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The 2020 NFL Draft had some interesting trends when it came to selecting defensive players. Half of the top-10 overall picks were defensive guys, but after that, just nine of the remaining 22 picks played defense.
It’s never too early to start projecting how all the defensive rookies will fit with their new teams. Dating back to 2000, the trends indicate that the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award is a linebacker’s to win. In that span, 12 linebackers, six defensive linemen, and two cornerbacks have won the award. Can players like stud defensive end Chase Young or shutdown corner Jeff Okudah buck this trend?
We take a look at the odds from BetMGM and give our best bets to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award for 2020-21.
The Favorite: Chase Young (+250)
Even though quarterback Joe Burrow was coming off one of the best statistical seasons in college football history, Chase Young was widely considered the “can’t miss” prospect of this draft. The Ohio State defensive end was constantly in the opponent’s backfield. He led the Big Ten in sacks each of the last two years. In fact, his 16.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 2019 were the most in the entire NCAA.
Young landed in Washington, and he and Ryan Kerrigan form a solid tandem at defensive end. When also paired with Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and Montez Sweat on the defensive line, the Redskins have a scary pass rush.
Unless Young were to do something crazy, like rack up double-digit sacks, the trends suggest to look at a different position for the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Is he capable of double-digit sacks and taking the league by storm? Certainly, but his odds are too short for my liking.
The Value Bets:
Isaiah Simmons (+600)
Simmons was selected by the Cardinals with the eighth overall pick. He is listed as an outside linebacker, but he can be used in a number of positions. Arizona is likely to deploy him at safety and perhaps even edge rusher from time to time.
If Simmons is used as a safety for a large percentage of snaps, that does not bode well for his chances to win Rookie of the Year. Just two safeties have won the award since it began in 1967. It’s simply too hard for a player who plays that far from the line of scrimmage to have that much of an impact on the game.
Simmons will have a lot better chance to stand out and fill up the stat sheet as a linebacker. However, I am not willing to wager on a player with such short odds when we do not know Arizona’s plans for how they will utilize him.
Kenneth Murray (+1000)
Murray was the 23rd overall selection by the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers will look to Murray to fill the gap left by newly released Thomas Davis. Davis led the team in tackles last year, so a lot is expected to be put on Murray’s plate.
Murray looks like the perfect fit in Los Angeles. He joins a loaded defense that has playmakers at every level. Joey Bosa (defensive end), Chris Harris Jr. (cornerback), and Derwin James (safety) have all been to Pro Bowls in their young careers. A lot of attention will be paid to those other guys on defense, allowing Murray plenty of chances to make plays all over the field.
Patrick Queen (+1100)
Queen was the second inside linebacker taken in the first round, going to the Baltimore Ravens as the No. 28 overall selection. Queen, like Murray, will be asked to fill a huge void in his team’s linebacking corps. Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes left in free agency, so Queen will be asked to patrol the middle of the field from day one.
Queen is in a great position to take home Rookie of the Year since his team projects to be one of the league’s best. If the Ravens’ defense as a whole can finish in the top four like they did last year, Queen is likely to have played a big part, and he will certainly get recognition.
Jeff Okudah (+1400)
In the last 20 years, the two cornerbacks who won Defensive Rookie of the Year are Marcus Peters (2015) and Marshon Lattimore (2017). Optimists will point out that these instances happened within the past five years.
Marcus Peters led the league with eight interceptions, two defensive touchdowns, and 26 passes defended in 2015. Lattimore won in 2017 despite playing in just 13 games, though he did have five interceptions in that short time.
Does Okudah have a big statistical season ahead of him? Detroit will likely ask him to cover the other team’s best receiver now that Darius Slay is gone. Okudah will get to go against Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, and Adam Thielen within the division. In addition, he can line up against DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, and Mike Evans in non-divisional games. If Okudah can shut down these big playmakers with regularity while accumulating several interceptions, he will make a strong case for Rookie of the Year.
Best of the Longshots:
Javon Kinlaw (+2500)
Talk about landing in a dream spot. Kinlaw was taken 14th overall by the 49ers, and he joins the top pass defense and second-best overall defense from a year ago. In addition, he’s got a path to regular snaps, as former Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner is gone. Kinlaw is likely to benefit from the constant attention that is paid to fellow linemen Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead. While they get double-teamed with regularity, Kinlaw will have an easier time getting in the backfield. Kinlaw will look to join Bosa and make it back-to-back 49ers rookies to take home Defensive Rookie of the Year.
CJ Henderson (+2500)
It was not long ago that Jacksonville’s pair of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye was considered the most feared tandem of cornerbacks in the NFL. CJ Henderson will be asked to help the Jaguars get back to the elite level of pass defense that they were used to in 2018. Coming from Florida, Henderson has played against some of the best receivers from LSU and Alabama, many of whom were drafted this year. Henderson is no stranger to elite competition, and he joins a Jaguars team that knows how to coach the secondary.