The NFL season is upon us so it is time to handicap the race for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, which CBSSports.com will be tracking weekly once the season arrives.
Here are the favorites and sleepers to win this year's award:
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Before diving into the favorites and sleepers to win the award, it is important to review the trends and history. Since 2010, quarterbacks have won the Associated Press award six of 13 years. Running backs have won four times over the same time period. Wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Garrett Wilson won in consecutive campaigns, breaking a six-year drought. Until Los Angeles' Justin Herbert in 2021, an AFC player had not won Offensive Rookie of the Year since 2006; now the conference has won the last three.
The odds of a wide receiver winning the award have increased given the current state of the league. Comparatively, the odds for a running back are decreasing unless that player is equally productive in the pass game.
Here are the favorites for Offensive Rookie of the Year, as of Wednesday morning, according to Caesars Sportsbook:
- Falcons RB Bijan Robinson: +300
- Panthers QB Bryce Young: +400
- Texans QB C.J. Stroud: +650
- Lions RB Jahmyr Gibbs: +700
- Seahawks WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba: +700
- Colts QB Anthony Richardson: +900
- Ravens WR Zay Flowers: +1200
Young should be the favorite. The No. 1 overall selection has been named the team's starter Week 1 against the Falcons. While the preseason conversation around rookie quarterbacks often involve a prediction on when that player will be named the team's full-time starter, there is no such drama with Young and Richardson; the same fate is inevitable for Stroud.
Richardson is the other prospect worth funneling funds. He is a splashy player who should have a weighted advantage with rushing yards. Colts head coach Shane Steichen was Los Angeles' offensive coordinator when Herbert won the award in 2020. He also played a role in Jalen Hurts' rise as starting quarterback for the NFC's Super Bowl representative. Steichen's past suggests that he will simplify the game plan and mold it around Richardson's physical strengths. The Panthers and Colts have reasonable chances to win their division so that would serve as a resume booster for Young and Richardson as well.
It is not the year to throw a lot of money on sleepers when there are top-flight quarterbacks and running backs entering the league. Lions tight end Sam LaPorta (+4000) is an interesting, but still hopeless option because Jameson Williams will not be available early in the season due to a suspension. Tight ends usually do not hit their stride until Year 2 and a tight end has never won the award.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Since 2010, the breakdown of the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year winners is relatively split: four edge rushers, three defensive tackles, three linebackers -- Dallas' Micah Parsons being the most recent -- and three cornerbacks. Within that sample size, five of the past seven winners, including Indianapolis' Shaquille Leonard and Parsons, averaged 9.7 sacks. Leonard had seven sacks as a rookie, which was the lowest for a non-cornerback winner over that same time period.
The two without sack production were Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner. They combined for seven interceptions. The NFC has won the award in four of the last six years.
Here are the favorites for Defensive Rookie of the Year, as of Wednesday morning, according to Caesars Sportsbook:
- Eagles DT Jalen Carter: +500
- Texans EDGE Will Anderson Jr.: +500
- Raiders EDGE Tyree Wilson: +650
- Seahawks CB Devon Witherspoon: +700
- Packers EDGE Lukas Van Ness: +1000
- Patriots CB Christian Gonzalez: +1000
When looking through the five favorites, there is a case to be made against each of them. Carter is incredibly gifted and he has made plays in practice to generate buzz, but a defensive tackle has not won the award since Aaron Donald in 2014. Donald had nine sacks and forced two fumbles that season.
Anderson does not jump out as a 10-plus sack edge rusher out of the gate but he will be used in a Wide-9 alignment a lot, which will organically supply him with pass-rush opportunities. Las Vegas has Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones blocking Wilson's path to extensive playing time. Witherspoon missed time leading up to the draft due to injury and has missed time in training camp. Van Ness is a young prospect still learning how to win as an edge rusher in the NFL.
It boils down to a great thesis: this is a great year to bet sleepers.
If forced to choose one of the favorites, it would be Carter. There is a growing appreciation for play on the field and not just the statistics, which can be misleading. Gardner was the perfect example of that last season. His two interceptions were not at the top of the league but the accompanying play was among the game's best. It would not be a surprise if Carter asserted himself in a similar manner.
There are good reasons to invest in Gonzalez as well. He is the prototypical Bill Belichick cornerback who can be trusted on an island. Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson preceded him in that role. In four seasons with the Patriots, Gilmore accumulated 11 total interceptions. Jackson had 25 interceptions in four seasons with New England. Gonzalez, at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, had his best season last year at Oregon when he successfully picked off four passes.
It is usually more difficult to find a defensive sleeper than an offensive one. Since 2000, only three players taken beyond the first round have won the award; all three were taken in the second round. No player taken beyond No. 56 overall has won Defensive Rookie of the Year since the turn of the century.
From an odds standpoint, the sleeper is Commanders cornerback Emmanuel Forbes (+1500). Ball production translates from one level to the next. Forbes recorded 14 interceptions at the collegiate level with six being returned for touchdowns.
Eagles edge rusher Nolan Smith (+2000) and Jets edge rusher Will McDonald IV (+2500) would be tantalizing possibilities as well if they were expected to be every-down players. They may not get enough snaps to register the necessary production.