Now that the draft is in the books, it’s time to take an early look at who can be a factor in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race this coming season. While we dive into these prospects, let’s keep these process-driving factors in mind regarding previous Offensive Rookie of the Year winners in recent years:
— This award has been primarily won by quarterbacks and running backs, with Odell Beckham Jr. being the lone receiver to win over the past 11 seasons.
— Eight out of the last 11 winners have been first-round picks.
— Quarterbacks have edged out two running backs and one wide receiver in close races over the past few years. So, we can reasonably operate under the premise that quarterbacks now have an edge in those scenarios for this award.
— A team’s winning percentage is not a consistent factor for this award.
— Similarly, starting every game is not a consistent requirement for this award.
— Generally speaking, most Offensive Rookie of the Year winners have +900 or worse odds heading into opening day.
— Odell Beckham Jr. and Alvin Kamara are the only two deep longshots (25:1 or longer) to win this award over the past 11 seasons.
— We now have a 17-game season, which is going to skew how relevant general milestones such as 1,000 yards rushing will be going forward. Instead, we have to start looking at numbers on more of a per-game or league-ranking basis as we acclimate to this change.
Note: The theme for most of this quarterback group is trying to determine when several of these signal callers will take over. Last year’s winner, Justin Herbert, took over in Week 2 due to opening day starter Tyrod Taylor suffering a lung injury. Despite Chargers brass voicing a commitment to Taylor both before and after his injury, Herbert never relinquished the job after taking the Chiefs to overtime in his first start in Week 2. Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa did not get his first start until Nov. 1, while first overall pick Joe Burrow started from opening day until a knee injury ended his season in late November. Burrow and Herbert were in a tight race for many weeks, although Herbert was starting to pull away at the time of Burrow’s injury. Tua was a non-factor in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race last season. Ultimately, we don’t need a rookie quarterback to start on opening day, but we do need them to see the field while still having enough time to surpass their competitors.
Trevor Lawrence (+300 DraftKings vs +270 FanDuel vs +250 Fox Bet vs +225 MGM): On the positive side, Lawrence is a historically well-regarded quarterback prospect, that is likely to start on opening day while being surrounded by an above-average offensive supporting cast compared to past first overall picks. On the downside, Offensive Rookie of the Year has an abnormal amount of legitimate competitors this season and Lawrence’s in-between-the-tackles rushing style makes him more vulnerable to significant contact, making injury concern something that at least has to be considered. Ultimately, Lawrence is a dual-threat, historic talent in an environment that is better than what most first overall picks have had to endure. Since Jacksonville taking Lawrence was never a secret, I’m surprised any of these lines moved back after the draft, which makes +300 at DraftKings a good value for the guy that everyone else has to beat.
Justin Fields (+500 DraftKings and FanDuel vs +400 Fox Bet vs +350 MGM): When does Fields play is the question we all must consider when debating any Offensive Rookie of the Year bets this season. Our Sam Hoppen pointed out that Mike Glennon started four games before Bears head coach Matt Nagy replaced him with then second overall pick Mitch Trubisky in 2017. It’s also been said that the Bears would essentially like Andy Dalton to play this entire season, similar to the Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes dynamic of 2017, which further clouds this situation. If I knew Fields was going to be the opening day starter, I would bet on him at either DraftKings or FanDuel right now. Given the current situation, I may wait for the schedule release to see if I can reasonably anticipate when Fields could take over.
Zach Wilson (+700 DraftKings and FanDuel vs +550 MGM vs +450 Fox Bet): An Offensive Rookie of the Year bet on Wilson is built on playing time, as he will likely be the Jets’ opening day starter. The Jets had a legitimately encouraging draft, but Wilson’s supporting cast remains average at absolute best and arguably the worst of the five first-round quarterbacks taken this year. Now, a bet on Wilson could also serve as a bet against Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones seeing the field before Mid-October. That would give Wilson a significant advantage over three of his primary competitors, while having over two times better odds than current favorite Trevor Lawrence. I’m going to pass on that line of thinking, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to talk you out of a bet on Wilson at these odds.
Trey Lance (+1600 MGM vs +900 FanDuel vs +700 DraftKings vs +650 Fox Bet): If Lance was announced as the opening day starter for San Francisco, the current 16:1 odds at MGM would roughly quarter due to the fantastic situation he’s landed in. However, incumbent 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo played in a Super Bowl for San Francisco two years ago. The Patriots, who were Jimmy’s most likely potential suitor, also drafted their own rookie quarterback, making a trade involving Garoppolo between New England and San Francisco less likely today than it was a week ago. Since Jimmy is more likely to remain in town, beating out Garoppolo to start the season is going to be a tall order for Lance, who could probably benefit from some time on the sideline given the level of talent he faced while at North Dakota State. With that said, since Trey only played one game during the Covid season of 2020 while only having the 2019 season under his belt as a collegiate starter, having Lance sit for what amounts to nearly two full years isn’t likely in his or the 49ers’ best interest long-term. While Lance should and probably will play this season at some point, he currently has the most uphill path to playing time out of the five first-round rookie quarterbacks this season, which would make a bet on him now a bet on him playing before the end of September. I lean towards Lance sitting for at least the first several games unless Garoppolo suffers an injury.
Mac Jones (+1400 DraftKings vs +950 FanDuel vs +900 MGM vs +850 Fox Bet): New England was arguably the very best landing spot for Jones given his skill set. If he was their opening day starter, he would be a really interesting consideration at mild longshot odds. The problem there is Jones has to leap a veteran before he sees the field. Cam Newton was given a one-year, heavily incentive-laden contract where he essentially has a base salary of $5 million with an additional $9 million in incentives tied to team success and personal awards. In other words, the Patriots aren’t married to Cam, but they got him to sign a contract that is heavily reliant on the Patriots being a playoff team, which means that he signed his contract expecting to play. So, we can reasonably expect that Cam is going to enter the season as the starter and keep his job for as long as New England is on track to be a playoff team.
Contenders (Skill Position Players)
Ja’Marr Chase (+1500 FanDuel vs +1400 MGM vs +1100 DraftKings and Fox Bet): Chase is widely regarded as the best receiving prospect in this class and he’s been reunited with his college signal caller Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. Burrow showed last year that he’s already a dangerous NFL quarterback, he has rapport with Chase to the point he apparently lobbied Bengals brass to acquire his former LSU teammate, and Cincinnati is a potential shootout team this season (meaning a high-ceiling offense with a below-average defense). Those factors mean that Chase has a path to above-average volume for a first-round pass catcher. I have some concerns about how Burrow will bounce back after his knee injury, the state of the Bengals’ offensive line, and the fact that Cincinnati has a strong skill group that could cut into Chase’s potential usage. However, if Chase had a similar season to former LSU teammate and current Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson’s 2019 rookie campaign, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Najee Harris (+1500 FanDuel vs +1400 MGM vs +1200 DraftKings vs +1100 Fox Bet): For the first time in a very long time, the Steelers’ offensive line is questionable and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger repeatedly showed he’s not what he once was throughout last season. That said, Harris is in position to see serious volume as both a runner and a pass catcher in Pittsburgh this season. Volume is king at the running back position and that alone makes Harris a rookie that has to be viewed as a real contender for this award. If Harris was landing in the Steelers’ offense of three years ago, I would be placing a bet on him at these odds. As things stand, I’m more likely to get my exposure to Harris through best ball drafts rather than an Offensive Rookie of the Year bet.
Kyle Pitts (+1300 FanDuel vs +1200 MGM vs +1100 DraftKings vs +1000 Fox Bet): Tight ends are nearly drawing dead in the Rookie of the Year race, but viewing Pitts as just a tight end would be a disservice to his unique skill set. Pitts should see significant time on the perimeter, in the slot, as well as an inline tight end. In fact, it would be no surprise if he saw more work as a receiver than a traditional tight end. Pitts has the potential to hit double-digit touchdowns while at least nearing 1,000 yards in the air in the Falcons’ potent offense. If Julio Jones ends up being traded, that would open up even more opportunities for Pitts. If Julio stays, the path to Pitts consistently getting enough usage to not only beat these other quality skill players but to beat all five quarterback options becomes less likely.
DeVonta Smith (+1700 FanDuel vs +1600 DraftKings vs +1400 MGM vs +1200 Fox Bet): Smith has the opportunity to walk right in and be the primary pass catcher for an Eagles offense that has lacked a true difference-maker at wide receiver for several seasons now. A bet on Smith to win this award is also a bet on Jalen Hurts consistently performing as a passer. In Hurts’ three full games as a starter last year, in which he exceeded 300 yards in the air twice, he spread the ball around among a litany of receivers in each of those contests. While that could change in Hurts’ second season, a bet on Smith would also be a bet on Hurts zeroing in more often on one specific pass catcher.
Jaylen Waddle (+2000 MGM vs +1700 FanDuel vs +1600 DraftKings vs +1500 Fox Bet): Waddle is a very high-ceiling player long-term with difference-making speed, but I have concerns heading into this year. The first is that Miami now has a strong group of pass catchers, to the point Waddle’s volume could be inconsistent. Second is that elite speedsters require high-difficulty throws, and a lot of the advantages that they can create take time to develop. While my favorite part of Tua Tagovailoa’s game at Alabama was his deep-ball accuracy, Miami’s biggest weakness on offense is their offensive line. Tua struggled behind that line for much of his rookie season. Miami’s offensive line remains questionable, which will make downfield throws or long developing patterns more challenging to complete. A bet on Waddle to win this award is a bet on Miami’s offense to fix these issues from last season, with Waddle getting consistent enough volume to surpass all other rookie pass catchers in this offense.
Travis Etienne (+2500 DraftKings vs +1800 Fox Bet vs +1600 MGM vs +1500 FanDuel): This backfield situation in Jacksonville is at least somewhat reminiscent of the environment Colts running back Jonathan Taylor landed in as a rookie last year competing with Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack (whose season ended in Week 1) for touches. Jaguars decision-makers are stating that Etienne will be part of a rotation with James Robinson and Carlos Hyde. While there is certainly a chance that Etienne takes over the lion’s share of the workload at some point this season, you ultimately have to bet on Etienne surpassing every other option on this list to win this award while currently being part of a three-man running back rotation.
Javonte Williams (+3300 DraftKings vs +2900 FanDuel vs +2800 Fox Bet vs +2500 MGM): Williams has to jump Melvin Gordon in Denver. While that’s possible, it would be more reasonable to expect that Williams will start the season either in some form of timeshare with Gordon or as a distant second behind the veteran.
Elijah Moore (+6600 MGM vs +6000 FanDuel vs +4000 DraftKings vs +2500 Fox Bet): Many are high on Moore, but as long as Jamison Crowder remains on the roster, Moore will be competing for targets in the slot with a capable veteran.
Rashod Bateman (+5000 MGM vs +4500 FanDuel vs +4000 DraftKings vs +2800 Fox Bet): Bateman is a good add for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, as Lamar could definitely use a sure-handed receiver that is capable of winning in contested-catch situations. But the reality is that Jackson didn’t breach 3,000 yards passing last year and he only had 3,127 in the air during his 2019 MVP season. While it would make sense for Baltimore to start trying to scale back Lamar’s rushing attempts by throwing the ball more, if you’re betting on Bateman to have a big year, you’re either betting on him having a ridiculous share of the Ravens’ targets and production in the air or you’re betting on the Ravens’ passing game volume to go way up.
Kadarius Toney (+6000 FanDuel vs +5000 MGM vs +3300 DraftKings vs +3000 Fox Bet): Toney is an interesting player that is likely to have some highlight-worthy reps throughout his career, but he’s unlikely to see enough volume in this Giants’ offense to seriously compete for this award.
Michael Carter (+10000 MGM vs +9000 FanDuel vs +4000 Fox Bet vs +3300 DraftKings): Carter has a very realistic path to seeing significant playing time in the Jets’ running game, as Tevin Coleman is the only other runner of note on New York’s roster currently. It would be a stretch to call Carter a true contender for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but he should be closer to 50:1 than 100:1 given the situation he’s in.
Trey Sermon (+5000 FanDuel vs +4500 Fox Bet vs +4000 MGM vs +2500 DraftKings): Whether it’s fantasy or sports betting, it’s always in our best interest to keep tabs on running backs in a Shanahan offense. Sermon would need to jump a few current 49ers that have already been productive in the system, so he would be a very speculative bet at this point. But if he did either earn or fall into a big role in the 49ers’ offense, he would immediately become a factor.
Rondale Moore (+6600 DraftKings vs +6000 FanDuel vs +5000 MGM vs +3000 Fox Bet): We’ve kind of been here before with Andy Isabella in the Cardinals’ offense, but Moore’s skillset is definitely eye catching enough to at least have him on the radar.
Javian Hawkins (+25000 MGM): Current Falcons starting running back Mike Davis sits atop one of football’s thinnest running back groups. That alone makes Hawkins a super deep longshot that should be closer to 100:1 than 250:1, especially after we witnessed what undrafted free agent James Robinson did last season when given an opportunity in another thin running back group.
Also considered: Terrace Marshall Jr. (+6000 FanDuel), Tutu Atwell (+6600 MGM), Josh Palmer (Unlisted).