Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa, or Joe Burrow? NFL Rookie Of The Year Odds & Race Predictions
Getty Images. Pictured: Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert
NFL Rookie of the Year Odds
The race for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is tightening. After jumping out to an early lead, Joe Burrow now trails the first-place Justin Herbert, with the top-three rounded out by Tua Tagovailoa.
Could Tagovailoa give Herbert and Burrow a Zion Williamson-like run their money? Who truly deserves to win the award? Let’s take a closer look at the award’s history and each of their underlying metrics before making our betting pick.
Rookie of the Year Voting
Before we dive in, here is a look at each quarterback’s raw totals this season.
- Herbert: 201-of-301 (66.8%); 2,333 yds (7.8 YPA); 19 TD; 6 INT; 37/176/4.73/3 rushing
- Burrow: 242-of-370 (65.4%); 2,485 yds (6.7 YPA); 12 TD; 5 INT,; 35/130/3.71/3 rushing
- Tua Tagovailoa: 49-of-77 (63.6%); 519 yds (6.7 YPA); 5 TD; 0 INT; 15/34/2.3/0 rushing
Barring injury, Burrow will have started all 16 games by season’s end, Herbert in 15 and Tagovailoa in 10.
The odds are stacked against Tagovailoa based on number of starts alone: Eight quarterbacks have won the award since the NFL switched to a 16-game season in 1978, and all eight have started at least 13 games, with the six most recent winners each starting 15 or more.
The average starting quarterback misses one to two games per season due to injury, so odds are that Burrow and Herbert don’t miss more than one start the rest of the way — not to mention that both entered the NFL with a cleaner bill of health than Tagovailoa, whose injury history included a serious hip fracture, multiple sprained ankles and a broken left index finger.
That means Tagovailoa would have to perform at an unprecedented level over his 10-game starting tenure in order to win this award, and although he’s off to a 3-0 streak, he’s already wasted those precious three starts by posting per-game numbers that don’t exactly have the “wow” factor: 170.0 passing yards, 11.3 rushing yards and 1.67 touchdowns.
Even if the Dolphins run the table, that would likely do more to cement Brian Flores’ case for Coach of the Year rather than Tagovailoa’s bid for ROY.
That leaves us with the question of whether Burrow could win based on sheer volume, assuming that both he and Herbert continue to perform at roughly the same per-game levels.
The most similar ROY race to compare this to is 2012, when Robert Griffin III edged out Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck.
Luck accumulated the most yardage but was the least efficient, and while Wilson and Griffin III were neck-and-neck in terms of overall efficiency, Griffin III posted better fantasy numbers due to superior rushing production and fewer interceptions, allowing him to finish with 318 fantasy points to Wilson’s 278 and Luck’s 276 that season.
Right now, Herbert has a 191-162 edge over Burrow in raw fantasy points and a 23.9-18.0 edge in fantasy points per game. Based on each quarterback’s remaining schedule, Herbert is unlikely to relinquish that advantage:
Just as Burrow’s schedule seems to lighten up, Herbert’s lightens up even more — and that starts this week. While Burrow has a seemingly easy matchup vs. the 2-7 Washington Football Team, they still rank fifth in Football Outsiders’ pass defense DVOA while Herbert faces the Jets, who rank dead-last in the metric.
Tagovailoa faces a similarly-easy schedule the rest of the way, but he’s at a disadvantage because his team is actually good, which limits the opportunities for shootouts and the need for him to post big passing numbers in order to win games.
What The Underlying Metrics Say
None of these quarterbacks have gotten much help from their offensive line — the Chargers rank 23rd in Pro Football Focus’ pass blocking grades while the Dolphins rank 24th and the Bengals rank 26th — but Herbert has separated himself with his ability to ball out under duress.
- Herbert: 58.1% completion rate (fifth); 7.73 yards per attempt (sixth); 98.8 passer rating (second)
- Tagovailoa: 52.9% completion rate; 5.94 yards per attempt (21st); 71.0 passer rating (18th)
- Burrow: 38.1% completion rate (35th), 4.25 yards per attempt (33rd), 49.8 passer rating (29th)
Herbert has made a number of pretty throws under pressure this season, but my favorite may be his ugliest: A double-pump, cross-body heave to his fullback, Gabe Nabers, for a 2-yard TD pass in Week 8 against Denver.
— NFL (@NFL) November 8, 2020
Ironically, Herbert’s 98.8 passer rating under pressure ranks second in the league, one spot behind the man he replaced, Philip Rivers. And Burrow’s 49.8 rating under pressure ranks 29th, just one spot above the man he replaced, Andy Dalton (49.7).
Herbert has also made it rain from deep. According to PFF, Herbert is second in touchdowns (nine) and sixth in yards (625) on throws that travel 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, blowing away his fellow rookies in terms of efficiency:
- Herbert: 97.9 passer rating (15th)
- Tagovailoa: 67.1 passer rating (33rd)
- Burrow: 51.1 passer rating (35th)
As you can see, Herbert generally excels at making high-difficulty plays, such as those under pressure or downfield — he’s not throwing into windows as tight as Burrow, whose 21.6% aggressiveness ranks second-highest compared to Herbert’s 18.3%, which ranks ninth per NFL Next Gen Stats. But Herbert and Burrow are neck-and-neck in completion percentage above expectation, with Burrow clocking in at +3.9 (fifth) and Herbert at +3.7% (eighth). Tagovailoa doesn’t qualify, but posted marks of -21.8, +14.7 and +3.1 in Weeks 8-10, respectively.
In terms of strength of schedule, Herbert also has had the edge over Burrow, as the defenses Herbert faced average a rank of 13.5 in pass defense DVOA compared to Burrow’s 16.4. Tagovailoa has faced the toughest schedule of the three rookies, with all three defenses he’s faced ranking between ninth and 15th for an average of 12.3.
One area Tagovailoa has outdone Herbert is down-to-down consistency.
It hasn’t been as flashy, but since Tagovailoa took over as the starter, the Dolphins are seventh in early-down pass success rate (58%) and eighth in early-down success rate overall (54%), per Sharp Football Stats. Meanwhile, the Chargers rank 22nd in early-down pass success rate (51%) and 23rd in early-down success rate overall (49%) in Herbert’s starts. And finally, the Bengals rank 25th (48%) and 21st (48%), respectively, in Burrow’s starts.
That said, there’s evidence that this is partly due to scheme, as both Tagovailoa and his predecessor Ryan Fitzpatrick rank top-four in quickest time to throw. In fact, Miami’s early-down numbers with Tagovailoa represent a drop-off from Fitzpatrick, who led the team to the NFL’s best pass success rate on early downs through six weeks (62%), as well as the second-best early-down success rate overall (57%).
At the same time, Tagovailoa has easily the worst pass-catcher corps of the three, especially since Burrow is no longer targeting the black hole formerly known as A.J. Green at as high of a rate as he was earlier in the season — Green is averaging 4.6 yards per target this season, worst of the nine players Burrow has targeted at least 10 times and 159th of 162 qualifiers league-wide, regardless of position.
Meanwhile, Herbert clearly has the best, if for no other reason than that Keenan Allen continues to dog-walk opposing defensive backs right out of their cleats every time he runs a route.
For Herbert, there could be some #LetRussCook type tensions building in LA, as Chargers head coach Danthony Quinn — er, Anthony Lynn — and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen have dialed up a pass on only 44% of first downs with Herbert at the helm, the fifth-lowest rate in the league over that span.
Still, Herbert ranks ahead of his peers nearly across the board in all of the relevant all-encompassing passing metrics:
- Herbert: 7.41 adjusted net yards per attempt; 102.8 passer rating; 73.0 QBR; +18.4% passing DVOA
- Tagovailoa: 7.27 adjusted net yards per attempt; 104.8 passer rating; 71.6 QBR; +16.0% passing DVOA
- Burrow: 5.64 adjusted net yards per attempt; 89.8 passer rating; 57.5 QBR; -11.7% passing DVOA
NFL Rookie of the Year Prediction
Justin Herbert [Bet Now]
Quarterback wins have done us a favor here, artificially inflating Tagovailoa’s odds and in turn creating more favorable odds to bet the two main contenders, Herbert and Burrow. And given the body of work that Herbert has amassed, he merely has to play similarly to Burrow — not even necessarily better — against what projects to be an easier schedule over the remaining seven weeks of the season.
Had Tagovailoa not entered the picture, we likely would have had to lay juice on Herbert as high as -200. Instead, he’s still available at plus-money.
I’m not saying that Tagovailoa is completely out of it, but he’d likely need a combination of monster stats, a near-perfect win-loss record and a face-plant by or injury to both Burrow and Herbert — and the probability of all of those coming together is definitely in the low single digits.
As it stands, Herbert is the Ja Morant of this race.