Now that the dust has settled from the NFL Draft, the picture of this year’s upcoming NFL season is becoming more clear. A new class of rookies will be entering the league and now that we know their destinations, it’s time to start looking at who has the best opportunity to excel. William Hill has released their futures odds for Offensive Rookie of Year. While there are no big surprises in the order of their list and especially not at number one, we do think that there are two spots that are worthy of a deeper early look. But first, the top-20 list:
Joe Burrow 11-4
Clyde Edwards-Helaire 7-1
Tua Tagovailoa 8-1
Jonathan Taylor 12-1
Henry Ruggs III 14-1
CeeDee Lamb 14-1
Jerry Jeudy 16-1
D’Andre Swift 18-1
Cam Akers 20-1
Justin Herbert 20-1
J.K. Dobbins 20-1
Justin Jefferson 20-1
Jalen Reagor 22-1
Ke’Shawn Vaughn 22-1
Tee Higgins 25-1
K.J. Hamler 28-1
Denzel Mims 33-1
Zack Moss 33-1
Bandon Aiyuk 33-1
Laviska Shenault Jr. 33-1
Clyde Edwards-Helaire 7-1
The newest addition to the Kansas City Chiefs is the first name on the list to grab our attention. At 7-1, his odds are not the most appealing on the board, but it’s just long enough that there is still some value. Edwards-Helaire will be in a very favorable situation joining the defending Super Bowl Champions in Kansas City. Clearly the Chiefs offense is predicated on throwing the football. With weapons like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes, it’s no secret how the Chiefs butter their bread. However, an often overlooked angle on teams that are pass-first is what that does for their ability to run the ball.
Edwards-Helaire has two key things going for him when he gets to Kansas City. The first is that the Chiefs force defenses to play the entire field. On any given play, Tyreek Hill has the ability to get 40 yards downfield and behind the safeties before anyone realizes what has happened. As a result, teams do not have the luxury of bringing any extra defenders up close to the line of scrimmage. There is nothing more appealing to running backs and offensive lineman than lining up and seeing an “un-stacked” box.
The second advantage that Edwards-Helaire will enjoy is that he will not be forced into the starting role immediately as Damien Williams will likely still be RB1 in Kansas City to start the season. On the flip-side however, should he play well through the first 3-4 weeks of the season, there is no reason to think that he won’t be the starter come October and will carry the majority of the workload for the rest of the season. While Williams played well in Super Bowl LIV, and arguably should have been the MVP, his inconsistencies throughout the season and his history of getting a bit dinged up on the injury front make him the perfect back to team up with a player like Edwards-Helaire. He is good enough to retain the starting job early in the year, but not so good that he’ll prevent a standout back like Edwards-Helaire from getting some run. Look for Edwards-Helaire to takeover the job in October with a decent shot to cash those 7-1 tickets come January.
Cam Akers 20-1
The second name on the list to catch our attention is Cam Akers, formerly a Florida St. standout, now with the Los Angeles Rams. In what would be a very nice payout at 20-1, we think the combination of his circumstances and ability make him the highest value pick on the board.
First, let’s address his circumstances. Akers is walking into a situation that is ripe for the picking. After being released during the off-season, Todd Gurley is now a Falcon. This leaves his former backups, Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson, as the only two running backs that the Rams have under contract. While sitting behind Gurley, neither Brown or Henderson has gotten to showcase their abilities and as such, neither of them have much more of a claim to the starting job than Akers.
The way we see it is that this 3-way battle for the RB1 spot in L.A. is as close to an unbiased-nobody has an advantage going in-type of competition that there is in the NFL this year. With all three of these guys on a level playing field, it’s going to come down to pure talent and that’s where Akers will have an edge.
Akers ability is truly second to none and it’s been that way throughout his entire football career. Coming out of high school, Akers was not only a highly recruited All-American, he took it a step further by winning the U.S. Army Player of the Year Award which is essentially the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy for high school football players. Past winners include names such as Adrian Peterson, Terrelle Pryor, Jacob Eason and Trevor Lawrence and while it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success at the NFL level, it’s sure a great place to start.
At Florida State Akers continued his success by setting the freshman rushing record in 2017 with 1025 yards, just clipping the old record of 1008 yards which was set by Dalvin Cook in 2014. As his college career progressed Akers also showcased his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. With 23 catches his sophomore season and 30 during his junior year, Akers proved that he is truly a dual threat back and can hurt opposing defenses in numerous ways. He is the type of player that forces defenses to account for him. Losing track of Akers on the field turns into six points in a hurry. In three seasons at FSU, Akers crossed the goal line 34 times.
There is no reason to think that Akers won’t be able to beat out Brown in competition and Henderson appears to be more of a “change of pace” type back in our opinion. Look for Akers to continue his success in L.A. The 20-1 odds he’s getting is a very nice price for a player who is likely to be the starter all season for the Rams.
As we get closer to the start of the NFL season, we will continue to look at other opportunities for value, but at first glance these two backs jump off the board.
*Odds provided by William Hill as of 5/18/20
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