It’s time to bet on the 1st round of the NFL draft

Dan Wetzel
·7-min read

A year ago, in the heart of the pandemic lockdown, after exhausting interest in puzzles, LEGOs and Covid-19 news conferences, I took a shot at some true family fun for all … wagering on the first round of the NFL draft. Or at least, pretending to do so. (It was illegal at the time.)

As noted, it combined three of America’s favorite pastimes: football, betting and believing, despite no evidence of it being true, that you know more about everything than everyone else.

I “placed” 10 bets (each $100) at BetMGM, went 8-2 and would have finished the night up $946.

So maybe I do know more about everything than everyone else. Probably not.

Anyway, the draft is back and so is betting on Thursday’s first round. As sports wagering gets legalized in more and more states, this feels less and less like degenerate behavior. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.A year ago I cashed in by predicting things such as Tua Tagovailoa being the second QB selected, the Los Angeles Chargers drafting Justin Herbert, Arizona going defense and even that Ohio State would have more first-round picks than Clemson.

Even one of my “wrong” picks was correct. I thought the New York Giants would select offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, but instead they went with Andrew Thomas. I lost the bet, but the Giants lost a lot of games. Thomas was pretty bad — allowing more pressures (57) and sacks (10) than any other player at that position, per Pro Football Focus. Wirfs, meanwhile, was a tremendous addition to the Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Basically, Giants GM Dave Gettleman owes me a mythical $100.

As for betting on the first round of the draft, here are some basic concepts.

Workers continue preparing the NFL Draft Theatre for the 2021 NFL Draft, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Cleveland. After going all virtual in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the three-day draft, which has grown into one of America's biggest, non-game sporting events, returns with thousands of fans who will be separated by their loyalties, and whether they've been vaccinated.(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Workers continue preparing the theatre Tuesday for the 2021 NFL draft. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

BetMGM has about 15,000 different prop bets. Many aren’t worth bothering with. Betting that Trevor Lawrence will go first overall is such a sure thing it pays -10000. That means a $100 wager would yield a whopping $1. In other words, don’t bother.

It’s the same case with long shots. Generally anything can happen in sports. There was always a chance that Buster Douglas could knock out Mike Tyson. Not so in the draft. There is no way Jacksonville takes, say, Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley at No. 1. Literally none. BetMGM will pay out +100000 if it occurs, but you might as well just light your money on fire.

There is a sweet spot in the middle, however. Settle in there. Take some easy victories even if they don’t pay out huge. Avoid getting too specific as the first round goes on — there are just too many variables.

And don’t fall for fun picks. Taking a shot on both the Broncos drafting Trey Lance and the Patriots drafting Justin Fields and would net you +1400, but the draft is way too fluid for that to be a good idea.

So armed with a dangerous amount of limited experience, I’m back. Maybe I know everything. Maybe nothing. The drill is the same, though: No actual money is being laid down, but if there were, here are my 10 picks, $100 a bet.

Last year I got off to a great start by betting (+185) that Joe Burrow, Chase Young and Jeff Okudah would go 1-2-3. This year picks 1-2 are pretty set in stone (Jacksonville will take Lawrence, the Jets will grab Zach Wilson).

Will San Francisco take Mac Jones third (it’s -250) or Justin Fields (that would pay a sweet +850)? I think it’s Jones, but with so little value, I pass and bet instead that (Bet No. 1) the first four picks in the draft will be quarterbacks (any quarterbacks, in any order). That would require Atlanta to make a trade or take a QB (likely Lance), but if it does, it’s -140.

I then bet that (Bet No. 2) both Jones and Lance will go before Fields (+200). The NFL has been uncertain on Fields. I think he slides a bit.

Najee Harris being the first running back and Penei Sewell being the first offensive lineman (Bet No. 3) is offered at -125. Each is the best at his position and thus too tempting to avoid.

I take (Bet No. 4) Alabama lockdown corner Patrick Surtain II being the first defensive player taken (-145). If he isn’t, well, he should be. It’s also better value than Surtain will be a top 10 pick (-175).

Here’s where it gets interesting. I believe that Detroit will either select a wide receiver (LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase) or an offensive lineman (Sewell) at No. 7.

Both are great prospects at positions of need. The Lions have a new front office and either guy will excite fans and help new quarterback Jared Goff succeed. Plus, the Lions’ best wide receiver, Kenny Golladay, left in free agency.

One of them should be available. Which depends on what Cincinnati and Miami do at picks 5 and 6, respectively.

As such, a number of bets intrigue me. It’s +105 that the first player drafted by the Lions will be a wide receiver and +450 that it will be an offensive lineman. If it’s a receiver, then the $105 payout essentially covers the much richer lineman bet. It’s essentially a hedge. I either win $5, or $350 on two bets.

Does Detroit trading down terrify me? Yes, but even then it could take one of those two positions (it’s possible 10 or more wide receivers/offensive lineman will go in Round 1).

Or I could go bold and get more specific and bet on Chase, not just a generic wide receiver. That would pay out at +500. BetMGM isn’t offering a specific line on Sewell, so Lions going O-Line at +450 will have to do.

If I am correct and it’s one of those two guys for the Lions (or even another O-Lineman), the two bets would yield either $350 or $400. So I go bold and make both (Bets No. 5 and 6), even if at least one is sure to lose.

On the safer side, I take (Bet No. 7) the over on the number of wide receivers drafted in Round 1, which BetMGM has at 4.5 for -400. That’s costly, it’ll net just $25, but you need wins and it wouldn’t surprise me if six WR are selected, let alone five.

Up next, the curious case of Stanford quarterback Davis Mills. It’s +1000 that he’ll be a first-round pick. Will he? Hard to say. There are five QBs ahead of him, but they are all likely to go high, perhaps even top 10.

That leaves teams late in the first round who might need a quarterback (New Orleans and Pittsburgh) potentially grabbing Mills late. This is a bet on the position — teams get desperate. Of course, they might reach for Florida’s Kyle Trask instead (+900 as a first-rounder), but I think it’s Mills (Bet No. 8). This would be a big payoff. We’ll see.

I finish up with two bets on the number of players selected from a specific conference in Round 1.

For the Big Ten, I take (Bet No. 9) under 6.5 at -125. I think they’ll get to five and maybe six. Meanwhile, I take (Bet No. 10) over 11.5 for the SEC, which has perhaps 15 possible players that could go in Round 1. It’ll pay -140.

The best I can do is go 9-1 (one of the Lions bets will cancel the other out) and win $2,016. The worst I can do is 0-10 and drop $1,000.

It’ll probably be somewhere in the middle. “Where?” is the question.

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