By Geoff Schwartz
FOX Sports NFL Analyst
Now that the dust has settled on the 2022 NFL Draft, it’s time to explore some fun futures wagers for next season — players who I think can win Rookie of the Year and a team I believe can win its division.
I know some people will say, “Geoff, it’s way too early for these bold predictions. The draft just happened!” Well, the team that I think can win its division is undervalued in the market, and I’m comfortable picking them based on some key moves they made in the draft.
And then you have to remember that I eat, sleep and breathe college football. So when it comes to players who I believe can win Rookie of the Year, I’ve been watching these guys tear it up on Saturdays. And when it comes to betting, I know who can give you the most bang for your buck going from college to the pros.
Let’s look at my three best futures bets for next NFL season, with odds via FOX Bet.
Offensive Rookie of the Year James Cook: +1800 at FOX Bet (bet $10 to win $190 total)
If I was in charge of this award, I would allow offensive linemen to be included. But since the committee doesn’t want to be creative, I’m left to choose between a quarterback, running back or wide receiver. The Offensive Rookie of the Year award has typically been won by first-round picks; only three players not drafted in the first round have won the award since 2003. If we are choosing a skill position player from the first round to win this award, I’d look at new Falcons’ receiver Drake London. He might be getting ready to play for a bad team, but he will get all the targets in this offense.
However, I’m not going in that direction for my wager. I’m going with a longer shot and taking James Cook — the new Bills running back.
The Bills drafted Cook in the second round out of Georgia, and I’m giving him the nod for this award ahead of Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker — two running backs taken before him. Now, both of those running backs will put up numbers but neither will do so on winning teams. Cook will contribute to a Bills team that is the favorite to win the AFC. Cook will not start the season as the Bills’ No. 1 rushing option. He’ll be their third-down back which will be fitting because that’s what he did at Georgia.
Cook had 27 receptions for a 10.5 yard average to go along with 113 rushing attempts where he averaged 6.4 yards per attempt. I believe the speedster will see an increase in his usage numbers in the Buffalo offense as the season goes on. He’ll be a better runner and receiver coming out of college than their primary back Devin Singletary was after he got drafted in 2019. Also, the Bills ranked 32nd in yards after the catch last season, so they will need Cook to do his thing in this offense.
I’m going outside the box with Cook for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Grab this number now before it shrinks during the season.
Defensive Rookie of the Year George Karlaftis: +2200 at FOX Bet (bet $10 to win $230 total)
The past three Defensive Rookie of the Year honors went to pass rushers. Yes, Micah Parsons is listed as a linebacker, but he won the award for his ability to rush the passer. I would certainly understand if you wagered on Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux, but I think it’s worth a sprinkle on Karlaftis.
Karlaftis was drafted by the Chiefs at pick 30, but he will immediately be an impact player. The Chiefs are desperate for some pass-rushing help and the Greek Freak II will get plenty of opportunities to rush the passer.
One stat that does translate from college to the NFL is pass-rush win rate. We’ve seen that if you generate pressure in college football at a high level, you have a better chance to do the same early in the NFL. Karlaftis had the fifth-best pass-rush win rate in college football last season per Pro Football Focus (minimum 250 pass rush attempts).
He’s also in the AFC West, a division that lacks formidable right tackles. Also, most teams are going to focus on stopping Chris Jones and not Karlaftis, so he should be able to use this to his advantage. He’ll be allowed to rush one-on-one and this should benefit his development.
Basically, we’re looking at a rookie who will get every possible attempt to pressure the quarterback as a part of this defense. At +2200, there’s value in this number.
AFC North winner Baltimore Ravens: +200 at FOX Bet (bet $10 to win $30 total)
I will never understand this price for the Ravens to win the AFC North. The Ravens lost the most meaningful snaps to injuries last season — including quarterback Lamar Jackson, who didn’t play the final five games. Baltimore was 8-4 at the time Jackson was sidelined. Even with all of the Ravens’ injuries, that team probably would have clinched a wild-card spot if he stayed healthy. It’s safe to assume Baltimore will not be as banged up this season because the injury rate tends to even out from one year to the next.
The Ravens were able to address their roster issues in a big way during the draft. They added impact starters Kyle Hamilton at safety and center Tyler Linderbaum in the first round. They followed that up by adding defensive tackle Travis Jones in the third round — a player many expected to be an early second-round pick. Baltimore then added right tackle Daniel Faalele in the fourth round and more tight ends later in the draft. These additions add to an already talented roster and make the Ravens a playoff team once again.
Cincinnati will be the only competition for the AFC North title, but I expect the Bengals to slightly regress this season. Then you’ve got the Browns, who traded for quarterback Deshaun Watson who hasn’t played in over a year AND will most likely be suspended for a large chunk of the season. The Steelers will be competitive but are likely starting Mitchell Trubisky or newly-drafted Kenny Pickett at quarterback, making it less likely that Pittsburgh will be able to win the North this season.
On paper, the Ravens are in an excellent position to retake their spot on top of the AFC North. While the price is still +200, I will gladly make this wager.
Geoff Schwartz played eight seasons in the NFL for five different teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. He is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffSchwartz.
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