In what initially looked like a landslide, the Offensive Rookie of the Year race has gotten significantly more interesting over the past several weeks. Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase should still be considered the front-runner, but former NFL Pro Bowl linebacker and current CBS Sports NFL analyst London Fletcher believes that Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has emerged a legitimate candidate to win the award.
The fourth quarterback selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, Jones is completing 69% of his passes for 2,337 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Over his last four games, Jones has thrown six touchdowns against just one interception while helping lead New England to wins in each of those games. In last Sunday's 45-7 romp of Cleveland, Jones set season highs by completing 82.6% of his passes with three touchdowns.
"I think it's really a battle between Mac Jones and Ja'Marr Chase for Offensive Rookie of the Year, because Mac, what he's been able to do, and the Patriots are right in the thick of things," Fletcher said. "He's playing well. He's a big reason why they've been able to get into the position that they're in right now and really have an opportunity to challenge the Bills for that division and make the playoffs."
Jones would be the fourth Patriots player to win the award and the first since Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin took home the honor in 1995. Jones credits offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for his steady growth during the season's first 10 games. That growth has led to more downfield throws by Jones in recent weeks. And while he acknowledged that he has some autonomy as far as pre-snap audibles, Jones won't decipher how much freedom he has to change plays at the line of scrimmage.
"That's top-secret information," Jones said earlier the week. "You'll have to ask Josh or coach (Bill) Belichick about that one."
The third player selected in last year's draft, Chase caught 44 passes for 835 yards and seven touchdowns during the season's first nine games. The former LSU standout caught five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in his regular season debut. Two weeks later, Chase recorded his first multi-touchdown game while helping the Bengals defeat the AFC North rival Steelers. Against the Ravens in Week 7, Chase eight eight passes for a season-high 201 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati's 41-17 win.
The extra attention Chase has attracted from defenses is starting to show, as Chase caught a combined nine passes for 81 yards and a touchdown during the Bengals' last two games. And while defenses will continue to work to minimize his production, Fletcher still feels that Chase should be considered the front-runner to win Offensive Rookie of the Year heading into the season's final two months. Chase would join fellow receivers Carl Pickens (1992) and Eddie Brown (1985) as the only Bengals players to win the award.
"Ja'Marr Chase, he got off to such a great start," Fletcher said. "If he can maybe get back to some of those numbers, he'll probably end up winning that award, but Mac Jones has closed that gap in terms of Offensive Rookie of the Year."