Finding Value in Betting the 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
With the NFL draft now behind us, oddsmakers have transitioned from their top pick odds to preseason Rookie of the Year odds. Unlike other sports, football boasts an Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, but here we're looking to the hype and appeal of the offensive side of the ball.
For the purpose of this article, we'll look at the current odds offered over at MyBookie.
Not so surprisingly, Saquon Barkley -- this year's second overall pick -- possesses the best odds at +120 (a winning $100 bet returns $120). He is heavily favored over Baker Mayfield, who owns the second-highest odds at +650.
However, despite the draft capital spent on Barkley and his projected offensive role, should the former Penn State standout be such a large favorite over the field? Fellow top-five picks Leonard Fournette and Amari Cooper failed to bring in the award, and just a season ago Alvin Kamara -- a third round pick in 2017 -- was named the NFL's top offensive rookie.
With that said, here are a few recent trends and how they can help you target this year's darkhorse Rookie of the Year candidates.
In the past, who has usually taken home Rookie of the Year honors?
Since 2000, eight running backs, seven quarterbacks, and three wide receivers have won the award. In the past 10 years specifically, quarterbacks have dominated the award with 5 winners, compared to 3 running backs and 2 wide receivers.
It's plain to see that tight ends and wideouts are not strong bets to take down the award. And, on the other end of the spectrum, running backs and quarterbacks look to be the strongest plays.
But let's not limit our outlook to position only. How high does the Rookie of the Year usually get selected in the draft?
Over the past 10 seasons, the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year has been, on average, picked with the 32nd overall pick in the draft. and only three winners have been selected outside of Round 1. These numbers are, of course, skewed by 2016 Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott, who the Cowboys selected at pick 135 in Round 4. But Prescott appears to be an outlier. More likely than not, teams have used high draft capital on the eventual award winners.
Lamar Jackson +2000
Out of the five quarterbacks taken in Round 1, the Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson -- the 32nd overall picks -- owns the lowest odds of winning Rookie of the Year. However, Jackson's chances may be higher than initially thought.
First of all, Jackson meets the first round draft capital threshold. According to Rich Hribar, of the 27 quarterbacks selected in the first round over the last decade, the average number of games started during a quarterbacks' rookie year is 11. Hribar also noted that only Jake Locker failed to start a single game out of that sample. Therefore, based on draft capital alone, Jackson has a good shot to earn significant playing time in year one.
Second, Jackson will be competing with under-performing Joe Flacco for the quarterback job. In 2017, Flacco's Passing Net Expected Points (NEP, our in-house metric that uses historical down-and-distance data to determine what is expected of a player on a per-play basis) per Drop Back of -0.05 finished well below the league average of 0.06. Among 26 quarterbacks with at least 400 drop backs, Flacco finished 25th and only ahead of DeShone Kizer. In the 2016 and 2015 seasons, Flacco finished 24th and 22nd, respectively, among 28 and 25 qualified quarterbacks to drop back at least 400 times.
In spite of Flacco's poor play, the Ravens finished 13th in our schedule-adjusted team rankings last season. So, with pressure mounting for Flacco, Jackson could enter the starting lineup early in the season and benefit from a receiving core that added veteran Michael Crabtree this offseason. He's also known for creating plays with his legs, after rushing for 4,132 yards in his college career. In 10 NFL seasons, Flacco has averaged 76.6 yards on the ground per season. Jackson could prove to be a real difference-maker in both parts of the Ravens' offensive attack.
While Lamar Jackson has a lot of work to do to unseat Flacco, he remains a solid bet for rookie of the year with +2000 odds.
Royce Freeman +2500
As the eighth running back of the board at pick 71, Royce Freeman fills a void left by C.J. Anderson in Denver. While Freeman doesn't have premium draft capital on his side, he projects to see early-down work for John Elway's team. While at Oregon, Freeman amassed 5,621 rushing yards as the four-year starter, including two seasons with 20+ catches out of the backfield.
In 2017, Booker played slightly above average, recording a Rushing NEP per Play of 0.00 (-0.04 was the NFL average) and adding 30 receptions on 38 targets. However, going back to 2016, Booker struggled mightily, recording a Rushing NEP per Play of -0.11, far below the league average of -0.02 for that season. While Booker's receiver prowess should keep him on the field in third-down situations early in the year, early-season struggles could allow Freeman a shot at a full-time role.
A polished receiver and solid pass-blocker, Freeman could steal work away from Booker and Henderson -- the latter of which had two catches on two targets in 2017 -- in the passing game. With odds of +2500 (3.85% implied probability), Freeman deserves a long look on betting websites.
Derrius Guice +1500
After a surprising draft day fall, the Washington Redskins selected Derrius Guice with the 59th overall pick. Widely seen as the second most talented running back in the draft, Guice fell due to character concerns, despite a productive collegiate showing. In LSU's anemic offense, Guice rushed for over 1,200 yards in both 2016 and 2017.
In 2017, Washington's backfield regressed in a major way on the ground. Both Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley disappointed in terms of Rushing NEP per Play, recording marks of -0.15 and -0.08, respectively. Surprisingly, 2017 breakout player Chris Thompson also struggled on the ground, with a per play mark spot on the league average (-0.04). Additionally, Perine, Kelley, and Thompson posted Rushing Success Rates (percentage of runs contributing to a positive NEP) of 32.00%, 35.48%, and 39.06%, while the league average hovers around 40% year over year. While Thompson should retain his passing-down role, after recording 39 catches in 2017, Guice should immediately take the field on early downs.
Guice should also benefit from a healthy Washington offensive line, after an exorbitant number of injuries last season. In 2017, linemen Shawn Lauvao, Spencer Long, and Trent Williams all ended the year on injured reserve, while Morgan Moses, Chase, Roullier, Ty Nnsekhe, and Brandon Scherff missed multiple games.
With a projectable workload and improved offensive line play, Guice could provide immense value at his +1500 odds.