Most NFL teams don’t have a strong contender to be chosen as this year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Only one team has two.
In fact, at some of Pennsylvania’s online sportsbooks, the Steelers’ top two 2022 draft choices — quarterback Kenny Pickett and wide receiver George Pickens — are slotted first and second in shortest odds to win the award that will be announced by The Associated Press after the regular season.
FanDuel and BetMGM make both of the Steelers rookies +900, with a group of first-year wide receivers and running backs behind them. The shortest odds anywhere on Pickett are the +700 from FOX Bet and from Kambi-supplied sites including BetRivers, with Pickens +800 at the former and +1000 at the latter.
DraftKings stands out as one of the few sites where Pickett is not considered the preseason favorite, though he’s close. New York Jets running back Breece Hall gets the edge at +850 over Pickett, Pickens, and Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce, all at +900.
The extent to which the two new Steelers with similar surnames compete for the rookie honor could be one of the notable highlights of the year in Pittsburgh, where the long-proud franchise is viewed on the decline after the retirement of future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger.
Pickett stands alone among rookie QBs this year
It is Big Ben’s departure that has Pickett in the Offensive Rookie of the Year position he is in, as it is the first time the Steelers have required a new quarterback since 2005.
At Pitt, where he led the Panthers to their first ACC title playing in the same stadium as the Steelers, Pickett threw for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions in his final season. It led the Steelers to make him the only quarterback taken in the first round of the draft with the 20th pick overall.
Of the last 10 players chosen Offensive Rookie of the Year, four were quarterbacks, with Justin Herbert the most recent in 2020. Any rookie quarterback who does well is automatically considered, as it’s the most important position on the field, but it is also the most difficult for a first-year player to master.
The top five preseason betting favorites last year were all QBs — Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Zach Wilson — but none of them impressed nearly as much as the winner, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (81 receptions for 1,455 yards and 13 TDs).
Aside from playing well, any rookie to be considered also needs playing time, and therein lies the rub for Pickett. He has had an excellent preseason (29 completions on 36 passes, 261 yards, 3 TDs), but throughout the summer the Steelers’ depth chart has had him behind free agent signee Mitch Trubisky, who also has been performing capably.
Kenny Pickett’s first NFL Preseason was one to remember ⭐️
• 261 YDS
• 3 TD
• 0 INT
• 124.7 RTG pic.twitter.com/JyzdSIsHQ0
— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) August 28, 2022
Pickett, after the Steelers devoted a first-round pick to him when other needs also existed, is clearly the heir apparent, but coach Mike Tomlin will likely want to ease him into that role — especially if Trubisky is at least satisfactory early in the season. Roethlisberger’s recent backup, Mason Rudolph, also remains on the roster as another threat to Pickett’s playing time.
Pretty good for guy who caught five balls last year
While there remains a big question about how much we’ll actually see the Pickett-to-Pickens connection, there’s a strong feeling out of Steelers camp that Pickens is going to catch a lot of passes in impressive fashion from someone. The most amazing part of that is we’re talking about a player who caught all of five passes in four games in his last year of college ball.
Pickens tore his ACL in the spring of 2021, vastly reducing his ability to play during the season, but he had shown talent as early as his freshman year of 2019, when he led Georgia in receiving. There were some questions pre-draft about his emotional maturity, but the Steelers saw a physically talented and intense 6-foot-3, 200-pound receiver easily worth selecting in the second round.
Reports out of Steelers training camp about the team’s most impressive newcomers typically focused on Pickens more than any other player. While Diontae Johnson is clearly the team’s No. 1 receiver, Pickens may have already surpassed Chase Claypool as No. 2 and will receive plenty of time in the rebuilt offense.
George Pickens is a damn Star. #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/b2wC5VmzzJ
— JOSE ALVARES (@Alvaresjose11) August 28, 2022
In a season stacked with highly regarded rookie wideouts, including several taken in the first round of the draft, oddsmakers have deemed Pickens capable of standing above them all. Only two receivers, meanwhile, have been selected in the past decade to receive Offensive Rookie of the Year honors — Chase last year and Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014.
Others could emerge, just like last year
The sportsbooks view Pickens’ top competitors among wideouts to be the New Orleans Saints’ Chris Olave, who had an outstanding career at Ohio State; Treylon Burks, whom the Tennessee Titans picked from Arkansas; Skyy Moore, a Western Michigan sensation drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs; and Drake London, who starred at USC and went to the Atlanta Falcons.
The odds on all of them for Offensive Rookie of the Year generally range between +1000 and +1400, depending on the book.
And then there are the two rookie running backs deemed in that range: Hall and Pierce.
The Jets selected Hall in the second round, from Iowa State, after he ran roughshod through the Big 12 Conference for several years. In his junior season last year, he ran for 1,472 yards and 20 TDs — stats that were actually down from his sophomore year — and caught 36 passes. Hall is expected to share time, at least initially, with Michael Carter in the Jets backfield, but he has greater potential to become the No. 1 back.
Pierce, picked by the Texans in the fourth round, did not have quite the same pedigree at Florida, but he ran for 13 TDs among his 100 carries as a senior. He has been impressive enough in the preseason that Houston this week cut its presumed starting back, Marlon Mack, creating space for Pierce to be the team’s lead back this year.
The most recent running back to be chosen Offensive Rookie of the Year was Saquon Barkley in 2018.
Photo: Philip G. Pavely/USA TODAY