How we’d wager on rookie numbers for Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson in 2021

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·12-min read
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If you had to wager on which two of the 2021 NFL draft’s five first-round quarterbacks are most likely to start Week 1, you’d probably end up with the first two taken.

That would be Trevor Lawrence at No. 1 overall and Zach Wilson at No. 2.

BetMGM agrees and is offering wagers on those two rookie quarterbacks’ season totals in three categories — passing yards, passing TDs and interceptions. (Side note: The bets are invalid if the players don’t suit up Week 1, which might be why they’re the only two with rookie QB prop bets so far.)

Let’s break down each statistic for the two quarterbacks and pick which ones offer the most value:

Passing yards

Wilson (Over 3,799.5, -110; Under 3,799.5, -110)

Lawrence (Over 4,099.5, -110; Under 4,099.5, -115)

If you bet "over" on Wilson, you’re saying he’ll average more than 223.5 pass yards per game. For Lawrence, that number is 241.2 pass yards per game. (Friendly reminder: We have a 17-game regular season, which is still easy to forget sometimes.)

Of the 26 rookie quarterbacks over the past decade to start 12-plus games Year 1, half of them averaged more than 223.5 yards. Interestingly, only five averaged more than 241.2.

On the surface, that makes Wilson a little more attractive. Last season Jets quarterbacks Sam Darnold (12 starts) and Joe Flacco (four) averaged 192 pass yards per game. Can we reasonably expect a 31.5-yard-per-game increase for Wilson?

There were several personnel upgrades, including additions on the O-line, in the backfield and at receiver. There could be four new starters on offense, and as many as six new contributors. Corey Davis is the top target they need, and rookies Elijah Moore and Michael Carter both are earning early praise. So is Wilson, who reportedly had a great summer.

Among the rookie QBs in the past decade who averaged more than 223.5 yards per game: Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz, Marcus Mariota, Gardner Minshew, Daniel Jones, Brandon Weeden (!) and Teddy Bridgewater. None of those players had what you would call transcendent rookie seasons.

Darnold was pretty ordinary for the Jets in 2018, and he came up just short at 220.4 yards per game — and that was with such luminaries as Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Quincy Enunwa and Chris Herndon as his leading targets.

Jaguars rookie QB Trevor Lawrence is still working his way back from injury. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Jaguars rookie QB Trevor Lawrence is still working his way back from injury. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

We need to raise the bar a bit with Lawrence’s total, but there’s incentive to consider the over first (with a slightly better return for that bet).

Minshew started eight games for the Jaguars last season, with Mike Glennon (five) and Jake Luton (three) splitting the other eight. As a group, they collectively averaged 247.2 yards per game, with Minshew averaging 260.1. Assuming Lawrence stays healthy for most of the season, he could actually average 15 fewer pass yards per game than Minshew did per start last season and still hit on this bet.

The Jaguars have a slew of young playmakers in D.J. Chark, Leviska Shenault, Collin Johnson and James Robinson (who caught 49 passes last season), and they added Marvin Jones at wideout, Luke Farrell at tight end and Lawrence’s highly touted college teammate, Travis Etienne, as a do-it-all weapon. (Etienne totaled 48 catches for 588 yards last season, but interestingly he had 15 catches for 197 yards in the two games Lawrence missed in 2020.)

Then again, Lawrence has missed the on-field portion of summer workouts with a shoulder injury he’s rehabbing, and we simply have no idea how the Jaguars’ offensive philosophy will work with Urban Meyer and Darrell Bevell calling the shots. Both men are known for their affinity for running the ball.

If you’re curious about the strength of the two rookie QBs’ schedules, let’s consider Warren Sharp’s 2021 forecasted strength of schedule based on pass efficiency defense of their opponents. According to Sharp’s list, Wilson and the Jets are projected to face the 11th-easiest defensive slate, with Lawrence and the Jaguars facing the 14th-toughest pass defenses.

Recommendations: Wilson over, Lawrence over

Passing touchdowns

Wilson (Over 20.5, -125; Under 20.5, +105)

Lawrence (Over 22.5, -130; Under 22.5, +100)

These are both interesting because the over is the better odds play for a return on investment. But are those numbers too low to consider?

Maybe, maybe not.

The Jets had 16 passing TDs in 16 games last season, with one coming from a receiver on a trick play. Somehow, Darnold had only nine TDs in his 12 starts. Wilson surely has to be far better than that, right?

If we go back to our list of 26 rookie QBs over the past decade to start 12-plus games, half of them averaged more than 1.21 TDs per game — which is what would be required for Wilson to go over his total. Of the 15 who started 15 or 16 games as rookie, five quarterbacks failed to surpass the necessary TD rate, including Wentz’s 16 in 16 starts and Ryan Tannehill’s 12 in 16 starts.

So there’s a case for the under. The Jets return players who combined for only eight red-zone TDs — four by Jamison Crowder, whose usage might be a bit uncertain following a reworked contract and with Moore on board. The other four came from Chris Herndon, Ty Johnson and Braxton Berrios, none of whom are guaranteed to make the roster.

New York Jets QB Zach Wilson could surpass some of his rookie passing-total projections. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
New York Jets QB Zach Wilson could surpass some of his rookie passing-total projections. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Davis had four red-zone TDs with the Titans last season, so that helps. Denzel Mims certainly figures to take a step up in Year 2, too, but he had only one red-zone catch as a rookie (on five targets). The Jets also figure to run the ball more frequently after ranking only 22nd in rush attempts last season.

With Lawrence, he has more red zone weaponry at his disposal. Chark, Shenault and Robinson hauled in a combined 10 red zone TDs, and Jones had four with the Lions last season. Plus, the Jaguars’ defense was worse than the Jets’ last season, so the possibility of Lawrence throwing the ball more often than Wilson must be considered (even if the Jaguars might have more firepower in the run game).

And the Jags threw for 25 TDs a year ago! In fact, if you only look at the starts of Luton and Glennon (including the start Glennon was benched mid-third quarter), those two averaged 1.125 TD passes per start, which would come out to 19.125 for a 17-game season — or about four TDs shy of what Lawrence would need to hit the “over” bet this season.

We were split on our bets, taking the better odds on one and going with our heads on the other.

Recommendations: Wilson under, Lawrence over

Interceptions thrown

Wilson (Over 13.5, -110; Under 13.5, -110)

Lawrence (Over 14.5, +100; Under 14.5, -120)

Your odds for Wilson are the same no matter which side you bet. For Lawrence, the return is better for an over bet.

Lawrence avoided interceptions very well in college. He threw only 17 picks on 1,138 college pass attempts, for a very respectable INT rate of 1.5%. If we take it a step further, using Pro Football Focus’ Turnover-Worthy Plays (TWP) statistic, Lawrence tossed an additional 35 passes that could have been picked off had defenders made what were deemed interceptable passes. That jumps Lawrence’s turnover-worthy percentage to 4.5%.

Let’s figure Lawrence throws somewhere between 500 and 600 passes as a rookie, or roughly 30 to 35 per game. That means if his TWP rate carries over from college to the NFL, somewhere between 22 and 27 of those throws could be picked off — and it would stand to reason that his TWP% actually could jump with the higher level of competition, the Jaguars’ new offense and teammates he has yet to build on-field chemistry with.

Additionally, the past five QBs to be taken No. 1 overall and start 12-plus games as rookies — Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Jameis Winston, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck — totaled 76 INTs in their 2,707 Year 1 pass attempts, for an INT rate of 2.8%. Only one of the five (Murray) was not on pace to surpass Lawrence’s projected rookie total of 14.5 picks. And to possibly make the “over” case for Lawrence stronger, those five QBs had a combined college INT rate of 2.39%, which is nearly a full percentage point higher than Lawrence.

But if we look at the NFL at large, interception rates have steadily declined over the past decade by almost a whole percentage point. On top of that, only two quarterbacks — Drew Lock and Wentz — had more than 13 picks total last season.

Interception rates have steadily fallen over the past decade in the NFL. (Yahoo Sports graphic)
Interception rates have steadily fallen over the past decade in the NFL. (Yahoo Sports graphic)

Lawrence did have some really streaky stretches in college, especially the first half of his 2019 season. But assuming he doesn’t come out reckless, as Lawrence did after winning the national title as a freshman the year before, this feels like an under bet for us. Even with the lesser return.

The same goes for Wilson. His INT% for his career was a very respectable 1.8, and in 2020, that number was a paltry 0.9%. (Lawrence was at 1.5% for the 2020 season.) Although Wilson’s total is lower at 13.5, this feels like a strong bet, especially if he misses any time. After all, Wilson was plagued by injuries in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, missing four games each campaign, and could take some hits behind a still-developing offensive line that will rely on some young blockers.

And remember: These bets only require that Wilson and Lawrence play Week 1 to be valid. Getting hurt would be a big blow to the yardage or TD bets, but playing the under on the INTs might be a nice way to hedge if you decide to put any action on the former two wagers.

Recommendations: Wilson under, Lawrence under, with Wilson being the stronger play in our minds

Rushing yards and TDs

Lawrence rushing yards (Over 324.5, -110; Under 324.5, -110)

Lawrence rushing TDs (Over 3.5, +100; Under 3.5, -120)

There are no rushing props offered for Wilson, so we’ll only be looking at Lawrence here.

College rushing totals, as you might know, include sacks and sack yardage lost. So we must be careful when using his college numbers to project what he might do in the NFL.

Thankfully, our friends at Pro Football Focus have measured quarterbacks’ designed run and scramble totals, giving us a more pure view of Lawrence’s running ability as it relates to the NFL (which subtracts sack yardage from gross pass yards instead).

In three college seasons, Lawrence’s non-sack rushing totals were 142 attempts for 1,264 yards and 18 TDs. Those are some pretty eye-opening numbers on the surface. Clemson ran a ton of designed runs for Lawrence, and it was an effective chapter of the playbook.

But how much will Meyer and Bevell ask Lawrence to run on designed plays? Yahoo Sports asked Lawrence just that a few weeks ago. Here was part of his answer:

“I don’t think it’s going to be (like at Clemson) when we ran zone-read like 10 or 15 times a game. But certainly, it’s going to be something I can use if I need it. Being able to make plays with my legs, or being able to extend plays, is always going to be something that I am going to be able to use and stay on top of because I think it’s so valuable. ...

“I am here to throw touchdowns first — that’s the main point. So we’ll see how that goes.”

This doesn’t sound like a man who expects to have the zone read be a major piece of the puzzle. But all Lawrence needs to average is 19.1 rush yards per game to hit the over. The past five seasons, there have been 33 instances of a QB starting 12 or more games and averaging more than 19.1 yards.

That’s not some monumental threshold. Blake Bortles has done it twice in that span. Daniel Jones twice has easily surpassed it. Minshew cleared that bar no problem as a rookie in 2019. Even DeShone Kizer managed 324.5 rush yards as a rookie, midway through his trial-by-fire rookie season.

Then again, Justin Herbert — a fairly comparable QB specimen to Lawrence — came up short at 15.6 yards per game as a mostly brilliant rookie. Neither Mayfield (9.4) nor Darnold (10.6) really came close either in their rookie seasons.

As for rushing TDs, 3.5 total doesn’t feel like a daunting number. Lawrence only ran in one score as a freshman on 60 attempts but totaled eight and nine TDs in 2019 and 2020, respectively. He absolutely was a short-yardage run weapon.

Herbert and Kizer (both had five TDs in 15 starts) cleared that 3.5 bar easily as NFL rookies. But Lawrence, don’t forget, has missed the entire offseason with rehab for a left shoulder (labrum) surgery. Are the Jaguars really going to ask Lawrence to expose it to hits in red-zone situations?

If you take away Lawrence’s college TD runs of 67 yards vs. Ohio State and a 34-yarder vs. Notre Dame, the average rush length of his 16 other scores was only 4.3 yards. Point is, he’s not a player like Murray or Lamar Jackson who is going to rip off long TD runs on the regular. The Jaguars have three backs they might rather hand off to the closer they get to the end zone.

Plus, as with our interceptions recommendations, going with both unders here might be a solid way to hedge against Lawrence getting hurt with our “over” passing wagers.

Recommendations: Rush yards under, rush TDs under

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