Last year, the race for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY) came down to the wire, with Giants running back Saquon Barkley edging out Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield for the award.
This season, the OROY may once again come down to a quarterback against a running back, as Arizona's Kyler Murray and Oakland's Josh Jacobs are both pegged for starting gigs on teams heavily invested in their futures. FanDuel Sportsbook also has Murray and Jacobs set as the two favorites to take home the award.
Beyond Murray and Jacobs, however, there are a number of intriguing dark horse candidates who can excel if given the opportunity. Whether it's a starter getting injured or a veteran getting benched that earns them more playing time, here are four long shots that can sneak into the OROY conversation by season's end.
1. Justice Hill, RB, Baltimore Ravens (+5000)
The Baltimore Ravens are going to run the football this year – a lot. With second-year QB Lamar Jackson potentially rushing less, there could be more carries available for the backfield, which will be led by veteran Mark Ingram. Whoever slots in as the No. 2 RB will have a significant workload as well, and rookie Justice Hill may very well be the guy. A three-year starter at Oklahoma State, Hill is a SPARQ score superstar who profiles best as an Austin Ekeler-type change-of-pace back. If Ingram were to get hurt, Hill's role could increase, and it will be interesting to see what the rookie can do in space with Jackson at the helm. After Jackson took over as starter last year, Ravens' backs led the league in rushing yards and yards per carry.
2. Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs (+2600)
The Kansas City Chiefs added another pure burner to their offense in April's draft, selecting Mecole Hardman out of Georgia. Hardman, who actually had a faster 40-yard dash time than Tyreek Hill, showed off his wheels in Kansas City's first preseason game, taking a quick shovel pass and turning it into a 17-yard score. Hardman should be on the field a lot this season when the Chiefs go into spread formations, and may surpass Sammy Watkins as the No. 2 receiver, especially if injury befalls the often-hobbled five-year vet. Regardless of how much he plays, Hardman possesses the big-play ability to put up an impressive stat line, even if his role is reduced during his rookie year.
3. Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants (+2500)
Daniel Jones did a lot to silence his critics with an impressive preseason debut, which saw him go 5-for-5 for 67 passing yards and a touchdown on his lone drive. If he continues to impress this preseason, the clamoring from Giants fans for him start in Week 1 could continue to grow. At this point, however, everyone from Giants' owner John Mara to coach Pat Shurmur has backed Eli Manning as the starting QB. As such, Jones cannot contend for OROY if he is on the bench. If any of that changes though, and Jones finds the field earlier than expected, he could immediately join Murray as quarterback frontrunners for the award.
4. Darrell Henderson, RB, Los Angeles Rams (+2000)
There are few rookies with as big of an opportunity this season as Darrell Henderson. Taken in the third round of April's draft, Henderson has a chance to become Todd Gurley's backup this season, and should see decent work in the offense in that role alone. If Gurley's nagging knee injury were to recur, however, Henderson could be ticketed for the starting running back gig on one of the best offenses in football. The Rams traded up in the draft to acquire Henderson, who, in three years at Memphis, finished with the highest career yards-per-carry average for a Division I player since at least 1956. With elite receiving skills too, Henderson is an injury away from being a legit OROY contender.
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