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Handicapping The NFL OROY Race

December 9, 2020

The last two National Football League Offensive Rookie of the Year pursuits quickly turned into two-horse races between a quarterback who was drafted first overall and a running back.

Last year, it was the QB, Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals, who outdistanced running back Josh Jacobs of the then-Oakland Raiders.

In 2018, QB Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns staged a late rally in the chase for NFL OROY but couldn’t run down the leader, running back Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants. Mayfield and Barkley were selected 1-2 in the 2018 NFL Draft.

The NFL OROY is annually a popular prop wager with bettors at online sites like the Bovada sportsbook, because of its volatility and unpredictability. The betting odds on this wager tend to be fairly long.

Once again this season, though, the battle has again rapidly taken on the look of a two player showdown. The difference this year is that the two players are both QBs.

Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals, like Murray (2019) and Mayfield, a QB selected first overall in the 2020 draft, was the early leader. Recently, though he’s been overtaken by another first-year passer, Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers.

Is it already down to these two who will determine the ultimate victor in the NFL OROY race, or is there someone who could come from off the pace?

Let’s break down each of the top contenders and then you can make the call all on your own as to who might have what it takes to earn the NFL OROY.

Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (+125)

At the start of the NFL season, Oregon grad Herbert, the sixth player chosen in the 2020 Draft, found himself on the bench, backing up journeyman veteran Tyrod Taylor. That situation changed quickly, though, after Taylor was sidelined following a medical mishap.

Through four games, Herbert is still seeking his first NFL win. But he’s now the official starter for the Chargers and in a 30-27 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints, he became the first rookie QB to ever throw for four touchdowns on Monday Night Football.

At the age of 22 years and 216 days, Herbert is the youngest QB with four passing TDs in MNF history. The other three QBs 23 or younger to pass for four TDs in a MNF game? Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, and Dan Marino.

Through his first four NFL games, Herbert passed for nine TDs. He accumulated 1,195 yards through the air while putting up a 107.1 QB rating and a 68.8 completion percentage.

Herbert was at a betting line of +2900 to win the NFL OROY as recently as Sept. 15. The draft-day critics who questioned his toughness and maturity have gone silent.

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (+260)

The favorite to win the award at the outset of the season, last season Burrow won the Heisman Trophy and led the LSU Tigers to a perfect season and the NCAA national title. Murray also won the Heisman the year prior to his NFL OROY triumph.

While Herbert was lighting up the Saints in Week 5, Burrow enjoyed his worst game as a pro. He was manhandled by the rugged Baltimore Ravens defense in a 27-3 loss.

Prior to that game, he’d become the first rookie QB in NFL history to record three
successive 30-yard passing games. And he’d posted a win, something Herbert has yet to do.

" Joe Burrow" by tammy anthony baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Bengals QB is out for the season with a leg injury but is still eligible for ROY honors.


Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (+700)

Burrow’s teammate at LSU, Edwards-Helaire briefly reigned as +175 chalk to win NFL OROY. In Week 1, Kansas City Chiefs running back Edwards-Helaire rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown in a 34-20 win over the Houston Texans.
Edwards-Helaire hasn’t duplicated that performance since. Two of the last three winners of the NFL OROY were RBs, though.

CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys (+1500)

Lamb is fifth among NFL receivers and leads all rookies with 433 reception yards. But Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is done for the year with a compound right ankle fracture and dislocation. That means backup Andy Dalton, who lost his job in Cinci to Burrow, will be passing the ball to Lamb.

Odell Beckham Jr., in 2014, is the only wideout to win NFL OROY over the past decade.