The 2021 NFL Draft featured star collegiate players relocating across the nation throughout the three-day event. Five first-round quarterbacks headlined a deep offensive class. We also saw seven trades throughout the last year that affected who went where.
The quarterbacks will, of course, get the advantage when it comes to betting odds for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. It's easy to hand the most important position on the field the biggest award. And in all likelihood, a QB will win it since we may see all five rookies start by Week 6.
Some of the first-year players present less value than others, though. There are the early favorites in Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones. But we want to find the value bets for the bigger return.
We have three players who you should throw money on right now to maximize the potential return at the end of the season. These are all familiar names who fell into advantageous situations. An injury or slow development from a top quarterback could open the door for each of these stars to be crowned the rookie of the year.
Odds via Betonline
Zach Wilson, New York Jets (+1000)
New York knew Zach Wilson was their man before the pro-day circuit even began. New Jets coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur quickly began overhauling what was a woeful unit under Adam Gase. Tailoring an offense around the former BYU star and surrounding him with a deep cast of playmakers was clearly a priority.
The 33-year-old first-time coordinator has big shoes to fill. The brother of Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, and protege of Kyle Shanahan, Mike LaFleur must find his niche so he’s not simply a clone of the ever-popular wide zone offense. Using the scheme as a base for the offensive play-calling and style is important but creation and versatility are as well.
The wide zone running attack essentially boils down to relying on outside zone rush plays and then throwing play-action attempts to take advantage of defensive adjustments. Shanahan, for example, has mastered creating yards-after-catch opportunities with the wide zone base. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski has made his version of it feature more 22 personnel to take pressure off the passer.
Wilson’s strengths will highlight the best parts of the offense. He’s experienced in run-pass options, has a quick passing motion, and has the mobility required to terrorize defenses on the move. LaFleur can account for these without specifically tailoring to Wilson since there’s overlap between the player and base of the scheme.
Drafting Elijah Moore and Michael Carter in addition to signing Corey Davis gives Wilson one of the better young groups of talent in the league. Last year's second-rounder Denzel Mims and slot specialist Jamison Crowder also return to complete the group.
Wilson will be a Day One starter with everything around him to be a better value than others ahead of him. It'd be smart to jump on grabbing Wilson at +1000 while you can.
DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles (+1200)
Where you stand on the DeVonta Smith weight issue can certainly sway your take on this value. Alabama tried to bulk Smith up throughout his college career but he was stuck at 165 pounds. Some pundits believed he was too big of a risk as a first-round selection due to the rarity that receivers his size find success at the next level.
And the reality is Smith is aiming to be an exception. Chad Johnson is probably the best-case scenario for Smith and he would've been well worth a first-rounder. Smith plays more explosively than he's ever measured and in the right offense he'll have a ton of touches manufactured for him on top of winning on isolated routes.
The opportunity for Smith is better than what Kyle Pitts has in Atlanta or Jaylen Waddle has in Miami. There's significantly less competition for passes on a unit with Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham. Even if Jalen Hurts struggles again, Smith is in for a large amount of touches in Nick Sirianni's offense.
Sirianni's experience with Parris Campbell gives him a good backbone of structure to work with. Smith isn't as athletic as Campbell but he's more refined. That'll matter as a pure receiver.
Hurts is the bigger factor here overall. He must prove to be at least a decent pocket passer this season to be considered the Eagles' franchise QB and get Smith over 1,000 yards and enough scores to get the reigning Heisman Trophy winner another award.
Smith is the best playmaker play on the board because he can be the focal point for the Eagles' offense. No other rookie can say that besides maybe Najee Harris, but a back won't win the award this year.
Davis Mills, Houston Texans (+2800)
A real long shot considering the team he's on is Davis Mills. The Houston signal-caller situation is complex because of the uncertainty surrounding Deshaun Watson, and the supporting cast is well below average. However, that can shape a narrative for Mills that pushes him above others if they're not matching expectations.
Mills looks the part as a quality pocket passer despite how raw his process can be. His drop-back style is a theoretical good fit into a traditional offense. He had bursts of high-quality play despite being surrounded by very little at Stanford.
A lot needs to come to fruition in Houston for Mills to be more than an afterthought but he has a slight prayer to win the award. David Culley must shock the world and be a quality offensive mind. Mills must progress rapidly and make the most of a receiving unit with just two starting-caliber veterans on it.
It's possible Nico Collins is ready for a big role, though. And maybe one of Phillip Lindsay, Mark Ingram and David Johnson can be explosive enough to jolt the running game. The offensive line appears good enough to compete and create some time for Mills.
He's the biggest longshot of anyone but could net a legendary return even on a modest flier bet.
Photo: New York Jets