The race for the 2018 NFL Rookie of the Year should be exciting and unpredictable. New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is the favorite on the offensive side but could have competition from young quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns or Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills. As for Defensive Rookie of the Year, top five picks Denzel Ward of the Browns and Bradley Cubb of the Denver Broncos are among the favorites.
Explaining the NFL Rookie of the Year Awards
Similar to the situation with the NFL MVP award, the NFL Rookie of the Year honor comes in different forms. The first Rookie of the Year was Baltimore Colts fullback Alan Ameche in 1955, awarded by both the Sporting News and United Press International.
Today four versions of the NFL Rookie of the Year remain. The official award, as recognized by the NFL, is the Associated Press version. The AP honors one player on offense and one on defense, and most sportsbooks give betting odds on either.
For purposes of this article, we will examine past winners and trends of the AP winners.
NFL Rookie of the Year Trends
Unlike the NFL MVP award, quarterbacks have no monopoly on the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Since the turn of the century, seven quarterbacks have won in 18 years. The award has honored three wide receivers and seven running backs, including last year’s winner, Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebackers have been the most common position to win Rookie of the Year, with 11 instances since 2000. However, each of the past five winners has come from other positions, including last year’s winner, also of the New Orleans Saints: defensive back Marshon Lattimore.
When making NFL Rookie of the Year predictions, it’s tempting to look at the order from this year’s NFL Draft and assume the top picks will win Rookie of the Year. That’s not always true. The Saints’ sweep of last year’s awards came the No. 11 pick (Lattimore) and, remarkably, the No. 67 pick in the third round (Kamara). Longshot betting odds were available on both in the preseason.
In fact, of the past five NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year winners, none were picked higher than No. 10 (Rams running back Todd Gurley, the 2016 winner) and two weren’t even first-round picks (Kamara and Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who won in 2013). Of course, the three winners before that (quarterbacks Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III) were all taken in the top two picks.
As for Defensive Rookie of the Year winners, each of the five previous winners were first-round draft picks – though only one was a top-five selection. That was Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, the No. 3 pick in 2016.
NFL Rookie of the Year previous winners
The most recent NFL Rookie of the Year winners obviously have promising futures, but how often do those honored end up having terrific careers? Quite often, as it turns out.
The list of previous NFL Rookie of the Year winners is littered with All-Pros and Hall of Famers. On the offensive side, there are legendary names such as Tony Dorsett, Earl Campbell, Dan Marino and Barry Sanders, and it’s similar on defense with Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas.
More recently, offensive winners include MVPs in Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (2007), Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2008) and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (2011). On defense, Rookie of the Year winners like Broncos linebacker Von Miller (2011) and Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (2014) have already gone on to illustrious careers.
Understanding 2018 NFL Rookie of the Year Betting Odds
Odds are listed with a number following a “plus” sign, meaning that any bet will return more money than the initial wager. The number signifies how many dollars a bettor would make if he wagered $100 (in addition to the original $100).
For example, a $100 bet on Saquon Barkley to win Offensive Rookie of the Year at +140 would yield a total of $240 if he won — the original $100 wager plus $140 in winnings. A more longshot $100 bet, like Tampa Bay’s Vita Vea to win 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year at +2000, would yield $2,100.
Picking the next NFL Rookie of the Year winners
Giants’ running back Saquon Barkley is still the heavy favorite to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year. His odds went from +140 to -110, and he is expected to make an immediate impact in the New York rushing attack.
Of the five rookie quarterbacks who were selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, only one of them is expected to start Week 1. The Jets announced that Sam Darnold will start in the season opener at Detroit. Yet, Darnold trails Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen in the Rookie of the Year Odds. If Darnold can get the Jets to eight or nine wins and in playoff contention, there’s a good chance he will win the award. He might be worth a flyer at +1100.
There are a couple of longshots worth considering before the season begins. Arizona rookie Christian Kirk will make an immediate impact on that offense, and he has the ability to be a stellar playmaker for the Cardinals. Kirk, Anthony Miller and James Washington are all +6500, and that trio of receivers is very talented.
Detroit rookie running back Kerryon Johnson is +8000, and the Lions could turn to him early and often both in the running and in the passing game.
On the defensive side of the ball, Broncos’ defensive end Bradley Chubb is still the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. The combination of Chubb and Von Miller is terrifying for opposing offenses, and Chubb will have ample opportunities to put pressure on the quarterback with offenses doubling Miller.
Roquan Smith will make an immediate impact for the Bears, though he might be overshadowed initially by the recently-acquired Khalil Mack. Miami defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick made plays all over the field during his years at Alabama, and he could have a similar impact instantly for the Dolphins.
Derwin James is an intriguing candidate for the Chargers. So are Titans’ rookie pass rushers Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry. New Orleans defensive end Marcus Davenport will quickly provide a spark for the Saints’ pass rush, and he could be worth an investment at +1800.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Saquon Barkley, Giants RB -200
Baker Mayfield, Browns QB +200
Nick Chubb, Browns RB +1100
Phillip Lindsay, Broncos RB +2500
Calvin Ridley, Falcons WR +2500
Sony Michel, Patriots RB +3300
Quenton Nelson, Colts OL +6600
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Darius Leonard, Colts LB -150
Derwin James, Chargers DB +200
Leighton Vander Esch, Cowboys LB +550
Bradley Chubb, Broncos DE +750
Denzel Ward, Browns CB +1600
Jaire Alexander, Packers CB +2200