We’ve only been legally allowed to bet on the NFL Draft at any American sportsbooks for the last four years. Given the lack of sports available to bet on because of COVID-19, this year’s draft was reportedly the most wagered on draft ever.
There were 11 combined quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers taken in the first round. Since the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award began in 1967, the winner has always played one of those positions. The breakdown of winners by position since 2000 may surprise you — through that span, nine running backs, eight quarterbacks, and three wide receivers have won Rookie of the Year.
Will one of the 11 first-round skill position players take home the award this year? Will the winner come from a player taken later in the draft? Is this the year a tight end or offensive lineman does something so spectacular that they break through and become the first winner at their position?
We take a look at the odds from BetMGM and give our best bets to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award for 2020-21.
The Favorite: Joe Burrow (+200)
It’s no surprise that he’s the favorite to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year. He’s projected to be the Week 1 starter in Cincinnati, even though Andy Dalton has not signed elsewhere yet.
Joe Burrow is coming off one of the best single seasons ever by a college quarterback. He will have a bunch of weapons to work with on offense, led by a healthy A.J. Green. Burrow also has the emerging Tyler Boyd on the outside to go along with John Ross, fellow rookie Tee Higgins, and tight end C.J. Uzomah. He will also hand off to a formidable running back tandem in Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard.
Burrow has all the talent and plenty of weapons to have a successful offensive season. However, questions remain about his offensive line. Cincinnati ranked 23rd in the league last year, allowing sacks on 7.23% of dropbacks. In addition, the Bengals play in a division with excellent pass defenses. The Steelers, Ravens, and Browns ranked third, sixth, and seventh, respectively, in passing yards allowed per game last year. To top it off, the Steelers led the entire NFL with 54 sacks.
Another thing working against Burrow is the possible lack of reps he may get with his receivers in the preseason. If COVID-19 continues to limit teams’ abilities to work out together, Burrow may have a slow start to the season and take a while to find his rhythm. Despite the weapons around him, there are too many obstacles working against him for his odds to be so short.
The Value Bets:
D’Andre Swift (+850)
Swift fell to the second round and was quickly scooped up by the Detroit Lions. He joins Kerryon Johnson in the backfield and will attempt to ignite a rushing attack that finished 21st in the league last year. Will Swift see enough carries to make a splash in his rookie year? Working in his favor is the fact that Johnson has missed six games each of the last two years with knee injuries. Look for head coach Matt Patricia to feed Swift more each week as the Lions eventually phase Johnson out of their plans.
Tua Tagovailoa (+900)
There was speculation before the draft about whether Tua would slip to later in the first round because of his injury history. That notion was short-lived, as the Dolphins selected him fifth overall. The question for Tua is how quickly Miami will get him on the field. There could be a learning curve as he sits and watches Ryan Fitzpatrick for a big chunk of the season.
Jonathan Taylor (+950)
Taylor lands in an excellent spot for the long term in Indianapolis. The Colts have an excellent run-blocking offensive line, as the team finished seventh in rush yards per game last season. However, Marlon Mack is still on the roster and will be motivated in a contract year. I love Jonathan Taylor’s chances of a great career in Indianapolis. However, I do not love his chances to make a huge splash initially with Mack still on the roster.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (+1000)
The Chiefs surprised many when they selected Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the first running back taken in the 2020 draft. However, should this pick be viewed as surprising? Edwards-Helaire is an excellent fit for the Chiefs offense. He is a multidimensional back that pairs well with Patrick Mahomes. Head coach Andy Reid will know exactly how to use a guy like Edwards-Helaire. However, he could be limited by a backfield-by-committee approach.
CeeDee Lamb (+1200)
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones could not select CeeDee Lamb fast enough when he fell to Dallas with the 17th overall pick. Though the Cowboys already have two good receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, they could not pass on Lamb’s potential. Lamb and the rest of the wide receivers should be able to keep defenses honest and prevent teams from stacking the box against Ezekiel Elliott. However, I’m unsure if there will be enough passes coming Lamb’s way to earn him Rookie of the Year honors.
Jerry Jeudy (+1200)
The Denver Broncos clearly made wide receiver a priority in this year’s draft as they took Jeudy and fellow receiver KJ Hamler with their first two selections. The young influx of talent, along with Courtland Sutton, may help jump-start young quarterback Drew Lock’s career. However, Lock’s ongoing development could limit Jeudy’s ability to post eye-popping numbers.
Justin Jefferson (+1700)
Jefferson looks to fill the void left by the traded Stefon Diggs in the Minnesota offense. He and Adam Thielen will aim to provide the same one-two punch for Kirk Cousins that Diggs and Thielen offered. However, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has always been known to favor running the football. It will be interesting to see if the team’s philosophy is to continue to feed Dalvin Cook or if Jefferson can make enough plays to warrant a change in that philosophy.
Henry Ruggs III (+1800)
In another somewhat small draft surprise, Ruggs III was the first wide receiver taken. He went to the Las Vegas Raiders with the No. 12 overall pick. Las Vegas likely fell in love with Ruggs’ blazing speed. He is in a great position to slide in quickly as Vegas’s No. 1 receiver, as Tyrell Williams is not a huge big-play threat.
J.K. Dobbins (+2000)
The rich get richer in Baltimore as the Ravens’ top-ranked rushing attack from a year ago adds one of the draft’s most talented running backs. However, Dobbins is not likely to supplant Mark Ingram as the top back anytime soon. In fact, there is a good chance quarterback Lamar Jackson ends up with more rushing yards than Dobbins.
Justin Herbert (+2000)
Herbert is one to avoid, as Tyrod Taylor will likely remain the starter in Los Angeles for most if not all of the year.
Tee Higgins (+2200)
If a Bengals player is going to win Rookie of the Year, it will be quarterback Joe Burrow. It’s hard to envision a scenario where a receiver can build a better case for the award than his quarterback.
Denzel Mims (+2200)
Mims is in a great position to be a difference-maker right away with the Jets. New York lost Robby Anderson, and Mims just has to beat out Quincy Enunwa or Breshad Perriman for a spot on the outside. However, the Jets finished 29th in passing last year, and that is likely to limit Mims’ upside initially.
Cam Akers (+2500)
Akers lands in a great spot with an offensive-minded head coach in Sean McVay with the Rams. Akers was selected to fill the void left when the Rams released Todd Gurley. Akers will compete with Darrell Henderson Jr. and Malcolm Brown for the starting role. It is a battle Akers is likely to win. Akers rushed for 1,000 yards in separate seasons behind a poor offensive line at Florida State. He has massive upside and will be given plenty of opportunities in a great offensive scheme to showcase his talents.