newton and Kyler Murray) and not all of them started every game, whether due to a veteran QB on the roster or injury. With Andy Dalton on the roster and Young’s small stature causing concern for injury, both of those could be factors working against him; it’s hard to imagine Young doesn’t start early. Still, the safe bet is taking Young to bring the award home.

Anthony Richardson, QB, Indianapolis Colts (+700)

Finally, Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard has moved on from the veteran quarterback carousel and taken a chance on a rookie dripping with potential. Anthony Richardson isn’t just the most athletic quarterback in NFL history, he’s got legitimate franchise passer ability despite the stats being underwhelming at Florida.

Right off the bat Richardson gets a bump in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race for what he can do as a runner. That raises a quarterbacks floor in today’s NFL, just look at what Justin Fields was able to do with a barebones offense last season. With the power to break arm tackles and the speed to hit home runs, Richardson will draw plenty of comparisons to former Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton.

Ultimately, it’s his ability as a passer that will need to win him this award though, and he’s got everything a coach could want when it comes to arm talent. Richardson can hit deep shots with eye-popping placement and navigate a muddy pocket with the poise of a bomb defuser. For him it’s about more consistent footwork, cleaning up his short and intermediate accuracy, and taking the safe play when the big one isn’t there.

Luckily for Richardson, Colts fans, and those betting on him to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, he’s got a perfect coach to get the most out of him in Shane Steichen. Steichen helped turn Jalen Hurts into a franchise quarterback in Philadelphia, utilizing his legs to perfection, and was the play-caller for the Chargers when Justin Herbert won Offensive Rookie of the Year, in part due to all the deep bombs his coach called for.

Owner Jim Irsay, who’s known to say something unhinged from time to time, already declared that Richardson would start this season. He later clarified that it might not be to open the season though, and with Gardner Minshew on the roster, that could work against his hopes to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.

On the bright side, Richardson will have Jonathan Taylor in the backfield with him and that should do wonders for both of their production on the ground. Receiver Michael Pittman Jr. gives him a big-bodied route runner who can win over the middle while Alec Pierce has the explosiveness and contested catch ability to be his big-play threat and tight end Jelani Woods can own the seam. Fellow rookie Josh Downs also has the tools to be an invaluable third down target.

Since 2008, Richardson is the only quarterback to be selected fourth overall, but nine of the 15 No. 4 selections in that time have made at least one Pro Bowl. It’s a blurrier path to Richardson being Offensive Rookie of the Year because of the uncertainty around when he’ll get his first start, but his playmaking ability is the X-factor when stacking these quarterbacks.

CJ Stroud, QB, Houston Texans (+700)

After weeks of smokescreens, the Texans didn’t waiver and took presumptive No. 2 pick CJ Stroud to build their franchise around. With new head coach DeMeco Ryans bringing Bobby Slowik with him from the 49ers as offensive coordinator, Stroud will be operating the Kyle Shanahan offense. It’s a scheme that relies on decisiveness, accuracy, and playing within the structure of the offense; Stroud is a natural fit.

Really the biggest thing working against Stroud is that both Bryce Young and Anthony Richardson are more prone to making highlight reel plays. If all three of them have strong rookie years that garner them Offensive Rookie of the Year consideration, it’s fair to assume voters may lean towards the more “exciting” players.

Something else to consider is that of the three of them, Stroud has the least tantalizing group of playmakers, at least on paper. Dalton Schultz, Robert Woods, and Nico Collins lead the veterans, while John Metchie III, Nathaniel “Tank” Dell, and Xavier Hutchinson have yet to take NFL snaps. The running back room of Dameon Piece and Devin Singletary helps, and the offensive line has plenty of potential with Laremy Tunsil leading the way (they will have a rookie center in Juice Scruggs which could make things more difficult early).

There’s been mixed results from quarterbacks taken second overall over the last 15 years with just Robert Griffin III winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. The other QBs taken No. 2 were Marcus Mariota, Carson Wentz, Mitchell Trubisky, and Zach Wilson. That shouldn’t deter fans from believing in Stroud though, because unlike those passers, the former Buckeye has a natural throwing motion, clean footwork, and is deadly accurate.

Given what’s set up around him right now and his playing style, it’s hard to imagine Stroud being put in a better position to win Offensive Rookie of the Year than Young and Richardson. But that doesn’t mean he won’t, and it doesn’t mean he isn’t the answer Texans fans have been looking for at quarterback.

The top-10 running back

Bijan Robinson, RB, Atlanta Falcons (+300)

If there weren’t three quarterbacks taken in the top-four of the 2023 NFL Draft, Bijan Robinson would be a shoo-in for Offensive Rookie of the Year. A dominant running back prospect, and top-three talent in the draft class, is being inserted into an offense that finished third in rushing last season.

While Arthur Smith still must prove he’s the right man to lead the Falcons, he’s proven he knows how to orchestrate a dominant rushing attack regardless of who he has in the backfield. In 2020, as Titans offensive coordinator, Derrick Henry ran for 2,000 yards, in 2021, his first year as Falcons head coach, he revived Cordarrelle Patterson’s career by playing him at running back, and last season, he had Patterson and fifth-round rookie Tyler Allgeier combine to rush for over 1,700 yards.

That all might be an argument as to why Falcons GM Terry Fontenot should have taken a more valuable position when his head coach can get 1,000 yards out of Day 3 running backs, but this isn’t about whether Robinson made sense given the lack of positional value. This is about how special the former Longhorn can be in Atlanta.

Somewhere between Edgerrin James and Matt Forte, Robinson is a physical runner with the quickness and wiggle to make defenders miss in a phone booth while also adding natural hands and lateral agility to be a productive pass catching threat from the backfield or slot. He’s a complete package and joining a proven rushing attack with an offensive line ready to open holes for him.

Led by All-Pro guard Chris Lindstrom, the Falcons have a five-man unit up front that is built to run the football. They even drafted Syracuse’s Matthew Bergeron, an explosive run blocker, to step in at left guard and make them even better. So what should expectations be with Robinson in year one?

Since 2008, there’s been eight running backs taken in the top-10 of the NFL Draft. Its led to mixed results with the good being great (Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley), the bad being awful (Trent Richardson, CJ Spiller), and the mid being mid (Darren McFadden, Leonard Fournette). Based on his tape at Texas, his skill set, and where he’s landed, Robinson seems like a good bet to be great.

When it comes to production, backs taken top-10 have averaged 1,295 yards from scrimmage and 9 total touchdowns as rookies. Only Barkley and Gurley won Offensive Rookie of the Year from the group, but Elliott was the runner-up to teammate Dak Prescott. And therein lies the problem, a good quarterback will always beat a good running back for the award.

To beat Baker Mayfield for the award, Barkley had to lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,028). For Gurley, he beat both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota because their teams struggled and they put up pedestrian numbers.

Robinson is in the absolute best situation to beat these quarterback’s for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but if any of Young, Richardson, or Stroud turn in an above average season, the Falcons new bell cow will need to have elite production to top them.

The first-round receiver

Zay Flowers, WR, Baltimore Ravens (+2000)

This isn’t the year to bet on a wide receiver to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. There was no dominant prospect in the class and the 2023 NFL Draft reflects that with all four first-round receivers going between picks 20 and 23. With only Percy Harvin having won the award as a receiver taken outside the top-12 since 2008, it’s not easy to feel confident in any of these receivers.

In terms of best chance to see the most targets, Zay Flowers has to be the bet. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Quentin Johnston, and Jordan Addison are all joining teams with at least one entrenched starter. Flowers is going to a Baltimore team that has struggled for years to find Lamar Jackson a consistent go-to receiver.

With former first-round pick Rashod Bateman still struggling to find his footing, 2014 Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr. coming off a season out of the NFL, and Nelson Agholor signed as insurance, Flowers could quickly become the most explosive receiver in new offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s offense.

It helps Flowers’ case that he’s not only walking into a situation with a franchise quarterback and coordinator known for throwing the football, but that Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews should draw most of the attention from defenses.

Flowers also has a game that should translate quickly to the NFL. He’s an explosive route runner who can create after the catch with surprising contact balance and devastating start-stop ability. However, what really makes him interesting is his combo of speed to win vertically and body control and ball tracking ability that help him win contested catches. Theoretically he can fill the void left by Hollywood Brown, while providing more trustworthy hands.

Over the last seven NFL Draft classes, there have been 28 receivers selected in the first-round, as rookies they’ve averaged 45 receptions for 607 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. Flowers will need to nearly double those numbers to keep up with what’s expected out of Robinson and the quarterbacks.

The Day 2 running back

Zach Charbonnet, RB, Seattle Seahawks (+3000)

Every year NFL teams find starting running backs on Day 2 of the NFL Draft. It’s part of the reason it’s become sacrilegious to draft a running back in the first-round. To further hit that point home, just as many running backs taken in the second or third-round have won Offensive Rookie of the Year since 2008 as first-round picks; just two each.

Well, could there be a runner in this class that joins Eddie Lacy and Alvin Kamara as a Day 2 pick to win Offensive Rookie of the Year? With the landing spots of many of the backs, it’s not easy picking who has the best shot. Most of them were selected by teams with clear starters.

Even Zach Charbonnet, the first back selected on Day 2 (and the only one taken in the second-round), joins a backfield with Ken Walker, last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-up. Seattle taking the UCLA back had plenty of people confused.

Despite Charbonnet stepping into a murky situation, he’s the best bet of the Day 2 backs to compete for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Not only was he the highest selected, but his rugged running style fits what Pete Carroll loves in a running back (see: Marshawn Lynch and Chris Carson).

Charbonnet’s contact balance, power, and vision will help him contribute immediately, even with the home run hitting Walker set to start the season as the top back. The spot where Charbonnet has a chance to surpass Walker is on passing downs; he’s both a better pass catcher and pass protector than the former Michigan State star.

With his running style, third down capabilities, and more consistent play from down to down (Walker is a big play hunter while Charbonnet will take what is given), this could be a timeshare trending towards Charbonnet seeing more snaps.

Overall, it’s still a tough bet to bank on Charbonnet surpassing a 1,000-yard rusher who helped lead the Seahawks to the playoffs as a rookie. Perhaps one of the other Day 2 backs — Kendre Miller (New Orleans Saints), Tyjae Spears (Tennessee Titans), Devon Achane (Miami Dolphins), Tank Bigsby (Jacksonville Jaguars) — will take advantage of their opportunity and run away with it. Achane’s speed and fit with Mike McDaniel’s offense makes him the most enticing of the third-round picks.