NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Odds & Picks
Offensive Rookie of the Year Betting Trends
Unlike NFL MVP, which is borderline exclusive to QBs, the Offensive Rookie of the Year can actually be a non-QB. Let’s look at the award history since 2000 (courtesy of PFR)…
For those keeping score at home, that’s 9 quarterbacks, 9 running backs, and 3 wider receivers. This is as close to a ‘positionless’ offensive award as you’ll see in the NFL. Draft position is also relevant, as 14 of these players were 1st round picks, along with four 2nd-rounders (three of which came from 2001-2003), one third-rounder (Kamara), one fourth-rounder (Dak), and one sixth-rounder (Mike Anderson).
Other than Dak Prescott, no quarterback drafted outside the first-round has won this award since 2000, likely because QBs drafted outside the first-round rarely see the field. Looking at non-QB winners post-2010, we quickly notice they belong to either particularly weak or (what I will call) slow-to-get-going QB classes.
2015 seems to offer a slight exception, as that class had both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, but the Bucs went 6-10 and the Titans struggled to 3-13, while Todd Gurley managed an impressive 4.8 YPC on a 7-9 Rams team.
Finally, 2018 saw #2 overall selection Saquon Barkley outshine Sam Darnold (who played for a 4-12 Jets team), Baker Mayfield (who likely should have won the award but Hue Jackson exists), Josh Allen (who couldn’t hit an open check-down his rookie year), Lamar Jackson (who didn’t start until week 11), and Josh Rosen (who never had a chance playing on by far the NFL’s worst roster at the time).
I say all that to point out that the winner of the award will, in all likelihood, be a quarterback drafted in the 1st-round with an opportunity to start right away. Let’s see the odds.
NFL Rookie of the Year Odds
|Travis Etienne||+2200||William Hill|
|Trey Sermon||+4000||William Hill|
Lawrence has been anointed the 2021 No. 1 overall pick since his true freshman year at Clemson. I don’t think anyone doubts his talent. To me, by far the biggest question marks surrounding Lawrence are his landing spot and first-year coaching staff.
Urban Meyer had great success at the college level, but it was often a byproduct of doing things that just don’t work in the NFL (ex: Tim Tebow). During post-draft press-conferences, Urban said he wanted Clemson RB Travis Etienne for the ‘Percy Harvin’ role, which suggests to me that Urban may be rolling with his college playbook into the next level.
This spells significant concern for Lawrence, as there is little evidence to suggest Meyer’s ‘gimmicky’ college scheme can succeed at the next level. On the hand, Lawrence’s talent and skill set could lead to Urban modifying his traditional college playbook, even just to better accommodate the generational prospect.
Without a glimpse into Urban’s offensive plans, Lawrence is just too risky at +300, even if he is the most talented of any rookie QB.
That brings us to Zach Wilson, the consensus No. 2 overall QB in the 2021 draft. Due to only 1 year of high-end play and an incredibly weak schedule playing at BYU, the concerns about Wilson’s overall talent certainly trump those of Lawrence. Even so, the baby-faced Wilson put enough on tape to leave little doubt over his status as 2021 QB2.
Wilson may not be the more talented prospect, but he does appear to have a significantly better coaching situation around him. First-year HC Robert Salah quickly poached 49ers pass game coordinator Mike LaFleur to be his new offensive coordinator, which is great news for Wilson.
LaFleur is a direct descendant of the Kyle Shannahan coaching tree, which should mean a zone-blocking run scheme with plenty of motion, play-action, and short-area passes. SI’s Albert Breer shines a better light on the scheme fit, saying, “the Jets’ coaches actually discussed, [during the pre-draft process], how they preferred Wilson to Lawrence as a fit for their offense. Why? Wilson’s tape showed a very clean translation to the Shanahan style of offense. You can see him go through reads—1, 2, 3, out! Lawrence, conversely, played in an offense heavy on RPOs.”
The Shannahan system typically gets the most out of the QBs that run it. With how highly New York views their selection of Wilson, it’d be a surprise if he didn’t start week 1 in an (arguably) much better situation than Trevor Lawrence.
That has OROY written all over it. Wilson’s the top bet as long as you can get him +600 or better.
Best of the Rest
Trey Lance and Justin Fields both warranted strong looks for this article, but it appears unlikely either will start right away. Their rushing upside makes them both higher-floor, higher-ceiling options but given Matt Nagy and Kyle Shannahan’s post-draft quotes, it doesn’t look like we can bank on them being under center in week 1, which kills their betting value for OROY.
The same is true for QB5, Mac Jones. There may not be a team more willing to sit their first-round QB all season than New England. His odds don’t come close to accurately reflecting that risk.
Let’s discuss the other positions
Disclaimer: As noted above, the 2021 QBs will likely need to struggle for any of these running backs, wide receivers, or tight tends to take home OROY.
Najee Harris is likely headed for a 90% snap share and 20+ touches a game. You don’t have to take my word for it, just ask Steeler’s GM Kevin Colbert who said, “Najee is as complete a back as we could hope to get at any point in the draft. It was very exciting to have him be available for us. He’s got the size, speed, athleticism, the run skills to run inside and outside, and he can also play in the passing game as a receiver and a blocker. He’s a 3-down NFL back. He played in an NFL system … It’s really exciting for us to get what we think is a 3-down running back and add him to the team.”
This is obviously awesome news for fantasy football, but not quite as much with OROY, since Najee will need to have an incredible, injury-free season to beat out Lawrence and Wilson for the award. He’s the top candidate for the award at the RB position, but that’s already baked into the odds. Najee could get there on volume alone, but he doesn’t offer great value at 10-1, especially with Zach Wilson available at 7-1.
Travis Etienne is much more intriguing. We don’t know what exactly the ‘Percy Harvin role’ is, but it’s likely an RB/WR hybrid that should see Etienne moved all around the field. With James Robinson and Carlos Hyde likely siphoning off most early-down work, Etienne’s only hope at OROY will be elite efficiency. This isn’t unheard of for OROY winners, as Alvin Kamara took home the 2017 award on just 120 carries, thanks to 81 additional receptions and a completely absurd 6.1 yards PER carry. If Etienne can get close to 200 touches in a (hopefully) creative and dynamic offense, 25-1 certainly has value.
Next up is Tre Sermon, who is Kyle Shannahan’s highest ever RB selection. The 49ers’ strong rushing pedigree certainly makes this an ideal landing spot for Sermon owners in Dynasty. When it comes to this season, Sermon’s problem is backfield competition, of which SF offers plenty. Jeff Wilson and Raheem Mostert won’t make it easy for Sermon to see the volume he’ll need to outpace the likes of Najee Harris and Travis Etienne so that largely eliminates him from serious OROY contention.
Unlike SF, the Jets offer minimal RB depth competing with new arrival Michael Carter. Carter profiles primarily as a Gio Bernard-type 3rd-down back but could emerge in a more complete role with just Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson competing with him for early-down work. After Etienne and Harris, I wouldn’t be shocked if Carter managed the third-most touches of the rookie RBs, making him one of the stronger OROY plays at 33-1.
Our final noteworthy RB is undoubtedly the most intriguing – Broncos second-round selection Javonte Williams. The UNC rusher was a personal favorite of mine for RB1 in this class, and as I said in the NFL draft betting guide, “Williams offers the best elusive rating in PFF history (thanks to a bevy of broken tackles) and rated in the 90th+ percentile in his PFF rushing grade on BOTH zone and gap schemes, as well as in yards after contact per attempt.” Unfortunately, unless Melvin Gordon (and his $9-million salary) gets cut, Javonte is likely locked into a committee. On the other hand, Denver did give up an additional fourth-rounder to move up to grab Javonte, so the Broncos do have a draft capital-backed incentive to give him the ball. I’m optimistic he can just overwhelm the coaching staff with his skill in practice and become Denver’s definitive RB1, but that’s largely wishful thinking. He’s a second-tier OROY bet.
Ja’Marr Chase has an excellent chance to break Justin Jefferson’s rookie receiving record. Why? He’s an immediate starter on the team with the 10th-highest neutral pass rate from last year. He has an elite connection with Cincinnati’s franchise QB. He outperformed Jefferson as a true sophomore when they played together, at just 19 years old. The only moderately bearish note I can think of for Chase is decent receiving competition, but the Bengals are expected to pass at one of the higher rates in the league, so 120+ targets is still quite likely. It may take some QB underperformance for Chase to be 2021’s OROY, but he’s got as good a chance as any non-QB.
Devonta Smith ended the draft as WR3, but is consensus WR2 in OROY year odds thanks to winding up in Philadelphia. Even including Smith, the Eagles still boast one of the thinnest (pun intended) receiving cores in the NFL, with Greg Ward, Jalen Reagor, Travis Fulgham, John Hightower, and Quez Watkins also vying for playing time. Smith should be an every-down go-to WR for the Eagles, a position they desperately needed to fill. Jalen Hurts league-leading 10.1 average depth of target (ADoT) from last season should mean the added bonus of highly valuable deep targets. If Ja’Marr Chase wasn’t in this class, I’d consider Smith a first-tier OROY bet and rookie fantasy WR1.
Jaylen Waddle rounds out the notable rookie WRs, and while I’d love to own him in dynasty, I think he’ll face a volume issue in this offense. Will Fuller, DeVante Parker, and Preston Williams won’t make Waddle’s path to 100 targets easy, but he could certainly get there primarily playing in the slot, where his main competition would be Jakeem Grant. Even if he is their primary slot WR, Tua did rank 34/44 QBs with a 35% slot target rate (min 100 attempts), so it’s quite difficult to project high volume for Waddle in most scenarios year one.
The remaining WRs aren’t worth breaking down in-depth, with the exception of the Jets’ Elijah Moore. He profiles as a very fast slot (faster Cole Beasley was Mike Renner’s NFL comp) with potentially the skills to get snaps outside. Jamison Crowder will make Moore’s path to starter-caliber slot snaps difficult, but the added chance of outside snaps should greatly add to a potential 100 target campaign for Moore. At 40-1, Moore is a great 2nd-tier option at the position.
There’s only one player worth discussing, and we all know it’s Kyle Pitts. Incredibly, Pitts has the same odds as WR1 Ja’Marr Chase to take home OROY despite the fact a TE has never won OROY. Interestingly, Jeremy Shockey won rookie of the year without taking home OROY in 2002, which went to Clinton Portis.
The biggest unknown for Pitts is how he will be used in Arthur Smith’s offense. During his two seasons as the Titans OC, Arthur Smith left TE Jonnu Smith inline for 73% of his snaps in 2019 and 70% in 2020. However, Arthur Smith was much more willing to let Anthony Firkser into the slot, where he played the majority of his offensive snaps. Assuming Smith utilizes Pitts as a WR much more often than as a traditional TE, we could certainly see the first TE to win OROY.
OROY Betting Breakdown
Zach Wilson +850
Tier 1 Bets:
Travis Etienne +2500
Ja’Marr Chase +1100
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