Live from his basement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce the first-round picks in next week’s draft. There will be no bear hugs with players, no boos from fans and, worst of all, no party in Las Vegas.
It could have been one of the greatest spectacles in sports, with nearly a million fans jammed on the Strip and a floating stage by the Bellagio fountains. Now it’s just a TV show. But it’s a sign of the times, and we will take anything we can get at this point.
In an ironic twist, it turns out that Goodell is a gambling man after all. It would have been easy for Goodell to give in to critics, hit the pause button and postpone the draft. Yet while the rest of the American sports world has stopped spinning, the NFL is moving full steam ahead. The show must go on, Goodell said, as he rolled the dice.
This is a time when Goodell, who for several years never had a good word to say about sports gambling, should be appreciated by bettors and bookmakers. He’s not all bad. April 23 is the day for former enemies to embrace, at least briefly.
If not for the NFL draft, the major sports calendar would be a barren, hopeless landscape. There would be nothing to look forward to and only leftovers to bet. But due to Goodell’s arrogance and persistence — or whatever you choose to call it — some bookmakers are posting props on the draft as if it’s a mini-Super Bowl.
“It’s going to be very, very big,” said William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich, who spent the weekend dreaming up prop ideas. “It’s nothing like it would have been if the draft was in Las Vegas and 800,000 people were here. It would have been awesome to find out. But it’s the only game in town, and people are starving for content and something to do.
“There are so many props. I’m adding a ton more right now. I’m just adding and adding. I think we’re right at 100 props now.”
Goodell’s warm and fuzzy relationship with sports gambling goes back three years. Follow the money.
It was March 27, 2017, when NFL owners approved the Raiders’ relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas thanks to a $2 billion stadium deal. After the Supreme Court struck down the PASPA law in May 2018, the NFL started its all-in push to join the sports betting movement. During a trip to the Strip early this year, Goodell said, “We think that sports gambling in many ways creates a lot more engagement for our fans.”
That’s a 180-degree turn. The irony of it all. The virtual format of the draft is sure to draw robust TV ratings for many reasons, one being that thousands of football fans from Nevada to New Jersey and several states in between will be legally wagering on draft props.
“The wagering on sports, and the NFL in particular, is going to be a big asset for the leagues,” said Vinny Magliulo, Gaughan Gaming sportsbook director and VSiN oddsmaker. “We will be helping to market their product even more.”
All leagues want a cut of the action, of course, so the bigger picture has broader issues. But the NFL draft, considering current societal circumstances, creates an especially symbiotic relationship with mutual benefits. Bettors and bookmakers need the action now. Goodell is delivering, even if his reasons are selfish.
The draft is always a handicapping riddle. Countless mocks can be used as guides. All start with former Louisiana State quarterback Joe Burrow going with the No. 1 pick, and none will nail every other pick in the first round.
“The bookmakers and the bettors are in the same shoes,” Bogdanovich said. “Everybody has got the same information. You never know what could happen.”
Of the 100 or so props offered by William Hill this week, Bogdanovich has seen three move the most because of betting action:
— Wide receivers drafted in the first round: 5.5
The Over opened -130, when I made this bet, and the price has been raised to -250. Four receivers (Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and LSU’s Justin Jefferson) are almost certain to go in the first round. Several mocks project seven, but the receiver class is so deep that a couple could slip if teams wait for the second round to pounce.
“I’m sticking at 5.5, and I’m being hardheaded about it,” Bogdanovich said. “I just don’t know if that sixth receiver will show up.”
— Offensive linemen drafted in the first round: 5.5
After the line opened 6.5 at -110, the Over side of 5.5 is -230. The top four prospects (Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas) figure to be gone halfway through the first round.
“Five is a mortal lock,” Bogdanovich said. “I don’t think six offensive linemen is a lock.”
— Tua Tagovailoa draft position: 3.5
The teams seemingly most interested in the former Alabama QB are the Dolphins, who hold the fifth pick, and Chargers, who draft sixth. A team could trade up to the second or third spot to get Tagovailoa, who’s perceived to be falling as more reports surface about concerns with his ankle and hip injuries. The price to bet Over 3.5 has moved up to -200.
“Tua is drawing a lot of interest,” Bogdanovich said. “He could be the key to the whole draft.”
Tua is falling, but how far? Out of the top 10? I no longer think the Chargers or Dolphins will trade up for Tagovailoa, but I do believe we will see a few deals involving picks in the top half of the first round. But because specific trades are so tough to predict, I have limited my mock draft to one trade that seems to make the most sense.
I will list all of my best bets in next week's column.
My third mock draft for 2020:
1) Cincinnati: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
If the rumors are true and the Dolphins covet Burrow enough to throw a Godfather offer at Cincinnati — four first-round picks or three first-rounders and a second-round pick to move up four spots — the Bengals need to refuse it. Burrow is an Ohio kid and a marketing lifeline for a dead franchise.
2) Washington: Chase Young, DE, Ohio State
The Redskins should listen to offers if the Dolphins or Chargers want to trade up for a quarterback. New coach Ron Rivera has several holes to fill and could use more picks. Young is a great prospect, but so was Jadeveon Clowney, who has not had a double-digit-sack season since being the No. 1 overall pick in 2014.
3) x-Miami: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
This is probably the draft’s true starting point and where things get especially unpredictable. The Lions are suddenly showing interest in a quarterback, but it’s likely a smoke screen to induce competing trade offers from the Chargers, Dolphins or another team. Miami can take no chances and must get a QB. Tagovailoa’s durability and recovery from ankle and hip injuries raise too many concerns, so Herbert is a safer bet. Maybe he’s the next Dan Marino. It would be easy to trade the fifth and 18th picks to Detroit to move up two spots.
4) N.Y. Giants: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
This will be a tough call for Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who needs a stud offensive tackle and lots of defensive help. Simmons is incredibly versatile and arguably the most talented defender in the draft. It might make sense for the Giants to trade down and still get a top offensive lineman. If that’s the case, how far could Simmons fall?
5) x-Detroit: Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State
Lions coach Matt Patricia can stay at No. 3 and take Okudah, the shutdown corner he needs, or trade down two or three spots and still get him. For the right offer, he should trade down.
6) L.A. Chargers: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Nothing indicates the Chargers are ready to trade up and make a bold move at quarterback. The Chargers have been searching for Philip Rivers’ successor for a few years. Tyrod Taylor is their current starter, not the long-term future. If the Giants go offensive line and Simmons slips, the Clemson linebacker also makes sense in this spot.
7) Carolina: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
After the surprising retirement of linebacker Luke Kuechly and the free-agent acquisition of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, it’s a good bet this pick will be a defensive player. Brown is a 325-pound run stuffer who fills a major need up front.
8) Arizona: Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
My first mock had Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb going here, and that still could happen. The Cardinals used more four-wideout sets than any team in the league, and Larry Fitzgerald is running into the sunset. Lamb played with quarterback Kyler Murray in college, so the fit is perfect. But when Arizona stole DeAndre Hopkins in a trade with Houston, the Cardinals’ biggest need became offensive tackle. Becton (6-7, 360) is a great athlete and plays with a bad attitude. He does not just block guys, he buries them.
9) Jacksonville: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
The tanking theme is often overplayed by the media, yet the Jaguars would be wise to tank for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in next year’s draft. After trading Jalen Ramsey, the Jaguars need a cornerback, so they will hope Okudah falls to this spot. That’s unlikely. Jacksonville needs a big-time wideout to help Gardner Minshew or another quarterback it might opt to sign or draft.
10) Cleveland: Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
Believe it or not, the Browns do not have a lot of needs. But they could use an offensive tackle to protect Baker Mayfield and pave the way for the running attack. Any of the top four offensive linemen could go in this spot.
11) N.Y. Jets: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
This will be an offensive tackle or a wide receiver. It’s time to get some help for quarterback Sam Darnold. Lamb is a physical playmaker, similar to Odell Beckham Jr.
12) Las Vegas: Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
Raiders coach Jon Gruden will be tempted to trade up for Herbert or grab another quarterback, but he really needs an elite receiver, and Ruggs has Tyreek Hill-like speed. Gruden will hope Jeudy or Lamb is still on the board. Cornerback is the other pressing need.
13) San Francisco: Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
The 49ers traded defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to Indianapolis in a salary-cap move. Kinlaw would be a nice replacement at a much cheaper price.
14) Tampa Bay: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
If Wills goes earlier, this pick could be Becton or Wirfs. Not much separates the top four offensive tackles, a position that is the top priority for the Buccaneers, who are in win-now mode after signing Tom Brady.
15) Denver: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
Wide receiver or offensive tackle? Flip a coin. If Thomas is still on the board, he should be the pick. This wideout class is incredibly deep, and the Broncos can go that route in the second round, as they did two years ago when drafting Courtland Sutton.
16) Atlanta: K’Lavon Chaisson, LB, LSU
Falcons coach Dan Quinn is a former defensive coordinator, and his job status depends on his ability to fix the defense. Chaisson is a strong edge rusher.
17) Dallas: CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
If the Raiders pass on Henderson, the Cowboys would be lucky to get him here. Dallas needs to do something about the back end of its defense, especially after losing free agent Byron Jones to the Dolphins.
18) x-Detroit: A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
This pick would go to the Lions in the projected trade with Miami. Detroit should be looking to trade down to add a cornerback and edge rusher. One of my favorite prop bets is Epenesa’s draft position Under 31.5 at William Hill. It’s unlikely he slips out of the first round.
19) Las Vegas: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
It’s doubtful Derek Carr has much of a future in Las Vegas. Gruden wants Marcus Mariota to win the starting job, and he could draft Love as a developmental backup. Love is not another Patrick Mahomes, but Gruden is a dreamer. PointsBet is offering 15/1 odds on the Raiders to pick Love, so sign me up for this bet.
20) Jacksonville: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
If the Jaguars grab a wide receiver at No. 9, they will need defensive help in this spot.
21) Philadelphia: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
22) Minnesota: Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota
23) New England: Josh Jones, OT, Houston
24) New Orleans: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
25) Minnesota: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
26) Miami: D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
27) Seattle: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
28) Baltimore: Grant Delpit, S, LSU
29) Tennessee: Austin Jackson, OT, USC
30) Green Bay: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
31) San Francisco: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State
32) Kansas City: Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
x - projected trade