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Darnold Overtakes Barkley for Offensive Rookie of the Year Favorite

Jets QB Sam Darnold handing the ball off.
New York Jets rookie Sam Darnold (14) has overtaken Giants RB Saquon Barkley in the 2018 OROY odds thanks to a 48-17 win over Detroit in Week 1. Photo by Keith Allison (flickr) [CC License].
  • A massive favorite at the start of the year, Saquon Barkley is now second to Sam Darnold in the 2018 OROY odds. 
  • Darnold had a promising Week 1, but so did the Giants RB, who had over 100 rushing yards against the league’s best defense.
  • Which star-in-the-making is a better value bet at this early stage of the season?

The competition for Offensive Rookie of the Year was a one-horse race at the start of the season. No. 2-overall pick Saquon Barkley was expected to gallop off with the award, leading the New York Giants back to respectability in the process.

His +180 preseason odds had an implied probability of 35.7%. The next closest on the list was Jets QB Sam Darnold, all the way back at +590 (14.5%)

But after just one week of football, the race has not only tightened, Barkley isn’t even the favorite anymore. Darnold is.

As the graph above shows, Darnold now sits at +115 (46.5% probability) to Barkley’s +190 (34.5%).

Why Has Darnold Become the OROY Favorite?

Don’t look at Barkley’s Week 1 performance as the reason for the shift. He had 106 rushing yards on just 18 attempts against Jacksonville, the no. 1-ranked defense per DVOA in 2017.  Yes, he was held in check for much of the game, but he also busted this electrifying 68-yard TD run, New York’s only touchdown in a 20-15 loss.

Overall, his first game followed the Duck, Duck, Goose rhythm of his college career (stuffed, stuffed, stuffed, EPIC TOUCHDOWN RUN!) and it showed why he was the outright favorite from the get-go.

Yet, he now finds himself second in the odds, because Darnold and the Jets recorded one of the most shocking outcomes of Week 1, a 48-17 rout of the Lions in Detroit as touchdown underdogs.

It would be an overstatement to say that Darnold “led” them to that win, however.

Darnold’s NFL career got off to the worst possible start: a pick-six on his first ever pass attempt.

He rebounded nicely, finishing the day 16/21 for 198 yards, 2 TDs and the lone interception (116.8 passer rating). But realistically, the Jets waxed Detroit because of their defense (five interceptions and a pick-six of its own) and their ground game (169 yards, 2 TDs, 4.7 YPC). New York also got a punt-return touchdown from Andre Roberts.

The fact that Quincy Enunwa (6 receptions, 63 yards, 1 TD) is emerging as a viable WR1 is reason to have confidence in Darnold going forward, but will he and the Jets really be this good week after week? Should he really be ahead of Barkley in the OROY odds already?

Is Darnold or Barkley a Better Value Bet?

Darnold showed a lot of promise after that first drive, and this s a QB-driven league, so his short odds are somewhat justified. But leaping ahead of Barkley after just one game — a game in which the New York defense knew what plays the Lions were going to run — is an overreaction, especially since Barkley had his own big day and did nothing to dissuade us of his potential for even more.

The Giants won’t be facing the Jaguars every week, and the Jets won’t be facing the Lions. Sure, the Jets get to play the Bills twice, but that’s counteracted by two against Bill Belichick’s Patriots, who are famously hard on rookie QBs.

In sum, Saquon had almost as good a Week 1 as Darnold and did it against much stiffer competition. Expect him to routinely post 100-yard games (barring injury) while Darnold regresses when he’s put in tougher spots against better defenses.

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