Top 2022-23 NFL Rookie of the Year candidates: Tight race between Brock Purdy, Kenneth Walker

The top NFL Rookie of the Year candidates have finished up shop on what were spectacular regular season performances.

Some of them are headed to the playoffs with their teams. But for this specific award, it’s all about hoe they performed in the regular year.

Let’s dive into our final NFL Rookie of the Year rankings with the postseason getting going here soon.

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 saw from the rookie first-round pick to end his first season was nothing less than extraordinary.

Pickett as led Pittsburgh to consecutive late-game comebacks before capping that off with a third consecutive win in Week 18 against the hated Cleveland Browns. While it was not enough for Pittsburgh to earn a playoff spot, Pickett earned even more fans in the Steel City.

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 more than lived up to expectations as a rooki.

Olave was targeted nine times or more in six of his 15 games as a rookie. While his catch rate wasn’t where the Saints wanted it to be, the first-year player averaged a resounding 14.5 yards per reception. He posted three 100-yard games despite less-than-stellar QB play. That seems pretty good.

Related: Sportsnaut’s NFL Playoff offense rankings

3. 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 struggles to conclude the season. He hauled in just 16-of-37 targets over the final three games. New York scored a grand total of 15 points during that span with the likes of Zach Wilson, Mike White, Joe Flacco and Chris Streveler (who?) seeing action under center.

As for Wilson’s entire body of work, the Ohio State product 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 candidates.

2. Brock Purdy, QB, San Francisco 49ers

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

With a perfect 5-0 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 three-touchdown performance in which the quarterback completed 15-of-20 passes in a blowout Week 18 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Purdy is the first quarterback since Ben Roethlisberger to win each of his first five NFL starts. He’s also the first rookie since Dan Marino to throw at least two touchdowns in each of his first five NFL starts. If this isn’t enough, Purdy finished the regular season with the highest QB rating for a rookie in league history while helping San Francisco run off 10 consecutive wins. That’s insane.

1. Kenneth Walker, RB, Seattle Seahawks

nfl rookie of the year: kenneth walker
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
  • Kenneth Walker stats (2022): 228 attempts, 1,050 rushing yards, 27 receptions, 165 yards, 1,215 total yards, 9 TD

This former Heisman finalist finshing up his first regular season with a bang. Walker tallied 354 rushing yards at a clip of 4.5 yards per attempt over the final three games en route to leading Seattle to a surprise playoff appearance.

That came after Walker struggled to the tune of 126 yards on 3.2 yards per tote in his previous four outings. He’s our likely NFL Rookie of the Year on the offensive side of the ball with an announcement set to be made in roughly a month.

Related: Sportsnauts NFL Playoff 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 with New York headed to the playoffs.

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 Playoff power rankings

4. Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Detroit Lions

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

Hutchinson led all NFL rookies in 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 was in the playoff race until the very end 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): 12 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 seven 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 seven-game span to conclude the season, the Jackson State product 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): 63 tackles, 16 passes defended, 6 INT, 1 TD

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

Not only did Woolen lead the NFL with six interceptions, he yielded an absurdly low 48.0 QB rating when targeted. Signal callers also completed 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: 75 tackles, 20 passes defended, 2 INT

Sauce Gardner led the NFL with 20 passes defended during his rookie year. He made game-changing plays against the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Josh Allen throughout his rookie season. Opposing quarterbacks boasted a 53.1% completion and 61.2 QB rating when targeting the first-year player. Wide receivers averaged 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.

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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