He’s the only quarterback who is assured of a starting spot in Week 1, barring injury. Tua Tagovailoa will need to show he’s healthy, and even then the Miami Dolphins won’t rush him. Justin Herbert will have to beat out Tyrod Taylor with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Burrow is not only going to start, he has good skill-position players around him, an offensive-minded coach in Zac Taylor and will pass plenty because the Bengals will lose their share of games. He’s going to put up numbers.
It’s hard to make a reasonable pick for anyone else, but that means odds for some are enticing. At BetMGM, Burrow is the favorite to win NFL offensive rookie of the year at +240, and given how much is in his favor, that doesn’t seem steep. But injuries can happen, or Burrow might not play well. That opens up the door for some players at much longer odds.
A deep receiver class has some standouts
It’s not worth analyzing the offensive linemen because they never win major awards, and the tight end class this year isn’t good. Let’s start with receiver because this was a deep class.
Since 2003, when Anquan Boldin was Offensive Rookie of the Year, Percy Harvin and Odell Beckham Jr. are the only receivers to win. Like most awards, voters look at quarterback first and work their way backward. And then they’ll look at running backs next.
For a receiver to win, it would take a quiet year at other positions, and some big stats. The top three receivers from the draft (and the three best odds at BetMGM among receivers) — Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb — are all from crowded passing games so the chance any of them puts up huge numbers doesn’t seem great. But Jalen Reagor of the Philadelphia Eagles (+2000) and Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings (+2200) don’t have as much competition for targets and good quarterbacks throwing them the ball. They look like better bets than the three top rookie receivers. An injury to Deebo Samuel also makes San Francisco 49ers first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk an interesting dart throw at +400.
No running back has an edge
The second favorite behind Burrow is Clyde Edwards-Helaire at +600 and that makes sense. He’s in a great Kansas City offense and the Chiefs used a first-round pick on him. The Chiefs still like Damien Williams but Edwards-Helaire will play plenty. Still, he’s probably not going to have an enormous share of the backfield work in Kansas City.
In bad news for fantasy football players, no rookie back landed in a situation in which he can be reasonably expected to have an overwhelming share of the carries for their team. For a rookie back other than Edwards-Helaire to win the award, there would need to be an injury or unexpected shift in playing time. Backs like D’Andre Swift of the Detroit Lions (+1000), Cam Akers of the Los Angeles Rams (+2500) and Ke’Shawn Vaughn of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+2500) have the clearest path to take on a huge role. But J.K. Dobbins of the Baltimore Ravens could end up being the top back for a team that set a record for rushing yards last season and will be among the best teams in the AFC. If something happens to Mark Ingram and Dobbins becomes the clear lead back, +1600 odds would look very good.
Can a QB other than Joe Burrow win?
Even when a running back should win, voters want to cast ballots for quarterbacks. Dak Prescott won over teammate Ezekiel Elliott in 2016 even though Elliott was the foundation of the Dallas Cowboys’ offense that season. Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals won last season when Las Vegas Raiders back Josh Jacobs probably had a better year.
It’s usually the right move to look at quarterbacks first. Burrow is the clear leader in the clubhouse because of opportunity. But it’s worth looking at the other two top-six picks at the position.
Tagovailoa is +900. If you knew he’d play 16 games that might be a reasonable value, but that’s the hang-up. Maybe it makes more sense to consider Herbert at +2000. Taylor isn’t too big of an obstacle for Herbert to win a starting job. Herbert has top-end skills and the Chargers still have a talented roster, including dangerous pass catchers Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Hunter Henry. Given the difference in odds, Herbert doesn’t seem like a bad play if Burrow’s odds are too short.
Burrow is the big favorite, and for good reason. He’s a great prospect in a good position to have a big rookie year. Concerns about a lost offseason are probably overblown; Cam Newton had a record-breaking season in 2011 when a labor battle wiped out the offseason. But it’s the NFL and things happen. Burrow being an overwhelming favorite means pretty good odds for others.
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