May 24, 2024

2023 NFL awards predictions: Best rookies feature interesting trends, Chargers and Pats have longshots

Thanks to the widespread proliferation of legalized sports betting, we’ve seen an explosion of available markets in terms of NFL awards. Which is fantastic because the MVP market is, as I noted while highlighting some favorites, mid-tier picks and longshots last week, quite the mess due to longer shots winning the award several times in the last few years. The markets for Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Award offer much more viable longshots to land a winner. 

As with the other awards we’ve discussed (see: links above), I’ll have some best bets, some midrange bets and some longshots for both the Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards. But first some general theories about how to attack these specific markets. 

Since 2011, five quarterbacks, four running backs and three wide receivers have won OROY. The wideout trend feels like a fluke to me — Garrett Wilson had a bad draft class and Ja’Marr Chase was a huge underdog until going off for 266 yards against the Chiefs in a late-season, high-profile game; Mac Jones was -1000 to win the award at the time (seriously). OBJ went nuke bomb over 12 games with a signature moment. Notably, quarterbacks don’t need good records to win this award — Cam Newton, Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert won six or less games their first year, Dak Prescott (insane offensive line plus Ezekiel Elliott, who should have won?) and Robert Griffin III (incredible season with a coaching staff unleashing the option on the world) were the only playoff quarterbacks. Saquon Barkley went nuts but the seasons for Eddie Lacy, Toddy Gurley and Alvin Kamara aren’t as monster as you think, they just looked like elite talents as rookies. Short version: lean QB here with any value but running backs are more likely to win.

Defensively, we have a mixed bag. Three cornerbacks have won but you need to be elite in a big market with a meh class (Sauce Gardner) or make big splash plays (Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Peters). Or you can be a multi-faceted linebacker like a Luke Kuechly, or Shaq Leonard. More than likely sacks and pressures win this for you, with Micah Parsons, Chase Young, Nick Bosa, Joey Bosa, Aaron Donald, Sheldon Richardson and Von Miller winning since 2011 (and Leonard had seven his rookie seaosn). 

There’s probably nothing more important than an archetype for an award so let’s unlock some winners. Because the market here is worse we’re making (20-1) our midrange point instead of (25-1) from previous articles. 

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Best Top Bet: Bryce Young (+400)

This number is terrible, so I probably wouldn’t bet it, but the Panthers were a slightly below-average NFL team in a bad division last year. They went from Matt Rhule to Frank Reich (you have NO IDEA what an upgrade this is but wait until the season starts). They picked first overall despite not being the worst team and got the best quarterback in the draft. Tom Brady left their division for retirement. If Young and the Panthers win 8+ games and he looks good he probably wins this award; if he wins his division it’s over. In the NFC South those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

Best Midrange Option: Quentin Johnston (20-1)

Both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have dealt with injuries. Suggesting either is injury prone would be quite dumb but even if they’re both healthy this is a silly number for an elite vertical receiver like TCU’s finest in Johnston. Justin Herbert throws the best deep ball in the NFL and Johnston can run hot without excessive coverage in a new Kellen Moore scheme. 

Best Longshot: Tank Bigsby (50-1). Josh Downs (40-1)

If you listen to the Pick Six Podcast (subscribe here) you would have had Bigsby at a better number when our own Pete Prisco pointed out how he’s going to be a goal line guy this year. If anything happens to Travis Etienne and the quarterbacks aren’t good, Bigsby is a real good lottery ticket. Downs is mostly an “I’ve seen him and he’s great” bet — Anthony Richardson isn’t a touch throw rookie quarterback, the Colts might be run heavy and Downs is very much a slot guy. But I’ll bet on talent I trust at that price — maybe he’s the underneath tight end supplement for Richardson and rips off big YAC. 

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Best Top Bet: Emmanuel Forbes (15-1)

Very tough DROY class and the market reflects it. Forbes is the pick here because he has very elite ball skills plus very, VERY elite “take the ball to the house” skills (six in a season for Mississippi State). If you want to back a defensive back for this award, you back one who can house a few turnovers. The Washington defense is good enough not to lean on him, which means he could end up having even more opportunities for big plays.

Best Midrange Option: Drew Sanders (30-1)

If you’ve read anything I’ve written pre-draft you know I love Drew Sanders. Fans got mad pre-draft because no one wants a linebacker but he’s exactly the type of player Sean Payton will tell Vance Joseph to unleash on a situational basis to rush the passer. And if he piles up sacks, he’s a prime candidate to sneak this award. 

Best Longshot: Marte Mapu (100-1)

You wanna get NUTS? If this were five years ago, a Patriots third-round pick would be a quarter of this number. New England will be better than people think and Mapu is getting a touch of warmth during training camp. If you don’t want to hit triple digits on a third-round Sacramento State linebacker for DROY pick while the entire world is fading Bill Belichick then you don’t want to live. 

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