2021 NFL Rookie of the Year: Best Bets For Offensive, Defensive Winners

Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

We’re still chugging through some of the best bets available at BetOnline in the settling dust of the 2021 NFL Draft. Today, it’s Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year odds.

Last year, I gave you ideal longshot bets for both positions and ended up hitting on OROY Justin Herbert at +1600. I don’t have any bets with equally steep odds for the 2021 class, but I’ll give you a favorite and a longer bet (+1000 or higher) for offensive and defense. Let’s see if lightning strikes two years in a row.

OROY: Justin Fields +700

The popular bet so far this season has been Trey Lance, who has been bet down to +650, leapfrogging Justin Fields for the second spot behind clubhouse leader Trevor Lawrence at +350. It’s difficult sorting through all of these highly-drafted starting quarterbacks, but in that the last two winners have been quarterbacks (and three of the last five), it’s necessary.

It’s critical that we target a clear starter, however. I believe just as strongly as the next person that the San Francisco 49ers want to start Lance in Week 1. They made a massive investment in him and are clearly experiencing some urgency to win in the building, but the chance that he sits behind Jimmy Garoppolo is simply far greater than Fields sits behind Andy Dalton in Chicago. The Bears traded up for Fields, just as the 49ers did Lance, and are feeling a similar urgency. They, however, don’t have any commitment to Dalton, who was a backup last year.

Nine quarterbacks have won the award since 2000, and all have started at least 13 games to do so. Beyond Ben Roethlisberger (2004) and Vince Young (2006), who were the 13 game starters, 15 starts has been the benchmark for the next seven quarterbacks. You simply need to be viewed as the clear, starting quarterback in the eyes of your team and the voters to win the award. Even if Lance misses the first four games of the year, he’s pushing that envelope.

If we’re targeting a starting quarterback with the potential to produce, Fields has a stronger case for starting the whole season than Lance (+650) and Mac Jones (+750). Off of pre-draft evals, I’d also argue Fields is the second-most pro-ready. So, a lot makes sense here. As far as Zach Wilson

OROY Longshot: Zach Wilson +1000

Wilson has the sixth-highest odds, so “longshot” doesn’t really apply here. But last year, when Herbert (+1600) was my longshot bet for OROY, I said it was a simple formula: He was the cheapest quarterback that had a clear avenue to start the entire season. The exact same is true of Wilson, who will start for the New York Jets and has enough infrastructure around him that he should put up decent numbers. Much like Herbert, Wilson’s creativity and out-of-pocket fearlessness may offer him the leg up over the rest of a talented QB field.

DROY: Jaelan Phillips +750

Jaelan Phillips opened around +800 and has moved down since with a surprising Jamin Davis (+400) surge to the top of the market and Micah Parsons in a close second at +500. These are appropriate players to have at the top—Kwity Paye is fourth at +1000—as the Defensive Rookie of the Year is either a heavy sack or heavy tackle player. Since 2000, the award has been won seven times by EDGEs and nine times by off-ball linebackers. Cornerbacks and safeties simply do not get enough consistent ball production to rely on, while defensive tackles don’t measure up with the counting stats necessary.

Between the four at the top of the market, Phillips is the best bet. Phillips’ body is pro-ready, much like Paye’s and Parsons’, but Phillips had the production in college that Paye lacks and has the clear path to heavy playing time and volume that Parsons doesn’t. The Miami Dolphins’ pass rush has a lot of solid secondary options but needed an ace rusher, and that’s what they attacked in Phillips, who will be the featured player on third-down rush packages when head coach Brian Flores dials up the heat. 

To win DROY as a pass-rusher, you need at least eight sacks on the season. Most recently, Joey Bosa (2016), Nick Bosa (2019), and Chase Young (2020) won it with 10.5, 9.0, and 7.5 sacks, respectively. Phillips should be within range of that number, especially considering the elite coverage unit the Dolphins deploy; better coverage means longer pockets, which helps a young rusher turn pressure into sacks.

DROY Longshot: Zaven Collins +1200

This isn’t really that much of a longshot, but Zaven Collins is an off-ball linebacker—which has a good history of winning the award—who was selected in the top half of the first round, as 17 of the last 21 winners have been selected in the first 16 picks. Collins doesn’t have an impediment to playing time besides Jordan Hicks, who the Arizona Cardinals are apparently trying to trade; Collins is more pro-ready for an off-ball LB role than Isaiah Simmons is, even with Simmons’ year head start. Collins’ big tackle radius, big range, and the ability to rush all support his race to counting stats as well.