In the 2021 NFL Draft, there were talented offensive players taken that could make an impact right away.
At least three of the five quarterbacks taken in the first round could start most of the season. The first four pass-catchers taken should have a big role early on. The first running back taken should start day one. There are even offensive lineman and picks outside the first round that could contribute right away. So who should be the favorite to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year?
Let’s start with the quarterbacks as, since 2010, that position has won the reward more than any other. Out of the first-rounders, Trey Lance most likely isn’t going to play as much as the other first-rounders. He was considered a raw prospect coming into the draft, and the 49ers still have Jimmy Garoppolo. Mac Jones is another question mark, as the play of Cam Newton could decide whether he starts or not.
That leaves Zach Wilson, Trevor Lawrence, and Justin Fields. Out of those three, Wilson might be the least likely as the Jets are in rebuild mode. They need a new starting running back to replace Frank Gore and the offensive line is still shaking, even with taking a lineman in the first round back-to-back years. However, Wilson might have a solid receiving core with Denzel Mims, Corey Davis, and Elijah Moore.
Lawrence, meanwhile, has three running backs who could help take some pressure off of him. The Jaguars drafted his former teammate Travis Ettienne to team with James Robinson and Carlos Hyde. Both Robinson and Hyde have rushed for 1,000 yards in the NFL, and Ettienne left as the ACC’s all-time leading rusher.
Fields might have the best receiver of the rookie quarterbacks with Pro-Bowler Allen Robinson. Anthony Miller and Darnall Mooney also are impact players at receiver. While tight end Cole Kmet could have a breakout season. He also has a 1,000-yard rusher in David Montgomery and, hopefully, a healthy Tarik Cohen. The Bears also drafted offensive lineman Tevan Jenkins in the second round to protect Fields.
Moving on from quarterbacks to the position that has won the reward the most out of any position, running back. Najee Harris might have the best opportunity to win the award out of any running back. Since the Steelers didn’t bring back James Conner, they need someone who can play right away.
If Harris plays as well as the Steelers think he can, he could be a force as a rookie. The only thing that could hold Harris back is Pittsburgh’s offensive line. Center Maurkice Pouncey retired, and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and guard Matt Feiler left in free agency. If Pittsburgh gets good play out of the offensive line, it would help Harris out a lot.
Falcons Tight End Kyle Pitts is another likely candidate to win the reward. Even though last year’s starter Hayden Hurst is back, Pitts should have an impact early on. If Julio Jones is still on the Falcons, Pitts will have plenty of opportunities to show why he was taken fourth overall.
As for the first three wide receivers taken, Devonta Smith might find his way onto a starting first. The Eagles don’t have a proven receiver after releasing both Desean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery. However, Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Weddle are both talented players that could make some big-time plays for their teams.
Chase went to a Bengals team that already has Tee Higgins, who had a solid rookie season. However, with Quarterback Joe Burrow returning from a torn ACL, it’s hard to tell what his season will be like. Weddle, meanwhile, starts as the number three receiver in Miami. The Dolphins already had Devante Parker on the roster and signed Will Fuller in free agency.
What about the first two offensive linemen taken in the draft? A lineman has never won the Offensive Rookie of Year, however, both of them might have a chance. Unless something happens to Taylor Decker, Penei Sewell will most likely start as the right tackle for the Lions. However, given all the hype surrounding him, if he plays great, he will have a case.
Rashawn Slater, meanwhile, might make an even bigger impact as a rookie. The Chargers have been looking for offensive line help all offseason, and Slater might be the final piece to the puzzle. The Chargers signed Matt Feiler and Center Corey Linsley in free agency to help protect Quarterback Justin Herbert. With Slater’s ability to play multiple positions on the line, he could help the Chargers wherever he is needed.
Outside of the first round, the player to look out for is the Jets fourth-round pick, Michael Carter. As mentioned earlier, the Jets need a replacement for Frank Gore, and Carter might have been a steal. If he impresses in camp and the preseason, don’t be surprised if he is the week one starter. A great rookie season by him will not only take pressure off of Wilson, but it will also make a great case for Carter to get the award.
Now there could be a player that surprises everyone and performs terrific as a rookie. Last year no one expected Justin Herbert to play as way as he did in 2020. However, one thing is certain, whoever wins the Offensive Rookie of the Year award will have earned it.