NFL Awards Predictions: 4 Bets That Deserve Your Attention
Last week, I gave you my favorite bets for MVP, as well as some of the best player props to bet as we enter the season. Today, we’re going to look at some player awards other than MVP, including an Offensive Rookie of the Year bet I really like.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
This year’s rookie class featured five quarterbacks in the first round, and it looks like all five will play considerable snaps in Year 1. But the class also featured two tremendous prospects at skill positions in wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and tight end Kyle Pitts, both of whom went in the top five. Then there’s Najee Harris, who landed in a lead-back role with the Pittsburgh Steelers that has generated tons of production for Le’Veon Bell and others like James Conner and DeAngelo Williams over the past several seasons.
Over the past decade, only five quarterbacks have won Offensive Rookie of the Year, so it’s not an award like MVP that tends to be reserved for the game’s most important position. In the other five seasons, we got four running backs and only one wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., in what was a historic season.
It’s tough for pass-catchers to make such an immediate impact to contend with the raw volume quarterbacks and some running backs get. Running backs like Harris might average 20 touches per game, while quarterbacks obviously touch the ball every play. That gives them weekly floors for production that help their full-season lines look very good. Rookie pass-catchers can have big games, certainly, but it’s tougher to immediately draw consistent targets week in and week out.
This year feels like a quarterback year. Harris would be a good bet some seasons because the volume should be there for the stats to follow, but there are simply too many quarterbacks for us to not have one making an immediate impact in a way that could revitalize an entire franchise.
The Pick — Justin Fields +650
Once assumed to be a lock for the No. 2 overall pick, Justin Fields fell in the pre-draft process and then on draft night, before the Chicago Bears traded up to select him just outside the top 10. A fantastic athlete, Fields reportedly clocked a 4.44 40-yard dash at Ohio State’s pro day this offseason. The 22-year-old then wasted no time showing off that athleticism all preseason, rushing for 92 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown.
Hailed as perhaps the most accurate passer in the class — PFF had him as the most accurate passer in their database, which dates to 2014, by CPOE (completion percentage over expected). Fields also looked good as a thrower, showing command of the pocket and an ability to stretch plays and find guys downfield. His passing numbers weren’t fantastic, but he was legitimately hampered by playing with secondary targets, as he had several throws in his three games that were either dropped or, in some cases, not particularly well-played despite a well-thrown ball.
Meanwhile, Andy Dalton looked like Andy Dalton, and while Dalton is likely to get the start in Week 1, I’m convinced we’ll see Fields before the end of September. I also don’t think we’ll see Dalton again — Fields’ performance in the preseason was enough to sell me that the NFL just overthought this one. I’m expecting a big rookie season throwing to Allen Robinson and second-year targets Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet, with rushing numbers to boot.
Fields’ biggest competition is probably Trevor Lawrence (+350), but the Jacksonville Jaguars might struggle a little more offensively this year, and Lawrence can’t create with his legs quite the way Fields can. I also think any of Zach Wilson (+800), Trey Lance (+750), or Mac Jones (+1400) could have big 2021 seasons, but I’m not sure we’ll see enough of Lance or Jones for them to contend for the award, and I just like Fields a bit more than Wilson.
Should Fields suddenly make Chicago an interesting offense, the narratives will write themselves. The Bears have never had a 4,000-yard passer in their history, and they’ve been searching for an answer at quarterback for literally decades.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
The Pick — Jaycee Horn +1400
Defensive Rookie of the Year has been fairly straightforward in recent seasons. Thirteen of the past 14 winners have been selected in the top 20 overall picks in that year’s NFL draft.
That’s probably true for a few reasons. The best players tend to get drafted earlier, and the players drafted earlier are the ones teams are ready to send out there from Week 1. But also, because it’s a defensive award, stats can be a little more scarce. If no one has a monster sack or interception season, it might be the case that voters default to the biggest names who have likely made at least a few highlight-reel plays.
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (+600), the 12th overall pick, is the betting favorite, and probably for good reason, as he's the highest-drafted defensive player who doesn’t play in the secondary. Since 2000, only two DROY awards have gone to a defensive back.
That said, both of the DBs to win DROY since 2000 have done so in the past six years (Marcus Peters, Marshon Lattimore). Each had at least five interceptions, so that didn’t hurt, but it might be the case that voters are a little more receptive to advanced numbers or things like player grades these days.
It’s also the case that the market is aware this is a tougher award for DBs to win. This year, there were only six defensive players taken in the top 20, with no defensive linemen or linebackers going in the top 10. Jaycee Horn was the top defensive player off the board at No. 8 to the Carolina Panthers, while fellow defensive back Patrick Surtain II (+1000) went No. 9 to the Denver Broncos. But neither of them is among the top three favorites to win the award.
It feels like a year worth taking a longshot. Without a standout edge rusher in the class — Chase Young won the award last year, and both Bosa brothers did as well over the past five years, all three of whom are edge rushers who were drafted in the top-three overall picks — it’s possible none of the rookies have gaudy stat lines this year. In that case, voters might give serious consideration to the two high-profile DBs in the class. Give me Horn at a slightly better price and on a defense in Carolina that might be surprisingly solid.
Offensive Player of the Year
The Pick — Christian McCaffrey +1200
As the MVP award has become almost solely a quarterback award, OPOY has trended toward being the non-QB honor. In 2019, Michael Thomas became the first WR since Jerry Rice to win the award, and in 2020, Derrick Henry earned the hardware despite not receiving a single vote for MVP following his 2,000-yard rushing season. Those two joined Todd Gurley, DeMarco Murray, and Adrian Peterson as non-QB winners in the past decade.
It’s a little shocking, then, that Christian McCaffrey comes in at 12/1. Fantasy football’s clear top overall player, McCaffrey posted 2,392 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns in his last healthy season, including 1,000 both rushing and receiving. To be fair, he didn’t win OPOY that season, but Thomas broke Marvin Harrison’s single-season receptions record, so that might have had something to do with it.
McCaffrey only played three games last year as he battled multiple injuries, but he was basically the same guy as he was in 2019, scoring six touchdowns in those three contests and producing just shy of 125 yards from scrimmage per game (in 2019, he averaged just shy of 150).
The way McCaffrey contributes in all phases of the game keeps him on the field in more game situations than most backs, and I expect him to come back and have a big season in 2021. At 12/1, he makes for a worthwhile bet.
Comeback Player of the Year
The Pick — Dak Prescott +250
Comeback Player of the Year has been won by a quarterback in nine of the past 13 seasons, including each of the last three. And there are two fine candidates this year in Dak Prescott and Joe Burrow (+750), who are the betting favorites.
Prescott makes a ton of sense, even as I’m optimistic about McCaffrey. McCaffrey comes in at +800 for Comeback Player of the Year, which does strike me as another solid bet, but Prescott will likely have far more of an impact on his team’s success this season given he plays quarterback, and we know Dallas is a team with a spotlight on them.
Prescott’s candidacy is also helped by how pass-heavy the Cowboys have been over the past few seasons under offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Because of that, Prescott has the second-shortest odds (+600), behind only Patrick Mahomes (+300), to lead the league in passing yardage. Should Prescott make it through a healthy season, he has a fantastic wide receiver trio and is a good bet to put up the impressive numbers that will draw headlines.