We are more than halfway through the NFL season, and we’re finally starting to get a grasp on which rookies are for real. On offense, after a preseason filled with skepticism, Bengals’ receiver Ja’Marr Chase has shown that we were all worried over nothing. He’s been incredible. Mac Jones has put the question marks around him, concerning the talent and system he was in at Alabama, to rest.
On the defensive side of the ball, pretty much everyone has already given the Rookie of the Year Award to Cowboys’ linebacker Micah Parsons.
Go look at any website’s “midseason awards.” Tell me if you find any that don’t list Parsons as the Defensive Rookie of the Year, because I couldn’t find any. Some people will list others as honorable mentions like the Giants’ Azeez Olujari and Denver’s Patrick Surtain, but the consensus is that the award is Micah Parsons’ to lose.
I’m a huge fan of enormous midseason speculation. I live for it. So, if Parsons gets injured or falls off in the second half of the season, who could steal the award away from the 12th-overall pick? Olujari and Surtain would be the obvious choices. There’s also Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who I’ve always been high on and has looked good this season when healthy. The only problem is that Owusu-Koramoah has played in only six games and only became an “every down” player in Weeks 5 & 6 before going down with an injury. Yes, he’s returning to action this week, but he’s missed some time and doesn’t have the raw stats quite yet (0.5 sacks, one forced fumble, four passes defended) to take the award. I’m going to go with someone a little unexpected who’s been having an incredible season and being almost entirely overlooked.
Las Vegas Raiders’ second-round draft pick Trevon Moehrig.
Moehrig is playing extremely well for a rookie this season, and no one seems to notice. Currently, PFF grades him at a 69.6, and that seems pretty low given what Moehrig has been able to do.
Through eight games, Moehrig has become an integral cog in the Raiders’ defense. He’s played the second-most snaps on the Raiders’ defense (behind Jonathan Abram), only missing six defensive snaps in Week 3 after he suffered a minor ankle sprain. He’s allowed only 21 yards in coverage...yeah, that’s not too shabby.
So, you’re probably thinking: “Well, he’s a safety. He doesn’t have any singular player responsibility.” That’s only partially true. The Raiders aren’t afraid to let their safeties handle man coverage duties. If you’ve been watching the Raiders for a few years, you’ve probably noticed how solid Moehrig has been in comparison to guys like Erik Harris and Jeff Heath, who were constantly put in man-to-man coverage and would be constantly targeted by opposing quarterbacks.
Moehrig has only been targeted seven times this season, and even though the Raiders have reeled back on using their safeties in man coverage in 2021, seven targets is still a testament to Moehrig ability to blanket receivers. To put that in perspective, Cincinnati’s Jessie Bates, well-regarded as one of the best safeties in the NFL, has been targeted 20 times this year. Bates has also allowed 15 receptions this year for a catch rate of 75 percent. Moehrig has allowed just three receptions on his seven targets.
To be fair, Moehrig could use some help in the tackling department. He has made 19 tackles this season, but misses 14.3 percent of his tackles. However, even that number isn’t too concerning. It’s eerily close to people like Derwin James (13.3 percent) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (14.9 percent), but nobody worries about their tackling ability.
I’ve seen Jevon Holland get a lot of good press for what he’s been able to do in Miami. However, Moehrig may be having as good a season as Holland, if not better. Plus, the fact that the Raiders are currently in a position to make the playoffs and the team has improved defensively from 26th in yards per play in 2020 (6.0) to fourth in 2021 (5.1) shines more great lights on the former TCU Horned Frog.
With all the bad press the Raiders have endured this season, it makes sense that anybody exceeding expectations on that team would get lost among all the headlines involving Gruden, Ruggs, or Arnette. The team’s first-round pick, offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, has shown steady progression throughout the season as well. As crazy as the Raiders’ season has been, they’ve found some diamonds in the rough, and hopefully, Moehrig starts getting more recognition for what he’s done in his rookie year.