Dark Horse Offensive Rookie of the Year Contenders: Will Levis, Devon Achane Lead the Way!

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (7) hurdles Tennessee defense for a first down during an SEC football game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.Caitiebestsports2021 3
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (7) hurdles Tennessee defense for a first down during an SEC football game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.Caitiebestsports2021 3 /

The 2023 NFL Draft saw 15 offensive players come off the board on Day 1. Led by a star-studded quarterback group, the class projects as a league-altering influx of talent. Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, and Anthony Richardson are the leaders in the clubhouse for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Receivers like Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Zay Flowers, Jordan Addison, and Quentin Johnston will throw their hats in the ring. Factor in two running backs with a first-round pedigree — Jahmyr Gibbs and Bijan Robinson — and the list of contenders becomes crowded. We mustn’t forget to mention tight end Dalton Kincaid, as he could rack up some gaudy numbers from the slot in Buffalo.

Dark Horse Offensive Rookie of the Year Contenders

So, with all this star power from Day 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft, which later-round prospects have a chance to interject themselves into the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation? In order to qualify for this list, the player simply must have been taken outside of the first round. Without further ado, let’s kick things off with a somewhat obvious choice…

Will Levis, QB, Titans

It might be cheating to select a quarterback as a dark horse, but Will Levis fits the bill. The Titans have been hesitant to put too much pressure on their new investment behind center, hoping to avoid the errors of last season with Malik Willis.

The difference between Levis and Willis is night in day when it comes to leading an offense. While the former Kentucky signal-caller is more of a gunslinger than fans might like, he has a long track record of running an NFL-style offense in college.

In Tennessee, the franchise remains loyal to Ryan Tannehill as of this writing. However, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the new regime look at Levis and decide to jumpstart the retooling in Nashville. The big-armed quarterback is a solid athlete and could blossom into an above-average starter in the league. With a successful Year 1, Levis has the narrative to build a strong case for OROY.

Jayden Reed, WR, Packers

A name that flew under the radar in the 2023 NFL Draft is wide receiver, Jayden Reed. The long-time Michigan State pass catcher is a threat to score any time he touches the ball and provides another option in the return game for the special teams unit.

So far, during his time with the Packers, Reed has logged snaps primarily from the slot. With Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs poised to step into larger roles in their sophomore campaigns, the shifty Reed can slot in perfectly between them. Green Bay also drafted two tight ends early, but the former Spartan is the most intriguing of the bunch as a rookie.

Devon Achane, RB, Dolphins

The Dolphins still have Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. under contract, so expect to see the two veterans take their fair share of snaps out of the backfield. But Devon Achane should get the most crucial touches at running back.

Achane is undersized for a bell cow, but he doesn’t have to be on the field every snap to make his presence felt. The former Texas A&M standout is electrifying with the ball in his hands and showcases true dual-threat ability.

Achane is nearly impossible to tackle in space, and he fits the Mike McDaniel offense like a glove. Imagine a younger, more durable Mostert; that is what Achane can be as a rookie. If the Dolphins lean on him more often as the season drags on, we may look up next January and see a top-tier running back in the NFL. In that event, the Offensive Rookie of the Year award will be well within reach.

Kayshon Boutte, WR, Patriots

One name that suffered a roller coaster ride throughout this year’s draft cycle is Kayshon Boutte. With questions surrounding him off the field, on top of effort concerns on the field, Boutte went from a surefire first-round pick to a prospect that fell all the way to No. 187 in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Thankfully for the former LSU Tiger, he landed in a great spot for a young pass catcher. The Patriots have struggled in developing their receivers lately, but Bill Belichick’s track record speaks for itself. If anyone can get Boutte to lock in, it will be New England.

Perhaps the chip on his shoulder will give Boutte the push to realize his true potential. He is as exciting as anyone with the ball in tow and offers versatility as a big slot. Mac Jones has JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, and Tyquan Thornton at his disposal, but Boutte offers substantially more upside if the Patriots can convince him to buy in. Put him on your Offensive Rookie of the Year radar.

Xavier Hutchinson, WR, Texans

Everyone is looking at Tank Dell, and rightfully so, but I see a path to Xavier Hutchinson leading the Texans in receptions. At Iowa State, Hutchinson rarely jumped off the screen in terms of explosiveness, but he is as consistent and polished as they come.

Hutchinson is plenty athletic enough to continue separating at an elite level in the pros. The Cyclone pass catcher offers reliable hands, refined route running, and exceptional short-area agility. C.J. Stroud will look at both rookie wideouts frequently, but don’t be surprised if his repertoire with Hutchinson stands above the rest.