Going into the 2021 NFL Draft this offseason, it was evident that there would be a surplus of offensive talent that would be entering the league, and that was showcased when the first seven picks off the board were on the offensive end of the ball.
Three of which being quarterbacks.
But along with that offensive talent, there are some studly defensive stars that will find their way out of this draft, and many of them have the potential to be playmakers and impact players from the jump for their teams.
Cornerback Jaycee Horn out of South Carolina was the first defensive player off the board at #8 to the Carolina Panthers, and directly after him at #9, the Denver Broncos selected Cornerback Patrick Surtain from the National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
Last year, Washington Football Team Defensive End Chase Young went home with the award after being the betting favorite from the start of the season and backing it up with a stellar rookie campaign.
Before Young, fellow Ohio State Buckeye edge rusher Nick Bosa took home the hardware for the 2019-2020 season, a season which saw him help lead the San Fransicso defense to an appearance in the Super Bowl 55.
However, with this year’s top rounds being very offensive-centric, this year might open up a chance for a later-round pick/sleeper to get his hands on some hardware this season.
Although it seems made up or unlikely, there wasn’t a safety or a defensive tackle prospect picked in Round 1. That brings this draft class into an unprecedented territory and makes the race for this year’s award that much more interesting.
*Odds mentioned are coming from PointsBet Sportsbook
When trying to find the best bets for awards like Rookie of the Year, you need to find situations in which the player will be given room to produce and the opportunity to make defining plays.
Much of the time, those opportunities are given to new linebackers or defensive edge rushers.
So, it comes as no surprise that six players with the highest odds either play linebacker, defensive end, or a combination of both.
Leading the pack on every sportsbook in America is the 11th overall pick from Penn State, Micah Parsons (+500), who will be joining Jaylon Smith and the Dallas Cowboys to create one of the more athletic and range covering linebacker duos in the NFL.
Directly following him on most is Jaelan Phillips (+700), the first edge rusher taken in this year’s draft, which to most NFL scouts is the most NFL-ready defensive end from this class. With Bosa and Young winning the award the last two years, the oddsmakers think there is a good chance it could happen again.
Defensive back Jaycee Horn may not surprise people if he was to win the DROY. After all, he was the top defensive player chosen, but Marshon Lattimore was the last defensive back to win the award back in 2017.
It took for Lattimore to get 5 interceptions in 13 games and some lackluster production from other rookies for him to get the award.
I would be shocked if we see one of the defensive backs from this year take home the trophy. Only eight defensive backs have won the award since its institution in 1967. The defensive rookie hardware has been dominated by the front seven.
My money this year will once again be on an edge rusher or linebacker, and I believe there are two dark horses for this award when looking at the odds produced by PointsBet.
Enter in Zaven Collins (+1600), and Azeez Ojulari (+2000).
The newest addition to the New York Giants defense, Ojulari has all the tools necessary to be a great player in this league. He has a great god-given burst, and he has a great length from the outside with his arms measuring out at 34 ½”.
He also spent his college career garnering huge success against the toughest conference in college football, the SEC. He tallied 14.0 sacks in the past two seasons to lead the Georgia Bulldogs.
Given these numbers, Ojulari should rank among the favorites for bettors.
One other thing that gives him an advantage is the presence of two other forces on his team’s defensive line, defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. An advantage that somewhat mirrors Chase Young and Nick Bosa’s situation.
Last year, Chase Young benefitted from having a stellar cast around him on the Washington defensive line that allowed for teams to shift their focus elsewhere at times. Young was joined by Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, and Daron Payne (all of which are first-round picks). Together they are one of the most feared defensive lines in football.
The year before, Nick Bosa joined a defensive line that had superstar defensive tackle Deforest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, and Arik Armstead. Like Young after him, he too benefited from more attention being given to his teammates, which allowed him to run free from the outside.
Ojulari may also be walking into this season with a chip on this shoulder. Once upon a time, he was a first-round lock to most scouts. But medical concerns arose, which cause him to fall into the Giants’ lap in the second round.
Drafted into a similar situation in Arizona, Zaven Collins has a real chance to make some noise.
This do-it-all linebacker from Tulsa has a great set of skills.
Collins earned the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award in 2020, both of which are awarded to the nation’s top defensive player.
The 16th pick of the draft tallied four sacks to go along with 54 total tackles and 4 interceptions in only 8 games this season. Those are out-of-this-world numbers.
In Arizona, he will be joining a defense that has retained star edge rusher Chandler Jones and second-year hybrid Isaiah Simmons.
And not to mention, they added legendary defensive end, J.J. Watt, to the defensive line.
Zaven Collins will be asked to do it all, similar to Isaiah Simmons, and this will allow him to collect a range of statistics, something that pleases both fans and voters alike.
Other players not mentioned, like linebacker Jamin Davis of the Washington Football Team (+900), and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (+1000) for the Browns, will plug in well to their respective teams, but they do not present the same betting value as Ojulari and Collins.
Given both Ojulari and Collins’ situations and the expectation that they will both get immediate playing time, I would not be surprised if we see both of them in the conversation by the season’s end.
With the value that you get for both of these playmakers, a small bet could net you an impressive return, making them my best bets for the DROY.