News & Analysis

NFL Betting 2021: First look at 2021 NFL Draft prop bets

Dec 5, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels running back Javonte Williams (25) with the ball in the second quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NFL Draft feels like a ways away with free agency taking over the next two weeks. Betting markets haven’t opened up lines for free agent landing spots, but numerous ones exist for the draft.

Team needs will obviously shift due to free agency, but projecting out certain situations can help us uncover value on draft props. We also have Pro Day measurements starting to come in this week, which makes it the perfect time to look at some early draft props that should only gain value as we get closer to the full start of draft season.

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No. 1 Overall Pick & First QB Selected

This feels as close to a lock as any betting opportunity in recent memory. Trevor Lawrence has been forecasted into this spot for about three years and seems untouchable by anyone else in the draft class.

DraftKings was offering a playable price on Lawrence two weeks ago, listing his first overall odds at a mere -2000. He has gained almost 3% on his breakeven price in the past two weeks and is even higher at other books. Thankfully, outside of the first pick, uncertainty remains at the top of the draft.

No. 2 Overall Pick

The second overall pick will set the direction for the first round, and it looks like a lock for a quarterback selection. The New York Jets are lukewarm at best on Sam Darnold’s potential, which doesn’t warrant them going away from a quarterback this high in the draft. If they really do want to build talent around Darnold, plenty of suitors would be in play to nab their preferred quarterback at No. 2.

The betting market continues to front-run the Zach Wilson hype train, as the break-even percentage of him being the No. 2 pick is now over 75%. This is clearly a market-to-line shop, with DraftKings and FanDuel at a difference of 10 percentage points on Wilson’s chances.

The latest line movement should at least force a pause from those who haven’t locked into Wilson already. If you have, hedging plays are starting to become more enticing and could be the correct approach this far out.

Given the assumption that a quarterback is selected at No. 2, locking in Justin Fields at a 16.7% breakeven percentage or +500 odds covers all bases. This price is longer than every other spot in the market and doesn’t fully factor in the uncertainty that still exists at the second pick. For anyone with a prior position on Wilson or looking to get involved with the No. 2 pick for the first time, Fields at +500 is the price that should gain the most value before draft day.

Total Quarterbacks Drafted in the First Round

Another prop that has moved drastically in price is the total quarterbacks drafted in the first round. This was at -250 a mere three weeks ago but now sits at 87% breakeven.

For all intents and purposes, Trey Lance and Mac Jones are destined for the first round. Lance has the added mystery element, and his stock will only rise after his March 12 Pro Day. Jones sits at 33rd in our latest big board and is the only hope for long-shot bettors.

The historic nature of the 2020 Alabama offense hasn’t stopped distractors from discounting the entire group during draft season — none more so than Jones, who has been hit with the dreaded “questionable arm” concern. His ceiling may not be as high as other first-round picks, but the most accurate underneath passer behind one of the best offenses in college football history shouldn’t slip out of the first round in 2021.

A better question at this time is if all five quarterbacks go in the first 10 or 15 picks, which would be an enticing plus-money proposition. Until we get some added markets or a move to 5 or 5.5, this is a tough spot to lay significant juice for an extended time period.

First Wide Receiver Selected

In an odd 2020 twist, LSU's Ja’Marr Chase watched as another wide receiver put together a historic Heisman season. Chase's draft status has only gained ground, however, as he continues to see his chances of being the first wide receiver off the board increase.

Chase was priced as a 50-50 breakeven percentage but now sits at 62.5% across the industry. There is an argument to be made that -167 is the best price we see until draft day, which makes it a worthwhile bet at this time.

This market should drift in the same direction as last season, when Henry Ruggs III leapfrogged two more established college wide receivers to be the first one off the board. Jaylen Waddle could see a similar meteoric rise up draft boards, but last year’s draft had nowhere near the top-end talent that Chase provides. With three clear front runners, my money is on the favorite widening his lead by May.

First Running Back Selected

There is a lot to like about the makeup of the market for the first running back off the board. Two top-end names have soaked up over 80% of the implied probability. Both Clemson's Travis Etienne and Alabama's Najee Harris have at least a 50% breakeven percentage in this multiway market. This has helped the total hold remain two percentage points lower than the wide receiver market.

Unlike that wide receiver market, both top-end talents have some blemishes and the third option could easily be viewed as the best through a number of lenses. North Carolina's Javonte Williams is two years younger than both and has the perfect combination of size and speed for a three-down back. He existed in a timeshare, which limited inevitable hits from his violent running style.

Given PFF’s Big Board and evaluation on the running back position, it is easy to see a team become enamored with Williams and move on him at the top end of the second round. It isn’t the most likely scenario, but at under a 10% implied probability, Williams offers a sizable payout to justify the risk.

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