2021 Rookie of the Year Opening Line Report

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2021 Rookie of the Year Opening Line Report

The 2021 NFL Draft concluded recently and sportsbooks across the country (and off-shore) didn’t waste any time getting their initial rookie futures out to the betting public. Wagering your hard-earned money in May and waiting for bets to be settled in eight to nine months isn’t the easiest pill to swallow. Nevertheless, if we’re able to get the best of the odds before the markets fully mature in the future it will make the wait for the end of the season worth it in the long run. If you can, make sure to shop around for the best lines and odds if possible. You’re likely to see more volatility between books in the off-season than you’ll see on game lines during the season.

The first thing we should do is look back to see who has won these awards over the last decade to see what players we should be looking at this year.

Past Rookie of the Year Winners

YearOffensive Rookie of the YearDefensive Rookie of the Year
2020Justin Herbert, QB, 6th pickChase Young, DE, 2nd pick
2019Kyler Murray, QB, 1stNick Bosa, DE, 2nd
2018Saquon Barkley, RB, 2ndDarius Leonard, LB, 36th (R2)
2017Alvin Kamara, RB, 67th (R3)Marshon Lattimore, CB, 11th
2016Dak Prescott, QB, 135th (R4)Joey Bosa, DE, 3rd
2015Todd Gurley, RB, 10thMarcus Peters, CB, 18th
2014Odell Beckham, WR, 12thAaron Donald, DT, 13th
2013Eddie Lacy, RB, 61st (R2)Sheldon Richardson, DE, 13th
2012Robert Griffin, QB, 2ndLuke Kuechly, LB, 9th
2011Cam Newton, QB, 1stVon Miller, OLB, 2nd

The Offensive Rookie of the Year award has seen QBs win the award half the time over the last decade with four RBs and Odell Beckham winning the other half of the time. The winner has come from inside the top-12 picks seven times in the last 10 years while the other three winners have come outside the top-60 picks, so long shots have a better chance to win the award on the offensive side.

The Defensive Rookie of the Year award has come from inside the first round in nine of the last 10 years, with Darius Leonard being the lone exception. The DROY has come from inside the top-13 pick eight times so the high-end defensive talent has usually stood out. Pass rushers have dominated the award with five wins in the last decade followed by two wins for cornerbacks and linebackers and a lone victory for Aaron Donald as a defensive tackle.

Now that we’ve looked back for some clues for who we should be looking at, let’s spin it forward to see if we can find some value in these rookie futures.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Offensive Rookie of the Year odds are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.

Offensive Rookie of the Year Odds (May 13)
Trevor Lawrence (Jax) +300Justin Fields (Chi) +600Trey Lance (SF) +600
Zach Wilson (NYJ) +700Najee Harris (Pit) +800Mac Jones (NE) +1000
Ja’Marr Chase (Cin) +1100Kyle Pitts (Atl) +1100DeVonta Smith (Phi) +1400
Jaylen Waddle (Mia) +1600Travis Etienne (Jax) +2000Javonte Williams (Den) +2000
Trey Sermon (SF) +2500Kadarius Toney (NYG) +3300Michael Carter (NYJ) +3300
Rashod Bateman (Bal) +3300Elijah Moore (NYJ) +4000Terrace Marshall (Car) +5000

The Favorites

The Offensive Rookie of the Year award has been dominated by quarterbacks so it’s no surprise to see the five QBs who dominated the pre-draft discussion all at the top of the odds board. Trevor Lawrence (+300) is the betting favorite to win the OROY but, somewhat surprisingly, only two top overall picks have either award in the last decade. He steps into an excellent environment to put up numbers with a capable cast of receivers in D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones, and Laviska Sheanult while playing with a defense that’s going to force them into some shootouts. Urban Meyer also figures to use him as a runner, which will help him pad his numbers, but he does play just one primetime game this season.

Zach Wilson (+700) is the only other rookie quarterback who is guaranteed to start in Week 1, which is the biggest reason he has such short odds. The Jets had one of the worst offensive personnel groups last season, but GM Joe Douglas has quickly added some talent through the draft (OG Alijah Vera-Tucker and slot WR Elijah Moore) and during free agency (WRs Corey Davis and Keelan Cole). I’m not expecting Wilson to post massive numbers this season so his path to the award would involve the Jets contending for the playoffs while some of the other rookie QBs bide their time on the bench.

Justin Fields (+600) may have the most rushing upside in this year’s class after averaging 39.4 rushing yards per game with 15 rushing TDs the last two seasons against top competition. He doesn’t have the best cast of receivers around him outside of Allen Robinson, and he’s not guaranteed to start in Week 1, which is a smaller concern. Mac Jones (+1000) is the most unlikely rookie QB to start in Week 1 unless he blows the team away in training camp and in the preseason and Cam Newton struggles. Jones will have to put up some big numbers as a pocket passer with New England’s improved receiving corps to overcome his lack of mobility, but he at least has a chance to quarterback a playoff team.

The 49ers traded up to No. 3 to select Trey Lance (+600), which previously worked out for The Shanahans back in 2012 when Washington moved up to select Robert Griffin, who went on to win the OROY. I bet Lance as the fourth-favorite at +900 odds at FanDuel, but he’s moved ahead of Wilson to be the third-favorite at most books. Lance is more likely to be on the sidelines to open the season than in the starting lineup, but starting in Week 1 is not a prerequisite like Justin Herbert showed last year. It’s more important to have a strong end to the season since those data points will be freshest in the voter’s minds, and he’ll be quarterbacking a team that has the fourth-best odds (+1300) to win the Super Bowl at FanDuel. Lance will have the league’s most dynamic receivers after the catch at his disposal, and he’ll get plenty of help getting the rock to his playmakers from arguably the best offensive schemer in the league in Kyle Shanahan.

The second wager I’ve placed on the OROY was on Najee Harris (+800). His odds have plummeted at DraftKings but be sure to shop around on his price since he has much longer odds at other books — I got him at +1500 at FanDuel. Quarterbacks have won this award most of the time but dominant running backs have also won this award with Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Todd Gurley, and Eddie Lacy each taking home the award in the last eight years. Those four backs averaged 280.5 touches, 1577.8 scrimmage yards, and 12.3 touchdowns (in 16-game seasons) during their award-winning campaigns. It won’t be easy for Harris to get to those marks, but he has a path to 20+ touches per game especially since the Steelers have been focused on getting their rushing attack back on track. The bigger question is if Pittsburgh’s O-line will improve off of its dismal performance at the end of last season, but Harris should at least have no issues getting volume in what should still be an above-average offense.

Values

Ja’Marr Chase (+1100) and Kyle Pitts are each looking to become the first receiver to win the OROY since Odell Beckham claimed the honor seven years ago (holy crap, it’s been that long since OBJ won). Chase was regarded as one of the best WR prospects to enter the league in recent history, and he landed in a friendly spot with his former LSU QB Joe Burrow. Chase won’t have the typical acclimation period with his quarterback, and he certainly has a chance to post high-end production like former teammate Justin Jefferson did last season, who played in a potent offense with a bad defense in Minnesota last season. Chase does have a couple of factors working against him with established studs Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd competing for targets, and there’s no guarantee that Burrow is close to full health behind a still bad offensive line.

Kyle Pitts (+1100) would make history if he won the award since no tight end has ever won since the Associated Press started handing out the honor in 1967. However, Pitts is not your father’s definition of a tight end since he’s much more of a receiver than a blocker. He’s already bucked the trends before he’s even played an NFL snap since the Falcons made him the highest-drafted tight end in the common draft era, which began in 1967. Pitts would certainly see his odds shrink a bit if the Falcons end up moving on from Julio Jones before the season starts.

DeVonta Smith (+1400) and Jaylen Waddle (+1600) also won’t have to deal with an acclimation period with their quarterbacks since both Smith (Jalen Hurts) and Waddle (Tua Tagovailoa) played with their new signal-callers at Alabama. Smith proved last year that he was a big-award hunter by becoming the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Award since Desmond Howard did it in 1991. He also has a higher ceiling this season since he has a much more wide-open path to heavy targets in Philadelphia’s offense compared to Waddle who has to compete with Will Fuller, DeVante Parker, and Mike Gesicki for targets.

Sleepers

Travis Etienne (+2000) and Javonte Williams lead the way among the long-shot options, but they’re sleepers because they’ll be stepping into committees. I feel like Williams is the better bet at this point on the off-chance that new GM George Paton looks to move on from Gordon before the season starts. Trey Sermon (+2500) is my favorite of the sleeper options if he’s able to wrestle away the lead back role early in his tenure in Shanahan’s running-back friendly offense. Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson aren’t exactly the toughest competition to overcome, and San Francisco must have plans for Sermon since they traded up to draft him even after they gave up a king’s ransom for Lance.

The Jets have pair of interesting long-shot options in Michael Carter (+3300) and Elijah Moore (+4000) who have the chance to step into prominent roles. Moore’s odds would likely shrink if the Jets trade away Jamison Crowder, who is currently his biggest obstacle to big numbers this season while Carter has to contend with just Tevin Coleman and La’Mical Perine for immediate touches. Both Carter (+10000) and Moore (+6600) have much juicier odds to win at other books like BetMGM.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Defensive Rookie of the Year odds are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.

Defensive Rookie of the Year Odds (May 13)
Micah Parsons (Dal) +500Jaelan Phillips (Mia) +700Jamin Davis (Was) +800
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Cle) +800Kwity Paye (Ind) +1000Zaven Collins (Ari) +1200
Patrick Surtain (Den) +1400Jaycee Horn (Car) +1400Gregory Rousseau (Buf) +1600
Greg Newsome (Cle) +2000Azeez Ojulari (NYG) +2000Jayson Oweh (Bal) +2000
Caleb Farley (Ten) +2500Trevon Moehrig-Woodard (LV) +2500Asante Samuel (LAC) +2500
Eric Stokes (GB) +2500Joe Tryon (TB) +2500Nick Bolton (KC) +3300
Christian Barmore (NE) +4000Richie Grant (Atl) +4000Jevon Holland (Mia) +4000
Pete Werner (NO) +4000Baron Browning (Den) +5000Jabril Cox (Dal) +5000

Bets to Consider

MIcah Parsons (+500) headlines this year’s favorites for the Defensive Player of the Year award and, as stated earlier, the winner has come from inside the top-13 picks eight times so the high-end defensive talent has usually stood out. Parsons is one of just three defensive players selected inside the top-13 picks this year along with CBs Jaycee Horn (+1400) and Patrick Surtain (+1400). I’m not spending much time looking at cornerbacks since Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Peters are the only CBs to win the award in the last 22 years. Peters and Lattimore combined for an incredible 13 INTs and three TDs during their award-winning seasons.

I’m looking down the board just a little bit from Parsons to find the two players I’m wagering on for the DROY. You know I’m a big fan of Jaelan Phillips (+700) if you followed my NFL Draft props in April, and I grabbed him to win the DROY at +900 at FanDuel. The Dolphins finished with the 10th-most sacks last season without an individual player reaching double-digit sacks. Phillips has the potential to be that clear top pass rusher on a rising defense that could emerge as a top-five unit, which was the exact formula that propelled Chase Young to win the award last season.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (+800) is the other player I wagered on at +1400 at BetMGM, and his price has been shrinking at most shops. JOK was a top-25 talent in this year’s draft before he slipped to the Browns at No. 52 because of medical concerns. Our Greg Cosell compared him to Derwin James and Isaiah Simmons in the pre-draft process because of his athleticism and his playmaking ability. Darius Leonard is the only player to win the DROY in the last decade who was drafted outside the first round. Leonard posted 111 solo tackles, seven sacks, and two interceptions when he won the award, and JOK has the potential to make a similar impact on an up-and-coming Browns’ defense.

Best Bets

  • Trey Lance (SF) to win AP Offensive Rookie of the Year (+900, FanDuel). Risk half a unit to 4.5 units.

  • Najee Harris (Pit) to win AP Offensive Rookie of the Year (+1500, FanDuel). Risk half a unit to win 7.5 units.

  • Jaelan Phillips (Mia) to win AP Defensive Rookie of the Year (+900, FanDuel). Risk half a unit to win 4.5 units

  • Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Cle) to win AP Defensive Rookie of the Year (+1400, BetMGM). Risk half a unit to win seven units.

Tom is a Senior Writer at Fantasy Points who specializes in fantasy and betting analysis. He’ll be helping you to navigate the waiver wire and manage your fantasy teams while also keeping our betting content robust all year long, especially during the season. Tom's Best Bets against the spread won at 61.5% clip in 2019 and he was a perfect 8-0 on his Best Bets for season win totals in 2020.