Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve built my case for longshot NFL MVPs and longshot NCAA Heisman winners. Of course, those awards are pretty formulaic at this point, as the field they pick from is rather large. On more specific awards, like Offensive Rookie of the Year, there’s more room to exploit.
On Locked On NFL Draft, Trevor and I did an entire podcast diving deep into our favorite OROY picks by drafting a team of candidates that we believed could win the award. For my favorites, then, check out that pod. But for longshot bets, I took a more pointed approach.
What we know about the award fundamentally is that a good quarterback season will win it. Just last season, Arizona QB Kyler Murray took home the award despite Josh Jacobs’ strong and productive rookie year running for the Raiders. Jacobs made more tacklers miss than anyone else in the league last year despite missing three games, and was third in the league in yards/game generated as well. Murray was a clear franchise cornerstone, but didn’t have any standout statistical performances or a playoff berth. He was just a good quarterback.
The difficult reality of rookie quarterbacks, however, is that they’re infrequently good quarterbacks, like Murray was. The average rookie is a bad NFL passer, doesn’t play an entire season, and doesn’t make the playoffs. Meanwhile, rookie running backs and, to a lesser extent, wide receivers are more easily integrated into an offense, even if they don’t get high volume for all 16 games. In the same 2019 voting, Eagles RB Miles Sanders and Tennessee WR A.J. Brown both snagged votes for their expanded roles on teams that pushed late for playoff spots.
So when looking for dark horse candidates, we’re going to go one of two ways. We either want a quarterback with a chance to start for the majority of the season and prove he’s a franchise passer, or a running back poised for a lot of volume and production. Wide receivers, while on the table, have only won the award three times since 2000, with return maven Percy Harvin bringing home one of those wins. Their odds are a little too long overall to make for realistic bets (though, if you’re begging me for a wide receiver bet, Brandon Aiyuk at +3300 and Jalen Reagor at +2800 stand out).
Here are the names and values I’m targeting as longshot OROY bets that could bring a big return on a flier investment:
Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (+1600)
This is a pretty easy formula. Of the quarterbacks listed with ROTY odds, Herbert is the one with a good chance of starting that has the longest odds:
- Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow (+250)
- Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa (+1000)
- Los Angeles QB Justin Herbert (+1600)
- Green Bay QB Jordan Love (+5000)
- Philadelphia QB Jalen Hurts (+8000)
- Indianapolis QB Jacob Eason (+10000)
- Buffalo QB Jake Fromm (+10000)
- Seattle QB Anthony Gordon (+15000)
Herbert being priced at a different level than Tagovailoa is a big edge to exploit here. Much is made of Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn’s affinity for Tyrod Taylor, the incumbent vet who could start over Herbert this year, but Miami hired the two-time ex-coordinator of incumbent vet Ryan Fitzpatrick in Chan Gailey. They’re coming off a relatively hot streak with Fitzpatrick at QB, having gone 5-4 in their last nine games with Fitzpatrick as the starter.
Miami is also more likely to be competitive in the AFC East than the Chargers are to be in the AFC West, even if the Chargers are a better team overall, because of the relative strengths of the divisions. As such, Miami could rock their vet longer, as their playoff hopes could stay afloat during a rocky start, while the Chargers look to turn to development sooner. And finally, Herbert doesn’t bring with him the potential need for a medical redshirt that Tagovailoa does, as the former Alabama QB may not even be available to start if team doctors decide it’s best to bring him along slowly and prevent jeopardizing his future.
As such, Burrow stands out as king above the rest, and should be a good bet even at his current value. But after that, the best option is Herbert, even if you didn’t love his film coming out of Oregon. All it takes is you being wrong for him to emerge as an OROY contender.
Baltimore RB J.K. Dobbins (+1600) and Buffalo RB Zack Moss (+3300)
Here are the running backs odds currently offered.
- Kansas City RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (+400)
- Los Angeles RB Cam Akers (+900)
- Indianapolis RB Jonathan Taylor (+900)
- Detroit RB D’Andre Swift (+1200)
- Baltimore RB J.K. Dobbins (+1600)
- Tampa Bay RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn (+2000)
- Buffalo RB Zack Moss (+3300)
- Green Bay RB A.J. Dillon (+6600)
- Los Angeles RB Joshua Kelley (+6600)
- New York RB Lamical Perine (+6600)
- Washington RB/WR Antonio Gibson (+10000)
Typically, highly-drafted running backs win this award, when that’s the position that wins it. Of the last six running back winners, four were top-10 picks. But we don’t have any players of that echelon in this class. Instead, we have a rather heavy smattering of Day 2 picks. As such, we’re going to eschew pretty much everybody on the top odds and turn instead to the back half of the pack.
There is unclear volume for Gibson, Perine, Kelley, and Dillon, all of whom figure to be second fiddle to entrenched starters. That leaves us with Moss, Vaughn, and Dobbins—if we want to call Dobbins a longshot, despite the fact that he was picked at No. 55 overall. With that said, Dobbins is an attractive bet because he joined the most efficient and explosive rushing attack in the NFL last year, and while he isn’t going to get bell-cow volume, there’s reason to expect he at least equals Mark Ingram in volume, who relinquished enough touches to Alvin Kamara in 2017 for him to win the Rookie of the Year award with the New Orleans Saints. As such, I like Dobbins as a bit of a longshot bet relative to the top backs of the class.
The true longshot here, however, is Moss. The Bills were seventh in run percentage last season with a good running QB in Josh Allen, a vet in Frank Gore, and a third-round scatback in Devin Singletary. Now, Moss was drafted at similar capital to Singletary, but he fits the physical, between-the-tackles brand of running that HC Sean McDermott embodies for the team. He has health concerns, certainly, and will have to win over the timeshare with Singletary to become a 1A back if he has a shot. But Moss is very pro-ready, and if he stays healthy, has the biggest talent advantage over his incumbent obstacle of the remaining backs, as Vaughn isn’t much better of a player than Ronald Jones, and plays on an offense that figures to pass a lot more than they run.