Now that the draft is behind us (and I’ve graded your favorite team), it’s time to look forward. What better way to do that than to look at the players just selected and try to guess which of them will take home hardware at the next NFL Honors? I’m going to do my best to make 2023 NFL rookie of the year predictions on both offense and defense. To do so, I’m going to consider their likelihood of quickly acclimating to the pro game, the situations they find themselves in, and their odds of generating strong counting stats. I’ll also provide a couple of sleeper picks for each category.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: RB Bijan Robinson, Falcons
As I stated last year, the offensive rookie of the year honor, like many NFL awards, heavily favors QBs. If any QB puts up quality production, it will take a Herculean effort for a WR or RB to snatch the accolade. That said, WRs have won the award in each of the past two years. Last year was an awful QB class, letting Garrett Wilson win. In 2021, Mac Jones was solid, but Ja’Marr Chase was too special to ignore. The 2023 class is widely considered to be a good one, but I’m not so high on it. Therefore, as much as I hated the pick due to the position-team fit, I’m going with Robinson.
I constantly stress that I love Robinson as a player and only dislike his positional value and the team that took him. Wherever he landed, Robinson was always going to produce. We’re talking about a true 3-down RB here. He runs with speed, power, and vision, and he catches the ball well. Given QB Desmond Ridder’s over-reliance on his RBs, it’s easy to envision Robinson running early and often, as well as catching numerous checkdowns. Atlanta’s depth chart has little beyond Drake London at WR, so Robinson may also line up in the slot to catch passes while last year’s promising rookie Tyler Allgeier runs a bit.
The last RB to win rookie of the year was Alvin Kamara in 2017. He managed the feat by piling up stats both on the ground and through the air. I believe Robinson can do the same thing, but he’ll have an even greater workload. Thus, he’ll accumulate more stats. If Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, and Anthony Richardson fail to get off to fast starts, Robinson would be the biggest beneficiary in the awards department. RBs tend to hit the ground running (pun intended) as rookies, and no RB prospect has been this talented since 2007 (Adrian Peterson).
Sleepers: QB Bryce Young, Panthers (Among all rookie QBs, Young is in the best situation, and he was the #1 pick for a reason); RB Jahymr Gibbs, Lions (Like Bijan Robinson, Gibbs can play a dual role but on a potent Lions offense); WR Zay Flowers, Ravens (Baltimore’s WR depth chart was bare two months ago, and Flowers could wind up being the #1 option over Odell Beckham Jr)
Defensive Rookie of the Year: OLB Will Anderson Jr, Texans
When thinking about defensive awards, voters are often swayed by sacks and interceptions. Therefore, I looked primarily at opportunity. Edge rushers projected to be part of a rotation won’t have the optimal impact, and cornerbacks need to be ball hawks or shutdown players to earn accolades. I hate to agree with Vegas twice, but I think Anderson is the pick. He is easily the top defensive prospect in the class, and he’s the one with the most sack production. The other two guys with similar talent, Tyree Wilson (foot trouble) and Jalen Carter (stacked depth chart) aren’t in position to succeed as much right away.
Some have worried about Anderson’s upside, but I don’t understand that. In 3 seasons of rugged SEC football, he had 34.5 sacks, 58.5 TFLs, and even an INT. Playing against offenses like LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, and Ole Miss, those are impressive numbers. Now he is going to a division with Tennessee, Indianapolis, and Jacksonville, all of whom have offensive line issues. It would not surprise me one bit to see Anderson post similar stats as a rookie given his talent and level of polish. I’d have taken him over any DE/OLB in the 2020 or 2021 classes.
Last year’s winner was a corner, so that could happen again. However, none of the edge rushers were special last year, while Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner was. In an even battle between a smothering CB and a dominant edge rusher, the QB hunter typically gets the nod. I’m not even expecting other DEs to split the vote with Anderson, which would allow a backdoor CB win. He seems heads and tails above the other prospects, as evidenced by Houston’s decision to trade next year’s 1st-round pick to go get him. Things could obviously change, but right now I’d feel foolish choosing anyone else for DROY.
Sleepers: CB Devon Witherspoon, Seahawks (The clear CB1 in this class, Witherspoon has the potential to be a shutdown guy across from Tariq Woolen); CB Emmanuel Forbes, Commanders (Forbes is a ballhawk, and his INT numbers might greatly sway voters if they’re impressive); LB Jack Campbell, Lions (On a team sorely needing defensive talent, Campbell’s coverage and run stuffing could overload the stat sheet to his advantage)