NFL Rookie of the Year award odds: Why quarterbacks are overwhelming favorites and identifying sleepers


Training camp has arrived, which means the NFL season is upon us. Local media reports of players being in the best shape of their lives and comparisons to Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees will soon give way to reality. Deciphering what is real and what is not will give bettors the early edge (which also happens to be a podcast worth checking out). 

CBS Sports handicaps the favorites and sleepers to win the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards respectively. 

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Before diving into the favorites and sleepers to win the award, it is relevant to review the trends and history. Since 2010, quarterbacks have won the Associated Press’ award six of 11 years, including Los Angeles’ Justin Herbert a year ago. Running backs have won four times over the same time period and Odell Beckham Jr. was the only wide receiver to win. Until Herbert, an AFC player had not won Offensive Rookie of the Year since 2006. 

Given this criteria, Bears quarterback Justin Fields and 49ers quarterback Trey Lance are notable but, how do the bettors see this race playing out? The Caesars Sportsbook lists the following five favorites:

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jaguars: +280
Justin Fields, QB, Bears: +600
Trey Lance, QB, 49ers: +700
Zach Wilson, QB, Jets: +750
Mac Jones, QB, Patriots: +900

From a personal perspective, I do see Lawrence, Wilson, Fields and Lance as favorites. Quarterbacks touch the ball every play and this was a particularly strong year for the position in the draft. Rather than Jones, Steelers running back Najee Harris would be included in my top five. Harris is going to receive a significant workload. The most intriguing aspect of the Alabama product’s game is his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. There are concerns regarding Pittsburgh’s offensive line and leaking Harris into the pass game is one way to keep opposing defenses honest. Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (+1100) would be on the list if it were not stacked with quarterbacks.

One consideration is projected team success. NFL honors are often not just a byproduct of individual success. Of the favorites, Lance jumps out as the potential leader of a team that could make a deep playoff run. The only question is whether or not the North Dakota State product will be able to supplant Jimmy Garoppolo early in the season. If he does, he should be the hands down favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year in my opinion. The record shows that Lance is advanced in regards to his understanding of the game but he has lacked game repetitions. It makes sense for San Francisco to start him sooner rather than later so that he is hitting his stride when games matter later in the season. General manager John Lynch has built a strong defense and surrounded the quarterback spot with a very competitive supporting offensive cast. Kyle Shanahan’s offense is structured in a way that would allow Lance to slowly wade into the water rather than jumping off the high dive. Few situations are perfect for a rookie quarterback to walk into but this is one of them. 

Two sleepers to consider are Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman (+5000) and Jets wide receiver Elijah Moore (+5000). Since 2000, only six prospects drafted beyond the first round have won the award: four taken in the second round, one taken in the third round and one taken in the fourth round. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is the only player to be taken outside of the top 100 (No. 135 overall) and win the award.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Since 2010, the breakdown of Defensive Rookie of the Year winners is relatively split: four edge rushers, three defensive tackles, two linebackers and two cornerbacks. Within that sample size, three of the past five winners were edge rushers averaging nine sacks. The NFC has won the last four awards. Here are the leaders, according to William Hill Sportsbook:

Micah Parsons, LB, Cowboys: +500
Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Dolphins: +900
Kwity Paye, EDGE, Colts: +900
Jamin Davis, LB, Football Team: +1000
Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah, LB, Browns: +1100

My personal five favorites, in no particular order, are Paye, Phillips, Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II (+1200), Davis and Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn (+1500). In each of these situations, the rookies are in a complementary role rather than asked to be the star from Day 1. Parsons is intriguing because he offers the versatility to rush the passer, which could theoretically boost his statistics. However, he could be the focal point of that Dallas defense and that makes it easier for the opposition to steer clear of him. 

It is more difficult to find a defensive sleeper than an offensive. Since 2000, only three players taken beyond the first round have won the award; all three were taken in the second round. No player taken beyond No. 56 overall has won Defensive Rookie of the Year since the turn of the century. My favorite lottery tickets are Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. (+3500) and Patriots defensive tackle Christian Barmore (+4000). Both push the boundary but fall within that range in addition to possessing the upside to be effective players in Year 1. 





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