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NFL Draft

Who Are Early Best Bets For 2021 NFL Offensive Rookie Of The Year?

  • The Draft Network
  • April 15, 2021
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Last year in June, I gave my darkhorse pick for offensive rookie of the year. The first name I listed? Justin Herbert.

The formula was simple then, and it’s simple now. When a quarterback can win the award, he will win the award. Herbert was a rookie record-setter as a passer; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson was a rookie record-setter as a pass-catcher. While Jefferson had some proponents in the media and in the league when push came to shove, the voting wasn’t close: Herbert got 41 votes; Jefferson got nine.

Jefferson would have been the first receiver since Odell Beckham Jr. to win the award—that was in 2014. Only three receivers have won the award over the last two decades—including Percy Harvin in 2009 and Anquan Boldin in 2003—so in general, that’s a bet we want to avoid. If we’re not going for a quarterback, we should be looking for a high-volume running back to accumulate counting stats. 

With new odds released for Offensive Rookie of the Year—before the players have even landed on teams—I figured I’d offer again my favorite bets for the award, almost nine months out from the day it will be awarded. What could go wrong!

Justin Fields (+450), Mac Jones (+1000)

Let’s be very clear here: I think Justin Fields is going to be the pick for the San Francisco 49ers at No. 3, and I think Fields should be the pick for the 49ers at No. 3.

This is a question of how confident I am in that landing spot. Of the five quarterbacks at the top of this class, the one who goes to San Francisco will invariably have the best environment for immediate team success and the accompanying gaudy statistics. Even if a team like the New England Patriots or Washington Football Team trades up to grab one of these passers, San Francisco remains the best possible offense.

Mac Jones (-175) is a slight favorite over Fields (+105) to be the third-overall pick, per BetOnline. Yet Fields is more than twice as likely to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. It is not so simple as to say, “Whatever quarterback lands in San Francisco will win the award,” but whoever it is—Jones or Fields—will have the inside track. And even for the difference in talent—Fields is clearly a better prospect—head coach Kyle Shanahan’s familiarity with a quarterback like Jones allows for lofty projections for Jones’ production, should he land there.

I am hesitant on Trey Lance’s odds, even at the substantial value (+1200) because whatever team drafts him will intend on sitting him for a year. I hesitate on Zach Wilson (+450) and Trevor Lawrence (+275), the presumed top two picks, for the shakier offenses in which they will land. Wilson doesn’t have much of an offensive line yet; Lawrence will be going from a run-pass option, screen-heavy Clemson offense to a vertical, pro-style attack in Jacksonville, and I expect some growing pains.

So, the Niners’ pick at No. 3 could very well decide the award, when it’s all said and done. I favor Fields because I expect him to be the pick—but the disparity in Jones’ odds to win the award and his odds to be the pick is too much to ignore. Sprinkle some on Jones, but Fields deserves the real bet.

Najee Harris (+1400)

I wouldn’t take any of the running backs at this time, but if I did, it’d be Najee Harris. With his build, hands, and veteran experience in Alabama’s program, Harris is the most pro-ready of the three top backs and projects to have the highest snap count and draft capital. If Harris ends up the Round 1 pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers—which I think is his ceiling—he will see a bell cow’s touches.

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