NFL Picks on Offensive Rookie of the Year: Mariota as Sleeper Bet

Rivers McCown

Thursday, August 6, 2015 7:28 PM UTC

Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015 7:28 PM UTC

When preparing NFL picks in the player performance prop market, it's important that you look at the history. We investigate the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, noting a clear bias towards quarterbacks. 

Historical Offensive Rookie of the Year
If one has a halfway good season – even if it was forged by factors beyond his control – he usually wins the award. Since 2000, six quarterbacks have won the award. Outside of Ben Roethlisberger, those quarterbacks have combined for exactly two playoff wins. Vince Young is out of the league. Robert Griffin is on his last chance. Sam Bradford has missed a historical number of games to injury the last two seasons. 

So you can understand why Jameis Winston is still mostly regarded as a favorite to win the award (going at anywhere from +450 to +600). Here's the problem with that: I don't think he'll even have the best season of his rookie class. 

Winston versus Marcus Mariota was a fascinating debate from the outside. Winston has what NFL general managers have grown up being taught to love: the ability to hit stick throws in the NFL.  His off-field issues are long enough to have their own Wikipedia, but he profiles well next to the traits you traditionally look for, so he was the first overall pick. 

Mariota, on the other hand, is a quarterback born for the age of statistics. His high number of games started and his college completion rate generally forecast success. And while the Oregon offense hides a lot of warts, he's generally accepted as being more athletic and with as big of an arm as Winston. The issue is how often he uses it and if he'll work quite as well outside of the structure of that offense. 

Mariota's current price range is anywhere from +650 to +1200 – and I think that's a much safer investment than rolling with Winston. The willingness to hit those stick throws is great, but he reminds me a lot of two other quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall with that trait and a bit of a gambling mentality: Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning. Both of those guys had rough rookie seasons. Stafford threw 20 interceptions in 10 starts. Manning threw nine in seven starts. 

While I think the debate over who will be a better long-term quarterback should continue to rage on, I can't help but think Mariota is better set up for success this year. Mariota's offensive line isn't going to make him rush throws quite as much as Winston's will. Ken Whisenhunt is a comparable offensive mind to new Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Neither team happens to feature much of a run game. And of course, there's what we talked about in yesterday's piece: Mariota is more highly-regarded by projection systems. 

And given how recent history has dictated these things, I think that makes Mariota a nice sleeper NFL pick to cash in on Offensive Rookie of the Year.

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