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Top 5 NFL Quarterback Contenders For the 2021 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year

LA Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert emerged as the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY) in 2020. Minnesota Vikings rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson gave Herbert a run for his money for the prestigious award but in the end the Chargers quarterback won by virtue of a record-setting season – he set the record for the most touchdown passes by a freshman in the league. 

Herbert was the third quarterback to clinch this honour in the last four seasons after Kyler Murray (2019) and Dak Prescott (2017). Quarterbacks aren’t always a shoe-in to win, but they’re nevertheless strong contenders in this category and this year they might be more so than in previous years because an historic eight quarterbacks were drafted in the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL draft, five of which went in the first round. 

Thus, it’s safe to say that quarterbacks are a good bet to challenge for this coveted honour in their NFL debut. And so, in this column, we look at these rookie quarterbacks in the context of the OROY market and highlight some of the best NFL picks for the new season to spot.

Trevor Lawrence Tipped The Rookie to Beat

By and large, the No.1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence is the player to spot in the betting according to multiple bookmakers. 

The hype that precedes Lawrence into the 2021-22 NFL season is quite something – he could easily be the most hyped up quarterback in the history of the game. 

Lawrence became the face of the franchise the moment his name was called by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Those that have followed college football in recent years will be familiar with the Clemson Tigers superstar and his accomplishments. Scouts have described the quarterback as a generational talent, the kind of enviable talent that comes once in a lifetime. All told, it’s really no surprise that he would lead this market.

Whether Lawrence transcends college football and makes an impact on the NFL remains to be seen. If there’s one aspect that might hold him back, it’s the Jaguars as a whole. The team has undergone wholesale changes in the offseason and that kind of a rebuild can hold back a quarterback in his rookie season. What’s more, Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer makes his NFL debut too this season. Whether his coaching nous transcends college football successfully is another matter. It’s his first NFL gig after decades at the college level.

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Trey Lance Second Best Bet

Why Trey Lance is valued so high over other quarterbacks in the betting for the OROY award is a bit of a mystery because he’s not expected to be – nor is he in line to be – the starter for the San Francisco 49ers. As such, he does seem overvalued by the odds, unless things fall his way either by being named the starter, which would be shocking, or by getting the job through unexpected means as did Justin Herbert last season when he took over from an injured Tyrod Taylor in week 2 and never looked back. 

The way things stand, Jimmy Garoppolo is the starter for the Niners. It’s his team and his starting job to lose. Garoppolo did miss most of last season with an injury, suffering his second season-ending injury in the last three seasons. That’s a concern for Kyle Shanahan, of course. So, having Lance in the back pocket is an insurance policy in the event the worst-case scenario were to happen again. Having said that Garoppolo can’t be so unlucky to suffer another season-ending injury this year. Nobody can be that unlucky, surely. When the Niners are at full strength and Jimmy G. is on point, they’re a tough team to beat as evinced by their standout 2019 campaign which culminated in an appearance in Super Bowl 54 (l. to Kansas City Chiefs).

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Justin Fields and Zach Wilson Third and Fourth Best Bets 

Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields was one of the most promising quarterback prospects after Trevor Lawrence going into the 2021 NFL draft, but his stock quickly dropped  for a variety of reasons. At the same time, BYU’s Zach Wilson saw his stock go up. The upshot of which the latter was drafted second overall by the New York Jets while the former went 11th overall to the Chicago Bears. 

There’s a lot to like about this pair and their individual merit in the race for the OROY award. Zach Wilson is slated to be the starter for the Jets, so he has the upper hand over Justin Fields as things currently stand. However, popular opinion has Fields winning the starting job in Chicago before week 1 of the season given that his competition comes in the form of Andy Dalton and Nick Foles. 

Should Fields win the starting job, he would be an interesting pick over Wilson and even Lawrence and Lance. The Jets, just like the Jaguars, are in rebuild mode under new head coach Robert Salah and while there’s a lot of excitement that precedes the Jets this season, there’s bound to be growing pains. The Bears are a more established team with many moving parts in place. A talented rookie quarterback like Fields could be the missing cog in an otherwise well-oiled wheel.

Mac Jones Fifth Best Bet

Mac Jones is widely overlooked in favor of the aforementioned quartet, emerging as the fifth best bet overall. However, he may be an interesting sleeper pick to consider despite his less than favorable odds. The Alabama Crimson Tide product is coming off a National Championship with The Tide and he fell into the lap of arguably one of the best NFL head coaches in recent memory, Bill Belichick. Should Jones win the starting job over Cam Newton or get it unexpectedly early in the season, he may surprise a few.