Dark Horses, Best Bets, Award Favorites and More from 2021 NFL Draft Class

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 14, 2021

Dark Horses, Best Bets, Award Favorites and More from 2021 NFL Draft Class

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    NFL bettors spent much of February, March and April without any action, but the 2021 NFL draft introduced plenty of betting opportunities. The post-draft football landscape has led to new odds, totals, specials and revised futures. 

    Now that we officially know where each member of the 2021 rookie class will play in the fall, we can assess all of those betting opportunities with more information and clarity. 

    With that in mind, let's break down odds from DraftKings for the Rookie of the Year awards, passing yardage totals, Week 1 starting quarterbacks and team futures in general. 

    Odds as of Tuesday, May 11

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Trevor Lawrence Is Heavily Favored

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    Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    It's no surprise that Jacksonville Jaguars No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence is an overwhelming favorite to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award at +300, but it's worth noting that the first quarterback selected in the draft has won it only once in the last nine NFL seasons (Kyler Murray in 2019). 

    I also wouldn't blame you for preferring to stay away from Jacksonville considering the many quarterback failures associated with that franchise. We have no idea what to expect from Lawrence, Urban Meyer and the Jags in general in 2021, and it isn't as though +300 is a jackpot scenario. 


    Best bet: Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris (+1000)

    The Steelers used the No. 24 overall pick on the pro-ready Alabama product and will not want to open themselves up to ridicule for that controversial decision. Look for them to ride Harris all season long to take pressure off aging quarterback Ben Roethlisberger behind a weakened offensive line. Running backs have won four of the last eight OROY awards, and Harris finds himself in an ideal situation to make an immediate impact. 


    Avoid: San Francisco 49ers QB Trey Lance (+600)

    For some reason, the raw No. 3 overall pick has identical odds to No. 2 overall selection Zach Wilson, who is coming off a huge final season at BYU and looks like a lock to start much or all of his rookie campaign with the New York Jets. Considering that Lance is likely to need time regardless of whether Jimmy Garoppolo is on the 49ers' roster in the fall, +600 isn't worth the gamble when you can have Lawrence for half of that return, Wilson for the same return or Harris for a much better return. 


    Dark horse: New York Jets RB Michael Carter (+3300)

    The risk with backing Carter or second-round Jets receiver Elijah Moore is that their success will likely be tied to Wilson's, and quarterbacks get a lot more love and attention in awards debates. With that said, there is a scenario where Wilson struggles and Carter still puts together a dominant rookie season. The fourth-round North Carolina product averaged a ridiculous 8.0 yards per carry during a 1,245-yard senior season in the ACC and shouldn't have much trouble emerging as the top option in the Jets backfield. 

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Micah Parsons Leads by Default?

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    While new Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (+400) has sizably better Defensive Rookie of the Year odds than every other defensive rookie, the race is likely more wide open than those numbers suggest. Only a pair of cornerbacks (Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II) were selected before Parsons on defense, but only two defensive backs have won this award in the last 16 years. It's a tough position to excel at right off the bat. 

    That leaves Parsons, Miami Dolphins first-round edge defender Jaelan Phillips (+700) and fellow front-seven defenders Jamin Davis of the Washington Football Team (+900), Kwity Paye of the Indianapolis Colts (+1000) and Zaven Collins of the Arizona Cardinals (+1100) as the top candidates. 


    Best bet: Cleveland Browns S/LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (+1400)

    JOK's odds are quite high for a second-round pick, but he was widely projected to be a first-round selection, and he has the talent to make a huge early impact off the ball as part of the Browns' growing defense. Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta admitted the team considered drafting Owusu-Koramoah in Round 1, and you get the feeling his odds would be closer to Phillips' or Davis' range if that were the case. Take advantage of the added return. 


    Avoid: Arizona Cardinals LB Zaven Collins (+1100)

    With Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt up front and Isaiah Simmons joining him in the second level, it'll be extremely hard for Collins to consistently distinguish himself as an off-ball linebacker in 2021. Phillips and Paye will likely benefit from better sack numbers, so Collins (and Parsons, for that matter) will likely need a lot of breaks to become the second linebacker to win this award in nine years. 


    Dark horse: Baltimore Ravens edge Odafe Oweh (+2000)

    This is a toss-up between Oweh and New York Giants second-round pass-rusher Azeez Ojulari, both of whom have +2000 odds even though they should have plenty of opportunities to rack up sacks as part of wide-open edge-defender depth charts in 2021. But Oweh was a first-round pick, while Ojulari will be looking to become the first player drafted 50th or later to win DROY since Erik McMillan did so in 1988.

About Those Yardage Specials for Lawrence and Wilson...

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Passing yardage over/unders are also available for the first two players drafted. 


    Lawrence: 4,150.5

    Only two rookie quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown for more than 4,150 yards in a season: Andrew Luck in 2012 and Justin Herbert last season. So if you already lack trust in the Jaguars (nobody would fault you), the over seems like a huge risk considering that any injury costing Lawrence multiple games would be your downfall regardless of his success on the field.

    Then again, nobody wants to root for an injury, so this might not be worth a bet at all. 


    Wilson: 3,800.5

    The house is certainly taking the 17-game regular-season into account here, and so should you. That's another reason why I'd be stuck on the fence with Lawrence, whereas it might be worth your while to take an extra 350 yards with Wilson. 

    We know the guy can rip it, and it's not as though he'll lack support with Elijah Moore and Corey Davis joining Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder in the receiving corps. The Jets' offensive line should also be better, but it's still reasonable to expect them to trail often, which could mean a lot of garbage-time yardage for Wilson.

Week 1 Starting Quarterback Specials in San Francisco, New England and Chicago

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    First-round quarterbacks Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones will eventually earn the chance to start for the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears and New England Patriots, respectively, but none of those three are favored to start Week 1.

    Here's a breakdown of Week 1 starting quarterback odds for those three teams.


    49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo (-278), Trey Lance (+220)

    With this, you're basically betting that the 49ers will/won't trade Garoppolo, or that he or Lance will/won't get hurt. It'd be pretty shocking if they kept Garoppolo and then benched him in favor of Lance just based on training camp and the preseason, and it doesn't look as though they're desperate to move Jimmy G.

    Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer spoke about the Niners' plans on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, per Boston.com

    "The decision to go with Trey Lance I think basically moved Jimmy Garoppolo further off the market. I think at that point the 49ers knew, and Kyle knew, we probably have to at least preserve the ability to redshirt our rookie quarterback for a year, because it's Trey Lance and not Mac Jones. I can't imagine the 49ers would be going out there and actively trying to make a deal for Jimmy Garoppolo unless the compensation coming back was absolutely overwhelming."

    So Garoppolo seems like the only reasonable bet, which explains why the payout is so weak there. 


    Bears: Andy Dalton (-200), Justin Fields (+180)

    Nick Foles is technically also a factor here at +1100, since there's a scenario in which Dalton gets injured or loses the job but the Bears still decide Fields isn't ready to start Week 1. 

    Still, the rookie's +180 odds are tempting considering how desperate this Chicago regime appears to be. General manager Ryan Pace says Dalton remains the starter and that the focus is on developing Fields, but this is the same team that proudly made it look as though Dalton was its man about a month before trading up nine spots to take Fields. 

    If the No. 11 overall pick stuns throughout the summer, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see him under center Week 1. 


    Patriots: Cam Newton (-286), Mac Jones (+300)

    Jones is a lot more pro-ready than Lance and is thus a lot more tempting here at +300. Still, you'd likely be betting on a Newton injury, because Bill Belichick has made it pretty clear that the 32-year-old remains the Patriots' QB1 for now. 

    Belichick grouped Jones with Jarrett Stidham, which is sort of ridiculous but also interesting. The 2019 fourth-round pick's +800 odds also explain why Jones has lower odds of earning the starting job in New England than Lance does in San Francisco, where nobody's betting on Josh Rosen (+3300) or Nate Sudfeld (+4000). 

    Jones might be worth a low-value shot in the dark here. 

The Draft's Impact on Team Futures

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Some team futures shifted dramatically after the draft, while others remained stagnant. Here are some revised (or unchanged) Super Bowl odds worth noting. 


    Cleveland Browns: +1600 to +1600

    This one shocks me because the consensus is that the Browns crushed the draft. Football Outsiders compiled GPAs for every team based on grades from experts throughout the industry, and Cleveland ranked second to only Chicago. It's hard to find many teams with more talent than the Browns, but you can still lock them in at +1600. That might have a lot to do with a stigma that bettors should get past. 


    Chicago Bears: +6000 to +5000

    Hype is a big factor here, as are Aaron Rodgers trade rumors. But can anyone really see Fields leading Chicago to a Super Bowl as a rookie? What about Dalton or Foles? Forget about these odds and consider a gamble on the Bears winning the NFC North at +350. 


    Los Angeles Chargers: +4000 to +3300

    This one is tougher to explain. The Chargers had a great draft and look much more prepared to support Justin Herbert in his second season, but they still have to deal with the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West. The Denver Broncos also look a lot better, and the Bolts might need time to adjust to so many big changes. Throw in Herbert's sophomore-slump potential, and I wouldn't touch Los Angeles for the Super Bowl or a division crown. 


    New York Giants: +6600 to +6600

    You can still get +350 on the Giants to win the NFC East, which is up for grabs every year. That's interesting considering that New York added several intriguing new weapons in the draft and looks prepared to go all-in for quarterback Daniel Jones in 2021. Washington still has quarterback questions, the Eagles have been surrounded by tumult and the Cowboys are the Cowboys, so +350 could be worth a shot.


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    Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.