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tara sullivan

Who is the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: Mac Jones or Ja’Marr Chase?

Sunday's romp over the Jaguars was another triumphant performance by Mac Jones.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Last Sunday, at home in Foxborough, Mac Jones was dancing along the Patriots sideline, enjoying one of his most productive days as a pro. Halfway across the country in Cincinnati, Ja’Marr Chase was busy juking across the field at Paul Brown Stadium, sprinting to one of the most impressive plays of his young NFL career.

Two rookies, two wins, two teams headed to the playoffs.

But only one Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Who’s it gonna be?

With only one week remaining in the regular season, the OROY race appears to be down to two first-rounders, the No. 5 and No. 15 picks in the draft. Both are enormously deserving of accolades, contributing mightily to their teams’ success. Both turned in highlight-worthy performances over the weekend, adding plenty of fuel to a debate that is always enjoyable, if not overly weighty in the grand scheme of football accomplishment. Championships are the goal, but collecting personal hardware along the way only adds to the fun.

So who gets the trophy?


Let’s start by making the case for Jones, who busted through the proverbial rookie wall in Sunday’s 50-10 romp over the Jaguars. Jones threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns, the second of which was his 20th on the season, breaking Jim Plunkett’s 50-year-old franchise record for a rookie.

The game was a nice rebound for the rookie from Alabama, coming in the wake of back-to-back losses to the Bills and Colts as well as the windswept win against Buffalo that saw him attempt only three passes while the running game took over.

Even with that relative zero factored in, Jones is more than holding his own among NFL starters statistically. He is 13th with 3,540 passing yards, tied for 13th with 21 touchdown passes, and tied for 12th with 12 interceptions. His yards and touchdowns are the most among rookie starting quarterbacks, including the four taken ahead of him (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, and Justin Fields at 1, 2, 3, and 11), bolstering Jones’s argument as the transcendent rookie at his position.


And the position matters a ton here, one of the strongest reasons for tilting the argument in Jones’s favor.

Hard enough that he was immediately cast as the heir apparent to the GOAT Tom Brady and the long-term solution to replace the stopgap Cam Newton in New England. There’s a reason even great quarterbacks like Peyton Manning (26 touchdown passes, 28 interceptions in his first season) struggle when they start as rookies.

The position is the most demanding one on the field, an extension of the coaching staff in a way that is unrivaled anywhere else, requiring extensive knowledge of both offensive and defensive formations, immediate recognition of both, all the time representing leadership that is unavoidably commensurate with the position.

Quarterbacks, like Heisman Trophy winners, dominate most awards races, and as recent CBS research shows, Jones compares favorably with previous OROY quarterback winners.

Jones’s 67.6 completion percentage is better than Justin Herbert’s in 2020, when he won, and only 0.2 percent behind Dak Prescott’s all-time best, which he did in his 2016 Rookie of the Year season. Jones’s passer rating of 92.5 is higher than previous winners Kyler Murray (2019) and Newton (2011), and in leading the Patriots to double-digit wins (with a game to play) Jones is the first rookie QB (minimum 10 starts) to lead his team to the postseason since Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III (who won OROY) in 2012.


Jones has handled it all. Even his coach said as much Sunday, with taskmaster Bill Belichick letting loose a little bit on what Jones has managed this year.

“Every day is really the same day for Mac,” Belichick said. “He’s always well-prepared. He’s in early. He’s ready to go. He knows what we’re going to be doing, and he’s already got a headstart on it.

“He maximizes the information that the coaches give him, maximizes the walkthroughs, the practice reps, and learns from whatever happens in those situations. He’s smart. He’s a good learner, but he’s got good instincts and good mechanics.”

That’s quite a testimonial from the usually taciturn coach, but even Belichick seems able to enjoy what Jones is doing.

The entire league is enjoying Chase, too. He didn’t even need this year’s extra regular-season game to break the NFL’s rookie receiving-yardage record, doing it in Sunday’s thrilling Week 17 win over Kansas City.

That game, in which Chase finished with 11 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns, clinched the AFC North for the resurgent Bengals. The 266 yards set an NFL rookie record, part of the 79 catches for 1,429 yards and 13 TDs he has on the year.

The case for Chase is strong. He has been quite the weapon for Joe Burrow, and their connection is no surprise given their collegiate history together at LSU. Chase made the key play on what would prove to be the game-winning drive against the Chiefs, not to mention the juke heard round the world, when he left a bevy of defenders falling out of their cleats and then outran them to the end zone.


This was Burrow on his teammate: “If you’re going to play him one-on-one, a lot of times it’s going to be a long day for you. He’s a great player, and he’s going to be a great player for a long time.

“Great person, too. He doesn’t care if he gets 260 yards and three touchdowns or if he gets zero yards and everyone else makes all the yards. Great guy to have.”

Like Jones, however, Chase did have a relatively cold streak this season, averaging 40.6 yards across the team’s 3-4 Week 8-to-Week 15 stretch. Not surprising for either, given their youth, and impressive for both when considering their rebound.

So, who ya got?

For me, the QB wins. Give it to Mac.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.