The NFL Draft is one of the most popular events in American sports wagering.
Bettors are now able to wager on hundreds of draft propositions ranging from which player goes first overall to how many quarterbacks will be drafted in the first round to whether a team, such as the New England Patriots, will select an offensive or defensive player with their first-round pick.
And as you can imagine, these betting markets aren’t built overnight. Some of these markets are modeled and discussed months in advance. There’s always a method to the madness for bookmakers.
“To some extent, the process starts a whole year out,” PointsBet director of trading Jay Croucher told NESN. “After the previous year’s NFL Draft, we’re already starting to look at the quarterbacks and then everything else goes from there.
“A lot of the suspense was taken out of this year’s draft because we’ve known that Trevor Lawrence is going No. 1 overall for so long,” Croucher continued. “Then, it becomes more about the second, third and fourth quarterbacks. We get deeper and deeper into the process just after free agency starts. By the start of April, we start to build out more and more markets.”
PointsBet offered around 500 different betting markets in last year’s draft and they’ll be in triple figures again by the time the 2021 NFL Draft starts April 29.
“We get a bit more into the weeds,” Croucher said. “Who are the first and second wide receivers to be drafted? Which cornerback will be taken first? Will Green Bay draft an offensive or defensive player? All that stuff ramps up about a month out and we add more as we get closer to the draft.”
One of the toughest players to forecast is North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance. He’s an enigmatic FCS quarterback that has a national championship under his belt, but has some scouts worried about his lack of repetitions and the glaring level of competition.
PointsBet currently has Lance’s draft betting position at O/U 6.5. If you think he goes seventh or higher, you could bet the “Over.” If you think he goes top six, you could bet the “Under.”
“There’s always a guy like Lance with a high upside and low downside,” Croucher said. “It just takes one front office to envision that guy him being the next big superstar. Lance could easily go in the top five. Some mock drafts have him going as low as 15th, which seems a bit aggressive, but some quarterbacks tend to slide. Lance is probably the most interesting guy because no one can really get a handle on what he really is.”
Don’t think for one second that sportsbooks aren’t up to speed on the latest rumors or mock drafts, either. Bookmakers are constantly reading information from writers all over the country to help feed the betting beast.
“I probably didn’t appreciate just how dependent we are on Twitter,” Croucher admitted. “And it’s not just for the NFL Draft; We’re constantly monitoring Twitter and beat writers for NBA injury news and things like that. We’re tapped in. Twitter also helps for the (NFL Draft) because there’s not that much data that’s going to inform us which offensive lineman will be the fifth one drafted. It’s largely speculation and guys like Adam Schefter have the most currency.
“One piece of news can have so many ripple effects,” Croucher explained. “This draft is going to turn at the third pick when San Francisco takes (Justin) Fields, (Mac) Jones or (Trey) Lance. There’s usually one pivot point that sets every draft and this year’s it’s definitely at No. 3. All the ripple effects will be felt from there.
“We’re not really in panic mode, though, because we expect the teams to panic. Teams are going to do bizarre things. It’s all about reacting to what happens and trying to get your ducks in a row as best as possible to plan out all the possible scenarios.”
It felt necessary to ask Croucher about what moves the meter behind the counter on draft props. Is it a certain amount of money that leads to a big adjustment or is it something more complex?
“It’s mostly money wagered from sharp clients,” he explained. “Especially when they’re betting in quick succession. Multiple clients betting on the same thing is definitely a sign that the price needs to be moved. In the NFL Draft, we’re going to be very differential and we value our clients’ information.”
“We could price up Mike Trout to hit a home run in his first at-bat and that’s driven by math. We would be very confident in that price being rock solid because we can point to the numbers. For the fourth wide receiver to get drafted, we don’t have math behind that. We’re very quick to move on the intel when bets come in from respected players.”
Lastly, it’s hardly a secret that the Jacksonville Jaguars are likely drafting Lawrence with the first overall pick. That’s also a bettable prop, but the odds are ridiculous. You would have to risk a staggering $10,000 to win $100 on Lawrence going No. 1.
“It would be the biggest upset in NFL Draft history if he didn’t go one,” Croucher said. “Every year, people try to talk themselves into guys like Joe Burrow or Trevor Lawrence not going first. There is too much value in that quarterback pick. There’s always a slim chance that there is complete mania in Jacksonville and maybe they’ve all lost their minds. But that’s one of the soundest -10000 propositions you’ll ever see.”