Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: The next Buckeye to win an NFL end-of-season award
Lost in the hype of Super Bowl week, and the subsequent gifting of another game to the Kansas City Chiefs, was the NFL’s recognition of its best or most deserving individual players.
NFL Honors, the league’s annual awards show, was held last Thursday to celebrate greatness and hand out trophies across the board: MVP, Offensive/Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and so on. The show also reveals the league’s next Hall of Fame class, as well as its plans for continuing to protect and promote the legacy of Pat Mahomes via random game stoppages and phantom calls... Oh, wait, that was just a random nightmare I had last night.
During this year’s ceremony, two former Ohio State Buckeyes were recognized for their stellar on-field performance. Wide receiver Garrett Wilson of the New York Jets was tabbed as the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year (ROTY), while defensive end Nick Bosa took home AP Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY). The latter is just the second former Buckeye to win DPOY (Randy Gradishar in 1978), while Wilson became the fifth Ohio State rookie to earn a ROTY award (offense or defense) since 2016!
Including Michael Thomas’ 2019 win for Offensive POTY, the Scarlet and Gray can now claim seven major awards in the past seven seasons. Which inevitably got us thinking: Who’s next? Which former OSU player is going to take home the next prestigious NFL award, and will it be next season?
Recent history tells us the answer is “yes”, but Gene and I did not want to back ourselves into a corner. If I wanted to predict that Kyle McCord wins ROTY in 2025, such an option was available to me. However, I chose to go in a slightly different direction.
While it may not be considered a major award, I am always intrigued by Comeback Player of the Year. I just think it is a cool idea and often recognizes a player who overcame some sort of adversity to enjoy a great season. I also think it is borderline hilarious that Chad Pennington won it twice in three seasons, for essentially just staying healthy and playing average football. I mean, how does one have two “comeback” seasons in the span of 36 months? With no injury in between? But I digress. Because I think there is one former Buckeye who could be a prime candidate for this award in 2023. His name is Chase Young.
Young was chosen second overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, and he immediately took the league by storm. The uber-athletic DE finished his rookie season with 7.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and a touchdown, flashing potential to become one of the NFL’s most disruptive defensive players. He earned Defensive ROTY honors, and was one of only two rookies voted to the Pro Bowl. All signs pointed toward Young following in the footsteps of the Bosa brothers, poised to terrorize quarterbacks for years to come... But the wheels have since fallen off for this Washington Commander, with injury acting as the main culprit.
Young battled a sophomore slump throughout the first half of the 2021 season, before tearing his ACL and PCL in Week 10. He had only tallied 1.5 sacks to that point; a precipitous drop-off from his productive rookie campaign. The injury he suffered was a significant one, which then lingered... and lingered... and lingered, nearly wiping out all of his 2022 season. Young returned in Week 16, but had minimal impact on the field. Not surprising given his long layoff.
But I expect Young to bounce back in a major way in 2023. He is too talented not to. All this guy has done, when healthy, is make life hell for opposing quarterbacks — minus a few games during which he was consistently double and triple-teamed. Helping Young’s Comeback POTY cause is the Washington roster. The Commanders do not have a ton to hang their hat(s) on, but what they do have is a silly-talented defensive line group. Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and Montez Sweat should all take on their fair share of opposing blockers, putting Young in a lot of one-on-one matchups. If he wins enough of them, he will be a fixture in the backfield.
Beyond believing in Young’s overall talent, I want to believe that he can overcome his unfortunate injury. You never want to see an athlete’s career significantly impacted by injury at such a young age, regardless of which team he or she played for. But it certainly cuts a little deeper when said athlete donned scarlet and gray. So Chase Young is my prediction for 2023 Comeback Player of the Year, and if his past playing history is any indication, you can take that prediction to the bank!
As Josh already laid out, Ohio State players have made quite a habit of taking home end-of-season awards in the NFL over the past few years, including most recently Nick Bosa and Garrett Wilson. I love Josh’s choice of Chase Young as Comeback Player of the Year, because we still have not really seen what a fully healthy version of the freakishly athletic defensive end looks like in a full NFL season. However, with the way the Buckeyes have been producing wide receivers under Brian Hartline, I’m going to place my bet on the offensive side of the football.
Offensive or Defensive Rookie of the Year are likely the easiest awards to try and predict, and you generally know which players are going to be taken at or near the top of the draft and which of those guys will be playing big roles for their teams in year one in the league. However, the possibility of picking yet another Ohio State receiver to take home Offensive Rookie of the Year is simply too good to pass up, and so for that reason my choice to be awarded OROY in 2023 will be none other than Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
People might forget just how good JSN was after missing basically the entirety of the 2022 campaign, but I think that is only going to play into the situation he lands in at the NFL level. Had Smith-Njigba played the lions share of the snaps this past year as expected, he would undoubtedly be WR1 in this year’s NFL Draft. However, without much of anything on tape from this season, he will likely fall to later in the first round — where the better team’s in the league are drafting. Rather than being taken by a team in the top-10 that is likely closer to a rebuild than competing, JSN will likely find himself on a good team to start his professional career.
Why should we think that Smith-Njigba will shine right away at the next level? Well, might I remind you that JSN was actually the best receiver in a WR room that featured both Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave — two guys who just posted 1,000-yard seasons in their rookie years, one of which took home OROY. He didn’t even just put up marginally better stats, either. He was significantly ahead of both Olave and Wilson, posting over 1,600 yards receiving on 95 catches, ahead of the second-place Wilson’s 70 receptions for 1,058 yards.
Don’t get me wrong, all three of these guys are tremendous talents, and pretty much everyone knew that Olave and Wilson would be stars at the next level. This is not to say that JSN will be even better than they are in the NFL, because that is already an incredibly high bar to achieve, but the combination of landing in a potentially better situation on top of already proving his talent level when surrounded by other stars leads me to believe that Jaxon Smith-Njigba should be the clear favorite to win OROY in 2023.