The 2022 NFL rookie class is posing unique challenges for oddsmakers this season. Most sportsbooks stand to lose money if Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens wins Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Positive reports from training camp and a touchdown catch in the preseason opener prompted a steady flow of bets on Pickens. His odds throughout the betting market opened at around 50-1 but moved to mostly 9-1 or 10-1.
Chris Bennett, director of risk at Circa Sportsbook, explained why Pickens is now the favorite after opening at such long odds earlier in the offseason.
“I do not have Pickens at the shortest odds because I think he’s most likely to win. I just want to write bets on other guys [to lower Pickens’ liability],” said Bennett, who also shared that Circa took a “big bet” from a respected bettor at 50-1 odds.
Caesars Sportsbook, DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, SuperBook and Circa Sports all said that Pickens represents their largest ticket count, and most said he is the house’s biggest liability.
“I don’t recall this market being all over the board,” John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook, told ESPN. “It doesn’t look like a great offensive rookie class. I guess that’s to be expected when you don’t have a high-profile quarterback at the top of the draft, so it’s setting up to be more open than normal.”
That’s what makes this year so different. Pickens was taken with the 52nd overall pick in the second round after 10 other wide receivers. However, Pittsburgh appears ready to feature him now, and bettors have taken notice.
“He was a five-star recruit, so it’s not a talent issue. He is just as good as all the other wide receivers who were one-third the price,” professional bettor Jason Weingarten told ESPN about his 35-1 ticket. “And no quarterbacks were taken in the top 15 picks, so it’s wide open.”
The Steelers were the first team to take a quarterback in this year’s draft when they selected Kenny Pickett with the 20th overall pick. Coincidentally, he is Pickens’ new teammate and the other top-two betting favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year. According to coach Mike Tomlin, Pickett still has a chance to beat out Mitch Trubisky for the starting gig.
“When you handicap the Rookie of the Year, you look at the quarterbacks first. Is there any QB that will actually start or get any significant playing time? That’s what it comes down to,” DraftKings sportsbook director Johnny Avello told ESPN. Avello said Pickens represents DraftKings’ biggest liability with nearly 20% of the total handle and the largest bet coming at 40-1 odds.
Booking these types of awards is relatively new territory. Nevada Gaming legalized Super Bowl MVP wagering in 2016, and gradually books have been able to post lower-profile indexes like Offensive Rookie of the Year.
“I’m primarily responsible for NFL futures, but I’m also the baseball guy, and it’s really hard to do both really well this time of year,” Bennett said. “I can’t follow all the NFL news every day and keep up where [the awards odds] should be positioned.”
A top-six draft pick has won this award the past four years. In 2017, Alvin Kamara won it as a third-rounder but was the fifth running back taken overall. Only three wide receivers have won Offensive Rookie of the Year over the past 20 seasons.
“As with any rookie award futures, there will likely be some drastic odds changes once we see these players on the field Week 1 and adjust off their performances,” Caesars Sportsbook assistant director of trading Adam Pullen told ESPN.
To compete with other operators during expanding legalization, sportsbooks are catering to bettors and thus offering an extensive menu. But that can also leave them vulnerable.
“As we spread ourselves out and do all these different things, it’s a lot to stay on top of. You’re going to find some weak spots, but you still have to cash that ticket. Getting value is one thing, but you still have to win the bet,” Avello said.
Sportsbooks are also managing liability on two rookies who opened at around 100-1 odds but are currently in the neighborhood of 20-1. Wideout Romeo Doubs could be heavily featured in the Green Bay Packers’ offense as a preferred target of Aaron Rodgers, and running back Brian Robinson Jr. is on track to become the starter for the Houston Texans.