NFL Rookie of the Year race: Can Mac Jones catch Ja'Marr Chase? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The NFL's youth movement was on full display Sunday.
In New England, Patriots rookie Mac Jones was one of just five quarterbacks to top 300 passing yards in the Patriots' 54-13 rout of the New York Jets. In Baltimore, Cincinnati Bengals first-year wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase exploded for 201 receiving yards to lead all pass-catchers -- just ahead of rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, who racked up 163 yards.
With seven weeks in the books, we have a big enough sample size to see which recent draft picks have the best shot at winning 2021 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Did Chase pull away from the pack Sunday with his career day? Is Jones in a better position to win the award over the course of 17 games? Which other rookies are in the running?
Below are the five favorites for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and our take on who will win the award after Week 18 of the 2021 NFL regular season.
Ja'Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Stats through Week 7: 35 receptions, 754 yards, 6 TDs
Chase is the clear front-runner, and with good reason. He leads the NFL in yards per reception (21.5) and ranks second behind only Cooper Kupp in receiving yards. Simply put, he's been one of the league's best offensive players this season, period.
History isn't on Chase's side, however. Only three wide receivers have won Offensive Rookie of the Year in the last two decades, the most recent being Odell Beckham Jr., who needed to average 108.8 yards per game in 2014. Then again, Chase is at 107.7 yards per game right now.
Mac Jones, QB, New England Patriots
Season stats: 174 for 247, 70.4% completion rate, 1779 yards, 8 TD, 6 INT, 92.8 passer rating
Jones is by far the best rookie QB in his class and ranks in the top 10 among all signal-callers in completion percentage (fourth) and total yards (ninth). He's coming off his first career 300-yard game and has thrown seven TD passes in his last four games.
Chase will be tough to catch if he keeps averaging 100 yards per game. But offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has opened the playbook up for Jones, who isn't too far off 2020 Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert's pace of 4,336 passing yards last season.
While Jones may need to increase his touchdown rate to make this a stiffer competition, he'll be very much in the conversation if he flirts with 4,000 passing yards.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Season stats: 129 for 216, 59.7% completion rate, 1465 yards, 7 TD, 8 INT; 26 rushes, 121 yards, 2 TD; 75.5 passer rating (six games)
Lawrence has made do of a rough situation in Jacksonville, committing plenty of turnovers but also topping 300 passing yards twice with a mediocre supporting cast.
The No. 1 overall pick has plenty of ground to make up on Jones, but it's still possible the Jaguars abandon the run game and allow Lawrence to throw it 40-to-50 times per game. That said, it's hard to see Lawrence winning this award if Jacksonville finishes in the NFL basement.
Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Season stats: 102 rushes, 388 yards, 2 TDs; 34 receptions, 244 yards, 2 TDs
Harris is Pittsburgh's undisputed workhorse: His 136 total touches are 101 more (!) than the next-closest Steeler, Diontae Johnson. The Alabama product hasn't found much running room behind an inexperienced offensive line, but he's excelling as a receiver more receptions than every running back except Detroit's D'Andre Swift.
Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley won this award in back-to-back years in 2017 and 2018, so if Harris continues to see high volume, he could make a late push.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
Season stats: 31 receptions, 471 yards, 1 TD
After a relatively quiet start, Pitts is proving why the Falcons made him the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history. The former Florida Gator has 16 receptions and 282 yards in his last two games and has the most receiving yards through his first six contests of any NFL tight end, ever.
A tight end has never won Offensive Rookie of the Year since the award's inception in 1967. Pitts seems like a long shot, but he probably has the best chance of any tight end in history to become the first.