Trends are important, especially when we are talking about professional sports front offices in 2021. For years, we saw running backs consistently drafted in the top ten. In more recent years, we’ve seen a lot of teams avoiding running backs in the first round.
The reason for that has been analytics, and teams taking a more analytics-focused approach in drafting players. With these new analytics-based approaches comes the opportunity for the betting community to take the same approach when predicting who teams may select.
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The thing about it is, it’s still not THAT predictable. Every year, we read mock draft articles out months from the draft, all the way until the day before. Every year, they are pretty far from accurate. Over the past few years, most mocks have been slightly better, but the general rule is, the further you get from the top pick, the more difficult it becomes to predict. If you manage to pick seven correct draft picks in round 1, that’s considered good.
Knowing all this, it’s important to stay away from props around specific players going to specific teams (outside the top five). The things you have to pay attention to are the first five or so pick props, and then positional props. Bets like “Number of QBs taken in Round 1” are easier bets to gather information for.
Since 2018, I’ve put out a draft props article and each article has a net positive for the NFL Draft. You’re probably thinking, “Three straight years isn’t that great.” Well, I didn’t do draft articles prior to 2018, so there’s that.
Trends to watch for in this year’s draft
The storyline heading into this year’s draft is the talent at the top. Unlike years prior, this draft appears to have a parade of quarterbacks going early in the first, followed by three tremendous receivers and a generational tight end.
That’s been the buzz the past few months. As with most drafts, we get a lot of initial mocks with quarterbacks spread throughout the first two rounds. This season, it’s important we observe the recency bias of certain positions as the draft approaches. Due to the overwhelming success of AJ Brown, DK Metcalf, and Deebo Samuel, we saw six receivers go off the board in the first round of the 2020 draft.
Following a rookie record-breaking performance from the fifth receiver drafted (Justin Jefferson), the NFL front offices now have two years of data showing them receivers are much more NFL ready than in years prior. Last season also gave us two outstanding (one record-breaking) rookie performances by quarterbacks. What has happened as a result (with draft odds) is the possible overvaluing of quarterbacks in this year’s draft. Now, we have at least five quarterbacks slated to go in the opening round.
The glaring necessity for quarterbacks became ever more apparent last season, especially when we look at the last four teams from the 2020 playoffs. Each team had either a former MVP at quarterback or an MVP candidate at quarterback. The hype around QBs this season can be directly traced to Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow.
Even Tua and Jalen Hurts had flashes last season. With an equally talented QB group this year, teams appear to be poised to find their QB of the future. With elite players like Sewell, Pitts and Parsons slipping back, teams near the front who aren’t in desperate need of a quarterback may be more inclined to drop back a few places.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Denver or New England trade up to four or seven (depending on whether or not the QB they want is still there after pick three. Denver’s GM (as of today) stated he wants competition for Drew Lock.
That’s a good indicator the Broncos may be looking to get Drew Lock or Justin Fields (depending on who is still on the board when they pick). Fields would likely have the more immediate impact, while Lance would take some time going from a small sample of snaps in FBS football to NFL starter.
Despite the glaring need at QB from teams like Denver and New England, don’t expect the first round get too crazy past pick 10. There’s just so much value out there for the top non-QBs.
Sharp plays for the NFL Draft
A look at the sharpest plays for this Thursday’s NFL Draft, with lines from the DraftKings Online Sportsbook.
Chargers draft Offensive Lineman -182 with their first pick
Last season, we expected the Chargers to go QB or OL with the sixth overall pick. The signing of Tyrod Taylor and the selection of Justin Herbert indicated the team was expected to be a ball-control offense, developing a young quarterback in the shadows.
After Derwin James got injured in camp and Taylor had his lung punctured minutes before kickoff against the Chiefs, Justin Herbert was thrust into action. Following the record-breaking season from Herbert, one thing is clear: The Chargers need offensive line help.
Even with their offseason signings, the Chargers need another solid piece to improve upon a line that was bottom three in both pass protection and run blocking. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are great options, when healthy. I do expect the Chargers will go with either a corner or receiver soon after round 1, but an offensive lineman is critical. Even if the GM came out and said they are drafting for skill and not need, I think that’s in the smokescreen range of the draft. It’s hard to take seriously.
Dolphins draft wide receiver -134 with their first pick
I’m not quite as big a fan of this as the Chargers first pick, but read the tea leaves here. The Dolphins have one solid tight end, a fairly loaded offensive line, and a very limited receiving corps. As fun as it would be for the Dolphins to reunite Devonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle with Tua, Jamar Chase is the first consensus top receiver since Calvin Johnson.
You may wonder, what happens if the Bengals decide to get frisky at five and take Chase instead of Sewell? If that happens, the Dolphins may just take Smith or Waddle, but they also may slide back a few spots (knowing Waddle or Smith still may be there).
If the Bengals draft Chase over Sewell, expect a team like the Giants to be a favorable suitor in a trade. The Giants need all kinds of help on the offensive line, and there’s a good chance Smith or Waddle would still be there at pick 11. No matter what happens during the draft, the Dolphins’ biggest need is a good receiver, and that’s why I think (trade or no trade) they’ll snag a receiver in the first.
A Giant Decision (the case for drafting OL over WR)
Over the past few years, the amount of Dave Gettlemen content we’ve gotten has been astounding. Gettleman has been the GM for eight drafts thus far and has yet to trade back. It’s been addressed many times prior to this season, but that shouldn’t really be the talking point going into the 2021 NFL Draft.
The discussion I don’t see happening anywhere is whether the Giants should draft an offensive lineman over a receiver. Currently, the Giants sit 11th in the draft this year. According to most drafts and DraftKings odds, there should be at least one receiver left (between Waddle and Smith) at that point in the draft. Rashawn Slater, the second-highest rated offensive lineman, should also still be available.
If you’re wondering why nobody is mentioning the Giants drafting an offensive lineman here, there are two good reasons. For one, the Giants have drafted three offensive linemen in the first round with Dave Gettleman, and only one turned out to be good. Erick Flowers turned out to be a letdown and Andrew Thomas (2020 Draft) was ranked 59th at his position in 2020.
Frankly, they haven’t knocked it out of the park when they go offensive line. The other reason is that it’s not a sexy talking point for a big market team. It’s simply more fun for analysts and media to talk about skill position guys going to a team. There have also been whispers of the Giants trading back here. If they do, I still feel the pick comes down to a wide receiver or offensive lineman.
We know Daniel Jones is particularly bad under pressure and very good without pressure, but it’s much more pronounced with Jones than with other quarterbacks. Is getting Jones another good receiver really worth risking more hits, fumbles and INTs?
The Giants ranked in the mid to late twenties in both run blocking and pass protection. You would expect the line is more critical for the Giants here, so I expect that’s where they go with this pick (Exact position of team’s first drafted player: Offensive Lineman +300). On the other hand, the talent of Devonta Smith may be so great, it could be too much for the Giants to pass-up. Currently, Wide Receiver +300 is ahead of OL on DraftKings’ odds. This is one of the few I’m torn on, but everyone else appears very convinced they are going receiver with their first pick.
Cowboys draft Cornerback -250 with their first pick
If there was ever a more obvious “value aligns with team need” pick in the middle of the first round in draft history, please let me know. The Cowboys were absolutely awful at stopping opposing passing offenses in 2020. This class is heavy with corner talent, and the top guy is projected to be on the board when the Cowboys make their choice at pick ten.
Even if Surtain is gone by then, Jaycee Horn has been getting a lot of attention from teams and former players (Aquib Talib). Many think Horn may be the better long-term talent at the position. Regardless, the Cowboys should have their choice between the two, and I expect Jerry Jones to make the right move here.
Exact Order 3,4,5 – Jones, Pitts, Sewell +350
This part could be tricky, depending on who (if any team) dangles enough carrots to each of the teams in the 3,4, and 5 slot. This is a straight-up gamble, but it’s my favorite scenario here. In the months leading up to the draft, our understanding of certain teams’ interest in certain players has expanded. For a short time, all the talk was about Kyle Shanahan visiting Alabama for Mac Jones’ Pro Day.
From that point forward, Jones has gone from +150 to now -305. What started as strong speculation has now evolved into more of a sure thing. You have to think this is essentially the first pick in the draft, with Lawrence and Wilson locked in at one and two. That being said, there is no need for a smokescreen at pick three.
With the shopping of Julio Jones, you’d expect the subsequent choice at four would be Jamar Chase. However, Kyle Pitts is so versatile at tight end, I expect he will be utilized outside more frequently than most tight ends. Pitts is being hailed as a generational talent, so I’m not sure the Falcons can pass on him here.
The last leg of this parlay is a tricky one. On the one hand, Joe Burrow has been in the ear of the front office, lobbying for Jamar Chase here. On the other hand, Joe Burrow is still recovering from the injury that ended his rookie season.
If you’re the front office, as appealing as it would be to reunite Chase with Burrow, the safety of your franchise QB is simply more critical. I think the parents do the responsible thing here and choose the veggies over the candy for their favorite kid.