The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, and what a round one it was. Five quarterbacks, five receivers, two running backs and a tight end all went in Round 1. With so much talent selected in the first round, the Rookie of the Year race is going to be extremely competitive. Historically, this is a quarterback’s award to lose, and with five first-rounders and at least three projected to start right away, I am avoiding long-shot position players and honing in on the quarterbacks.
Trevor Lawrence sits as the favorite at +220 on Tipico Sportsbook, and deservedly so. He was the No. 1 overall pick for a reason and was the top quarterback prospect in the last 10 years for many scouts. While Lawrence certainly could win the award, the odds are too short for me to have immediate interest. Trey Lance may sit for a few games behind Jimmy Garoppolo, as Lance is very raw — he attempted just 319 career collegiate passes, the fewest in the class. He landed on far and away the best team of these rookie QBs and could hit the ground running, but he may need to play serious catchup with everyone else. Justin Fields is very interesting as the Bears could make a run at the playoffs, and if they did he could win the award and at +400 that is enticing and likely worth some action. Mac Jones will likely sit behind Cam Newton to start and is not someone I am very interested in.
My favorite current option, though, is Zach Wilson at +900. He is locked in as the starter from Day 1, the Jets have given him multiple weapons in Denzel Mims, Corey Davis, Keelan Cole and Jamison Crowder. Most importantly, though, their second pick Thursday, OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, should really give him the protection he needs to thrive. Wilson has the arm talent to make highlight-reel throws and is in the market where if he succeeds the attention and spotlight will be on him. The Jets were so bad last year that any improvement is going to look like it was thanks to Wilson, and I would have this line closer to +600 than +900.
On the defensive side of the ball, there are two players who stand out to me for being good long shot bets. The first is linebacker Jamin Davis, who is an elite athlete playing behind one of the best defensive lines in football on a team in Washington that will have a top-five defense in football. Middle linebacker is one of the NFL’s easiest transitions, and Washington’s front will keep Davis clean and allow him to make plays. He should be in line for over 100 tackles and be a big name on a defense that could end up as the league’s best. That kind of resume can win you Defensive Rookie of the Year, and at +1200 its worth taking a shot on him.
The other defensive player I have an eye on is Jaycee Horn, who was the first defender drafted. His ball skills and playmaking ability could lead to high interception totals. He is a physical press man corner and could get picked on early in his career — but interceptions are what we are looking for. Teams attacking him could give him the volume needed to make enough plays that he has a shot to bring home the award. At +1300, I am going to have some action on Horn bringing home the trophy.