When looking ahead to the 2021 NFL season, there is one clear favorite for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
First Overall Draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, QB Trevor Lawrence from Clemson.
Trevor Lawrence | Offensive Rookie of the Year Potential?
At this point, the Offensive Rookie of the Year award should be renamed to the Best QB of the Rookie Class award. Since Ben Roethlisberger won the award in 2004, a quarterback has been named the winner nine out of seventeen times. Running backs have won six of the remaining eight and wide receivers the other two.
This issue is even more apparent after Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson was one of the top receivers in the entire NFL as a rookie, yet was beat out for the award by Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.
While Herbert did have a good year, Jefferson produced one of the best rookie receiving years of all time. He placed second all-time in rookie receiving yards (1,400), ahead of past Rookie’s of the Year in Odell Beckham Jr., Anquan Boldin, and fellow Viking Randy Moss.
By pure statistics, Jefferson should have been the clear winner of the award. Yet, a decent season at the helm of the Chargers earned Herbert the nod.
In a draft that saw three wide receivers taken in the top ten, and 8 in the first two rounds, will this stigma of Rookie of the Year quarterbacks be broken?
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Odds
The top five betting favorites according to DraftKings Sportsbook for this year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year feature four rookie quarterbacks and the top drafted running back.
At +300 odds is the favorite, Trevor Lawrence.
He is walking into the best situation. He has Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault, and D.J. Chark listed to his outside. Behind him will be a three-headed monster of 2020 Rookie of the Year candidate James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, and fellow Clemson Rookie Travis Etienne.
And don’t forget, Urban Meyer came out of retirement to coach this team.
Following Lawrence is Najee Harris of the Steelers (+500), Trey Lance of the 49ers (+600), Justin Fields of the Bears (+700), and Zach Wilson of the Jets (+800).
Both Trey Lance and Justin Fields will have quarterback battles to deal with as they try to make a name for themselves in the NFL. Lance in San Francisco is in a battle with Jimmy Garropolo and Justin Fields will have to surpass Andy Dalton to be the clear starter for the Bears.
If either of these QB’s is thrown into the starting role early, they could make this race for Rookie of the Year much more interesting.
Unlike Fields and Lance, Zach Wilson will have no competition for the starting job of the NY Jets. Sam Darnold was shipped to Carolina, leaving Wilson at the helm with new Head Coach Robert Saleh. Being the number one QB heading into the season, Wilson could make some noise and make good value of the +800 odds.
The weapons are minimal in New York, but they did make an effort to surround Wilson with talent. They signed wideout Corey Davis from the Titans and drafted Denzel Mims out of Baylor.
Due to the high number of QB’s selected at the top of this draft, it is hard to see a non-QB come away as the winner here, and Vegas’ Odds have made that pretty clear.
Najee Harris is a bit of an outlier in the DraftKings book. The new running back of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the second favorite according to DraftKings, but FanDuel has him listed at seventh-best odds.
Other than the QB’s there is some real betting value in taking chances on positional players from this year’s draft, and this is all because of their potential usage.
The first sighting of a non-QB on most sportsbooks comes from the hybrid TE/WR Kyle Pitts for the Atlanta Falcons (+800). The fourth overall pick will be teaming up with Matt Ryan and Calvin Ridley for the Falcons after the departure of superstar wide receiver Julio Jones.
Pitts can do it all on the field, and his athleticism is the key. He can play from the slot, he can play on the outside, and he can block when he needs to. He will instantly plug into their lineup and be a weapon for Matt Ryan and this Falcons offense.
Due to his versatility, Pitts could become the first player listed as a TE on an NFL roster to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year in NFL history.
Ja’Marr Chase of the Cincinatti Bengals was the first wide receiver off the board, and he has the best odds out of any receiver listed at +1200. He will be reuniting with former LSU teammate Joe Burrow, so chemistry with his new QB should not be an issue.
When teammates at LSU, Burrow and Chase connected for 1,780 yards on 84 receptions for Chase. This production put them on their way to a 2019 College Football Championship for LSU.
Chase should see lots of opportunities in a Bengals offense that is still in search of their next top receiver after the departure of A.J. Green. Tyler Boyd has been good, but Chase can be game-changing
With the Steelers releasing James Conner, the previously mentioned Najee Harris is the presumed starter heading into the season. After the decline of Ben Roethlisberger’s arm, Harris could see a lot of carries and action in this upcoming season. Harris is the first true three-down back the Steelers have had since prime Le’Veon Bell.
Last to mention are the offensive players that led Alabama to yet another National Championship win, Mac Jones, Devonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle.
Quarterback Mac Jones finds himself in a quarterback battle with Cam Newton in New England under Bill Belichick. Betting on Jones (+1100) worries me because of the type of player he is.
He isn’t going to wow you with his playmaking or mobility. He doesn’t have the best arm in this QB class. He just knows how to win football games.
He is the perfect quarterback to play under Bill Belichick. However, there is a possibility that he misses a chunk of this season as the backup to Cam Newton, and that would severely hurt his case towards a Rookie of the Year trophy.
The Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith, will be joining the Philadelphia Eagles.
Carson Wentz Desean Jackson and Alshon Jeffrey are gone, and Zach Ertz is declining and potentially on the move.
Insert Devonta Smith and Jalen Hurts.
Smith will instantly be the number one option for quarterback Jalen Hurts, his former Alabama teammate. They do have other young receivers in Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham, but Smith shows the most skill and upside out of all three and should be an instant impact player.
At +1300, Smith is hard to pass up on due to the sheer volume he may see on the Eagles.
Last is Jaylen Waddle. Like Ja’Marr Chase and Devonta Smith, Waddle will join forces with one of his former college quarterbacks, Tua Tagovailoa.
Before an ankle injury last year, Waddle may have been the favorite over his Alabama receiving mate Smith for the Heisman Trophy.
In 6 games, he had 28 receptions for 591 yards and four touchdowns. That’s an astounding 21.1 yards per carrying. His speed and quickness are what makes him special.
DraftKings has his odds at +1600, good enough for 10th behind all the previously named players.
Who to Target?
In my opinion, the top guys to target here are Zach Wilson (+800) and Devonta Smith (+1300).
With both of these guys expected to get tons of opportunities and playing time out of the gate, they should be near the top in rookie production for receivers and quarterbacks.
Smith will be a huge piece of the Eagles’ offense, and with his speed and quickness, he can be used from the slot or outside. His frame may need to grow if he wants to avoid wear and tear in the NFL, but the amount of targets he will see gives him a lot of value.
For Wilson, he was the second pick in the draft. He is walking into a dumpster fire of an organization with the New York Jets.
If the Jets and Wilson can produce and show any semblance of life, Wilson should be in the convo. In my opinion, his playstyle is the most entertaining to watch out of all rookie QB’s, and he will be able to put on a show.
Obviously, Lawrence is the easy pick. If he doesn’t win, I will be shocked purely based off the hype behind him. But if you are looking for value, Wilson and Smith are my best bets.