2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Odds & Picks: 3 Longshot Bets Worth A Look
Rob Carr/Getty Images. Pictured: Chiefs’ Chris Jones.
When wagering on the NFL Defensive Player of the Year or any future for that matter, I like to scour the market for something with a little extra juice and value. Something with a little POP.
Don’t just take a favorite simply because they are the favorite — if you’re playing long shots, don’t just play it for the sake of playing it. Be honest with yourself and question if there is a real scenario in which this event can actually occur. Take into account everything around the team, player and storyline, leaving no stone unturned.
As my great colleague Matt Moore likes to say, bet the narrative. It’s always important to be a rational bettor and channel your inner Matthew Kidman and ask yourself, is the juice worth the squeeze?
Keep in mind that players are typically priced for their previous performance and history, not for their untapped potential — and that’s why we gather here today. I have my eyes on three players that are all undervalued in the NFL DPOY betting market. Are they likely to win? No, but that’s why they are long shots. I will guarantee you though that every single one of these players is much better than their current market price and this will be the best number you can find on them all season.
Before we dive in, though, let's remember that this is Aaron Donald’s award to lose. He is head and shoulders above every other defensive player in the league. There is a reason he has won Defensive Player of the Year in three of the last four seasons. However, anything can happen in the NFL. Voter fatigue is real and definitely exists. Injuries occur, and players unexpectedly take the league by storm every season.
Now, let’s have some fun and find some interesting, undervalued flyers worth throwing a dart on.
2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Odds
Let me preface this by saying that I have long been enamored with Derwin James’ abilities (see below). In 2017, I made my friends take James to win the Heisman. Did it work out? Absolutely not, but that’s irrelevant here.
The point is James is a freak of nature. If and when he is healthy, James is one of the most impactful defensive players in the NFL. Granted, that is usually a big if. This will be James’ fourth NFL season. He has played 16 games just ONCE and that was during his rookie campaign in 2018. Since then, he has played only five games and all of those came in 2019. He missed most of 2019 with a foot injury and missed all of 2020 with a torn meniscus and then COVID-19. This is the first time since his rookie season that James will be healthy heading into the season.
James being healthy and looking good in training camp is coming at a great time as defensive mastermind Brandon Staley takes the helm as the new head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers. Staley is fresh off an impressive season where his Rams defense was the No. 1 unit if the NFL.
He is going to elevate this Chargers team and turn James into a bonafide star as long as he can stay healthy. The All-Pro is going to be the biggest chess piece on the field and the focal point of this unit. Earlier in the offseason, Steven Ruiz provided a glimpse into how innovative Staley is and what James’ duties will look like in his defense. James' presence will be felt every single snap.
Though he hasn't played a full season since his rookie campaign, his 2018 stats can't be ignored. James was named both a first-team All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl while racking up 105 tackles, three interceptions, 3.5 sacks and 13 passes defensed. According to PFF, quarterbacks had just a 71.8 passer rating when targeting James in coverage.
The only question mark around James is if he can stay healthy.
The answer thus far in his NFL career has been no, but this is the first time in almost three years he will be 100% healthy entering the season. Knocks on wood.
The time is now for James to stay healthy and prove that he is one of the game’s best defensive players. If he can stay on the field, James will be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation all year long.
— NFL (@NFL) June 1, 2021
You know how I said earlier there is Aaron Donald and then everyone else? Well, at the top of everyone else is Chris Jones.
Since being drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Mississippi State, all he has done is dominate. Jones is a two-time All-Pro and has averaged 12.4 sacks per season since entering the league. He has managed to rack up that many sacks while playing 67% of his snaps on the inside of the defensive line, per PFF. That is flat out ridiculous.
Jones is a terror for opposing offensive linemen and quarterbacks. For the past three seasons, Jones has ranked in the top five in total pressures across ALL defensive linemen. Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Andy Reid are the engine of the Chiefs, but Jones is the brakes (for other teams, at least).
He is coming off another stellar 2020 season in which he ranked first in the NFL in pressure rate and ranked second in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate. There is no reason why that will not continue in 2021. At 80/1, those odds are just too damn high for an All-Pro stud and the straw that stirs the drink in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense.
The Chiefs defense the last few years has been up and down, but rest assuredly you could guarantee Jones would show up and show out every week. During the first five years of his career, Jones has only missed four games out of a possible 80!
Again, this is a long shot for a reason, but there is no reason why there is not a realistic path for Jones to win the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year. After all, he is the best defensive player on arguably the best team in the NFL.
11 straight games with a sack?
Chris Jones did that. And broke the NFL record.
— NFL (@NFL) July 3, 2021
Like James, Brian Burns is a former Florida State Seminole turned first-round draft pick turned NFL stud. As Burns enters Year 3, he is quietly becoming one of the best pass rushers in the game and just scratching the surface of his stardom.
He isn’t just your typical pass rusher though, he is an all-around threat who never has to leave the field. In addition to his uncanny abilities to rush the passer, Burns is solid in coverage, which is a huge plus.
Last season, Burns had 57 pressures and 10.0 sacks — meaning he had the same amount of pressures as guys like Khalil Mack and Cameron Jordan and more pressures than Chase Young, Myles Garrett and J.J. Watt while taking fewer snaps than all of them. And yet, all of these guys are favored to win DPOY over Burns. He also played on a much worse defense and lacked many people around him who made life easier.
Yes, he had Derrick Brown to eat up a lot of space and blockers, but keep in mind that Brown was also a rookie. It was mostly just a solo act for Burns on the Carolina defense. Offenses going against the Panthers last season had one focus: neutralize Burns. Despite that, he was still able to rank fourth among edge rushers in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate and 18th in pressure rate, per Sports Info Solutions.
This season though, it will no longer be a one man show. The Panthers made some pretty big upgrades to their defense this via free agency and the draft, adding Haasson Reddick — who is coming off a career year (12.5 sacks) and will now reunite with his college coach, Matt Rhule — and DaQuan Jones to beef up their interior defensive line. They also used the No. 8 overall pick on Jaycee Horn out of South Carolina.
Couple all these additions with likely Year 2 leaps from Brown, Yetur Gross-Matos, Jeremy Chinn and the maturation of Donte Jackson and very quietly the Panthers are surrounding Burns with what should be a much improved defense in 2021.
Plus, Burns will be incentivized to have a career year because he and Reddick have a bet of their own!
Just watch how effortlessly Brian Burns blows right by the best left tackle in the NFL.
#53 Brian Burns just keeps having flashes like these with his pass rushing ability pic.twitter.com/yvd87JUrAQ
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) May 25, 2021
Is it likely Burns or any of the aforementioned players win Defensive Player of the Year? No, but that’s why these are long shots. Now let’s all open up our Sportsbook apps, submit some tickets and have some fun.
Get your darts ready. We’re hitting bullseye.
P.S. Carl Lawson was on this week before suffering a torn Achilles. Get well soon, Carl — I can't wait to put you on this list next season.