2023 NFL Futures: Expert Picks on MVP, Coach of the Year, Rookies, 3 More
Getty Images. Pictured: Bijan Robinson (left) and Tyreek Hill.
|Coach of the Year|
Comeback Player of the Year
Damar Hamlin is probably the most likely candidate to win Comeback Player of the Year, but his odds are far too short. I can't get there in recommending a bet at 73%-88% implied probability. That means there's potential value elsewhere.
If Hamlin doesn't win, Tua Tagovailoa (+2000) is a clear favorite for me. I'll play a half-unit on him, then sprinkle a quarter-unit each on Matthew Stafford and Odell Beckham Jr. (+5000 each). I'll also watch for an opportunity to add Dak Prescott and Brock Purdy to my portfolio.
CPOY is an odd award, fully narrative driven, in a strange year given Hamlin's presence. Don't go too crazy, but sometimes odd years and heavy favorites mean opportunity for bettors.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Houston's Will 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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Offensive Rookie of the Year
Jahmyr Gibbs has gotten rave reviews in camp with his elite speed, and there's talk of him being used in an Alvin Kamara-type role, which fits with his slight build and quickness.
Detroit needs receiving help after Amon-Ra St. Brown, and the Gibbs pick makes a lot more sense at No. 12 if you think of him less as a RB and more as a weapon. Kamara caught 81 balls as a rookie for 825 yards. That's asking a lot of Gibbs, but something like 65 catches for 600 yards could be in play.
But will he get enough reps as an actual runner? The Lions have consistently used multiple RBs in recent years, and new signing David Montgomery looks in line to step into the Jamaal Williams role as the lead carrier between the tackles, which could mean grabbing most of the rushing TDs.
Kamara ran only 120 times as a rookie. Even 150 carries for Gibbs might mean 700 yards, putting him around 1,300 combined scrimmage yards with a chance at double-digit scores as a high-end outcome.
Those numbers would be in the mix in many years, but I think they're a median or even low-end outcome for my pick, Bijan Robinson.
Bijan Robinson’s first carry in the NFL is a good one 😳 pic.twitter.com/F58FnbOuP2
— PFF (@PFF) August 18, 2023
The Falcons were the only team in the league to run the ball on over half of their plays last season, including 48.8% while losing, and those rates remained similar under Desmond Ridder.
Atlanta under head coach Arthur Smith will run, run and run some more. The Falcons ran 559 times last season, which leaves more than enough carries for Robinson to split workload with Tyler Allgeier and Cordarelle Patterson, and still have a mammoth workload, maybe even approaching 300 carries.
He's also likely to be very efficient as a runner. Atlanta has one of the best run-blocking lines in the league, and both Allgeier and Patterson cleared 4.8 yards per carry. Robinson, a special running prospect, is even better. If he hits 5.0 YPC on 300 carries, that's 1,500 yards, enough to contend for a rushing crown. Even 250 carries puts him close to that high-end combined yards outcome for Gibbs.
Robinson is also a good pass catcher if Atlanta deploys him in that role. He scored 35 touchdowns in his last two seasons at Texas, so he clearly has a nose for the end zone.
Smith is no stranger to deploying a workhorse RB, unleashing the beast we know as Derrick Henry. Henry led the league in rushing attempts, yards and TDs in both of Smith's years as offensive coordinator in Tennessee.
Atlanta's schedule starts out against the Panthers, Packers, Lions, Jaguars and Texans — all winnable games against soft defenses. I bet Robinson at +450 on draft night and hate to recommend a favorite at +300 given the history of this award, but if we wait around, even that number may be gone.
Do yourself a favor and roll some of that sweet u4.5 QBs money over on Bijan Robinson for Rookie of the Year, +450 at DK.
Get it while it's hot.
— Brandon Anderson (@wheatonbrando) April 28, 2023
I think Robinson, quite literally, runs away with Offensive Rookie of the Year. His median outcomes look good enough to top the field, and his high-end outcomes blow away the competition.
I make Robinson over a 35% favorite to win OROY, which means he would have value even at +200. He's a top draft pick stepping into a very good offense and should have a huge role, so he checks nearly every box.
The Offensive Rookie of the Year race has not even officially begun, but I think it's all but over if Bijan Robinson stays healthy. I'm betting Robinson +300 to run away with OROY in 2023.
Defensive Player of the Year
We have three excellent candidates, all with the three best odds. Which one should we bet?
Would you believe the answer might just be all three?
The implied odds suggest Micah Parsons is 15.4% likely to win, with Myles Garrett at 11.1% and T.J. Watt at 10.5%. I think all three of those percentages are too low, considering how strong favorites do here and how narrow the field is.
I'd take Parsons, Garrett and Watt versus the field. In fact, my numbers make them almost 2-to-1 favorites against the field. I've got Parsons at 27% to win, Garrett at 20% and Watt at 17%.
That means there's value on all three — so I'm betting each of them.
If we bet all three players evenly, we get an implied +170, or 37.0%, versus my 64%. I'll take that edge.
If you don't want to bet all three, pick your two favorites. Parsons is technically a year young for our age range, while Garrett (28 in December) and Watt (29 in October) are a touch high.
If you don't like the favorite, you can bet just Garrett and Watt together at an implied +363 (21.6%). Other combinations work too, and I don't mind adding in a touch of Burns at +4000 to round out the portfolio.
It's quite likely the DPOY comes down to just five to seven guys. If we can lock in three of them — the three most likely winners — at +170, I'll take my chances. Build your Defensive Player of the Year position around Parsons +550, Garrett +800 and Watt +850.
Offensive Player of the Year
If you followed along last season, we grabbed Hill at +1600 for OPOY in October and had the odds-on favorite in December before injuries caught up to the Dolphins. I swear he would've cashed our ticket if Tua Tagovailoa had finished the season healthy, and I can't help but go back to the well.
The numbers from last season are just silly. Hill had 10 games with at least seven catches. He had seven 100-yard receiving games, including four with at least 160 yards. To put that in perspective, the entire NFL had 16 games all season with a 160-yard receiver — and Hill was four of the 16!
Hill led all players in yards per route run last season at almost three, absolutely dwarfing the competition. The next closest player was Justin Jefferson, who was under 2.5! And that was despite Hill playing with second- and third-string QBs for much of the season and himself playing through a late injury.
Through nine games last season, Hill was on pace for 146 catches and 2,085 yards. Heck, he was on pace for 1,850 yards — more than Jefferson — with two games left before Miami stumbled to the finish line with QB Skylar Thompson.
Olave is probably my favorite deep long shot for any awards pick this preseason, and this number is just silly. He's this year's breakout sophomore WR and could be in for a huge season.
We mentioned yards per route run and noted that Hill and Jefferson led the way last fall. Well, nine receivers had a healthy lead on the rest of the league, and it's basically a who's who of WR greats: Hill, Jefferson, Jaylen Waddle, A.J. Brown, Davante Adams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Stefon Diggs, CeeDee Lamb — and Olave.
Olave isn't just on that list either. He was fifth, ahead of the final four names, and he did that as a rookie for a Saints team that shuffled through Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton and Taysom Hill at QB. That won't be a problem this year as Derek Carr should stabilize things in New Orleans.
Carr's favorite pass in recent seasons is that seam route Darren Waller loves to run, and that's the exact route Olave excelled most at as a rookie. His 14.5 YPC is great, and the Saints should be more pass-heavy with more confidence in their quarterback.
Carr has a history of heavily favoring his top pass catcher. Davante Adams had 100/1,516/14 last fall. Hunter Renfrow had 103/1,038/9 the prior season and Waller was at 107/1,196/9 the year before that. That's three straight seasons with a 100-catch receiver, plus previous 1,000-yard seasons for Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Carr loves his top weapon, and Olave is his top weapon in New Orleans.
Olave could be this year's breakout receiver, and he's worth a long-shot play at +6500.
Pay attention to this OPOY watch list as we get some new stats this fall and start to identify outliers. For now, let's start our portfolio with bets on Tyreek Hill +2000 and Chris Olave +6500.
NFL Coach of the Year
The Packers are one of the more volatile, unpredictable teams this season. The defense is super talented but has consistently underperformed, and the offense is an unknown with Jordan Love finally stepping in for Aaron Rodgers. I have Green Bay at nine relatively coin-flip games, most in the NFC.
Volatility in betting means betting on the long tail of outlier outcomes. I'm not a fan of LaFleur's assistants and not a believer in Love or this defense, so I wouldn't be shocked to see this end up a full rebuilding season in Green Bay. But the NFC North shapes up as the worst, most winnable division and there's no question the Packers' volatility could swing the other direction too.
The Packers have a terrific offensive line and run game, so that's a stable floor. If Love plays like an above-average QB this could be a top-10 or 15 offense, and the pass defense can be dominant too. Add in an obvious narrative for LaFleur post-Rodgers and he could be in the mix with a 12-5 division title.
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If the NFC North isn't the most winnable division, the NFC South might be. The Panthers are young and inexperienced, the Bucs are rebuilding, and the Saints are favored but lost a lot on defense and may not run away with this thing. I love the Falcons, and I've got them as outright favorites in the South.
If Atlanta is good, Arthur Smith's offensive scheme will be a huge reason why. Smith led a top-6 DVOA offense twice in Tennessee, turning journeyman Ryan Tannehill into an elite metrics QB, and he got this Atlanta offense to No. 13 last year despite playing blindfolded at QB all year with Marcus Mariota and then a rookie Desmond Ridder.
Now Smith gets an extra offseason to get Ridder ready and adds stud rookie RB Bijan Robinson to a loaded skill room that already includes Drake London and Kyle Pitts. Throw in a great offensive line and this offense could be way better than you think. Atlanta also added a lot of veteran talent on defense, enough to improve the unit from terrible to at least passable.
Smith isn't a first-year candidate, but he otherwise checks every box as an offensive-minded coach of a team that could make a leap. In the wide-open NFC, the Falcons could even contend for a top-2 seed.
Ryans is the first-year candidate I love for Coach of the Year, and these top two picks shouldn't surprise you if you read my column predicting this year's worst-to-first NFL division winner where I recommended bets on both the Falcons (+210) and Texans (+1000).
The AFC South is by far the softest division in the conference. We discussed the Colts' shortcomings. The Titans have the worst offensive line in the league and lack upside. The Jaguars have a franchise QB but a bad defense and a pretty lackluster roster overall outside of Trevor Lawrence.
The Texans might actually have the best, most balanced roster in the division. Houston could make a leap defensively under Ryans with rookie Will Anderson and sophomore Derek Stingley Jr. leading the way. The offense should see a huge step forward in the run game with new OC Bobby Slowik coming over from the Kyle Shanahan tree, unleashing Dameon Pierce and a young, improving offensive line.
Houston is set to have the best offensive line, defense, and special teams in the division. That sort of strength on the spine of a team should make life much easier on C.J. Stroud, who looks the most pro-ready among the new rookies.
Expectations could not be lower for the Texans — the franchise has barely even been relevant the last few years. If DeMeco Ryans comes in and takes Houston to a division title, he'll be a great COY pick.
Three coaches fit the profile best for 2023 Coach of the Year, so let's get three bites at the apple. Bet Ryans, Smith and LaFleur together at a combined implied +510.
Think of Dak Prescott as this year's Jalen Hurts.
The best place to look for an MVP candidate is the QB of the team you think will contend for the 1-seed. Dallas is my 1-seed in the wide-open NFC. If Prescott is the QB of the team that wins the most games, and he's the quarterback of America's Team, he will absolutely be in the MVP race.
On the one hand, Prescott has never had an MVP year. He's only gone over 30 TDs or topped 11 wins once each. On the other hand, if you really only get one shot at this, maybe this is his shot.
The underlying numbers are there. Prescott has a career 7.6 YPA, and he's consistently on pace to pass around 600 times a season and should pass more in Mike McCarthy's pass-heavy offense. Prescott also saw his TD rate leap to over 6% the past two years, and you often need that TD spike in an MVP year.
The interceptions have never been an issue before last season and are not a concern. Outside of the turnovers last year, Prescott had an incredible 0.358 EPA per play, second to just Mahomes and far ahead of the rest of the field. Turnovers count! But Prescott was outstanding in the many other plays, and he should be even better with Brandin Cooks opposite CeeDee Lamb in a new scheme that's built to this team's strengths, getting quick, accurate passes to receivers on the move in space.
You want narrative? How about the Cowboys losing Ezekiel Elliott and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore but somehow getting better by subtraction right as it's clearer than ever that this is Prescott's team? As if being QB of America's Team on a 1-seed wasn't enough.
MVP is a team award, and considering the team context and the wide-open NFC, I put Prescott right in the mix with Allen and Hurts as the top contenders to Mahomes' crown. That makes him an absolute bargain at +2500, and it makes him the one MVP ticket I absolutely have to have going into the new 2023 season.
But if you've been paying attention, there's one other name — another NFC name — I have to sprinkle too.
I'm a glutton for punishment. Trey Lance was my long shot in this column last fall at +5000, and silly old me, I bought another Lance ticket this spring so I guess I've got Prescott insurance now.
I just can't stop betting on Kyle Shanahan quarterbacks.
EPA is a great in-season predictor of MVP finish. Look at Shanahan's quarterbacks. Jimmy Garoppolo finished third in EPA per play last season, and Purdy was sixth as a rookie. Garoppolo finished fifth in EPA in 2021, ninth in 2019 and first in 2017, with injuries the two other years. Matt Ryan led the league in 2016 EPA. Oh, you forgot Shanahan was the offensive coordinator the year Ryan won MVP? The man is a QB machine.
The case for Brock Purdy as 49ers QB is that he's an upgrade on Garoppolo; a version of the former 49ers QB with an ability to create off-script and a willingness to look for the big play. If that's the case, does it mean an even better version of Garoppolo and a push for No. 1 in EPA?
In the six games Purdy played most of last fall, his stats projected to 3,700 yards and 37 TDs. He threw at least two TDs every game and is 8-0 lifetime when he takes at least half of the snaps. He has the best weapons in football and one of the most talented defenses, and he's been given the keys to the best, easiest QB job in football.
Shanahan is 43-17 with either Garoppolo or Purdy starting in San Francisco, a 12.2-win pace. If Purdy is good, the 49ers coast to 12 wins, maybe more. He could easily be the QB on a 1-seed, and the metrics last season — 8.1 YPA and 7.6% TD rate — suggest he could push for 4,000 yards and 40 TDs.
Can I interest you in a narrative?
You're telling me voters won't get romantic about Mr. Irrelevant shockingly grabbing a job, leading his team unbeaten to the NFC Championship, injuring his elbow so badly he couldn't even throw a pass there, returning from injury early seven months later, and leading Joe Montana and Steve Young's franchise to 14 wins and a 1-seed as the new Tom Brady?
You wanted an MVP sleeper in the NFC, right? How about the guy at 50-1 playing the most important position on the team that's won its last 12 games when it actually had a quarterback on the field?
Look, I'm not even a Purdy believer. But if I'm wrong and this dude is for real, then this ticket is badly mispriced for a team with as good a shot as any at the 1-seed. Play the number, not the draft slot.