Picking an enticing Defensive ROTY ticket is among the underrated props for bettors. The combination of long odds & a predictable voting history make the award easier to handicap.
Almost without exception, the winner of this award is a first-round selection on the front seven. Since 1995, 17 of 20 winners have fit that criteria, with a pair of second-round linebackers (Kendrell Bell in 2001 and DeMeco Ryans in 2006) and then-cornerback Charles Woodson (1998) representing the only exceptions. Voters have shown a strong bias towards tackle and sack numbers, both of which favor rookies likely to inherit large amounts of playing time to accumulate gaudy cumulative stats.
That simple historical filter likely excludes defensive backs such as Landon Collins (+1200) and Marcus Peters (+2500), while the likes of Shaq Thompson (+1600) and Denzel Perryman (+2000) face playing time issues that make them unfavorable propositions. However, these players offer bettors significant bang for their buck based on their current odds from 5Dimes.
Vic Beasley (+900): Three players hold shorter odds than the eighth overall pick, but Beasley might be the deserving favorite. The Atlanta Falcons’ top pick holds the shortest odds of any edge defender, and having already ascended to the top of the Birds’ depth chart, he should receive plenty of opportunities to pin his ears back and pile up the sack totals.
Beasley’s primary appeal lies in his likely role as the “LEO” rusher in Dan Quinn’s Seahawkian defensive system. Like Michael Bennett in Seattle, the Falcons would ideally envision Beasley as a versatile inside-outside rusher capable of playing multiple weakside techniques. With veteran Kroy Biermann out of position in Quinn’s 4-3 scheme and Adrian Clayborn likely to play on the strongside, Beasley isn’t facing much competition from incumbent vets.
Schedule-wise, Atlanta also gets six games against teams that finished in the bottom 10 in sack percentage last season. Those results aren’t guaranteed to carry over into 2015, but it also excludes teams like the Panthers and Giants who face shaky left tackle situations. Beasley represents the brightest hope for a defense that has fallen on hard times the past two seasons and hasn’t had an individual player generate double-digit sacks since Jonathan Abraham in 2012. Beasley is a strong bet to break that drought and lead rookies in sacks, making him an automatic Rookie of the Year frontrunner.
Benardrick McKinney (+1200): Middle linebackers Stephone Anthony and Eric Kendricks are current betting co-favorites at +400, but it’s a fellow early-round ‘backer who represents the best value at the position. The Houston Texans’ rookie did suffer a sprained MCL in the team’s second preseason game, but the injury is reportedly mild and not expected to keep him out of regular-season action. Consequently, bettors could have a player with a roughly similar profile to Anthony and Kendricks but at a much stronger value.
Apart from former Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing, the Texans’ face a fairly muddled middle linebacker picture in their 3-4 scheme. Last year’s squad typically relied on a combination of Akeem Dent on early downs and Mike Mohammed in passing situations. Dent is currently on the PUP list, but Justin Tuggle, who started eight games in 2014, remains on the depth chart as possible competition. So whereas the other two rookies only need to beat out uninspiring vets such as Chad Greenway and David Hawthorne, McKinney faces more of a logjam to playing time.
And yet, the Texans’ options don’t appear particularly enticing, and the second-rounder McKinney possesses a skill set that would seem conducive to piling up those all-important tackle numbers. A throwback thumper at 6’4” and 250 pounds, McKinney should immediately emerge as Houston’s best run-stopper from the second level. While his questionable movement could cause him to lose coverage snaps to someone like Mohammed, that doesn’t necessarily prevent him from becoming a prominent run-stuffer who piles up tackle numbers. McKinney’s statistical upside rivals that of Anthony and Kendricks, so don’t be afraid to jump on his longer NFL odds.
Shane Ray (+2500): Among the lottery tickets, Ray represents the best value simply from a talent perspective. A likely top-15 pick whose stock fell due to reports of a positive drug test days before the draft, the Denver Broncos’ top pick would ostensibly be stuck behind Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware on the edge-rushing depth chart. However, while Ray is unlikely to start in Denver barring injuries, the nature of his situational pass-rushing role minimizes the importance of a full-time role.
More importantly, players with shorter odds like Randy Gregory (+1400) and Preston Smith (+2000) face similarly crowded depth charts. While Gregory and Smith aren’t necessarily competing against anyone with the respective resumes of Ware and Miller, those players aren’t likely to see significantly more snaps than Ray. Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has already professed an interest in using Ray alongside the Broncos’ top two rushers in small passing-down personnel packages, something that should keep his snap total at a healthy level.
Unlike Beasley, no other rookie edge-rusher is really guaranteed a sizable portion of his team’s defensive snaps. Playing time becomes a larger uncertainty when looking at secondary candidates, making talent the trump card for any possible NFL pick. Ray has stayed out of trouble since arriving in Denver, and with opposing teams generally passing from behind against the Broncos, it’s easy to envision Ray piling up pressure totals and mounting a darkhorse Rookie of the Year campaign.