NFL futures betting: Can a non-quarterback win rookie of the year?

·5 min read

The top five favorites to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award are Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Zach Wilson. All five quarterbacks were drafted in the first half of the first round of this year's draft. Lawrence, Jones and Wilson are all expected to start Week 1 while Fields and Lance are pushing veteran starters. 

Justin Herbert won the award in 2020 while Kyler Murray came home with the hardware in 2019. Despite two consecutive seasons of a quarterback winning the award, it hasn't always been that way. Since 2013, the award has been won by four running backs, three quarterbacks and a wide receiver. 

Najee Harris currently sits as the favorite amongst non-quarterbacks at +1000 to take home the award. Is he or any other skill position player worthy of a bet?

Najee Harris - Running Back - Steelers

Current Odds: +1000

Under Mike Tomlin, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a history of identifying a running back and using him as a bell-cow. Jerome Bettis, Rashard Mendenhall, Willie Parker and Le'Veon Bell have all had immense success in the Steelers' offense. James Conner had the latest opportunity in Pittsburgh, but due to injury issues and mediocre production, the Steelers decided to move on.

Pittsburgh used their first-round pick on running back Najee Harris out of Alabama. In 2020, the Steelers couldn't run the ball efficiently at all. They had a poor offensive line and Ben Roethlisberger was clearly running out of gas throwing the ball 40+ times a game down the stretch. It explains why Pittsburgh collapsed quickly following an 11-0 start. 

The Steelers saw first hand what could happen if they don't establish the run last season. Tomlin has proven over his coaching career that he values a running back that he could use often. Pittsburgh invested heavily in Harris. At 10-1 odds, he is worthy of a bet. There's a decent chance that Harris has a monster rookie season. 

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 21:  Najee Harris #22 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes for a first down during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field on August 21, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes for a first down during a preseason game against the Detroit Lions. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Kyle Pitts - Tight End - Falcons

Current Odds: +1100

No tight end in NFL history had ever been a top-five pick. That changed in 2021 when the Atlanta Falcons drafted Kyle Pitts out of Florida fourth overall. 

Pitts is an athletic freak. He ran a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day while also accumulating 22 reps on the bench press. In his final season at Florida, he recorded 43 receptions for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in just eight games. 

While listed as a tight end, Pitts is far from your prototypical tight end. He can blaze down the field and run good routes. Often, he's lined up outside to maximize his pass catching ability. Good luck covering this tight end with a linebacker or safety. 

The Falcons traded Julio Jones to Tennessee in the offseason, which vacates plenty of targets for Pitts in his rookie season. Calvin Ridley and Pitts should both see high volume in this offense as there's not much else in terms of weapons on the offense. Atlanta's subpar defense should lead to plenty of passing situations as well. 

No tight end has ever won Offensive Rookie of the Year. Pitts has a fighting chance of becoming the first one to ever do it. 

DeVonta Smith - Wide Receiver - Eagles

Current Odds: +1600

Smith won the Heisman trophy with Alabama last season and was drafted 10th overall in the draft. Despite the impressive resume, it's hard to trust any part of the Eagles' passing attack with Jalen Hurts completing just 52% of his passes. I'd pass on Smith at these odds. 

Ja'Marr Chase - Wide Receiver - Bengals

Current Odds: +1800

At the time of the draft, Chase was one of the more hyped receiving prospects in years. He was the first receiver off the board when the Bengals selected him with the fifth pick. However, the rookie has had an inconsistent preseason and training camp. With Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd as already established receiving options in Cincinnati, I'd avoid Chase at this price. 

Ja'Vonte Williams - Running Back - Broncos

Current Odds: +2500

Williams is an exciting second-round pick out of North Carolina. However, Denver already has Melvin Gordon. Williams is expected to split reps with Gordon to begin the season. Like J.K. Dobbins and Cam Akers in 2020, it usually takes rookie running backs about half a season before they begin to take over a backfield. For that reason, Williams isn't the best bet. 

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 29: Trey Sermon #28 of the San Francisco 49ers runs with the ball during their preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Levi's Stadium on August 29, 2021 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Trey Sermon of the San Francisco 49ers runs with the ball during a 2021 preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Trey Sermon - Running Back - 49ers

Current Odds: +3500

Sermon's stock increased with his performance down the stretch for Ohio State last season. He currently sits behind Raheem Mostert on the 49ers depth chart. Mostert has dealt with injuries in the past. San Francisco is also beginning the season with Jeff Wilson Jr. on the PUP list. They released Wayne Gallman. Sermon should see a role to begin the year and if Mostert gets bit by the injury bug, Sermon has a chance to grab the reigns. San Francisco has one of the league's most efficient ground attacks. At 35-1, I'd take a shot on Sermon.

Other intriguing options

Jaylen Waddle (20-to-1): Potential number one receiver in Miami

Elijah Moore (28-to-1): Potential number two receiver for the Jets

Michael Carter (50-to-1): Potential number one running back for the Jets

Rondale Moore (66-to-1): Potential number two receiver for the Cardinals

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