Top 2022-23 NFL Rookie of the Year candidates: Sauce Gardner running away with it

The top NFL Rookie of the Year candidates have already made a name for themselves with just one week left in the schedule. We’ve gotten a huge glimpse of these rooks as they transition to the pros. Still, we’re highlighting some of the most-likely contenders with the information we have.

Let’s dive into some of the top candidates to win the 2022-23 NFL Rookie of the Year award on both sides of the ball heading into Week 18.

Related: The Most Expensive Rookie Cards Ever – Includes NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL

2022-23 NFL Rookie of the Year candidates (offense)

Honorable mention

  • Brian Robinson Jr., RB, Washington Commanders
  • Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans
  • Isiah Pacheco, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
  • Christian Watson, WR, Green Bay Packers

5. Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

nfl rookie of the year: kenny pickett
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Pickett’s stats don’t do him justice. And in reality, he’s not going to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. With that said, what we’ve seen from the rookie first-round pick in recent weeks is nothing less than extraordinary.

Pickett has led Pittsburgh to consecutive late-game comebacks heading into Week 18 against the Cleveland Browns. His last performance in a win over the division-rival Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football was legendary, and kept Pittsburgh in the AFC Playoff race. The dude appears to have that clutch gene.

Related: Sportsnaut’s NFL Playoff and Super Bowl predictions

4. Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints

nfl rookie of the year chris olave
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Olave thought he was joining an elite wide receiver grouping with Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry. Unfortunately, he’s been thrown into the fire as the Saints’ No. 1 option with both of them being sidelined to injury for a majority of the campaign and Thomas on IR. Despite the Saints’ struggles at quarterback, this former Ohio State standout has more than lived up to expectations.

Olave has been targeted nine times or more in five of his 14 games as a rookie. While his catch rate isn’t where the Saints want it to be, the first-year player is averaging a resounding 14.7 yards per reception. He’s posted three 100-yard games and is on pace for staggering rookie numbers despite missing two games due to injury.

3. Kenneth Walker, RB, Seattle Seahawks

nfl rookie of the year: kenneth walker
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
  • Kenneth Walker stats (2022): 199 attempts, 936 rushing yards, 26 receptions, 155 yards, 1,091 total yards, 9 TD

Since taking over for the injured Rashaad Penny, this former Heisman finalist has looked every bit the part of the NFL Rookie of the Year. In fact, he’s tied the great Curt Warner for the most consecutive games among rookies with rushing touchdowns (five) in Seahawks history.

After struggling to the tune of 3.2 yards per run during a four-game span, Walker has picked it up recently for a playoff-contending Seahawks squad. Heading into Week 18, he’s put up consecutive 100-yard rushing performances and is averaging 4.9 yards per tote. That seems pretty darn good.

Related: Brock Purdy and top NFL QBs heading into Week 18

2. Brock Purdy, QB, San Francisco 49ers

nfl rookie of the year: brock purdy
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With a perfect 4-0 record since taking over for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, Purdy once again ascends our NFL Rookie of the Year rankings. He’s coming off a 284-yard, two-touchdown performance in an overtime win over the Las Vegas Raiders.

Purdy is the first quarterback since Ben Roethlisberger to win each of his first four NFL starts. He’s also the first rookie since Dan Marino to throw at least two touchdowns in each of his first four NFL starts. If this isn’t enough, San Francisco is averaging a whopping 32.5 points per game with Purdy under center and looks like a legit Super Bowl contender as the team heads into Week 18 with a nine-game winning streak. You can do the math here.

Related: Sportsnaut’s NFL Week 18 offense rankings

1. Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets

nfl rookie of the year: garrett wilson
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

We can’t fault the disastrous Jets’ quarterback situation for Wilson’s recent struggles. He’s hauled in just 7-of-20 targets for 48 yards over the past two games. New York has scored a grand total of nine points during that span with the likes of Zach Wilson, Mike White and Chris Streveler (who?) seeing action under center.

As for Wilson’s entire body of work, the Ohio State product has put up three 100-yard games as a rookie. He’s also topped the 90-yard plateau a total of six times. It has Wilson as our top NFL Rookie of the Year candidate regardless of what the odds say.

NFL Rookie of the Year odds (offense)

While the above rankings are purely subjective, NFL oddsmakers have been taking bets on who the 2022 NFL Rookie of the Year may be. Here are the latest ROTY odds according to Vegas Insider.

Player Team Position Odds
Kenneth Walker Seahawks RB -110
Garrett Wilson Jets WR +160
Brock Purdy 49ers QB +450
Kenny Pickett Steelers QB +1800
Chris Olave Saints WR +3000

Related: Sportsnauts NFL Week 18 defense rankings

2022-23 NFL Rookie of the Year candidates (defense)

Honorable mention

  • Jalen Pitre, S, Houston Texans
  • Jaquan Brisker, S, Chicago Bears
  • Drake Jackson, EDGE, San Francisco 49ers
  • Kyle Hamilton, S, Baltimore Ravens
  • Jack Jones, CB, New England Patriots
  • Devin Lloyd, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars

5. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, New York Giants

nfl rookie of the year rankings: kayvon thibodeaux
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

This former Oregon star took a bit of a time to get adjusted to the speed of the NFL game after missing the start of his first season. But he’s now out here making a major impact for a playoff-contending Giants team.

There’s no more evidence needed than Thibodeaux’s performance during a huge win over the Washington Commanders in Week 15. The edge rusher recorded 12 tackles, three tackles for loss and a strip sack that resulted in a touchdown. He was the one major difference-maker in a game that played a major role in returning New York to the playoffs.

Related: Sportsnauts NFL Week 18 power rankings

4. Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Detroit Lions

nfl rookie of the year: aidan hutchinson
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Hutchinson now leads all NFL rookies of QB pressures and QB hits. He recorded an interception of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the end zone back in Week 9. He followed that up by recording eight tackles and a sack in Detroit’s second consecutive the following week.

This Michigan product’s ability to change the game at any given moment was apparent in college. It now looks like this is transitioning pretty well to the professional ranks. He’s one of the reasons Detroit is in the playoff race and has to be considered a top-end NFL Rookie of the Year candidate. There’s no other way to go about it.

3. James Houston, EDGE, Detroit Lions

nfl rookie of the year: james houston
Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports
  • James Houston stats (2022): 11 tackles (7 for loss), 11 QB hits, 8 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Simply stunning. Houston did not make his debut with Detroit until Thanksgiving. Now, just six games into his career, and he’s making noise as an NFL Rookie of the Year. This isn’t even up for debate.

During this six-game span, the Jackson State product has racked up multiple sacks in two outings. He’s coming off a three-sack performance against the Chicago Bears in Week 17. Houston has done all of this while playing an average of 18.3 snaps per game. That’s insane.

2. Tariq Woolen, CB, Seattle Seahawks

nfl rookie of the year: tariq woolen
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
  • Tariq Woolen stats (2022): 60 tackles, 15 passes defended, 6 INT, 1 TD

This rookie fifth-round pick from Texas San-Antonio is headed to the Pro Bowl Games as he finishes up shop on one of the most-surprising rookie seasons from a defensive player in recent history.

Not only does Woolen lead the NFL with six interceptions, he’s yielding an absurdly low 48.0 QB rating when targeted. Signal callers are also completing a mere 52.5% of their passes when targeting him. If it weren’t for the individual listed below, Woolen would be the odds-on favorite to come away with the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

1. Sauce Gardner, CB, New York Jets

nfl rookie of the year candidates: sauce gardner, new york jets
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Sauce Gardner stats: 69 tackles, 20 passes defended, 2 INT

Sauce Gardner heads into Week 18 leading the NFL with 20 passes defended. He’s made game-changing plays against the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Josh Allen throughout his rookie season. Opposing quarterbacks boast a 53.1% completion and 61.2 QB rating when targeting the first-year player. Wide receivers are averaging 5.1 yards per target when blanketed by Gardner.

Do we really have to say anthing more? Gardner is not only going to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, he’s already a Pro Bowler and well on his way to becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league.

NFL Rookie of the Year odds (defense)

No odds are available with Sauce Gardner running away with the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award

Revisiting the 2021 NFL Rookie of the Year

The quarterbacks from the 2021 NFL Draft class didn’t quite live up to their lofty expectations, but there were still several outstanding performances. Ja’Marr Chase picked up where he left off with Joe Burrow, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, helping the Cincinnati Bengals reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years.

  • Ja’Marr Chase stats in rookie year: 81 receptions, 1,455 receiving yards, 13 TD catches

On defense, Micah Parsons became an instant star from the very beginning. Playing in his first game of the year, Parsons burst onto the scene with seven tackles, a QB hit and a pass deflection, never looking back.

  • Micah Parsons stats in rookie year: 84 tackles, 13 sacks, 3 FF, 20 TFL, 3 PD, 30 QB Hits

Past NFL Rookie of the Year winners

  • 2021: Ja’Marr Chase, Micah Parsons
  • 2020: Justin Herbert, Chase Young
  • 2019: Kyler Murray, Nick Bosa
  • 2018: Saquon Barkley, Shaquille Leonard
  • 2017: Alvin Kamara, Marson Lattimore
  • 2016: Dak Prescott, Joey Bosa
  • 2015: Todd Gurley, Marcus Peters
  • 2014: Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donald

When is the NFL Rookie of the Year announced?

The 2022-23 NFL Rookie of the Year will be announced during the league’s annual awards show on the weekend of the Super Bowl, February 11.

Who will emerge as the early ROTY candidates during the 2022-23 NFL season?

This article was originally published on and is republished here with permission.

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