PREDICTING THE OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

BY ADAM GREENE

By the time the end of the season rolls around, the Offensive Rookie of the Year is usually obvious. While more than one first-year player can have a great rookie season, the guy taking home the ORotY trophy is a foregone conclusion by the final week of the season. You could argue that Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert had it sewn up by Halloween last year and no one would counter you.

But the season is just beginning. As of this writing, every training camp has kicked off and that means the ORotY race is wide open. So let’s see if we can make some money.

Our trends say we should be looking at a quarterback. QBs have taken it two seasons in a row, with Arizona Cardinals’ signal caller Kyler Murray claiming the trophy in 2019. Dak Prescott hoisted it in 2016 with two running backs, Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley grabbing it in between.

Since 2010, six quarterbacks have hoisted the award, including three straight from 2010-2012 (Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III). We’ve had four running backs (Kamara, Barkley, Todd Gurley and Eddie Lacy) and one wide receiver (Odell Beckham Jr.). As I said earlier, these outcomes were never in doubt. These guys all earned the award.

So who’s claiming it this year?

Here’s your contenders according to the odds:

Trevor Lawrence +350

Najee Harris +700

Trey Lance +750

Kyle Pitts +750

Mac Jones +800

Ja’Marr Chase +800

Justin Fields +900

Zach Wilson +1000

DeVonta Smith +1200

Trey Sermon +2000

Jaylen Waddle +2500

Travis Etienne +3300

Rashod Bateman +4000

Terrace Marshall Jr. +5000

Kadarius Toney +5000

Kyle Trask +5000

Rondale Moore +5000

Kellen Mond +5000

Elijah Moore +5000

Davis Mills +5000

Last year, the favorite was obviously Joe Burrow and for good reason. The other rookie QBs weren’t slated to start and if not for a Chargers team doctor literally stabbing Tyrod Taylor in the lung with a hypodermic needle, Justin Herbert would have probably rode the bench for at least a month.

Right now, only Lawrence and Wilson are slated in as starters at QB, so let’s beigin with their chances. Burrow had real offensive weapons in Cincinnati that helped him get out the blocks quick. Herbert had elite wide receivers and running backs in Los Angeles. Lawrence and Wilson do not.

Wilson will be throwing to Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, Jameson Crowder and Chris Herndon. His running back is Tevin Coleman. Lawrence will be firing it to D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones Jr., Laviska Shenault Jr. and Chris Manhertz with help in the backfield from Etienne.

That’s not exactly Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler.

The rookie QB in the best situation, if he was called into action due to injury like two of the last three quarterbacks to claim the award is Trey Lance. The San Francisco 49ers were a Super Bowl team just two years ago. The reason they didn’t make the playoffs last season was that that same SB roster was decimated with injuries. With Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury history (it’s extensive), Lance could absolutely step into a Dak Prescott/Justin Herbert scenario. The books aren’t crazy. It’s why he’s got the third best odds and if I’m betting a QB, he’s probably the guy.

But this year, I’m not. Specifically, because of all the things that would have to happen for Lance to claim it. Instead, I like three guys and one might surprise.

The first is Najee Harris (+700), the guy the Pittsburgh Steelers have already penciled in as their starter and, by that fact alone, is probably a 1,200 yard rusher and catching 500 yards of passes. If he gets in the end zone a lot, he could be as good a lock as you’ll get.

My No. 2 choice is Ja’Marr Chase (+800). The last time Chase and Burrow hooked up back at LSU, Chase caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. Now, he’s not going to have that kind of production as a rookie and you could argue that Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins will keep him from putting up ORotY numbers. But Chase played at LSU with Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall Jr and had no issues. He’ll be alright.

My dark horse? My big payday? Take a good long look at New York Giants wide receiver Kadarius Toney (+5000). Toney tested positive for COVID-19 when he got to Giants camp last week, but he’s clear now and ready to participate. Since it wasn’t 10 days, that means he’s probably vaccinated and good to go. That’s excellent news for those laying some cash on him for ORotY.

Toney is 6-0 and 193 pounds, caught 70 passes for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games with Florida last season against SEC defensive backs.

In New York, Daniel Jones is starting fresh with every receiver except Sterling Shepard, who will not lead the team in receiving. Jones is entering his third year and this is it, his make or break season. He’ll also have some pressure off thanks to the return of a past ORotY, Saquon Barkley.

Jones will be building a report with both free agent acquisition Kenny Golladay and Toney at the same time. Unless Darius Slayton can keep Toney on the bench (and I don’t think he can. In fact, I think, if anything, Slayton takes Shepard’s job) then Toney will see a lot of single coverage as teams focus on Golladay and tight end Evan Engram.

This is the same recipe OBJ used to nab the award back in 2014, with a similar supporting cast.

Is Toney the best bet? Nope, that’s Harris. But he’s the biggest payout that could realistically win it.

The NFL season begins on Thursday, Sep. 9 and the Week 1 Schedule is already up and taking bets at BetOnline.AG.

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