There are a number of exciting defensive prospects from the 2021 draft who should make a big impact on the field this season. The Defensive Rookie of the Year award should be a fun race to watch this season and there is plenty of value in terms of betting on this future. The following are a number of players who could be of great value in a bet prior to the start of the season.
2020 DROY Recap
Following the 2020 NFL draft, Ohio State’s Chase Young was the favorite to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. The Washington Football Team’s rookie defensive end could be found at around +220 odds depending on the sportsbook. Young wound up winning in a landslide as first-round talents such as Jeff Okudah, Isaiah Simmons, Patrick Queen, and Kenneth Murray failed to make a big impact while Young racked up 44 tackles (ten for a loss), twelve QB hits, four forced fumbles, four pass defenses, seven and a half sacks, and one touchdown in 15 games. Young earned 85% of the first-place votes for DROY.
DROY Historical Analysis
The fact that a defensive end won the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year award was not surprising – an edge rusher has won three of the last five awards as Young joined Nick and Joey Bosa as recent winners. In between those players, cornerback Marshon Lattimore and linebacker Darius Leonard won the award. Lattimore (2017) and Marcus Peters (2015) were the only cornerbacks to win the award since Charles Woodson (1998) as it’s much more common for front seven players to earn the nomination. Four edge rushers, three defensive tackles, and two linebackers have joined those two cornerbacks as the winners since 2010. The NFC has won the last four DROY awards.
How to Approach 2021 DROY Betting
The NFL is a league increasingly dependent on spread offense and the downfield passing game, which means pass-rushers and cornerbacks are arguably the most important positions. However, that doesn’t mean linebackers can’t be valuable and some of the top candidates for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award this year are in fact linebackers. Micah Parsons, Jamin Davis, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and Zaven Collins will be Day One starters at the linebacker spot for their respective teams and are some of the favorites for the award. No safety has won this award since the Bears’ Mark Carrier did in 1990.
Make sure you select a player who is a virtual guarantee to start every game for his respective team (barring injury) as it can be frustrating if you pick a dark-horse who doesn’t even end up being the starter for their team. Since 2000, only three players taken after the first round have won this award. Those three players were all second-round picks, so save your money for other longshot bets instead of betting on your favorite fourth-round defensive player. Additionally, target players who fill a position of need for their NFL team as they will have the best chance at getting strong production early in the season. The following is a breakdown of a few of my favorite picks from each range of odds.
Dallas Cowboys LB Micah Parsons ()
Micah Parsons is a strong favorite to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, albeit by not as much as Chase Young was last year. Parsons can be found at around odds at most sportsbooks. The Penn State product is very deserving of being the favorite for the DROY award as he’s an athletic freak who is going to make a huge impact for what was a terrible Cowboys’ defense last year, but with so many other talents in this class, I’m not thrilled about betting on one player at . Parsons could very well win the award, though, so I can’t fault you for putting some money on him.
Miami Dolphins DE Jaelan Phillips (+700)
Jaelan Phillips sits at around +700 as the edge defender could have been a top-five pick if not for his shaky medical history – he once retired from the game of football due to an injury. However, Phillips could be a force right away in a talented Miami defense. He should be the top pass-rusher on the Dolphins in short order and could lead this rookie class in sacks. With the preference for EDGE defenders in DROY voting as of late, Phillips is a nice bet here.
Washington Football Team LB Jamin Davis ()
Jamin Davis is another strong linebacker prospect who the Washington Football Team selected in the first round, and he could put up more impressive numbers than Parsons in his first year as he’s part of a much more talented defense. With pass-rushers like Chase Young and Montez Sweat in front of him, Davis will have the opportunity to make plays all over the field. Davis could lead the rookie class in tackles, and at , I like his value more than Parsons’.
Indianapolis Colts DE Kwity Paye ()
Colts’ defensive end Kwity Paye is a great talent, but he suffered an ankle sprain in training camp and that’s enough for me to fade him until we get a clearer picture on his medical status. Paye had a series of minor injury issues at Michigan and it could be part of what caused him to slide in the draft to #21 overall – I expected him to be a top-ten pick. The Colts’ defense very much needs a player like Paye and he could make a big impact right away if he can stay healthy.
Arizona Cardinals LB Zaven Collins ()
Zaven Collins might be my favorite in this group – he’s playing behind J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones, two elite defensive linemen, and perfectly fits into Vance Joseph’s defense. Collins will slide into the inside linebacker spot next to last year’s first-round pick Isaiah Simmons. Collins was one of my favorite prospects in the draft and he could have a huge season for a sneaky-good defense.
Denver Broncos CB Patrick Surtain II
The Broncos selected Patrick Surtain II out of Alabama with the ninth overall pick, and he joins one of the most talented secondaries in the NFL. Even with the likes of Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, and Bryce Callahan at cornerback, it sounds like Surtain is going to force his way onto the field early with how impressive he has been at training camp. Surtain was my top-rated cornerback in this draft class, and while it’s rarer for corners to win this award, Surtain is talented enough to be an exception to the historical trend.
Carolina Panthers CB Jaycee Horn ()
Jaycee Horn is the last player in this group at odds. Horn is a modern-day cornerback with the speed to keep pace with receivers downfield and the physicality to be a great defender at the catch point. Horn is a Day One starter for a young Carolina defense and could make a huge impact in improving what was an overmatched pass defense last season. Horn has all of the traits you could want out of a cornerback, and while it’s difficult to transition into the NFL as a rookie at the position, he’s polished and ready to go. If Horn puts up a large number of interceptions and makes some flashy plays, he could be in the running for DPOY.
The Mid-Range Picks
New York Giants DE Azeez Ojulari:
Azeez Ojulari is one of my favorite selections for the DPOY award at around , despite being a second-round pick, as I truly expected him to go off the board in the first round. He is a bit one-dimensional as a speed rusher and his medical red flags contributed to his fall down draft boards, but he’s a high-level talent with the ability to push for double-digit sacks next to Leonard Williams in the Giants’ defense. As offensive lines double-team Williams, Ojulari should have a ton of one-on-one opportunities.
Tennessee Titans CB Caleb Farley: +2500
Caleb Farley is another high-upside pick in this range who would have gone off the board a lot sooner if not for his back injury that kept him from participating in his Pro Day. The Titans’ cornerback has about odds for DPOY and is a guaranteed Day One starter for a team desperate for pass coverage help. I love Farley’s physical profile and overall demeanor, but he had a delayed start to training camp and he’s going to miss the Titans’ first preseason game; that doesn’t bode well for his ability to make an instant impact for his new team.
Baltimore Ravens DE Odafe Oweh:
Odafe Oweh makes more sense at than some of the other players in this range, but he’s going to be part of a crowded defensive line for Baltimore and it’s unclear how many opportunities he’ll see right away. The Ravens have a history of drafting elite pass-rushers, but it could take some time for Oweh to be an every-down player for his new team. However, if he can earn a starting role early in the season, there’s no reason he can’t lead this rookie class in sacks. Keep a close eye on him.
The Lottery Picks
Los Angeles Chargers CB Asante Samuel Jr.: +4000
Asante Samuel Jr. is going to be a Day One starter in Brandon Staley’s Chargers’ defense. If the way Staley elevated Jalen Ramsey’s game is any indication, Samuel could be in for a huge season. It’s unfair to have Ramsey-level expectations for Samuel, but the two Florida State products do have similar play styles and Samuel will be in the spotlight in Los Angeles. Samuel is another exciting piece of the Chargers’ young corps that makes them one of the up-and-coming teams in the NFL.
New England Patriots DT Christian Barmore:
I also think Christian Barmore could be worth a flier. He was the best defensive tackle prospect in this draft class and he surprisingly fell into the second round before the Patriots made a rare trade up to secure his talents. The Alabama product has massive upside as he has an ideal frame for the defensive tackle position and was very productive for one of the best defenses in the country last year. He could be a steal at to win the DROY award.