At one point in the 2023 NFL regular season, Jalen Carter was the prohibitive favorite to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, but Carter’s Philadelphia Eagles ran out of steam down the stretch and the award went to Will Anderson Jr. of the Houston Texans last night at the NFL Honors in Las Vegas.
Carter, who was the ninth pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to the Eagles, racked up 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in his first five games as a pro. His nickname “Baby Rhino” proliferated throughout the league and he made nearly every team that passed on him regret that decision. Except for the Houston Texans who grabbed CJ Stroud, who was awarded the Offensive Rookie of the Year last night, second overall, and Will Anderson Jr. out of Alabama with the third overall pick.
The Eagles started the year 10-1 but lost five of their next six. In Weeks 7-18 Carter only managed 2.5 sacks and didn’t force a turnover. Meanwhile, Houston won seven of its last 10 games and Anderson had six of his seven sacks on the year from Week 9 on.
The best stretch of Carter’s season came at the beginning of the year, while Anderson got better as the season went on. Recency bias plays heavily into the awards, like the fact that the voters forgot Damar Hamlin died on a football field last season and returned to the field this season. Instead, they gave the Comeback Player of the Year to Joe Flacco because he’s been bad since like 2016 and threw a few touchdowns for the Browns.
Carter’s snub wasn’t nearly as egregious as that one, but it helps to illustrate the short-term memory of NFL media. There was a point in the season when Carter was one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in football, an heir apparent to Aaron Donald. Will Anderson Jr. was never discussed in such rarefied air, but he ended the year on a high note and that’s all that matters to the goldfish who vote on NFL awards.