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Why It’s Hard to Bet on NFL Rookies

If you have been following NFL football, you may have watched the Buccaneers vs. Titans game on September 13th.  It was an important game because rookie quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota faced off.  Since they were the top draft picks, there was a great deal of anticipation surrounding both their debuts, and everyone wanted to know which of them would outperform the other.


Now, if you listened to the sharps on this one, you might have lost money.  Winston was the favourite over Mariota, and yet what happened on the field?  The Titans routed the Bucs 42-14, and Mariota’s performance far eclipsed Winston’s.  Sports fans can be a fickle lot, and immediately after the game, hoards of players condemned Winston’s career as over before it even got started.  A week later however, he played much better against the Saints and finally started to show some of that promise he had before the season begun.


What’s the lesson here?  The main thing you should glean from this anecdote is that it’s very hard to bet on NFL rookies. 

  • Rookies make mistakes that experienced players have learned to avoid.  Someday, those same rookies will learn those same lessons and avoid those same mistakes.  So a new NFL player is not going to perform to expectations from day one.   
  • Many new NFL players have difficulty adjusting to the reality that the other players on the field are much faster, stronger, and more aggressive than opponents on the college field may have been.  This fact can take many rookies by surprise.  Many rookies also bring back habits with them, like broadcasting the pass they plan to make. 
  • On top of that, it is difficult adapting to an intense new training and game schedule.  Psychologically, it is no easy transition to make either.  New players face a considerable amount of pressure to perform beyond their current abilities.  Sometimes pushing themselves, they make mistakes.  They may injure themselves overshooting their training or on the field during a game.  Or their nerves may get the better of them.  No one can get in the zone when their anxiety is distracting them and slowing down their reaction times.
  • Rookie players also face the challenge of integrating with a new team.  Because they are still largely unknowns professionally, it may be hard to incorporate them into a strategy that plays to their strengths.  They also still are at the very start of building bonds and forming chemistry with the rest of their team.
  • Finally, rookie NFL players can have problems off the field that distract them from performing at their best.  Many new players are overwhelmed by the fame and the money, especially after years of struggling just to eat as a college athlete.  This is why many new pro football players experience behavioural problems.  Those problems can adversely impact their on-field performance.


Handicapping NFL rookie players can be fun, but it is important to know going in that there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding any new football player.  All of the factors I just discussed are going to play in, and in unpredictable ways.  So if you lose an initial bet on a rookie, do not be too surprised—or too upset. 


Sports fans betting on Jameis Winston and the Bucs a couple weeks back made two big mistakes.  The first was assuming he would perform to their expectations from day one, and the second was assuming the fact he didn’t makes him a bad player.  Nothing is that simple, especially for rookies.  Over the course of the season, the real story of his career will start to unfold.


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