NFL Dark Horses and Their Betting Odds 2024: Baker Mayfield to Shine and WHO for MVP?

Written by: Grant Mitchell
Published July 3, 2024
7 min read

The race for the 2025 Super Bowl is on, but so too are the battles for individual player awards such as NFL MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and many more.

Players such as Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Myles Garrett, and Micah Parsons headline the usual suspects at or near the top of the odds boards. 

Today, however, is all about showing love to the overlooked candidates in several major NFL awards markets. Which NFL dark horse will defy the odds and walk away with a piece of hardware at the end-of-year ceremony?

Here are our picks and best bets for NFL dark horse award winners, with odds from FanDuel Sportsbook. Place your bets at FanDuel and claim the bonus: Bet $5, Get $200 in Bonus Bets.

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NFL Dark Horses Picks 2024

Best 2024 NFL Season Dark Horse Picks

2024 NFL Passing Touchdowns Leader: Baker Mayfield (+3000) at FanDuel

Being on his fourth team in three seasons didn’t stop the former first-overall pick from revitalizing his career in central Florida. 

Mayfield finished 2023 with 4,044 passing yards (ninth) and 28 touchdowns (seventh) as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the NFC South and beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card before falling to the Detroit Lions in a shootout.

Mayfield was hit or miss early in the year but showed impressive consistency during the second half of the season. He also benefited from Tampa Bay ranking 23rd in rushing attempts per game, which allowed him to air the ball out and post arguably the best statistical season of his career.

The Buccaneers retained Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in addition to all of Mayfield’s top five targets from 2023. They lost offensive coordinator Dave Canales but replaced him with Liam Coen, whom Mayfield worked with on the Los Angeles Rams during the end of his 2022 campaign.

This is a long shot, no doubt about it—but Mayfield was among the league leaders in this category a year ago and will get plenty of opportunities in a pass-heavy offense. He bounced back from adversity numerous times in his collegiate and professional career and could be in serious contention in this market.

Bet on Baker Mayfield (+3000) at FanDuel 

2024 NFL MVP: Jared Goff (+3500) at FanDuel

Goff was once the first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and led the Los Angeles Rams to a Super Bowl. He became the sacrificial lamb in a deal that brought Matt Stafford, who then won a Lombardi Trophy, to LA, but he’s completely reinvented himself in the Motor City.

Goff threw for 4,575 yards (second) and 30 touchdowns (fourth) and finished with a 60.3 QBR (11th) in 2023. It was his second straight year with at least 4,400 yards, 29 touchdowns, and a QBR of 60, building on an excellent 2022 season.

The Lions made a run all the way to the NFC Championship Game and had a 17-point halftime lead before their inexperience and immaturity saw them surrender their commanding position. But with that loss now nothing more than a sour memory, the Lions are second in odds to win the NFC at +600, level with the Philadelphia Eagles and behind the San Francisco 49ers.

Detroit ranked fifth in points per game (27.4) last year and should be better on defense thanks to several key upgrades, particularly in the secondary. Their offense is nothing short of a well-oiled machine, and an improved defense will only allow Goff to spend more time with the ball in his hands.

Goff posted impressive numbers each of the last two seasons and is still getting better, as are the Lions’ young skill position players. All of that creates a perfect storm for a potential MVP showing from the 29-year-old.

Bet on Jared Goff (+3500) at FanDuel 

2024 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: Mike Sainristil (+3500) at FanDuel

Sainristil, a 5-foot-10, 182-pound nickel back from Michigan, was taken by the Washington Commanders with the 50th overall pick in the second round. Don’t let his smaller stature or lack of first-round draft status fool you though, as ex-Alabama coach Nick Saban called him the “best pound-for-pound player in the draft.”

Sainristil was recruited to play wide receiver before he transitioned to defense in 2022. Despite only having two years in the position, he was the best player on Michigan’s defense during their undefeated season and run to a national championship a year ago.

Sainristil grabbed six picks to go with six pass deflections, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and 44 total tackles in his final collegiate season. He’s listed second on the depth chart at nickel behind Quan Martin but could find his way onto the field sooner than later.

The scariest part about Sainristil is his lack of experience at the position and how strong of a feeling he already has for it. He’s only going to improve, which should spell trouble for most players he lines up against.

New Commanders coach Dan Quinn and DC Joe Whitt Jr. have made it clear they want to play fast and hit hard. Sainristil is a former captain with excellent intangibles and will make plays for a new-look Washington squad.

Bet on Mike Sainristil (+3500) at FanDuel 

2024 NFL Offensive Player of the Year: De’Von Achane (+5000) at FanDuel

Achane played only 11 games in 2023 and only had one carry in two of those, so for all intents and purposes, we’re going to say he played nine.

If we subtract Achane’s stats from those two games, the third-round rookie back was on pace for 1,500 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns in a 17-game season. That’s not even counting his trajectory in the passing game, which had him on pace for 372.1 receiving yards and 5.7 touchdowns.

The 5-foot-9 speedster is still behind Raheem Mostert on the depth chart but made a clear impression during his first professional season. It’s reasonable to expect him to have an increase in workload, especially since Mostert is now 32 years old.

Achane will benefit from playing in Mike McDaniel’s system which prioritizes speed and space. With opposing defenses needing to honor the likes of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle over the top, Achane should be able to pick up a decent chunk of yardage with most carries (he averaged 7.8 yards per carry in 2023).

This pick also remains a long shot because of the prominence of Hill, and since Mostert ran for 1,012 yards and 18 TDs a year ago, but Achane’s production was staggering and makes him worthy of consideration as a dark horse for Offensive Player of the Year.

Bet on De’Von Achane (+5000) at FanDuel 

2024 NFL Defensive Player of the Year: Derwin James Jr. (+15000) at FanDuel

Do you know who likes defense? Jim Harbaugh. And do you know who was once one of the most-hyped defensive prospects in the modern NFL? Derwin James.

The Los Angeles Chargers should be prepared for a total overhaul in Harbaugh’s first year on the clipboard. One of the first changes he will make is to find a system to accommodate LA’s star-studded roster and to get the best out of the key players, of which James is one.

Harbaugh’s Michigan defense allowed just 10.4 points and 247 yards per game, both the lowest in the nation, in 2023. He also has the highest winning percentage of any active NFL coach and will make an immediate impact on a Chargers team that ranked 23rd in scoring and 28th in total defense.

James also has the talent to warrant these expectations. He made the First-Team All-Pro defense in 2018 and 2021 and was on the Second Team in 2022 (with Pro Bowl selections in all three years). He also recorded 125 total tackles (a career-high), two sacks, two fumble recoveries, and an interception in what was still a solid 2023 campaign.

The key for James will be to remain healthy, but if he can do that, and if Harbaugh has the impact we expect him to, there’s a strong chance that James will move up the odds board fairly quickly.

Bet on Derwin James Jr. (+15000) at FanDuel 

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Grant Mitchell

Sports Betting Analyst & On-Air Host

Expertise:
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Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself on delivering breaking news and insightful analyses of the industry. Grant graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and is feverishly pursuing his ambitions in the sports betting field. In his free time, Grant can be found passionately watching sports, doing a workout, or searching for adventure with his friends.
Nationality: American
Education: Bachelor in Sports Media and Analytics
Favourite Sportsbook: Caesars Sportsbook
Favourite Casino: FanDuel Casino
Experience:
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