Each NFL Draft is a little bit different. The 2021 NFL Draft featured a lot of offensive players taken in the top 15 players, including five quarterbacks, the best tight end prospect in years, and some standout wide receivers.
A lot of talented players heard their names called very early on. That makes the race for the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie Of The Year really good one this season. Naturally the quarterbacks hold down the top spots, but there are impact skill players that could have a say in what happens with the voting.
Keep in mind that quarterbacks often go into bad situations when they are drafted early. Just ask Joe Burrow, who took a beating behind a shoddy offensive line up until he was lost for the season. Guys like Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance go to flawed teams. Lance has the best landing spot with the 49ers and their running game, but he’s also the least experienced of the prospects, at least against upper-level competition.
Quarterbacks have dominated the AP OROY selections. Seven have won since 2008, with four running backs, and two wide receivers. The last two winners have both been QBs in Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray. The two winners prior to that were Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara. The last wide receiver was Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014. A tight end hasn’t won the award since Mike Ditka in 1961, so Kyle Pitts could make history.
Let’s look at the betting odds from BetMGM Sportsbook for the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and then handicap the top prices and other contenders:
2021 NFL OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR ODDS
I’ll start by saying that way too many players are listed here. I appreciate the effort from BetMGM’s team of oddsmakers, but most of the players that have won the award are either elite NFLers, were elite prospects, or both. Guys like Eddie Lacy and Robert Griffin III flamed out quickly. Some guys flamed out due to injuries. All of them were elite-level college players and pretty much all taken very early in the NFL Draft, with the recent exceptions of third-rounder Alvin Kamara and fourth-rounder Dak Prescott. Lacy was a late second-rounder.
The biggest thing to look for here is opportunity. Which players will start from Day One at their positions? Who will have the chance to put up numbers?
Let’s start with a look at the quarterbacks:
Trevor Lawrence (+275)
Lawrence is one of two locks to start at quarterback. The other is Zach Wilson. Trevor has all the tools and played on some very big stages in college football. You don’t have to go far to find the last 1.1 that won the award. It was Kyler Murray two years ago.
Lawrence has some decent weapons with Jacksonville and a new offensive coordinator in Darrell Bevell who has worked with quarterbacks his entire career. How Urban Meyer sets up this offense will dictate the numbers Lawrence can put up. Will the Jaguars force the run with three capable backs and leave Lawrence fewer opportunities to put up numbers than, say, a Zach Wilson?
Justin Fields (+500)
Fields could very well win the award, but being priced shorter than a guaranteed starter in Wilson makes no sense. The Bears have Andy Dalton and Nick Foles, assuming neither gets traded or hurt. They don’t have to rush Fields at all. You can win this award even if you don’t start in Week 1, but each passing week means a missed opportunity to put up numbers.
Zach Wilson (+700)
This is the one I’d look at of the quarterbacks. Wilson will drop back behind a retooled offensive line that features three recent draft picks. The Jets will utilize a lot of play-action in all likelihood with Mike LaFleur, the brother of Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. There are a lot of Mike Shanahan elements to this offense and that west coast style should be a good fit for Wilson.
He has pretty good weapons and a better offensive line than Lawrence. He’ll also get 17 games, barring injury, unlike Fields. Wilson also plays in a major media market, which will increase his visibility.
Trey Lance (+700)
I don’t get this price. The 49ers are not going to rush Trey Lance, who threw 30 passes during his final CFB season because of COVID postponements. Jimmy Garoppolo is still around and not going anywhere. Lance will probably be part of the playbook from the jump, but not the full-time starter anytime soon.
Mac Jones (+1200)
Mac Jones probably won’t start either, as Cam Newton should get the first call, but Newton’s leash could be a lot shorter than the leashes for Jimmy G and the Red Rifle. Jones could potentially start a lot of games for the Patriots. He’s got tight end help now in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, but the wide receivers are still a little weak, even with the additions of Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor. Jones is probably the third-best option behind Wilson and Lawrence among the QBs.
Running Backs, Wide Receivers, and Tight Ends
Kyle Pitts (+1000)
Kyle Pitts has a great landing spot. Matt Ryan turned Austin Hooper into a star in the NFL before he moved on to Cleveland. Ryan can still sling it around, but Julio Jones isn’t getting any younger. That should create tons of opportunities, especially in the red zone for Pitts. He’s as much of a wide receiver as he is a tight end and if he does well in the NFC South, he will have earned it with some good defensive backs in that division.
Pitts is actually a very good bet at +1000.
Ja’Marr Chase (+1100)
A lot of bettors will probably like the LSU connection between Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, but the Bengals failed to truly address the offensive line, so Burrow will have limited time to throw. We do know that Zac Taylor wants to throw and also know that the Bengals will trail a lot, which should give Chase opportunities. However, the Bengals have a lot of pass-catching options and Chase will probably have to share the wealth quite a bit.
Najee Harris (+1100)
Running backs have won this award a good bit, especially of late, and Harris has a good landing spot with an aging, semi-decrepit quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers probably have to run the ball a bit more than they would like. Harris also improved greatly as a receiver in his senior season at Alabama and that is a big asset in today’s NFL.
He’s not really blocked by anybody with the Steelers, as a lot of reps are available from Day One. He’s not a bad bet, even with the decreased importance of running backs in today’s game. This situation looks great for him.
Devonta Smith (+1600)
The Alabama connection between Jalen Hurts and DeVonta Smith should be a strong one. This was a good grab for the Eagles, who are in dire need of skill position talent. Smith caught a lot of balls at or behind the line of scrimmage for Alabama. We’ll have to see his route-running skills against NFL defensive backs. We’ll also have to see if Doug Pederson is willing to change up his offense a lot for Smith’s sake. He should, but we don’t know that for sure.
Jaylen Waddle (+1800)
Another Alabama connection here with Jaylen Waddle and Tua Tagovailoa. The problem here with Waddle is his quarterback. Waddle would be a better bet at +1800 if Ryan Fitzpatrick was still down in South Beach. Because he’s not, we’re asking Tua to hit Waddle and the southpaw QB had a lot of issues last season throwing the ball effectively.
Travis Etienne (+2500)
Urban Meyer has already called Travis Etienne a “third-down back”. That’s not good for his chances of putting up big numbers. Meyer has old friend Carlos Hyde and the extremely productive James Robinson. Etienne won’t have chances to put up numbers here.
Trey Sermon (+3000)
Similar to Etienne, Trey Sermon may have a tough time getting enough snaps and touches to put up big numbers. Sermon was taken by the San Francisco 49ers, though, and Kyle Shanahan should know how to use a player of his caliber. It wouldn’t be a shocker for Sermon to start from Day One, though. Guys like Jeff Wilson and Raheem Mostert aren’t exactly bell cow backs.
Sermon is a longer shot at 30/1 that could make some sense.
Are there any bigger prices worth considering? I’d say that there is one.
Elijah Moore (+6600)
Would it be a shocker to see Zach Wilson develop an early rapport with Elijah Moore? Moore caught 86 balls at Ole Miss in his junior season after grabbing 67 passes as a sophomore. He was a reliable possession receiver for the Rebels and a good route runner in the best conference in the country. Ole Miss had some questions at the QB position all season long, but he still produced in spite of them. He has the chance at a big year here and should get a lot of opportunities to be on the field.
For more on the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year odds, here is Brian Blessing from our ATS YouTube page: