The 2022 NFL draft has recently come to a conclusion, and an immense amount of fresh talent has joined the league. Big names such as Kenny Pickett, Drake London, and Breece Hall are all ready to light up the scoreboards when the time comes. Although nine different offensive skill position players were drafted ahead of Kenneth Walker, I believe Walker will be the one to take the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award at the end of the season.
History of the Offensive Rookie of the Year award (ROTY) shows that no offensive linemen or tight end has ever won the award, and since 2000, four wide receivers have won the award, nine running backs, and nine quarterbacks. Statistically, it’s much more difficult for a wide receiver to win the award than it is for a running back or quarterback. It takes elite talent and elite opportunity for a receiver to become the ROTY. In the 2022 draft class, I don’t see any receiver with the elite opportunity necessary. The top six receivers to be taken do not have ideal quarterback play to support them. Although the talent is there, it’s unlikely guys like Marcus Mariota, Ryan Tannehill, Jared Goff, and Carson Wentz can provide enough production for their receivers to garner elite production.
The receivers of this class who have the greatest landing spots are Skyy Moore and Christian Watson. Both land with eventual hall of fame quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. Moore will build his relationship with Mahomes over time, but it will not surpass Mahomes’ connection with his good buddy Travis Kelce. Moore can have a fantastic season but his time with Mahomes will come in time. Watson is the sole target for Rodgers, but the Green Bay Packers’ offense has quietly transitioned to a running back heavy scheme. Although Rodgers won M.V.P. last season, a lot of the passing attack flowed through the running backs. Both Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon were top 20 in receiving yards for running backs, and Jones had the second most receiving touchdowns amongst running backs, while Dillon was tied for thirteenth. That being said, it’s hard for me to imagine any receiver winning ROTY for the 2022 NFL season.
The next position to discuss is the quarterback position. Having won nine ROTY awards over the last 22 seasons, it may be an easy choice to pick a top quarterback to be the favorite to win the award. However, the 2022 class is different. There is no truly elite talent in this class; Kenny Pickett was the top graded quarterback in this class, and even then, most NFL teams are a bit unimpressed with his talents. Pickett was eventually drafted 20th by the Pittsburgh Steelers, but early in the first round of the NFL draft, plenty of quarterback needy teams passed on Pickett for other positions. Most notably, the Carolina Panthers at pick six, the Atlanta Falcons at pick eight, and the Seattle Seahawks at pick nine passed on the Pitt product. Pickett should eventually take over starter duties for the Steelers, but Mitch Trubisky sits atop the depth chart, as he was believed to have tremendous talent that may or may not have been derailed by his former coach, Matt Nagy. The other top rated quarterbacks of this class are not slated to start early in the season, which would severely limit their chances to win the award. Desmond Ridder will sit behind the recently signed Marcus Mariota, Malik Willis will most likely sit behind the $20M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and Matt Corral is in a mess of a situation in Carolina. The Panthers have multiple quarterbacks who can shuffle in throughout the season including Sam Darnold. Even if Corral starts right away, there is not much of a receiving corps outside of DJ Moore to support him.
Last but certainly not least, the running backs. There are really only four running backs who are expected to compete for the ROTY award. Dameon Pierce is a fourth round running back out of Florida who joined the Houston Texans. The Texans have an unimpressive running back room led by Marlon Mack, so it is expected that Pierce should be able to come out on top. Pierce can accumulate a sizable amount of carries; the only problem is that the Texans finished 2021 in dead last when it comes to total rushing yards and yards per attempt. This is due to a collection of factors including a lack of running back talent, offensive line help, and a poor game script. Although Pierce is certainly an upgrade at back, the Texans did not address the offensive line problem as much as they could have, as they only selected one offensive lineman in the first five rounds of the draft although they had eight picks in that span. The game script will also remain similar to last year, as the Texans’ betting line for wins is sitting at only 4.5 wins on the season.
The next relevant running back is James Cook, brother to phenom Dalvin Cook. James Cook was drafted to the Bills, and is expected to split work down the middle with counterpart Devin Singletary, who had a fantastic finish to the 2021 campaign. Cook’s potential is through the roof, but he’s likely to be limited during his first season. Another challenger for the ROTY award is the top running back of this 2022 class, Breece Hall. The Iowa State standout dominated in college and was taken as the first running back off the board to the New York Jets. My knock against Hall is not his talent, but his chances to dominate his own backfield. He will be playing beside Michael Carter, who had a very productive rookie year in 2021. Carter is expected to be the primary back on third downs, as he is an above average pass blocker and a very good receiver. His usage on third downs will limit Hall’s involvement on passing downs, thus limiting his overall upside as well. Hall is also dependent on the production of Zach Wilson, who had a very shaky rookie season to put it nicely. While Wilson has been given the tools to succeed, he will need to show some of his capabilities before we assume he can lead the Jets’ offense.
Now that I’ve outlined why I believe the other ROTY candidates will not win the award, it’s time to see why Kenneth Walker has an advantage over his NFL classmates. Some believe Walker will have a crowded backfield, as Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny are also in his backfield. To that I say, nonsense. Carson is a fantastic player, but he is dealing with a chronic neck injury which may end his career. He was held to only four games in the 2021 season, and ended up needing surgery to help with his neck injury. If Carson remains on the roster, he will be limited, as the organization will not risk Carson’s health on the field. Although we all wish the best for Carson, it would save the Seahawks over $3M to cut Carson.
Penny is the other back in Walker’s way, but quite honestly, he isn’t all that great. A career backup, Penny has also been constantly missing time due to injury. He is yet to play more than 10 games over any of the past three NFL seasons. Walker is also in a fantastic system for running backs. His coach, Pete Carroll, infamously said “we have to run it more” after a playoff loss two seasons ago. In 2021, the Seahawks ranked 11th in total rush yards on the season, and they also ranked third in yards per carry, meaning they were incredibly efficient when they ran the ball. Unlike Hall, Walker is not dependent on quarterback play, as the Seahawks had a great season running the ball even though Russell Wilson missed three and a half games, and played the second half of the season injured. As previously mentioned, Carson and Penny were both injured during the 2021 NFL season. For about half of the season, the Seahawks backfield was led by Alex Collins and Deejay Dallas. It’s absolutely incredible that the Seahawks could be so efficient running the ball when they had minimally talented backs running the ball. With the uber-talented Kenneth Walker in the backfield, I expect this run game to take a large leap forward, possibly becoming the number one team in terms of running efficiency. Despite the quarterback questions, Walker is on the fast track to elite production, and Pete Carroll’s offensive philosophies will guide Walker to success.