2021 Offensive ROTY
Ja’Marr Chase has dominated the NFL halfway through 2021. Can Mac Jones or anyone else catch him in the race for 2021 Offensive ROTY? (image from Emilee Chinn/AP Photo)

The NFL’s 2021 Offensive ROTY Race is on

Ja’Marr Chase’s electric start has him as the favorite as the NFL Offensive ROTY a little more than halfway through the 2021 season. But after a Week 10 bye for him and his Cincinnati Bengals, other candidates have been able to close the gap in the race.

Through nine games, Chase is fifth in the entire NFL in receiving yards with 835. For reference, the next closest rookie sits at 21st. Among receivers with at least 30 receptions, he leads the league in yards per catch, as well, with 19.0. And for good measure, he’s tied for fifth in receiving touchdowns – and is ahead of all other AFC North pass catchers.

Without a doubt, the thing has been working for the 2021 fifth-overall pick and Joe Burrow has been the deep ball. The two have showed off the chemistry they built at LSU, especially in 2019 when Chase finished the season with 1780 yards and 20 touchdowns as Burrow won the Heisman Trophy (and the Tigers won the national championship). The rookie has caught 14 passes for 20+ yards this season, tied for third in the league with names like Davante Adams and Marquise Brown. One of those 20+-yard catches was an 82-yard touchdown during a 41-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

Mac Jones on the Rise

Mac Jones has entered the NFL Offensive ROTY race. Jones has his New England Patriots on a four-game winning streak and ahead of Chase’s Bengals with a 6-4 record, occupying one the AFC’s three wild card spots. Granted, they have not beaten any great teams in that stretch, but being very competitive against Tampa Bay and Dallas – two NFC juggernauts – in weeks four and six is a good sign.

Many considered this year to be another write off for Bill Belichick and the Patriots considering they were entering the year with a rookie under center. Jones, the 15th pick in 2021, was able to beat out former MVP Cam Newton for the starting job, allowing New England to cut Cam.

Jones is 14th in the NFL in passing yards, just ahead of Arizona’s Kyler Murray. He leads all other rookie quarterbacks by a healthy margin, as the next closest is Trevor Lawrence at 25th. Jones is not asked to do much but is coming off his most efficient day with 198 yards on 19/23 passing and three touchdowns. The Patriots smoked the Cleveland Browns 45-7. His now 94.1 quarterback rating for the season has him in the top half of the NFL, too.

In his first 10 career starts, Tom Brady threw for 297 less yards, completed 2.94% less passes, took 10 more sacks, and fumbled six more times than Jones through his first. I’m not saying Mac Jones will turn into the most accomplished athlete of his generation, but seeing numbers like these gives me confidence that he is going to be a solid professional quarterback for years to come. He could cement the first major leg in his legacy by taking home the 2021 Offensive ROTY.

Who Else?

Several other players are trying to throw their name in the mix for 2021 Offensive ROTY. Overall, it’s been a fairly underwhelming rookie class given that no quarterback has been able to put up really big numbers.

Jones’s Alabama counterparts DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris are having productive rookie seasons. DeVonta Smith has made big plays in back-to-back weeks. On his 23rd birthday in Denver, Smith had four catches for 66 yards and two touchdowns all in the first half. That performance came directly after a five-catch, 115-yard game versus the Chargers. He’s up to 603 receiving yards on 42 catches through 10. He’s added four touchdowns and is on pace to finish right around the 1,000-yard mark. Harris, the first of two running backs taken in the first round of the 2021 draft, currently has 646 rushing and 317 receiving yards in nine games. He has six total touchdowns, which ranks second among rookies behind Chase.

Kyle Pitts garnered a ton of hype from the start of his junior season at the University of Florida. The 21-year-old tight end has 606 receiving yards but only one touchdown – far from the 12 he had for the Gators in 2020. It took Pitts a little longer than others to break out in the NFL, but thanks to big games in weeks five and seven, he is right back in the race for the 2021 Offensive ROTY award.

All of these guys play for teams that are still in the playoff race. The player with the best numbers should win the award, but that doesn’t mean the voters won’t factor take team success in their votes. If Jones can lead New England to the playoffs, maybe he should be the 2021 Offensive ROTY. Or maybe they give to Smith for being the leading receiver on his team. Maybe Harris and Pitts go on touchdown sprees to close the year. I would like to put my money on Chase, still. Don’t let Cincinnati’s bye week distract you that this dude has been targeted 73 times. I don’t think Burrow is going to shy away from using him as they push for the playoffs.

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