Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are off the board, and the 49ers are on the clock. While the first two picks of the NFL draft are certainties, the next 30 picks of the first round are mysteries.
Any game that involves a point spread and countless variables contains no guarantees. But locks exist in an information-based event such as the draft, and this one will kick off with quarterbacks going first and second — Clemson’s Lawrence to the Jaguars followed by Brigham Young’s Wilson to the Jets.
The betting action truly begins at No. 3, where San Francisco traded up to pick a quarterback. What the 49ers will do is the hottest debate leading up to the first round April 29.
“Justin Fields is not going to go No. 3,” said Michael Lombardi, a VSiN analyst and former NFL general manager. “That’s what I’ve heard, if you want to believe that or not.”
The bettors driving the market are in disbelief. As recently as Friday, DraftKings listed Alabama quarterback Mac Jones as the -167 favorite to be the third overall pick. As of Tuesday, Fields was the even-money favorite, with the Ohio State quarterback followed by Jones (+ 120) and North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance (3-1).
On the surface, it seems to make little sense for the 49ers to deal this year’s No. 12 pick, first- and third-round picks in 2022 and a first-round pick in 2023 to Miami to move up nine spots to pick Jones, who might have been available at No. 12 anyway. Still, if coach Kyle Shanahan covets Jones and did not want to risk losing him, the move makes sense.
In Fields and Lance, most bettors see quarterbacks who are better athletes with more mobility than Jones, so it’s easier to justify the 49ers’ gamble to move up in the draft for Fields or Lance in a high-risk, higher-reward scenario.
“I personally think Jones is the better pick for the 49ers,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “He’s more of a fit.”
Whether it’s Jones, Fields or Lance, Shanahan can sit the rookie for a year while Jimmy Garoppolo starts for a San Francisco team that has realistic Super Bowl aspirations.
I believe Fields is the most logical selection for the 49ers, but evaluating what will happen with this No. 3 pick highlights the most challenging aspect of betting on the event and forming a mock draft. This is not about what we as bettors and mock drafters think is the right move for the team; it’s about what the information indicates the team is most likely to do.
Lombardi said his sources around the league indicate the 49ers are likely going with Jones and definitely not going with Fields, and Lombardi has better connections than the rest of us. Believe what you want and bet accordingly.
For now, I’m following Lombardi’s information and putting Jones third in my mock draft, yet I’m not sold to the point of betting on it.
Not until 2017 did the Nevada Gaming Control Board approve a limited number of prop bets on the draft, and the state loosened restrictions and allowed more props in 2018. It has become a major wagering event, like it or not, and most bookmakers dislike it because the bettors have fared well the last few years.
“For the most part, the draft is a lot of sharp money, especially early,” Avello said. “For a bookmaker, the draft is a difficult proposition to make money. It’s too much to follow. Things change so much. I look for this to be pretty big, and I hope we come out on the plus side.”
DraftKings and Circa Sports have posted extensive menus of draft props. While the public demand exists and the draft creates business, South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews has no plans to post any props until early next week.
“I don’t like to book it because we have yet to make any money on it,” Andrews said. “It’s not a smart thing to actually book. It seems like people know (the information) before the bookmakers know. I don’t particularly like it, but I understand I have to do it.”
Two months ago, DraftKings posted a prop on the total number of quarterbacks to go in the first round, and Over 4.5 opened -560. At the time, many analysts projected Jones to be a late-first-round pick. Now it appears Jones will be among five quarterbacks to go in the top 10, and the first four picks could be quarterbacks for the first time ever.
I would not bet on a sixth quarterback going in the first round, although the current DraftKings price of + 390 for Over 5.5 is tempting. Here are my best bets:
Justin Fields draft position: Over 3.5 -185 (Circa)
Teams frequently feed lies and misinformation to the media before the draft. There’s always a chance Lombardi’s sources are wrong, but he says Fields is not going No. 3, so I’ll buy it. Another former NFL general manager, Charley Casserly, has Fields falling to Pittsburgh at No. 24 in his recent mock draft. Look for Fields to go as high as fourth but fall no lower than ninth.
Kyle Trask draft position: Under 77.5 -115 (Circa)
There is speculation a team could trade up with Tampa Bay at No. 32 and select a QB with the final pick of the first round. Trask and Stanford’s Davis Mills are the top candidates to be the sixth quarterback picked. Chicago, which has the 52nd overall pick in the second round, has shown interest in Trask, and there’s a good shot the Florida quarterback will go somewhere in the second round.
Najee Harris first running back drafted: -150 (DraftKings)
The running back position has been devalued in recent years, so it seems no more than one will go in the first round. Alabama’s Harris is an every-down back who draws comparisons to Le’Veon Bell, and the Steelers’ biggest needs are running back and offensive line. Harris is a good bet to go before Clemson’s Travis Etienne and North Carolina’s Javonte Williams.
Wide receivers drafted in first round: Over 4.5 -200 (DraftKings)
Three wideouts are first-round locks — LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle — and five others pop up as first-rounders in various mock drafts. I expect at least five to go, including Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman and LSU’s Terrace Marshall, and it would be no big surprise to see six wideouts picked in the first round.