NFL free agency is right around the corner, and with that, the NFL offseason — which has already had its share of moves — will be in full swing. The one-year anniversary of a mostly countrywide shutdown is also coming up, bringing back memories of a time when propositions like “Where will Tom Brady start Week 1 of 2020?” were the only sports-related things we could bet on.
While we’re blessed to have plenty of sports to hold our attention this spring, that doesn’t mean the draft and free agency prop bets have abated. Here, we'll talk about the most interesting quarterback situation in April’s draft: What is going to happen to Alabama's Mac Jones?
Why is it the most interesting, you ask? DraftKings, which has had limited draft-related props up on their site for weeks now, hung their first draft position over/under late this week, and it was Jones with draft position 18.5 having an equal price (-112) on over and under. In anticipation of this article, I tweeted a poll, which received over 700 responses:
Mac Jones will be taken
— Eric Eager ???????? (@PFF_Eric) March 5, 2021
My respondents appear to be pretty sharp; as of the recording of the Friday PFF Daily Betting Podcast, the number moved down to 17.5, with the under (-124) currently more expensive than the over (+100). While the price has gone down a little in recent days, the number for total quarterbacks taken in Round 1 stands at 4.5, with the over priced at -590 (breakeven at 85.5% and the under priced at +400 (breakeven at 20%).
So, it appears the market thinks Jones is a relatively sure bet to go in the first round and that there's a better than 50-50 shot he goes among the top 20 picks. Should you as a possible mock drafter, bettor or fan be all that sure? Here are some things to consider.
There is a noticeable “cliff” for quarterbacks in Round 1 of NFL drafts
The public loves better overs, and “number of quarterbacks taken in Round 1” is no exception. In 2018, the number was 5.5 quarterbacks, on the off chance that Mason Rudolph was selected in Round 1. In that draft, not only did Lamar Jackson go over his draft position prop by over 15 picks, but he barely made it into the first round. Many a mock had Drew Lock in Round 1 the following year, only for him to fall to Denver in the second round. DeShone Kizer suffered a similar fate in 2017, and only a trade-up by Green Bay into the later stages of Round 1 for Jordan Love saved over bettors from a similar fate in 2020.
In each of these cases, there was a run on quarterbacks in the first 12 picks, a dearth in the middle of the first round at the position and a coin flip as to whether the “last first-round prospect” would actually go on Day 1. So, if history repeats itself, a solid hedge against the under 17.5 draft position is a bet on under 4.5 quarterbacks taken in Round 1, despite the Polish middle.
The NFL is a quarterback league, but some teams believe that less than we do
Part of the reason for the dynamic described above is that the NFL has gradually slipped into a one-quarterback league, in large part due to the steep price a team needs to pay for good veterans, and even veteran backups for rookie-contract starters. The 2011 CBA, which is responsible for the rookie wage scale that makes quarterbacks drafted in the first round so valuable, is also, through getting rid of the third-quarterback designation, responsible for a lack of developmental players at the position.
Largely gone are the days of the Broncos drafting Tommy Maddox in Round 1 when John Elway was still their entrenched starter. It's a similar story for Jim Harbaugh and Jim McMahon, Chad Pennington and Vinny Testaverde, Daunte Culpepper and Randall Cunningham, or Jim Druckenmiller and Steve Young. The reason people were so caught off guard by the Packers selecting Love (and then subsequently sitting him behind Aaron Rodgers and Tim Boyle) was that it doesn't happen very often anymore.
Teams selecting in the second half of the first round are, almost by definition, better teams with established quarterbacks. The combination of sunk costs into veteran quarterbacks or the perceived risk of spending a first-rounder on a player who may never see the field makes selecting a quarterback less and less likely the later it gets into Day 1 of the draft. Remember how the Jalen Hurts selection — not even a first-round pick — was perceived by many Eagles fans last spring?
Mac Jones is a prospect for whom a lot of people are split on
The quarterback position is rife with players for whom people are split on, especially after the consensus view of the top prospect at the position. Jones likely embodies this as much as anyone, with even his former teammates making waves by saying they preferred playing with him over his predecessor, Tua Tagovailoa.
We at PFF have Jones ranked 33rd on our big board, which uses a combination of data and traditional scouting. PFF's Seth Galina, one of the sharpest college football minds I know, ranks Jones decidedly fifth but then has him going before Zach Wilson in his current mock draft. Jones' purely statistical college-to-pro projections are better than those of Trey Lance (who we featured last week), and they're also better than Tua's, who endured similar circumstances as Jones.
Benjamin Robinson’s website, Grinding The Mocks, has Jones with an expected draft position of 21.8, with the range of mocks putting Jones as early as the top 10 and as late as the second round.
While this is the first prop that is widely available, I’m not sure I can advise taking it right now. If I had to choose a side, it would be under 17.5, as there is some steam that Jones won’t even be the fifth quarterback selected and might go in the first 10 picks. However, history is to be learned from, and it suggests that our appetite to bet on things to happen might lead us astray here.
For my money, the best bet related to this is the aforementioned under 4.5 quarterbacks in Round 1, which was going off at +450 last week and is currently at +400.