Making the jump from the amateur to the professional ranks is no small feat. Sure, you don’t have to worry about getting caught paying the smart kid in your class to take your test anymore. But you do have to worry about increased pace of play, the world-class athleticism of your opponents, and the cut-throat nature of the most scrutinized league in America. It is with that in mind that we analyze the top candidates for the league’s offensive rookie of the year award. This year, as much as any, feels like it has been an incredible year for rookie talent.
Jamar Chase, WR – Cincinnati Bengals
In the leadup to last year’s NFL draft, many speculated on what the Bengals would do with their first round selection. Would they select an offensive lineman in an attempt to shore-up one of the worst offensive lines in the league, or would they select WR Jamarr Chase, QB Joe Burrow’s former college teammate and the top WR prospect in the draft? Much to their delight, the Bengals opted for the latter. Fast forward to the preseason and Chase, who opted to sit out the 2020 NCAA football season, was struggling mightily. Some wondered if Chase had forgotten how to play football. To answer the doubters, Chase responded with one of the greatest seasons for a rookie in NFL history. Chase registered over 1400 yards and 13 touchdowns, numbers good enough to place him in the top five for both respective categories.
In week seven, Chase and Burrow combined for the second-highest yards-after-catch completion in the NFL this season, as tracked by Next Gen Stats. Chase had an expected YAC of just three, but turned it into 76 yards-after-catch touchdown: 73 YAC over expected.
Mac Jones, QB – New England
Coming into the season, nobody had bigger shoes to fill than Jones. Jones, the 15th pick in the NFL draft, was selected to be Brady’s heir. Replacing Brady, the most-accomplished football player of all time, is like throwing a rave a week after Caligula hosts a house party, an unenviable task that is bound to result in at least a pulled hamstring or two. Jones beat out Cam Newton in training camp to secure the starting job and proceeded to throw for over 20 touchdowns and 3800 yards, with a completion percentage of over 67%. while trying to lead the Patriots back to the Super Bowl. It is extremely probable that Jones will never reach the heights of his predecessor, but his rookie season was a step in the right direction, and he is clearly well-suited to the system put in place by coach Bill Belichick.
Jaylen Waddle, WR – Miami Dolphins
Selected with the 6th pick in last year’s NFL draft, Jaylen Waddle was expected to contribute early and often for an upward-trending Dolphins team. The Dolphins barely missed the playoffs, finishing 9-8, but it was no fault of Waddle’s. Waddle set the rookie record for receptions with a whopping total of 104. Waddle also led the Dolphins with 1,015 receiving yards. Many questions remain for the Dolphins. Do they have their QB of the future in Tua Tagovailoa? Will Stephen Ross lose ownership of the team after allegations surfaced that he tried to incentivize losing? Nobody knows for sure. What we do know is that the Dolphins have their WR of the future in Jaylen Waddle.
Prediction: Jamar Chase, with one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history, takes the award. Chase will look to add to his trophy collection when his Bengals take on the Rams at Super Bowl 56.