Inside Slant: Breaking Down Season-long Awards - Footballguys

Dave Larkin makes his recommendations for MVP, Rookie of the Year and more. 

You’re very welcome back to a special preseason edition of ‘Inside Slant’, a column normally reserved for the bumpy ride of the regular season dipping its foot into the comparatively calm waters of the offseason. As our football hibernation comes to a shuddering halt, it is about time to dust off our punters’ caps and turn our attention to the season ahead – and specifically, how we can get ahead of the pack with our wagers and mine some real value.

By the time training camp rolls around after a barren spell without football, it is easy – perhaps even understandable – to get caught up in the chatter.

‘This team will be better this year’, they prognosticate from their plush sets on television, adjusting their ties and shirt sleeves with self-assured sniffs.

‘With Player X back, expect this team to put together a deep playoff run.’ While one player can certainly make a difference, football is never that simple and often the more nuanced analysis is eschewed in this quick-fix world for a bite-size chunk of predictability.

Expectations and attempting to predict what will happen based on last year is, quite simply, folly.

Of course, we are under no illusions that everything we predict has its share of risk, but that is part of the fun. One of the lesser-tested betting markets is the awards circuit, including Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year and many more. Professional handicapper Steve Fezzik likes to call these needle-in-a-haystack bets as they are non-binary and involve the gambler picking one option out of a plethora of them.

Not easy, right?

Certainly not, but it is still worth examining the contenders and picking out potential values that could net you a significant profit. Think of this way: hitting on just one of these bets could provide you with the same or more money as winning some of your week-to-week bets during the season.

Without further ado, let us examine the awards contenders for 2018.

Note: These odds were sourced from Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, but they remain consistent across markets and would be reflective of the overall picture.

OFFENSIVE AWARDS

AP Offensive Rookie of the Year

Current award holder: RB Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

The contenders

Selected dark horses

Larkin’s recommendation

Michael Gallup 50/1 - I have been doggedly banging the drum for Michael Gallup since I first laid eyes on his tape. The Dallas offense is, to be kind, devoid of quality playmakers right now. Yes, one could argue that Allen Hurns is a useful player with speed and solid route-running ability. Yes, Cole Beasley has the trust of his quarterback Dak Prescott, but he will never produce a wow play. Gallup can, and he should if provided the opportunity. A glimpse of his potential in the preseason has only hardened my resolve on his upside. A long shot this may be, but Gallup will be playing in a popular market where airtime is plentiful across all networks and is a bargain at 50/1.

Most Passing Yards

Current award holder: QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots

The contenders

Selected dark horses

Larkin’s recommendation

Drew Brees 5/1 – After recommending Michael Gallup for offensive rookie accolades, I have reverted to a more conservative tack with this one. Drew Brees has consistently been among the top passers in the league for a long time and has a team around him – offensive line, coaching, receiving weapons, a ground game – that could challenge for the Super Bowl. The Saints’ schedule features challenging match-ups against a slew of quality opponents, but Brees thrives in these conditions. He often puts up his gaudiest passing statistics in these games, in fact. The fact that he, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger top the market – all with the same odds – speaks to how tight this race can be. I would generally avoid this bet, but if you’re feeling lucky roll the dice with Drew.

Most Rushing Yards

Current award holder: RB Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs

The contenders

Selected dark horses

Larkin’s recommendation

Leonard Fournette 9/1 – Despite missing three games due to an injury, Leonard Fournette catapulted himself into eighth among rushers last season in terms of yardage totals. A rookie accomplishing this feat isn’t as awe-inspiring or surprising as it would have been a couple of decades ago, but Fournette took the league like a duck to water. This season should see the Jaguars continue to lean heavily on the brawny shoulders of the former LSU back; if Blake Bortles is your quarterback, it is a viable, nay, essential strategy. Todd Gurley is too easy at 4/1, so I am opting for a mild swing for the fences here.

Most Receiving Yards

Current award holder: WR Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

The contenders

Selected dark horses

Larkin’s recommendation

A.J. Green 20/1 – Another leap of faith with this bet, although renowned leaper A.J. Green might disagree. The uber-consistent receiver has never quite reached the heights of his 2012 and 2013 outputs in the last few seasons, owing in large part to a below-par passing game and offensive line woes. This Bengals team feels a little different, or at least the noises coming out of Cincinnati would have us believe that. The rub here is, of course, the effectiveness of Andy Dalton. On one hand, Dalton will pepper Green with passes; on the other, Cincinnati has an excellent running back in Joe Mixon and will likely keep the offense as balanced as possible. Taking the plunge with Green is a risky one, but his domination of targets and talent should have you quietly optimistic that this one could produce.

DEFENSIVE AWARDS

AP Defensive Player of the Year

Current award holder: DT Aaron Donald

The contenders

Selected dark horses

Larkin’s recommendation

Von Miller 11/1 – Many in the football cognoscenti have panned the selection of J.J. Watt as the favorite to win this award. Perhaps their criticism is warranted considering Watt’s recent injury-plagued seasons, but to me, it is a moot point anyway. A better option is sitting right in front of our faces. Von Miller, ladies and gentlemen, has a new edge rusher to help take some of the pressure off in the form of Bradley Chubb. This will put offensive lines in a bind, with Chubb likely to pose problems with his unique blend of skills. Miller may not reach the 18.5 sacks of 2012, but a return to 14-16 is well within his range. The Broncos offense held back the entire team last year; with Case Keenum providing a steadying presence, that should be much improved. The knock-on effect is more pass rushing opportunities for a defense that is hungry to hunt. Miller is the ringleader and represents nice value to remind the league of what a dominant force he can be.

AP Defensive Rookie of the Year

Current award holder: CB Marshon Lattimore

The contenders

Selected dark horses

Larkin’s recommendation

Derwin James 11/1 – Before too long, Derwin James will be the name on everyone’s lips. The Chargers landed a special talent in the first round, a player capable of influencing the game as a pass rusher, run defender and playmaker in the back end. James is the prototype modern-day safety and plays on a team where the opportunity for big plays will be plentiful. For the Chargers, misfortune has been a frequent bedfellow in the past few seasons. From ill-timed injuries to missed kicks to heart-breaking defeats at the death, this team has felt cursed. Don’t let that cloud your judgment, however. There is so much talent on this team and a top-heavy AFC is ripe for the picking. James should rack up tackles, add a few interceptions and feature heavily on the Chargers’ probable playoff run. He will need a few splash plays worthy of ESPN highlights round-ups to cement his place in the consciousness of the AP voters, but that shouldn’t be too difficult with his skill set.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Most Valuable Player

Current award holder: QB Tom Brady

The contenders

Selected dark horses

Larkin’s recommendation

Carson Wentz 10/1 – Everyone loves a good story, especially when it concerns a star quarterback returning after a devastating injury. Carson Wentz has been cleared for 11-on-11 activities, and the Eagles seem optimistic of a Week 1 return against Atlanta. There is a lot to like about the Philadelphia roster, with key pieces from last year’s Super Bowl team retained and more added to bolster the squad’s depth. Wentz has five primetime games (six if you count the London clash) to showcase his – and this team’s – talents to the watching public. The more exposure, the better. There is a danger that Wentz will be passed over for this award and put forward for the Comeback Player, but he is more than capable of getting back in the saddle quickly.

NFL Comeback Player of the Year

Current award holder: WR Keenan Allen

The contenders

Selected dark horses

Larkin’s recommendation

Dalvin Cook 10/1Aaron Rodgers is the easy answer here, with Carson Wentz another contender. However, I have decided to go a little deeper into the betting pool and nominate Vikings superstar running back Dalvin Cook. The Minnesota offensive line has taken some hits this preseason, but Cook’s talent can make even subpar lines appear to be blocking like Pro Bowlers. His vision and quick cuts bamboozle defenders. Risk is baked into any bet that involves a running back coming off a knee injury of this magnitude but playing on a winning team with plenty of airtime and star power should help his case tremendously.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions about betting, please drop me a line on Twitter @davlar87 or email me at larkin@footballguys.com