2023 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Odds, Picks: Bet Will Anderson Jr.
Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Will Anderson.
We continue to dig into season-long awards bets for the 2023 NFL season. Today, we're delving into the Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY).
Last year's draft was loaded with top defensive prospects, but this year was more of an offensive firepower draft, with just a few elite defenders at the top of the order. Favorites tend to win defensive awards in the NFL, so will one of those top picks/favorites win DROY in 2023?
Let's build a DROY winner profile, consider the names in the top 40 and zero in on my favorite bet you can make — not just for this award, but for the entire 2023 awards circuit.
Be sure to check out all the other awards previews and picks:
- Most Valuable Player (MVP)
- Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY)
- Coach of the Year
- Offensive Player of the Year (OPOY)
- Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY)
- Comeback Player of the Year
- NFL Season Leaders
- Season Awards podcast ft. Gilles Gallant & Brendan Glasheen
Who Wins Defensive Rookie of the Year?
1. Unlike many other awards, favorites tend to win.
The last three DROY winners before Sauce Gardner started the year at +700 or shorter. They were among the favorites from the very start of the season. In fact, seven of the last 11 winners were +900 or shorter, with Gardner just missing the cut at +1100.
Only two players have odds as short as +900 at most books: Texans ED Will Anderson (+500) and Eagles DT Jalen Carter (+700).
2. DROY tends to be an award for pass rushers.
Six of the last nine winners racked up at least seven sacks. It's hard to find playing time as a rookie and even tougher to put up numbers to make a noticeable impact, so it's sometimes easier to flash a few times.
Only three corners have won the award this century — though it's notable that all three have come since 2015. This used to be a linebacker award, but only one off-ball LB (Shaq Leonard) has won in the past decade.
No safety has won since 1990, though no safety was drafted among the top 40 picks this year, anyway.
3. Winning doesn't matter much — but an improving defense does.
Unlike some awards, voters don't expect rookie defenders to come in and work miracles.
Winning, and even team defensive metrics, do not seem particularly important for DROY winners. Eight of the last 13 winners (62%) were on teams that finished .500 or worse — though four of the last six won at least 10.
It helps if voters see a huge leap in defensive performance as a team.
The last six winners joined a team that ranked bottom six in PPG allowed and helped turn things around to a top-10 finish, like Gardner helping the Jets go from 32nd to 4th. This year, that list of teams at the bottom includes the Bears, Cardinals, Vikings, Lions, Colts and Texans.
4. The most predictive factor is draft position.
Every single DROY this century was drafted within the top 39 picks.
Twenty of the 23 were taken in the first round, and 19 of the 23 went top 15. That's an 83% chance our DROY is one of 15 names — and that's really more like one of seven or eight since half the guys picked play offense. Heck, six of the 23 winners this century were simply the first defender off the board!
It makes sense, and it's a bit of selection bias. The guys taken at the top of the draft are the best prospects. They're the most ready to play, and most likely to step into a bad situation with an easier and certain path to playing time.
Draft pick remains king.
So what are we looking for?
We want a pass rusher who was a top-40 draft pick, likely top 15, and flashy plays matter much more than winning. It's probably one of the favorites.
Let's get to the names to consider …
It's Tough for Defensive Tackles to Win
DT Jalen Carter, Eagles +700
DT Calijah Kancey, Buccaneers +2500
DT Bryan Bresee, Saints +5000
DT Mazi Smith, Cowboys +5000
It's really tough for a defensive tackle to make enough of a splash impact to win a defensive award — unless that player is Aaron Donald.
Tackles play inside, the first line of attack in the trenches. They're there to eat up space, stuff the run and try to get through the middle of the line and get to the quarterback. But they typically don't rack up countable stats, and like it or not, that's what a majority of voters will go on considering how difficult it is to evaluate defense.
Modern defense is starting to move guys around, and players like Chris Jones and Quinnen Williams racked up double-digit sacks last fall. But of the 29 players who had more than eight sacks, only five of them are classified as tackles.
Only two of the last 28 DROY winners played defensive tackle — Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
That brings us to the second favorite on the board, Jalen Carter.
Carter was considered the top defensive talent in the draft by many, and he joins a talented Eagles defense that has a Javon Hargrave-sized hole on the D-line. Hargrave had 11 sacks last season; Philadelphia was two sacks short of the NFL record last season.
There's little question Carter is an immense talent, off-field questions or not, but his entire stat line last season for Georgia was 32 tackles and three sacks. He had six sacks in three seasons. It's just really hard to catch voters' attention when you hit the box score twice the entire game.
Carter could be a major impact defender — though he's not starting right now, behind Fletcher Cox and Jordan Davis — but still not have the stats to garner DROY votes.
Despite the hype, Carter is badly overpriced at +700. History is not on his side.
Second Straight Cornerback DROY?
CB Devon Witherspoon, Seahawks +1100
CB Christian Gonzalez, Patriots +1600
CB Emmanuel Forbes, Commanders +2000
CB Deonte Banks, Giants +3000
CB Joey Porter Jr., Steelers +3000
Much like defensive tackles, it's hard for corners to rack up flashy stats. Still, there have been three cornerback winners in the last eight years.
I like Devon Witherspoon the most, both as a prospect and as a betting pick.
Witherspoon was a top-five pick and should step in to lead a young secondary that outperformed expectations for a surprise playoff team last year. He's still nursing a sore hamstring, so you can probably wait for an odds drop if he's your guy. As an added bonus, Pete Carroll has an awesome history of developing defensive backs.
Christian Gonzalez was the top corner on many draft boards, and Bill Belichick also has a great track record of developing defensive backs. The Oregon product could step into a bigger than expected role with Jack Jones questionable to suit up this season. He'll get a big chance on what could be a great defense.
If you're looking for flash, Emmanuel Forbes may be the best angle. He had 14 interceptions in college and steps into what could be a good Washington defense, though he's received mixed reviews in training camp.
Deonte Banks and Joey Porter Jr. had three interceptions combined in their college careers. Porter was technically a second-round pick but went No. 32, usually a first-round selection.
Corners may be trendy, but I still prefer a pass rusher.
Big Impact, But Unlikely Winners
ED Tyree Wilson, Raiders +1100
ED Lukas Van Ness, Packers +1600
ED Nolan Smith, Eagles +2200
ED Will McDonald, Jets +2500
ED Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Chiefs +3500
ED Myles Murphy, Bengals +3500
ED BJ Ojulari, Cardinals +4500
ED Derick Hall, Seahawks +5000
ED Isaiah Foskey, Saints +6000
Everyone on this list is a top-40 draft pick and gets after the passer off the edge, which puts them all in play considering our historical award profile.
I'll pass on Lukas Van Ness and Nolan Smith. Van Ness is more of a run defender, and the Packers have better edge rushers. Smith dropped due to injury concerns and the Eagles already have three great edge rushers ahead of him — each with double-digit sacks last year — so he may not see the field enough.
Tyree Wilson was third defender drafted, but I'm passing on him as well. He's an athletic freak, but more of a developmental player, and the one strength of the Raiders defense is off the edge with Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones. This feels like a developmental year for Wilson.
I like Will McDonald best among the options. He had 40 sacks in four seasons at Iowa State; the Jets also badly need pass rushing and will probably rotate through their options on a deep line. McDonald has looked good in preseason:
Will McDonald in his 1st NFL game had 2 QB pressures & 1 QB hit across 14 pass rushing snaps
In his 2nd game yesterday, he had 4 pressures, 2 QB hits, & 1 sack across 11 pass rushing snaps
He's just starting out, & he looks so good already coming around the edge
And he's so… pic.twitter.com/XiAYxxEI3S
— Harrison Glaser (@NYJetsTFMedia) August 13, 2023
Myles Murphy and Felix Anudike-Uzomah snuck into the end of the first round but have to fight for playing time on Super Bowl contenders. Murphy could earn quick playing time as a stout run defender, and the Chiefs, who could be without Chris Jones to start the season, continue to search for pass rushing.
BJ Ojulari, Derick Hall, and Isaiah Foskey just make our cut as top-40 picks. I have my eye on Foskey. He had double-digit sacks in each of the past two years at Notre Dame and now steps into an aggressive Dennis Allen defense that's replacing three of four starters on the line. He's my favorite long shot at +6000.
Outlier Pick with Odds Too Long
LB Jack Campbell, Lions +2000 (FanDuel)
This used to be a linebacker award, with off-ball backers picking up nine of 10 DROYs around the start of the century, but we've seen only one win over the last decade.
I'm not sure Jack Campbell bucks that trend, but I do think his odds are too long.
Campbell popped in preseason, garnering the top PFF grade among all rookies. He hits like a Mack truck and covers quite well, so he looks set to step in as the starting inside linebacker on Opening Day. He racked up 268 tackles at Iowa the last two seasons and added three sacks and five interceptions.
A Big 10 defender has won DPOY in five of the last seven seasons, so maybe Campbell's Iowa play gets him ready for a surprise run at the award. Compare Campbell to a similar player from a year ago, Quay Walker. He was a trendy DROY pick heading into the season as an off-ball linebacker, but the difference is that his odds were around +1000.
Jack Campbell is my second most likely Defensive Rookie of the Year, and +2000 is simply too long. I'll play a half-unit on Campbell, but mostly to protect the multi-unit investment I'm making on the favorite.
The Best Awards Bet You Can Make
Will Anderson, Texans +500 (FanDuel)
Anderson is the right favorite, and I think he's still priced far too long.
Anderson is a monster, a defender so good that he was one of the favorites to be be drafted first overall in betting markets, even ahead of the top quarterbacks at times. That says something in a QB-driven league.
At Alabama, Anderson stood out on a loaded defense. He racked up seven, 17 and 10.5 sacks the last three seasons, and he wasn't even unleashed as a pass rusher as much as he will be in the NFL.
Anderson received PFF's highest defensive grade in Week 2 of the preseason, and he has a 94.1 Pass Rush grade out of 100. Just look at him absolutely wreck two poor Dolphins on this play:
The Texans believe in Anderson and paid a premium to go up and get him. Houston traded away two first-round picks, a second, and a third — one of those firsts will come next year for a team most expect to pick near the top of the draft again. That was a mammoth price, and it shows just how much DeMeco Ryans believes in this guy.
Houston allowed the sixth-most points last season, so they fit our formula above with six straight DROY winners helping a defense go from bottom six to top 10 in that metric. This defense already jumped to 10th in DVOA the second half of last season without corner Derek Stingley Jr. Another leap could be in line for this unit.
Remember, 19 of the last 23 DROY winners were top-15 picks. Five since 2010 were top-three picks, like Anderson.
Heck, six of 23 winners (26.1%) this century were the top defender taken, like Anderson. If you simply blind bet the top defender in every draft this century, you'd have annual implied odds of +283 at a winner. We're getting almost double that with Anderson.
I make Anderson at least a 30% favorite, a full 20% more than any other contender. I wouldn't put his odds any longer than +225. Defensive awards tend to go to the favorites, and Anderson is the best defender in the draft and the favorite with a bullet. He checks every box.
Will Anderson isn't just my best bet for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He's a multi-unit bet at +500, and he's my favorite play of the entire 2023 preseason awards circuit.
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