The NFL draft, from what I am told, has become one of the most widely bet upon sports events in this country. Not exactly an upset, considering the draft becoming a year-round cottage industry, the nexus of pro and college football fandom and the multitude of ways to make a wager or two over this coming weekend.
There are myriad ways to try to find value, numerous futures bets and props to dig down on, and, it stands to reason, perhaps better odds of being able to strategically find an area where the house might not be as prone to win. There are fewer variables than, say, all of the potential things that can occur anytime 22 men are moving around on a football field with an oblong ball that can bounce in unquantifiable ways on every single snap. With the draft, there are commonly known needs, and teams have certain profiles and attributes they tend to gravitate to.
In years past I have done my own over/unders on how many players I anticipate going at each position in the draft. But this year I am going to look at the Caesars Sportsbook odds at numerous positions, and some individual bets, where I see potential value. Things get too dicey these days between what constitutes an OLB or a DE, and what is EDGE and what is DL. That gets clouded. So I'm not going to go through every position with a projection, but will focus on some that catch my eye, as well as certain team/players matches that make sense to me.
Offensive Linemen Taken In First Round: Over 7.5 (+160)
This draft is short on stud QBs truly worthy of going in the top half of the top round, and the consensus is that no running back or tight end will get selected on Thursday night. Trust me, there won't only be defensive players selected in bulk. There is generally a late first-round run on linemen and teams see immediate and long-term value there. How many teams don't have any OL need? It's rampant. If three go in the first seven picks or so, and another run on tackles starts in the teens, then I see another one in the 20s as well that gets this number to eight.
Evan Neal to go 3rd overall (+450)
Many of Texans GM Nick Caserio's peers think he goes clean here at a significant impact position. If two pass rushers are already off the board by this pick, as many would anticipate, and this team needs to be rebuilt in the trenches, then I lean into Neal. There are already strong ties to the Alabama program from all the time Caserio spent in New England, and if Davis Mills is going to get a real chance to be the QB there, he needs more help up front. Neal can play RT immediately and transition to LT if/when Laremy Tunsil is dealt. Yes, they could trade out and that might complicate things, but there's a lot more potential return to be made on a small wager here than the odds on other players at this selection. Or you could hedge your bet this way and go …
Texans Use First Draft Pick on OL (+180)
Could they take Sauce Gardner here? Sure? Or it could be a pass rusher as well, especially if the Lions grab a QB with the second-overall pick. But all things being equal I believe Houston is focused on fixing this offensive line. They very well could have their pick of all of them in the entire draft at that very position. That would prompt me to lean into that proposition.
Charles Cross to be 5th overall pick (+700)
Maybe it's smoke, but I have been hearing this team and these coaches connected to this player for a looong time. Other GMs see the fit here, and, especially if Neal is gone, believe the Giants take the best pass protector in the entire draft after years of struggling to find capable linemen in that regard. We can beef him up in the run game over time. Can't teach those feet. There is so much more money on the board with him than other player options in the top five.
Quarterbacks Taken In First Round: Over 3 (-120)
Supply vs. Demand. Econ 101. QBs are never cheaper than when you take them in the draft, and that fifth-year option that comes with the territory is like gold. The Panthers, Falcons, Saints, Steelers and Lions all have serious interest in the top of this QB draft. Several have impatient owners. I have long believed that four end up going in the first round, and I still believe it. Especially with veteran QBs landing fully guaranteed record contracts that include no-trade clauses. And with Jimmy G and Baker Mayfield both coming back from major surgical procedures, the timing may not be right for those trades at the draft.
Kenny Pickett To Panthers (+145)
Sometimes it is what it is. Owner David Tepper has become the face of frustrated owners everywhere who keep failing to find a real QB. They have very little draft capital, and a massive need at QB. I don't see them trading for Mayfield (especially already stuck with Sam Darnold's contract). The owner is a massive Pitt booster. Yeah, the football people in the building probably would want Malik Willis, but imagine if Pickett becomes a star elsewhere? I don't think Tepper could stomach that possibility. Pickett is the safest QB pick in the draft, is an ascending talent, and had the most productive season at that position.
Malik Willis To Saints (+650)
This would entail a little bit of luck and possibly a trade up, but if I had a little something extra laying around it would intrigue me. IF he gets past the Falcons, then I could really see it happening. They have done a ton of work on draft QBs since Drew Brees began slowing down, the Taysom Hill experiment is over and Jameis Winston is a short-term proposition for now and is coming off season-ending surgery. They could find ways to get Willis on the field ASAP in that Hill role. They would love him on that fast track at the Superdome. Maybe add a receiver, too, feeling like the defense is already burly enough for the watered-down NFC. The payoff here is much better than with the other QB-needy teams on this board.
Saints Use First Pick On WR (+280)
As I just mentioned, no shortage of folks around this league believe New Orleans would like to boost the receiving room. It could be it for Michael Thomas there in 2022. Plenty of big targets available around where they are picking in the draft. Could it just so happen they grab a WR first and then snag the QB a few picks later?
Eagles Use First Pick On LB (+750)
We know Eagles GM Howie Roseman is a wheeler/dealer. Already dealt one of his first-round picks to the Saints and still has two more. Let's say the top WR or two he covets is off the board. Could he drop down some and use what is now his first pick on Devin Lloyd, the Utah linebacker who many believe would be a perfect fit for them? Or, heck, Lloyd just might be worth the 15th overall, regardless. Some would say taking a LB that high isn't the Eagles mold, but the dimension of pass rush and coverage Lloyd brings is essential. It's a deep WR draft, but not too many guys like Lloyd in later rounds. I think it may be worth a flier.