Najee Harris has the seventh-best odds to win 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year, according to MyBookie. He is behind Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Zach Wilson, and Kyle Pitts. That might seem like a long shot, considering seventh-best odds do not seem like a great bet. But Najee probably has a better chance of winning 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year than the other six players mentioned.
Harris’ odds to win the 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year award currently sits at +850. For those who don’t know exactly what that means, here is an example. If you were to bet ten dollars on Harris to win OROTY, you would win 85 dollars. If you were to bet one dollar, you would win eight dollars and fifty cents. If you were to place a bet of 200 dollars, you would win 1,700 dollars. And so on.
Clearly, a bet on Harris to win the 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year award would make a lot of money, IF he were to win the award. He may not have the best betting odds, but he has the best chance to win it. It only takes a little digging to see why. Comparing the circumstances surrounding Harris to the other rookies, and looking at data from past winners, Harris is clearly a great bet to be the 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Najee Harris Will be the 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year
First: All the past winners of the offensive rookie of the year award. Dating back to 1967, there have been a total of 53 OROTY awards handed out. To clarify, these awards are by the Associated Press, the group that the NFL uses to decide its awards. Since that time, 35 running backs have won the award.
Only ten quarterbacks and eight receivers have received the award. Twice, running backs have won the award five years in a row, and once seven times in a row. The most recent running back to receive the award is Saquon Barkley who won it in 2018. The last two winners are Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert.
Clearly, the odds are in the running backs’ favor to win offensive rookie of the year. However, there has been a recent trend towards quarterbacks receiving the award. Since 2004, when rookie Ben Roethlisberger won the award, nine quarterbacks have won offensive rookie of the year. In that time span, six running backs have won it, and two wide receivers.
This trend is slightly concerning. The NFL is certainly built for the quarterback, not the running back. But this leads to the second thing that I wanted to point out. Who did the last two OROTY winners beat out for their award? This is an important question and does tie back to my original point about Najee Harris.
The last two players to win OROTY were quarterbacks. Now, this could mean a few things. One, that the NFL is more likely to give the award to a quarterback than it is not. This seems to be true, and the last 17 years of data point towards that trend.
Competition for OROTY has not been very strong
However, this could also mean that the competition for the award over the last two years has not been strong. Particularly from the running back position. And this is where I want to focus. In 2019, the five top running backs in the class were Miles Sanders, Damien Harris, Darrell Henderson, Josh Jacobs, and David Montgomery. In retrospect, this class was not very good. The best running back out of this class in their rookie year was Josh Jacobs, who had just over 1,300 total yards in 2019.
Jacobs was also the only running back drafted in the first round, and the only running back of this class to break 1,000 yards rushing as a rookie. Kyler Murray, on the other hand, was electric during his rookie year. Murray thew for 3,700 yards, and 20 touchdowns. He also ran for 544 yards and four touchdowns. Murray was simply more impactful during the season than Jacobs.
Moving to 2020, the top running backs were D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, Jonathan Taylor, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Cam Akers. And, while 2020 was a difficult year for rookies, non of the rookie running backs seemed to do much of anything until later in the season. The best one among them was Jonathan Taylor, who had about 1,400 yards from scrimmage.
The winner of the 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year award, Justin Herbert, had a much better season. He threw for 31 touchdowns, and 4,300 yards. He was much more impactful to the Los Angles Chargers than Jonathan Taylor was to the Indianapolis Colts offense.
In both of these instances, the quarterback won the OROTY award, but not necessarily because of the position they play. Rather, the competition for the award was pretty awful, compared to the quarterbacks. This leads to 2021. Can the rookie quarterbacks easily outclass all other competition for OROTY? Probably not.
2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year Candidates
First off, the chances that Trevor Lawrence wins the award are, in my opinion, low. He has a horrible landing spot from which to do it. The Jacksonville Jaguars are not exactly brimming with talent. Sure, they have a running back, but that is about it. Lawrence would have to throw for over 4,500 yards and lead the Jaguars to seven wins or more to win the award. That just will not happen.
The Jaguars defense is so bad that Lawrence will not have any help, at all, in case the offense turns over the ball. And a late-game stop to get the ball back to the offense? You might as well forget about it. It won’t happen.
What about Trey Lance? He lands in a great situation. But the problem is twofold: Lance has not played football in over a year, and more importantly, he is not the Week 1 starter. No one knows when Lance will start, probably including Kyle Shanahan.
And if Lance does not start until Week 6 or later, he has no real chance to win 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year because his numbers will not be near everyone else’s.
Mac Jones/Justin Fields
That leaves us with Mac Jones and Justin Fields. Jones has the same problem as Lance, no one knows when he will start. Even if Jones starts week one, his chances of winning 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year are pretty bad. Why? He has no weapons.
The New England Patriots have arguably the worst skill position groups in the NFL. Jones will have a tough time winning with that roster, no matter when he starts. And because he does not have the athletic traits that the other rookie quarterbacks do, he will have an even harder time elevating that roster. The same can be said for Zach Wilson. While he has much better traits, his offensive weapons are simply very lacking. With a new head coach, Wilson is not a safe bet.
Out of all the rookie quarterbacks, Fields has the best circumstances and subsequently, the greatest chance to win 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year. He provides the most competition for Najee Harris for the award. Fields has a solid offensive line, solid receiving core, and a still good defense. Pair that with Matt Nagy, Fields has a real shot to win 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year. However, I don’t think that he will garner numbers like Najee Harris will.
Najee Harris will tote the ball a lot
Cam Heyward, Harris’ new teammate, recently interviewed on Good Morning Football, where he said: “Having a guy like that that can tote the rock 30 to 40 times a game really puts an ease for the defense. He can do multiple things. I think the investment in our offense this offseason has been huge.”
Heyward clearly knows and anticipates Harris to touch the football a lot. Forty times a game? No, Heyward was exaggerating, but 30 times a game? That is much more probable. Especially considering the Pittsburgh Steelers plans to use split Harris out as a receiver, as well as tote the football. Harris himself said that the Steelers will, “line me up out wide and stuff like that how I did in college — utilize the running back in the passing game out wide, in the slot, (and) all the way out to the ‘X’ position.”
Harris will touch the football, and in abundance. He probably will get close to 350 touches this season. And if he does that, he probably will have over 1,500 yards from scrimmage. 15 touchdowns is not too high a mark either. The change and upgrade that he will bring to the Steelers offense are probably what will win him the award, if he does win it.
The change in the Steelers’ run game will be noticeable, and it will be largely due to Harris. Looking back at the odds, if you have 200 dollars that you are willing to make a smart bet with, bet on Harris to win 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year. He has the best chance out of all the other running backs, what with Travis Etienne and Javonte Williams not being starters on their respective teams.
Najee Harris Has the Best Circumstances to Win
Harris has the best situation out of all the rookies to win OROTY. He will be the number one back for the Steelers, touch the ball over 20 times a game, and be the new focal point on the Steelers offense. The other rookie quarterbacks will be learning how to read defenses and build chemistry with their receivers. Harris will just be looking for the open gap in the line and hurdling defenders.
So, if you want to make a smart bet, put some money down on Najee Harris to win offensive rookie of the year. With +850 odds, 200 dollars turns into 1,700. And if you are feeling a little worried that Fields might win it instead, place some money on Fields. 200 dollars on Fields at +550 odds would win you 1,100 dollars. Either way you bet, you have a pretty good chance to win.
Now, I did not cover Kyle Pitts or Ja’Marr Chase for good reason. First, a tight end has never won the award. No matter how talented Pitts is, the tight end position is the one the takes the longest to learn. And with Chase, the competition from the running back and quarterbacks seems just too high for him to receive the award. Finally, neither one will make you as much money as Najee Harris will if you bet on Harris.