After weeks of lies, rumors and speculation, the truth is about to be revealed Thursday when the blanks are filled in on 32 picks in the first round of the NFL draft. The most valuable pick, at least to bettors and bookmakers, will be Tua Tagovailoa.
Each pick will decide a prop bet or play a part in a prop decision. Where Tagovailoa will be picked is a mystery and the biggest question of the draft. Big money will be riding on the answer.
The former Alabama quarterback’s anticipated fall — or surprise rise — could create a domino effect of unpredictable picks in the top half of the first round, possibly leading to random betting outcomes and wrecked mock drafts.
“This thing is going to be crazy,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “There are a lot of uncertainties and so many moving parts. Who knows where some of these players are going?
“Tua’s props are drawing the most interest, there’s no doubt about it. I have a hard time believing Tua is going to fall out of the top 10. Without question, he could be the key to the whole draft.”
Bogdanovich posted a new prop Monday: Will Tagovailoa go in the top 10? Yes -600/No %plussignE0.
NBC Sports columnist Peter King inserted a trick play into his final mock draft this week. King has Miami moving up from No. 5 to No. 3 in a deal with Detroit to take Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert — identical to what I predicted in my third mock draft last week. King’s bizarre long-shot prediction has San Francisco trading the 13th pick to New England, which pulls the trigger and takes Tua to replace Tom Brady.
King said he had “no inside information” that Patriots coach Bill Belichick would make such a bold move. I cannot envision Tagovailoa slipping that far and seriously doubt that Belichick, who almost always trades down, will trade up 10 spots. Still, King’s mock is an indication of what is shaping up to be a wild and crazy first round.
Tagovailoa’s draft position has been hammered over the total of 3.5, driving the price to -320 on him going fourth or later. The Dolphins have been linked to Tagovailoa since early last season. But draft betting is driven by information, and the latest wave of anti-Tua action is a public reaction to media reports that several NFL teams are increasingly concerned with Tagovailoa’s recovery from ankle and hip injuries. He’s a high-risk pick.
The common perception is Tagovailoa is slipping while Herbert is climbing. Sharp money is starting to show in favor of Herbert, whose draft-position prop is 5.5. But this storyline also has the feel of a bad relationship in a soap opera. The draft is about deception. Is the Dolphins’ sudden disinterest in Tua a true lie?
“You don’t know what 32 general managers are thinking,” Bogdanovich said. “The bookmakers and the bettors are in the same shoes. Everybody has got the same information.
“Tua’s reporting he’s 100% and ready to go. I don’t really have a true opinion on him. He’s not a lock to be a great player in that league. He played on the most talented team in America, so maybe he looked better than he really is. If I’m Miami, I’m not trading any picks.”
The most likely trade partner for Miami is definitely Detroit. The Dolphins could deal their fifth overall pick and a second-rounder to move up two spots to take a quarterback. If the top two picks go as expected — LSU quarterback Joe Burrow to the Cincinnati Bengals and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young to the Washington Redskins — the intrigue will truly begin with the Lions in the third spot.
The Dolphins are sandwiched between the Giants at No. 4 and the Chargers at No. 6. New York general manager Dave Gettleman is not in the market for a quarterback and will listen to trade offers. The Chargers, who need a star to market in Los Angeles, might want to leapfrog Miami to secure a QB or they could simply stay put and hope the player they want is available.
“If I’m the Lions, I’m on that telephone right now and I’m going to see who’s going to give me the most,” said Brent Musburger, VSiN’s lead host and managing editor. “Is it going to be the Dolphins or is it going to be the Chargers? Let them get into the bidding for Tua or perhaps Herbert.”
Michael Lombardi, a VSiN analyst and former NFL executive, said Detroit should trade down. In that case, smart money would be on Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah to go over his draft position of 4.5. Okudah could go as high as third to the Lions but seems more likely to fall two spots or more. The Lions did not become perennial losers by acing the draft.
“Okudah really does nothing for me,” Lombardi said. “I’ve never seen a secondary carry a team to the Super Bowl.”
How about a linebacker who can be an edge rusher and also play safety? Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons (draft position 6.5) could go third to the Lions, seventh to the Carolina Panthers or somewhere in between. I rank Simmons as the best defensive player in the draft — yes, better than Young and Okudah. There’s also a lot to like about Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown, who looks like a good bet to get picked before his draft position of 8.5.
“If the Giants don’t get Simmons early, maybe he slips and goes seventh or higher,” Bogdanovich said. “The trades are the wild card because you could see some trades that switch things around.”
William Hill has posted more than 100 draft props. Caesars and Circa Sports also have posted lengthy prop menus on what has turned into the marquee event of the spring. With nothing else of significance on the sports calendar, draft-prop betting has become a mini-Super Bowl in April.
It would have been a super-sized event in Las Vegas, where a crowd of more than 700,000 was expected. Instead, the Strip is dark, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce the first-round picks from his basement during a virtual draft. You can bet the TV ratings and wagering action will be strong.
“The action couldn’t be better,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “It has already more than doubled all of last year’s action. Everybody’s thirsty.”
Call over the bartender — or your bookmaker — and order one more.
I have about 25 bets on this draft, mostly because my focus has been fixed on this for five weeks. Last year I had about eight bets on the draft. With nothing else to handicap now, this is probably the most hyped draft in history. I got the best of it on some props yet have buyer’s remorse on a few bets I would like to take back, but that’s part of the process when information often changes.
A summary of my bets on draft positions: Jeff Okudah Over 3.5 -130; Tua Tagovailoa Over 3.5 -200; Justin Herbert Under 5.5 %plussign0; Derrick Brown Under 8.5 -110; Jerry Jeudy Under 12.5 -120; Justin Jefferson Under 21.5 -110; Josh Jones Under 27.5 -110; A.J. Epenesa Under 31.5 -110; Antoine Winfield Under 46.5 -110; J.K. Dobbins Under 53.5 -110.
An assortment of other bets: Wide receivers in first round Over 5.5 -130; Wide receiver drafted in top 10 %plussign 5; Quarterbacks in first round Under 4.5 -450; First-round QBs+RBs Under 5.5 -200; D’Andre Swift first running back %plussign5; Mekhi Becton first offensive lineman 3/1; Henry Ruggs first wide receiver 5/1; Herbert third pick 14/1; Jordan Love to Raiders 15/1; Tagovailoa to Chargers +0, Raiders 30/1.
It would be a stunner if the Chargers or Dolphins trade up for Tagovailoa, but I do believe we will see a few deals in the top half of the first round. My fourth and final mock draft is limited to one trade that seems to make the most sense.
1) Cincinnati: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
This is a freebie, ensuring no mock drafter will go 0-for-32. The Bengals should refuse all trade offers and take the layup. The more you watch Burrow, the more you see Tom Brady. I’m not saying he’s going to win a Super Bowl, but 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 trade offers. 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 pick in 2014. The Redskins will be lucky if Young is as productive as Myles Garrett, who went No. 1 in 2017. Garrett has been good for the Browns, though he’s not setting the world on fire.
3) x-Miami: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
I am projecting the Dolphins will deal the No. 5 pick and a second-rounder to move up two spots. This is the draft’s true starting point and where things get especially unpredictable. Miami can take no chances and must get a QB. Tagovailoa’s ceiling is Steve Young. Herbert is a safer bet. Maybe he’s the next Dan Marino. The Dolphins might also get their man without trading up.
4) N.Y. Giants: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
It’s tempting to put an offensive tackle in this spot. It will be a tough call for Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who needs offensive line help. But the defense is a mess, and Simmons is arguably the most talented defender in the draft. The Giants want to trade down and still get a top tackle. If that’s the case, Simmons could fall to Carolina at No. 7.
5) x-Detroit: Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State
The Lions will get lucky if the Dolphins make this projected trade. A general manager should approach the draft with the mindset of an advantage gambler and look to get maximum value from each draft slot. There’s no value in taking Okudah at No. 3, and there might be more value in taking Simmons, if he’s available, or the top defensive tackle in this spot.
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 capable of being a winning starter, but he’s not the long-term future. If the Giants go offensive line and Simmons slips, the Clemson linebacker would be an ideal fit 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. Simmons would be the perfect replacement for Kuechly. Brown is a 325-pound run stuffer who also fills a major need up front.
8) Arizona: Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
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 routes into the sunset. Lamb played with quarterback Kyler Murray in college, so the fit is right. But when Arizona stole DeAndre Hopkins in a trade with Houston, the Cardinals’ biggest need became an offensive tackle.
9) Jacksonville: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
The tanking theme is often overplayed by the media, yet it would be wise for the Jaguars 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 slides to this spot. That’s unlikely. Jacksonville needs a big-time wideout to help Gardner Minshew or another quarterback they might opt to sign or draft. The Jaguars are candidates to trade out of this spot. If Herbert or Tagovailoa happen to fall this far, Jacksonville should take a quarterback.
10) Cleveland: Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
Is that John Elway calling from Denver? Believe it or not, the Browns do not have a lot of needs, so they could trade down. Cleveland could use an offensive tackle to protect Baker Mayfield and pave the way for the running attack.
11) N.Y. Jets: Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
Becton (6-7, 360) is a dancing bear. He’s a freak athlete who plays with a bad attitude. He does not just block and pass-protect, he buries and punishes people. Jets general manager Joe Douglas has the same dilemma facing the Giants’ Gettleman: Go for offensive line help or the best player available? The Jets also need to get a wide receiver for quarterback Sam Darnold.
12) Las Vegas: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
General manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden will be tempted to trade up for Herbert or grab another quarterback, but they do love Marcus Mariota, and what they really need is a legit No. 1 receiver or a cornerback. Lamb is a physical playmaker, similar to Odell Beckham Jr.
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. San Francisco also needs a speed receiver after losing free agent Emmanuel Sanders, but this is obviously a deep receiver class, and the team has a late-first-round pick to address that position.
14) Tampa Bay: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
This pick could be Becton or Wirfs, whichever offensive tackle might fall. Not much separates the top four tackles. This position is the top priority for the Buccaneers, who are in win-now mode after signing Brady.
15) Denver: Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
The Broncos are interested in trading up, but do they covet a wide receiver or an offensive tackle? Flip a coin. If Denver goes the wideout route, Ruggs has Tyreek Hill-like speed and could complement Courtland Sutton, who’s a bigger receiver.
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 a weak defense. Chaisson is a strong edge rusher who would start immediately.
17) Dallas: CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
If the Jaguars and Raiders pass on Henderson, the Cowboys would be fortunate to get him here. Several scouts rate Henderson higher than Okudah. Dallas needs to do something about the back end of its defense, especially after losing free agent Byron Jones to the Dolphins.
18) Miami: A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
If the Dolphins draft a quarterback in the top five, they must go defense with this pick. The big, explosive Epenesa is not quite a physical freak like Young, but he could be a more productive edge rusher. One of my favorite prop bets is Epenesa’s draft position Under 31.5. If he slides out of the first round, several teams are making a mistake.
19) Las Vegas: Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
If the Raiders do not take Henderson at No. 12, Diggs is the next-best option. Mayock and Gruden have an affinity for players from elite programs like Alabama and Clemson. Or how about LSU corner Kristian Fulton? The 6-1 Diggs has good size and speed.
20) Jacksonville: A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson
This pick will hinge on what the Jaguars do at No. 9. If they grab a quarterback or wide receiver first, they still need defensive help and a corner to replace Ramsey.
21) Philadelphia: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
Jefferson could be gone by this time, maybe to Denver at No. 15. He has great hands and speed and definitely ranks as one of the top four receivers. I have had Jefferson in this spot in all four mock drafts. The Eagles’ biggest need is wide receiver.
22) Minnesota: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
Sharp money has been against Higgins, who seems somewhat likely to slip to the second round. But why? He’s a big playmaker at 6-4. He was highly productive for a championship program. The Vikings traded the disgruntled Stefon Diggs and must get a replacement to complement Adam Thielen.
23) New England: Josh Jones, OT, Houston
The Patriots need to address a defense that has been pillaged in the offseason, but they also plan to start a young quarterback who needs help up front. Brady struggled last season behind a mediocre offensive line. This pick is a guess, but it’s doubtful it will be a QB or receiver.
24) New Orleans: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
LSU linebacker Patrick Queen probably makes more sense as a defensive need, but he’s undersized. Alabama safety Xavier McKinney is another option. This is likely Drew Brees’ final season, and backup Taysom Hill is no lock to make it as a starting quarterback. Three years ago, Sean Payton wanted Patrick Mahomes and watched Kansas City steal him before Payton could pounce. Now he has the chance to get a poor man’s Mahomes. In 2018, Love passed for 32 touchdowns with six interceptions, so Payton will focus on the positive and roll the dice on a player with exciting potential.
25) Minnesota: Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer will probably go offense with one pick and defense with the other. Winfield is on the small side, but he’s tough and has ball-hawking skills. He made seven interceptions last season. I rate Winfield, who could slide to the second round, higher than most.
26) Miami: D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
A running back going in the first round feels like a coin-flip proposition. Swift fills a need after the Dolphins traded Kenyan Drake to Arizona. Swift is a capable receiver out of the backfield and rates slightly better than Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins.
27) Seattle: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
I would bet on the Seahawks trading this pick, but if they make it, Gross-Matos is the type of edge rusher who fits their defensive scheme. TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock is still on the board along with several other highly rated defensive players.
28) Baltimore: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
The Ravens are looking for a linebacker who can stop the run and drop into coverage. Murray is a playmaker with good size (6-2, 240), and he fits the profile of a Baltimore defensive star.
29) Tennessee: Austin Jackson, OT, USC
All signs point to this pick being a tackle to replace Jack Conklin. The 20-year-old Jackson is young, big (6-5, 310) and athletic. Also in the picture here could be Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson or Houston’s Jones, whom I have going to the Patriots at No. 23.
30) Green Bay: Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
I have five receivers being drafted before this pick. For those of us who bet the prop Over 5.5, we need a receiver to go here or to the 49ers in the next spot. Aaron Rodgers wants a big receiver, but will he get his wish? Green Bay had one of the league’s worst run defenses last year. Baun, who had 12.5 sacks for the Badgers, flies all over the field. I said at the time the Packers blew it in 2017 when they traded out of the 29th spot and passed on Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt, who went 30th to Pittsburgh.
31) San Francisco: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
The sixth receiver will be a sweat for bettors, but here we go. If the 49ers draft for their defensive line at No. 13, this pick should be a receiver. Mims is 6-3 with 4.4 speed. Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk and TCU’s Jalen Reagor could be other options.
32) Kansas City: Grant Delpit, S, LSU
The Chiefs could take the best cornerback available, but they need to strengthen their secondary in any way possible. Delpit is big and physical. Kansas City might also get an appealing trade offer for this pick if a certain Love-able quarterback still is on the board.