NFL News & Analysis

Darkhorse candidates to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2021

May 26, 2021; Owings Mills, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman (12) in action during an OTA at Under Armour Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

A running back won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year 75% of the time from its inception in 1967 through the 2002 season. But since then, that rate has dropped to 33%.

The award has become a quarterback’s to win.

So, it shouldn't be a surprise that five of the eight preseason favorites to take home OROY ahead of the 2021 NFL season, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, are the five quarterbacks who were selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. While it is highly likely that one of the five passers wins the honor this season, it’s no guarantee. There very well could be a non-quarterback with long-shot odds who shocks the world. 

Here are some strong candidates who could do just that. 

WR Elijah Moore, New York Jets (+2500)

One word consistently pops up regarding Moore at Jets camp: star.

Numerous reports out of Jets camp have hyped up the second-round rookie because of how advanced he looks on the field. Head coach Robert Saleh has said as much, referring to Moore as an “old soul.” Saleh went on to say Moore can play on the outside — a particularly interesting development. Moore was the slot prototype in Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss offense and is firmly in undersized territory. He does, however, have an impressive skill set to make up for his size. 

Moore stands at 5-foot-9 and weighs in at 178 pounds with arms at just over 30 inches. All three of those are at or under the 10th percentile among NFL wide receivers historically. But Moore's measurements were hardly the talk of his pro day. His incredible athletic testing numbers took center stage, verifying his on-field performance in college. He recorded a 4.35-second 40-yard dash, a 4.00-second short shuttle and a 6.66-second three-cone.

Along with being a fantastic athlete, Moore is a notable tough receiver. He frequently put his body on the line and took a big shot while still holding onto the ball, making him every old-school coach's dream player. Moore’s 96.7% catch rate on passes thrown beyond the line of scrimmage led all FBS wide receivers this past season. He was also strong in contested scenarios, catching 11-of-15 such targets.

WR Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens (+3500)

While Bateman has yet to play a down of NFL football, the rave reviews are already piling up. PFF NFL reporter Doug Kyed recently visited Ravens camp and asked offensive coordinator Greg Roman about the 27th overall pick.

“I see some real potential in terms of how we can deploy him,” Roman said. “I’m not going to get too effusive with my praise just yet, but he’s doing a really good job.”

Bateman was one of the more polished wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft. His release package and route running are at levels well beyond his years. He spent the 2019 season at Minnesota on the outside before transitioning to the slot for the 2020 season, but either way, he remained an uber-productive player.

Bateman generated 3.60 yards per route run from the outside in 2019, the fifth-highest mark ever recorded by a Power Five wide receiver in PFF’s seven years of collecting college data. And in the slot, he came away with 3.45 yards per route run and an 81.9 receiving grade in his five outings. It’s also worth noting that he did the latter despite contracting COVID-19 and losing 10 pounds just before the season. 

The former Golden Gopher really should have gone 10 draft picks sooner than he did. Bateman is simply a high-floor player who should make an immediate impact and have no issue separating at the NFL level.

RB Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers (+3500)

Sermon would likely need to be the clear RB1 in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense to win the OROY. As of now, that’s speedster Raheem Mostert’s job, but he has had durability issues in the past. If Mostert endures another injury-riddled season, Sermon would be the next in line to receive the bulk of the carries. He may not have Mostert's speed, but he possesses the vision, balance and short-area burst to be a quality performer in this zone offense.

Sermon broke 0.32 tackles per attempt in his four-year college career with Oklahoma and Ohio State, which tied for fifth in the FBS over that span. While we would not advocate for a running back to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year over a far more valuable position — such as quarterback or wide receiver — Sermon is capable of putting up numbers in this favorable system if he gets a good share of the workload. 

WR Rondale Moore, Arizona Cardinals (+5000)

Moore doesn’t look like an NFL wide receiver, standing at 5-foot-7, but once he takes the field, it’s quite apparent he has the chops to thrive at the position. His small stature and gimmick role at Purdue turned off a lot of teams across the league. Heck, some franchises viewed him as a running back or solely a gadget player, which was a big reason he slid to the back half of Round 2.

Most of Moore’s receptions as a Boiler were schemed. The team never asked him to win downfield, but he did flash the ability to do so with his rare athletic profile, route running and ball skills. Those flashes came up from time to time at Purdue and are now shining through at Cardinals camp.

Moore has ridiculous explosiveness and strength that showed up after the catch routinely at Purdue and his pro day, where he recorded a 4.29-second 40-yard dash, 42.5-inch verical and 6.68-second three-cone. He still holds the single-season PFF College record for the most broken tackles after the catch by a Power Five receiver (37), which he accomplished in 2018 as a true freshman

Moore will generate value on the underneath concepts that head coach Kliff Kingsbury loves to incorporate, but he can do more than that. He can win at the intermediate and deep levels if presented with the opportunity. Thus far at camp, Arizona is giving him those chances. 

Don’t sleep on Moore making his presence felt right away.

Know tomorrow, today. Western Southern Financial Group.
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