• Having excelled at TCU, Quentin Johnston is a top OROY underdog: Even if he is just the Chargers' WR3, it's a big enough role to produce — as Josh Palmer showed in 2022.
• Rashee Rice will have opportunities to seize a notable role: While tight end Travis Kelce is entrenched as the Chiefs' top receiving option, Rice could soar up the wide receiver depth chart.
• Could a tight end defy all odds? The Lions' Sam LaPorta is an intriguing bet to win Offensive Rookie of the Year despite his, well, long odds.
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There’s still a long way to go before the 2023 NFL season begins, but it’s never too early to start looking at futures bets, including some of the award races. Let's start with Offensive Rookie of the Year, an award won by the New York Jets‘ Garrett Wilson a year ago.
This award has been won exclusively by quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers for decades now, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see an offensive lineman take home the hardware, even if they perform at a very high level as a rookie.
Taking that into consideration, here are three long shots who I think are worth placing a bet on heading into the 2023 season.
Note: Odds sourced from FanDuel Sportsbook
WR Quentin Johnston, Los Angeles Chargers
Johnston has to contend with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Josh Palmer for targets in 2023, but even if he is just the Chargers' WR3, that’s a role in which Palmer was targeted 98 times during the 2022 regular season. That’s more than enough opportunity to put up the numbers needed to be a key player in this award race.
Johnston’s best attribute is how good he is with the ball in his hands, forcing 45 missed tackles from 115 receptions over three seasons at TCU. That helped him produce big plays, which saw him produce a reception of 30-plus yards in eight of the 14 games he played in 2022. The opportunity will be there for Johnston this season, and he has the quarterback — Justin Herbert — to help make him a factor right away in the NFL.
Read more: Best division winners bets, including the Chargers to sit atop the AFC West
WR Rashee Rice, Kansas City Chiefs
Opportunity is the key word for Rice, and with JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 97 regular-season targets departing, there’s an immediate spot for him to contribute in the Chiefs' offense. However, it’s not just the ability to take some of those targets that makes Rice an intriguing bet; it’s that there is a clear path to being Patrick Mahomes’ WR1 with how this roster is currently set up. Kadarius Toney saw 16 targets after arriving via a midseason trade, Skyy Moore handled 32 and Marquez Valdes-Scantling racked up a career-high 76. While Travis Kelce is firmly entrenched as the top receiving option in Kansas City, the role of Mahomes’ second favorite target is up for grabs.
Rice is coming off a season where the SMU offense went through him, turning 156 targets into 96 receptions for 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged 3.05 yards per route run, forced 19 missed tackles and ranked fifth in the nation with 566 yards on receptions 20-plus yards downfield. If he can earn a starting role in the Chiefs' offense, he should see more than enough targets to be a contender here.
Read more: Market-implied power rankings and ELO strength of schedule
TE Sam LaPorta, Detroit Lions
Tight ends don’t win this award, so perhaps this is foolish, but LaPorta is walking right into an offense that targets the position regularly. He should immediately be the team’s top player at the position. T.J. Hockenson was on pace for a 99-target, 63-reception, 959-yard, seven-touchdown season before being traded to the Minnesota Vikings after seven games in 2022. Even without Hockenson, Lions tight ends saw 50 targets over the second half of the season.
LaPorta is coming off a season during which he forced 20 missed tackles from 58 receptions, and he displayed the ability to line up next to an offensive tackle, in the slot and even out wide. The Lions are going to be without Jameson Williams to open the 2023 season, so there’s a path to being Jared Goff’s second favorite target after wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. While it would come as a shock to see a tight end win the award, an 80-plus-target season wouldn’t be out of the question for LaPorta and there is an outside chance that he could see enough target volume to threaten Mike Ditka’s rookie receiving record by a tight end, a likely necessary feat to win this award.