Matt Youmans: NFL mock draft and top prop bets

By Matt Youmans  ( senior editor) 

April 23, 2019 11:51 AM

Over the weekend, the first rumors started to swirl about Kyler Murray falling from the No. 1 spot in the NFL draft. At this point, with teams sending mixed messages and moving to quietly plant stories with reporters, it’s risky to believe anything.

The draft is a complex puzzle with several pieces of intrigue and mystery. There’s no reason for any team to be transparent about its intentions. Honesty is the worst policy for any coach or general manager. The best approach for a bettor is to apply common sense and zero in on the media types and mock drafters with the most credibility.

It’s rarely easy to beat the books, but the draft is an event that lends a distinct edge to bettors who dig into the homework. That’s true in part because some oddsmakers are out of their comfort zone and area of expertise when posting props on a draft.

“Everyone is waiting on information,” William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said.

There are fewer draft props available in Las Vegas this year because oddsmakers have learned to hate the process of making draft props. Bettors who focus on this event have more time to sift through the info.

Most books in Vegas took losses on last year’s draft when sharp bettors sniffed out some bad lines. The Westgate SuperBook posted a buffet of props last year but had posted only one prop as of Sunday; 10 more went up Monday afternoon. Prop betting on the NFL draft, first approved by the Nevada Gaming Control Board in 2017, drew lukewarm wagering action the first two years and it was mostly sharp action. This is not a case of squares firing on tight numbers, so wagering limits are low.

“The problem with it is you get 99.9 percent wiseguy play and the public has no interest in it, so on the books’ end of it there’s not a lot of positive to it,” Westgate book manager Ed Salmons said. “It’s not something you’re going to win on, and you know you’re going to lose. It’s just how much are you going to lose? So the incentive for the book is just not there.”

If you ask five book directors about draft props, four will quickly get cranky with their answers. The draft prop process is far more complicated than setting a line on a game in Week 1.

The window for betting NFL draft props is small and will close Wednesday afternoon. Most of the weak numbers already have been picked off.

As Westgate book director John Murray said recently, “I don’t think it’s smart to take action the week of the draft because there’s too much information out there. If a guy walks up to the window to bet a prop, he might know the answer.”

That will be a hotter and more sensitive topic when the NFL stages the draft in Las Vegas in 2020. For now, the first question is, who’s going No. 1 on Thursday?

Westgate oddsmakers were the first in Las Vegas to post a line on the first pick of the draft. After Murray opened as the -140 favorite (5/7 odds) on March 5, a steady stream of money raised the price, which reached -2,500 (1/25 odds). Comparison shoppers noticed a dramatic difference in the Murray price at William Hill, which posted its draft props Thursday. Murray opened -600 to be the top pick.

It’s no longer a prop worth betting unless you suspect Murray-to-Arizona might not happen. And it might not happen, but it won’t impact any draft prop I am betting.

While almost everyone is convinced the Cardinals will select the former Oklahoma quarterback with the No. 1 pick, team officials continue to deny their decision has been made and there are now reports that Arizona is looking in a different direction.

The Cardinals, of course, could be maneuvering and feeding a phony rumor to spark trade interest. Smokescreens are as much a part of the draft as fans booing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and mocking the hairstyle of Mel Kiper Jr.

All of the nonsense aside, here are six props still worth a shot:

Number of quarterbacks selected in the first round: 3.5 (Over -275)

Even those who did not study microeconomics should understand supply and demand. There is a big demand for quarterbacks and a small supply of good ones. At least seven teams — Arizona, New York Giants, Denver, Cincinnati, Miami, Washington and New England, in draft order — are in the market for a QB early in this draft. There are four quarterbacks — Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock and Daniel Jones — graded worthy of the first round. Teams trade up for QBs almost every year and this year should be no different.

It’s definitely possible all four of those quarterbacks will be gone by the 20th pick. If not, all should be gone by the end of the round. Here’s another reason: Each rookie selected in the draft is signed to a four-year contract, but first-round picks have an attractive fifth-year team option that allows teams an extra year to control and develop a quarterback.

There are only two problems with firing on this prop to go over 3½. Josh Rosen is one. Five quarterbacks went in last year’s first round, including Rosen to Arizona. If the Cardinals deal Rosen before or during this draft, one fewer QB could go in the first round. The Patriots might want a quarterback at No. 32, but they might also consider dealing that pick.

The other problem is the price, which opened -260 at the South Point. The price has gone up for obvious reasons, and while it’s never easy to lay a fat number like that, lay the favorite.

Dwayne Haskins draft position: 6.5 (Over -240)

When the smoke clears, the Giants figure to emerge from this draft with a quarterback. But that is no guarantee, and whether that QB will be Haskins is a guessing game. The former Ohio State quarterback has been linked most often to the Giants at No. 6, but there are signs not to buy that.

“Some say Haskins is falling and some say he’s not, so who knows? I think someone knows,” Bogdanovich said.

The William Hill prop on Haskins’ draft position opened 6½ (-110) before the price jumped to -150 after only a few hours. Smart money says bet over the total, and I bet this one immediately. The price is now -240 at the Golden Nugget and William Hill. It appears Haskins is falling from the top 10. The Westgate opened Haskins’ position at 13½. The Giants, who desperately need a replacement-in-waiting for Eli Manning, are rumored to have interest in Haskins and Duke’s Jones, who suddenly is drawing some Peyton Manning comparisons.

“I don’t think the Giants are taking a quarterback in the first round, and not one at six,” said VSiN analyst and former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, who suspects the Giants will go for a pass rusher before a passer.

Which school, Clemson or Ohio State, will have more players selected in the first round: Clemson (-160)

Two Buckeyes will go in the first as defensive end Nick Bosa and Haskins get called early. A third Ohio State first-rounder (wideouts Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin) is a long shot. But the Tigers have three defensive linemen — Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence — projected to go in the first. Even if Lawrence slips to the second round, betting Clemson should be a push at worst. However, the price on Clemson opened plus 105 and sharp bettors jumped on it early.

Number of Clemson players selected in the first round: 2.5 (Over -140)

There will be a major run on defensive linemen in the first round. Wilkins and Ferrell are near guarantees, and while there is a chance Lawrence could slide, he’s a dominant interior force and would be viewed as a value pick late in the round. (The two Clemson-related props are posted at the South Point.)

Rashan Gary draft position: 11.5 (Over -180)

The Westgate opened this price at -130 and it was hit right away. The Michigan defensive end is said to be slipping and could go anywhere from 10 to 30. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, and it sounds as if Gary will go in the last third of the first round. (The Westgate pulled this off the board Tuesday, but it might still be available offshore.)

Josh Jacobs draft position: 34.5 (Under -200)

Four or five teams in the back half of the first round — especially Oakland — could be in the market for a running back, and the Crimson Tide star is the only back who rates as a first-round pick. It would be a surprise if he slips to the second. But this price opened -140 and moved fast.

Now for my mock draft …

1. Arizona: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma — Are the Cardinals feigning an attraction to Murray to draw a blockbuster trade offer? It’s possible, but new coach Kliff Kingsbury is infatuated with the 5-foot-10 dual-threat QB, and this is Kingsbury’s call because it’s his offense now. Murray was a special talent in college and looks like a boom-or-bust prospect in the NFL. The other half of this story is Rosen, the 10th overall pick last year. Several teams, including the Giants and Patriots, could be interested in trading for Rosen. Ideally, the Cardinals want to select Murray here and deal Rosen for a late first or second-round pick.

2. San Francisco: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State — A groin injury sabotaged Bosa’s season for the Buckeyes, but he’s back in great shape and grades as the top edge rusher in this draft. This appears to be an obvious decision for general manager John Lynch, who would look to trade down only if Bosa goes No. 1 and a team is desperate to trade up to get Murray.

3. NY Jets: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston — Several teams are interested in trading down, including the Jets. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams wants an edge rusher for his 3-4 scheme, and while Oliver does not seem to be the perfect fit, Williams is said to view the athletic, versatile Oliver as an Aaron Donald-type player. Oliver’s stock is rumored to be rising.

4. Oakland: Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama — The Raiders are the wild card in this draft because they could do something crazy and unpredictable and ruin some mocks and prop bets. If Jon Gruden trades up for a quarterback, he’s out of his mind. Gruden is a self-styled genius as a QB evaluator, yet he also touted Nathan Peterman before the 2017 draft. The Raiders are facing too many defensive needs to go offense in this spot. With the top edge rusher (Bosa) off the board, Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock should grab Williams, a 6-4, 295-pound disruptive interior force who can stuff the run and bull-rush quarterbacks.

5. Tampa Bay: Devin White, LB, LSU — The top linebacker in this class, White is touted for his intensity, speed, strength and toughness. A Ray Lewis comparison is being floated out there and it’s not outrageous. White would be a great fit for any defense, and the Buccaneers need an inside linebacker to quarterback their defense.

6. NY Giants: Josh Allen, OLB, Kentucky — If the Oliver twist is true and the Houston defensive lineman is rising to the Jets at No. 3, Allen could fall a few spots. Some scouts are saying Allen — 6-5 with an 81-inch wingspan and 31.5 career sacks — is a slightly better athlete than Khalil Mack. If he’s the next Mack, this is a great pick. If Allen is off the board, the Giants would like to go with White. It’s highly unlikely the Giants take a QB in this spot.

7. Jacksonville: Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida — After five consecutive defensive players are picked, look for the Jaguars to go offense. The 6-5, 350-pound Taylor is a mean run blocker. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 93 percent of his snaps at right tackle last season and allowed only one sack (to Kentucky’s Allen), so he can pass block, too. Jacksonville might instead grab a tight end for Nick Foles or a different offensive lineman.

8. Detroit: T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa — The Jaguars are eyeing Hockenson, and if the Lions pass on him the Bills will likely snag him. At 6-5 and 250, he has the size and toughness to be a Rob Gronkowski-type player. Hockenson is a strong run blocker and his 37-inch vertical shows he’s athletic enough to be a pass-catching weapon.

9. Buffalo: Jonah Williams, OG, Alabama — Williams will be enticing to Jacksonville at No. 7 and that’s where he might go. His football IQ and production are more impressive than his measurements. Williams started 44 games for the Crimson Tide, allowing five sacks in three years as a starter, and surrendered zero sacks last season as a junior. The Jaguars, Lions and Bills appear to be zeroing in on the same group of players.

10. Denver: Devin Bush, LB, Michigan — It’s time to start talking quarterbacks again. Assuming Gruden does not take a foolish leap for a QB and the Giants go defense at No. 6 as expected, three quarterbacks should be on the board. John Elway is reportedly high on Drew Lock, but he plans to get a good year or two out of Joe Flacco and can wait on that position. Elway hired a defensive mastermind, Vic Fangio, to be head coach and so defense should be the pick here. Bush (5-11) is on the small side, but he’s a fast sideline-to-sideline linebacker and fits well between edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.

11. Cincinnati: Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State — Andy Dalton has been a decent player, yet he’s an aging QB with a low ceiling and it’s time for a new era in Cincinnati. New coach Zac Taylor wants his guy, and it could be either Haskins or Lock. Haskins, who set the Big Ten season record for touchdown passes with 50, has the skills to be elite at the next level. If the Bengals pass on him, Miami and Washington will be waiting.

12. Green Bay: Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State — The Packers seem set on getting Aaron Rodgers some help with their two first-round picks. The 6-5, 315-pound Dillard can beef up Green Bay’s offensive line while protecting Rodgers’ blind side. A talented tight end is another option in this spot, and one from Iowa should still be on the board.

13 - Miami: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson — In need of a quarterback, the Dolphins could consider a deal for Rosen. Still, they probably would not give up this pick. It’s also possible they pick Lock. But Miami’s new coach is Brian Flores, a longtime defensive assistant to Bill Belichick in New England. So, expect Flores to go defense first. Wilkins, a 6-3, 315-pound tackle, would strengthen the defense up the middle.

14 - Atlanta: Brian Burns, LB, Florida State — An edge rusher is a major need for the Falcons and, with Montez Sweat and Rashan Gary seemingly falling, Burns grades as the best remaining at this point. An offensive lineman is another option for Atlanta.

15 - Washington: Drew Lock, QB, Missouri — The top linebackers will be off the board, and while wide receiver is another area of need for the Redskins, their greatest need is QB. If Haskins slips and is surprisingly available, Washington would be wise to pick him and show the Giants what they missed. If Haskins is gone, Lock or Daniel Jones could go here.

16 - Carolina: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson — The Panthers are looking to go offensive tackle or edge rusher. Ferrell is a three-down end who can stop the run and pressure the passer. Admittedly, this spot might be too high for Ferrell, who has slipped into the 20s in many mocks.

17 - NY Giants: Daniel Jones, QB, Duke — Giants general manager Dave Gettleman can check off both boxes in the first round by getting a defensive stud in the top 10 and his supposed quarterback of the future here. Some veteran scouts are raving about Jones and comparing him to — ironically — Peyton Manning. Jones can sit behind Eli for a year and be ready to compete for the starting job in 2020. The 6-5, 220-pound Jones has worked with the Manning brothers and was tutored in college by coach David Cutcliffe. (This pick makes total sense and let’s hope it happens because the QB prop over 3.5 would cash without a sweat.)

18 - Minnesota: Chris Lindstrom, OG, Boston College — Plenty of offensive line options will be available to the Vikings. According to Pro Football Focus, Lindstrom allowed only seven sacks in more than 1,400 pass-blocking snaps in college.

19 - Tennessee: D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi — A superstar at the combine, Metcalf impressed with his size (6-3, 230), speed (4.33 40-yard dash), strength and overall athletic ability. He’s a deep threat and should develop into a No. 1 wideout. The Titans need help on both lines, but Metcalf is a weapon who would help quarterback Marcus Mariota.

20 - Pittsburgh: Byron Murphy, CB, Washington — This is one of the most difficult picks to predict. The Steelers are supposedly interested in trading up for Devin White or Devin Bush, but they also need a corner. Pittsburgh also could go “Hollywood” and take a wideout. Murphy is known for his ball-hawking instincts and toughness, so he seems to fit with the Steelers.

21 - Seattle: Cody Ford, OG, Oklahoma — If the Vikings pass on Ford and he’s still on the board, the Seahawks could plug him in as a starter right away. At 6-4 and 330, Ford is a skilled run blocker and an excellent athlete for a guard.

22 - Baltimore: “Hollywood” Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma — The cousin of Raiders star Antonio Brown said he would love to play with Big Ben in Pittsburgh, and maybe the Steelers will go that route. The Ravens are seeking a big-play wideout because, frankly, second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson needs a lot of help. Brown is small (5-9) but fast and has the ability to make a big impact as a rookie. A foot injury could cause him to slip in the draft.

23 - Houston: Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia — Offensive line help is the Texans’ primary need, and they will hope one of the top-rated linemen fall to this spot. A cover corner is another option. Baker is physical corner who makes tackles in the open field and has a nose for the ball. A surprise move, but not a bad one, would be to take the top running back on the board.

24 - Raiders: Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan — For a couple of reasons, Gary seems to be slipping from the top 10 to somewhere in the early 20s, if you believe what you read. A shoulder injury and a lack of college production are the concerns. Gary totaled only 10 sacks in three years for the Wolverines. He’s also a freak athlete at 6-4 and 275 pounds, so Gruden would see value at this late stage of the round and be willing to gamble.

25 - Philadelphia: A.J. Brown, WR, Mississippi — The prop for wide receivers to go in the first round is 3½, and it looks like a coin flip with a lean to the over. Brown could be the top receiver in this draft, although he’s not as athletically impressive as his college teammate, Metcalf. The Eagles seem to be thinking wideout or running back with this pick.

26 - Indianapolis: Dexter Lawrence, DT Clemson — Colts general manager Chris Ballard had an outstanding draft haul last year. Lawrence (6-4, 340) is an athletic and strong interior lineman who is best at stuffing the run. Once considered a top 10 talent, he will slide to the late 20s and presents value at this point.

27 - Raiders: Josh Jacobs, RB Alabama — If he goes defense with his first two picks, Gruden will be itching to add offensive firepower. Well, the top running back in the draft probably will be on the board. At 5-10 and 220, the hard-charging Jacobs is an every-down back who could become the replacement for Marshawn Lynch. But with the Raiders, expect a trade or two, and Gruden might even deal up to make sure he gets Jacobs.

28 - LA Chargers: Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple — A tough-as-nails corner with good size (6-0, 190) and speed, Ya-Sin can cover and tackle. But he will be attractive to teams, such as Pittsburgh and Houston, searching for a cornerback with an earlier pick.

29 - Seattle: Greedy Williams, CB LSU — Kansas City traded this pick Tuesday for defensive end Frank Clark. Williams is another corner who could hear his name called sooner because of his size (6-2) and speed (4.37 40-yard dash). The downside is Williams needs to get stronger and is a below-average tackler. However, he has enough upside to project as a future No. 1 corner. The Seahawks have parted with too much defensive talent in the past year and need reinforcements.

30 - Green Bay: Noah Fant, TE, Iowa — The Packers get a weapon for Rodgers, and this time it’s a big-play tight end. Of course, Fant might be gone by this point. At 6-4 and 250 with speed and strength, he causes matchup problems and provides a nice target for Rodgers.

31 - LA Rams: Montez Sweat, OLB, Mississippi State — A heart condition is reportedly causing Sweat to slide a long way from the top 10. But if he’s cleared by team doctors, Sweat is a steal. He’s a sack machine as an edge rusher and blew away scouts at the combine, where he ran the 40 in 4.41 while checking in at 6-6 and 260. High risk, high reward.

32 - New England: Irv Smith, TE, Alabama — Plan to be surprised by this pick, if the Patriots do not deal it. Tom Brady is 41, the Pats need a backup plan, and they are believed to be interested in Lock, Jones and West Virginia’s Will Grier. But they also need a tight end after the retirement of Gronk, and Smith is a player with a lot of potential.

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