Rookie of the Year props have now been released at several books, so it is a good time to look at legitimate contenders with rookies that are in the best spots to star right away.
Future bets on NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year are now available at several sportsbooks, so now looks like the perfect time to take a look at the rookies that are in the best situations to both start and star right away. Aside from award purposes, knowing which teams can improve due to big impact rookies could also help when making early season NFL picks.
Now on the offensive side, there is a prohibitive favorite that almost looks like a shoe-in on the NFL odds for Offensive Rookie of the Year barring injury, so we will only present that heavy favorite and our darkhorse candidate to upset the apple cart on that side of the ball.
There is more competition for Defensive Rookie of the Year, so we will present more candidates on that end of the field including three defenders that are currently not listed among the odds. That may change as the season draws closer though, so keep your eyes open as the defensive rookie field gets expanded.
So without any further ado, here are our top rookie contenders for 2016, followed by our best value bets for both offense and defense.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys (7/2): Elliott is the favorite on offense, and is that really a surprise? After all, not only was Ezekiel the only running back taken in the first round, but he went very early at number four to the Dallas Cowboys, landing him in the perfect situation. Dallas has probably the best offensive line in football, and after Demarco Murray departed after his career year in 2014, the great line made Darren McFadden look like a Pro Bowler last season. Elliott is probably an upgrade from McFadden already even as a rookie, so a 1000-yard rushing season as a rookie seems like a foregone conclusion. If that does indeed come to pass, it would be extremely difficult not to hand Elliott the hardware at the end of the season.
Paxton Lynch, QB, Denver Broncos (12/1): Nonetheless, those of you that have followed us in the past know that we rarely accept short prices on just about anything, let alone futures that tie up your money for six months. So if someone is to upset Elliott, our guess would be that it is more likely to be a quarterback rather than a fellow running back or a wide receiver. But which quarterback would it be? Jared Goff was the top overall pick, but we are not really thrilled with his receiving options for the now Los Angeles Rams. Carson Wentz went second, and while he may be the best quarterback in the draft over the long run, he is still a bit raw and he may not even start for Philadelphia this season. Meanwhile, Lynch fell to number 26 as the third quarterback taken, and he may be in the best situation of all with the defending Super Bowl Champion Broncos! Lynch does not have much veteran competition to beat out, and unlike the retired Peyton Manning, Lynch has the mobility to allow Coach Gary Kubiak to run the offense that he prefers, unlike last year when he was forced to adjust the offense with a statuesque pocket quarterback under center. And that is not to mention Paxton's great supporting cast on both sides of the ball.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Vernon Butler, DL, Carolina Panthers: Butler is one of our defensive rookies that are off the board, but we feel he will make an immediate impact for the defending NFC Champions. Butler weighs 323 pounds and is not what you may consider an elite athlete por se, but he did post 11 sacks from an interior defensive tackle position at Purdue last season and while he may not start immediately, he should still be on the field a lot as part of a defensive line rotation along with starters Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei, both of whom are capable of lining up either as traditional tackles or as nose tackles. Most importantly, Carolina may have been the best fit for Butler's skill set.
Kenny Clark, DL, Green Bay Packers: Another defender that is currently unavailable on the Defensive Rookie of the Year odds is Clark, even though he too landed in a great situation. Defensive coordinator Don Capers runs a zone scheme in which his players must have the flexibility to either rush the passer or drop back in coverage, and Clark is able to do just that even from a defensive line position. His bull rushing ability was obvious at UCLA, and he then showed off his ability to make spot coverages during the NFL Combine. If that skill set sounds similar to the now retired Packer B.J. Raji, well, it is because it is, and that should accelerate his ascent to more playing time.
Miles Jack, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars (16/1): You may recall that in our last mock draft board a few days before the NFL Draft, we had the Jaguars selecting Jack in the first round with the fifth overall pick. However, concerns over Jack's injured knee became rampant on draft day, leading to him slipping down everyone's board and Jacksonville selecting Jalen Ramsey first instead. However, in a stroke of genius, the Jags traded up to select Jack also when he fell to the second round, and then it turned out that he did not need any additional surgery after all! Thus, the Jaguars stole a freakish athlete capable of playing any of the linebacker positions, and these odds could make Jack the best investment of all.
Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars (9/1): Of course, Ramsey was a great consolation prize for Jacksonville in Round 1 as many scouts considered him the best player in the draft due to his versatile ability to play any of the defensive secondary positions. It bears mentioning though that he suffered a small meniscus tear in his knee in recent days, and the severity remains unknown. If the injury requires removal, then Ramey will be sidelined for up to six weeks and should be ready for opening week. On the other hand, repairing the meniscus would knock him out for up to six months. And even if it is the former, Jack may be the Jags' defensive rookie providing more value at the respective odds offered anyway.
Chris Jones, DL, Kansas City Chiefs: Jones is our third defensive rookie that is not on the odds board as of yet but could turn up there in the coming months. Kansas City was looking for a defensive end for their 3-4 lineup to compliment the other line members Allen Bailey and Dontari Poe, and the Chiefs feel that got their man in Jones out of Mississippi State of the SEC, who has a great chance to start immediately as a 310-pound pass rusher with Justin Houston possibly missing the entire season. Again, it is all about opportunity and Jones has the good fortune of landing with a team that could be in dire need of his ability to get to the quarterback right from Day 1.
DeForest Buckner, DE, San Francisco 49ers (7/1): All in all, we were not enamored with the 49ers draft from the second round onward, but they certainly hit a home run by making the right choice in the first round with Buckner, who will now be reunited with former Oregon teammate Arik Armstead to form a great pair of bookends in new coach Chip Kelly's 3-4 defense. Buckner is an ideal fit in the 3-4 standing at 6-foot-7 and owning 34-inch arms, meaning he could make more of an immediate impact being chosen by the Niners than he could have made at his other rumored landing spots before the draft, with not too many other NFL teams using the 3-4 alignment.
Best Offensive Rookie of the Year Value: Paxton Lynch, QB, Denver Broncos (12/1)
Best Defensive Rookie of the Year Value: Miles Jack, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars (16/1)