NFL Draft props more popular than anticipated

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

April 26, 2017 12:25 AM
Christian McCaffrey from Stanford will be a first-round pick Thursday night. But will two more running backs push the proposition bet over 2½?
© USA Today Sports Images

Will four quarterbacks go in the first round of the NFL Draft? How about three running backs? When will the first placekicker be picked?

Those questions are relevant only because Nevada gaming regulators approved proposition wagering on the draft this year for the first time. Draft props were posted by offshore books in past years, but never in Las Vegas until now.

“I really thought this would be nothing,” South Point sports book director Chris Andrews said. “It’s a big success. It’s a lot of action, way more action than I anticipated.”

Two days before Thursday’s first round, Andrews said the wagering handle at the South Point is around $50,000. That amount is miniscule compared to the handle on an average NFL game, but for the first year of draft betting, most bookmakers are pleasantly surprised by the interest that has been created.

Ten props are posted. Here’s a look at the three most significant decisions:

* Number of running backs drafted in the first round: 2½.

In a year or two, Leonard Fournette could be in the NFL’s elite class of running backs, proving to be a game-changing player who was worth a top-10 pick. In another scenario, Fournette could wind up being a one-dimensional runner, just another 3.5-yards-per-carry guy who makes little impact on his team’s power rating.

But we know the former Louisiana State star will be a first-rounder, and we know Christian McCaffrey from Stanford also will be on stage Thursday, when the first 32 players are selected.

At the South Point, the price to bet over 2½ opened at minus-180, and bettors jumped on it to drive the line to minus-310.

The prop figures to be decided by former Florida State running back Dalvin Cook late in the round.

“Cook is the X-factor,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “I think he’s borderline. That third running back is a little bit of a question mark.”

Kiper, speaking Monday during a VSiN appearance with Brent Musburger on “My Guys in the Desert,” said he considers Fournette and McCaffrey to be first-round locks. Both players are expected to be off the board by the middle of the round.

But there are not an abundance of teams shopping the market for running backs early in the draft. Tampa Bay (No. 19) and Oakland (No. 24) each have needs at the position.

The Buccaneers are believed to be interested in pairing Cook with quarterback Jameis Winston to make a Florida State connection. The Raiders prefer to draft for defense in the first round while trying to close a deal to bring Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch out of retirement.

Cook has a lengthy history of off-field issues that could cause teams to pass on him until the second round.

Some scouts consider Joe Mixon to be the most talented and versatile running back in the draft, but he’s also the most controversial character because of off-field problems at Oklahoma. Any team picking Mixon in the first round would face intense media scrutiny, so he seems likely to slip to the second round on the second day.

Kiper’s comment indicates that betting over 2½ is a risky proposition. But a majority of mock drafts predict a team will roll the dice on Cook.

“That’s one opinion I had,” Andrews said. “I liked three running backs in the first round.”

* When will the first placekicker be selected?

The South Point and William Hill books opened the same number on this prop, and it was a bad number. Rounds one through three opened at minus-110, and rounds four to seven had the same price. But the price on rounds four through seven is now minus-430.

One mock draft from Pro Football Focus has Arizona State kicker Zane Gonzalez going in the third round. But that’s like a Bigfoot sighting, because when it’s mentioned no one takes it seriously.

It will feel like a miracle to bookmakers if they don’t get hammered on this prop.

Tampa Bay selected a kicker in the second round last year, but Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo was a bust. In 2015, no kickers were drafted.

* Number of quarterbacks drafted in the first round: 3½.

The league is mostly about quarterbacks, so it makes sense this is the most-debated prop in the media. It ranks No. 3 in the South Point’s ticket count, narrowly trailing the kicker and running back props.

Two quarterbacks are a lock, and a third is an odds-on favorite. Mitchell Trubisky from North Carolina and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson are the locks. Patrick Mahomes from Texas Tech is a late riser who could go in the top half of the round.

Under 3½ opened as a slight favorite (minus-130) and has become a bigger favorite (minus-200).

“It’s the perfect number to set,” Kiper said. “I’m going to say three. Getting to four is a little tricky.”

With so many teams in need of a quarterback, will one team reach late in the first round for Davis Webb, a former California star, or DeShone Kizer from Notre Dame?

Bettors and bookmakers will stay tuned Thursday night until the 32nd pick is announced.

Sweating out NFL Draft props will be a new experience.

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