2021 NFL Draft Betting Guide: Odds, Strategies, Tips & Picks
One of the largest non-sporting spectacles in sports, the NFL Draft represents the culmination of a lifetime of work for the athletes who get to hear their names called. NFL teams themselves have a once-a-year chance to bolster their rosters with new young talent, but more importantly for us, the draft represents one of the stronger betting opportunities of the year. That’s something we are going to take advantage of at online sportsbooks. Follow along with this 2021 NFL Draft Betting Guide, which will include draft odds, tips and NFL betting picks for the big event.
NFL Draft Betting Tips & Strategy
Regardless of whether you bet on sports or play DFS, I would imagine most of the people reading this have at least some experience with sports speculation. Accurately determining the strength of individual teams or even players isn’t rocket science, it’s something we at Rotogrinders attempt to do every day.
Betting on the NFL Draft is different.
The draft isn’t an exercise in speculating on overall team strength or player talent, it’s about human psychology. That’s what makes it an elite betting opportunity. It’s incredibly difficult for a sportsbook like DraftKings and FanDuel to accurately price every single NFL team’s big board. As a result, oddsmakers drift towards consensus rankings, which actually tend to be pretty accurate, but obviously don’t account for the massive range of evaluations NFL teams can have on individual players.
Betting strategies for the NFL draft can vary widely, but a well-researched bettor should be able to consistently profit given the large range of odds on a wide variety of NFL Draft props.
As always, make sure you are line shopping to find the best available number. A few % points can be the difference between making a profit or not, so this is likely an area bettors should spend a large percentage of their time on.
On a final note, make sure you understand the positional classifications at the sportsbook you are placing bets at, whether it’s at DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel, PointsBet or BetMGM. This isn’t an issue for most positions, but it tends to come up a lot for defensive line and linebackers.
Under 4.5 LBs drafted in the first-round might seem like a lock, until you realize many books are counting edge rusher Azeez Ojulari as a linebacker, not a defensive lineman. He’s a consensus first-rounder, and just his presence in the LB pool drastically changes the value of certain LB bets for the NFL Draft. This is something bettors need to be acutely aware of.
Always double-check positional eligibility!
2021 NFL Draft Info — When & Where?
The 2021 NFL Draft takes place over three days in Cleveland Ohio. ABC, ESPN, and NFL Network will host the coverage to ensure you never miss a pick. Here’s how it breaks down:
Day 1 (Round 1): April 29th, 8 PM EST
Day 2 (Rounds 2 & 3): April 30th, 7 PM EST
Day 3 (Rounds 4-7): May 1st, 12 PM EST
2021 NFL Draft Odds & Betting Picks
These only go out to pick No. 3 for obvious reasons. Books can’t offer bets like these on uncertain markets, and the only pick in the first three that’s in any question at all is pick No. 3 itself. Let’s break it down.
Odds to be No. 1 Overall Pick
Don’t need to overthink this one. Lawrence is the best QB prospect to enter the NFL Draft since at least Andrew Luck, and he’s a lock to be a Week 1 NFL starter. Jacksonville needs a QB. Congrats, it’s a perfect match!
Odds to be No. 2 Overall Pick
Similar to pick #1, Zach Wilson to the New York Jets seems like a sure thing. NYJ needs a QB and Wilson is the consensus QB2 in the class. Things don’t get exciting until the next pick, so let’s just move on already!
Odds to be No. 3 Overall Pick
NFL insider Adam Schefter shocked many in early April when he stated “oh, it’ll be “(player-popup #mac-jones)Mac Jones”:/players/mac-jones-2861809” when asked about the 49ers’ #3 overall pick on ESPN radio. This was a huge deal because Schefter is almost never wrong. However, just six days later he stated, “I think they like all three [first-round quarterback prospects]. Now, if you’re asking me today who I would guess, I would guess Mac Jones. But we’re also three weeks away from the draft. There are going to be a lot of meetings, there are going to be a lot of discussions. They’re going to be attending workouts. What happens between now and then? I don’t know. We’ll see.”
2021 NFL Draft betting markets are still reeling from this, but it’s obvious that Mac Jones is not anything close to a lock to be the #3 pick. In fact, his draft odds have shifted drastically, with sportsbooks moving Mac Jones down from a -300 favorite to currently a +125 dog to be the 49ers’ next QB.
It’s clear to most that Justin Fields is a better prospect than Mac Jones. What’s even more convincing to me is that Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for Robert Griffin’s best season. He understands that rushing QBs add a level of dynamism that pocket passers like Jones just can’t offer. Fields also offers two years of high-end college play compared to just one for Jones.
It’s tough placing a bet on this knowing there were much better draft odds available for this particular prop just a week or so ago. At the same time, it’s also tough to imagine this pick being anyone other than Fields. I still like taking him to be the #3 overall pick, even at the current odds.
2021 NFL Draft — Position Over/Unders
Example: DraftKings Sportsbook offers Alabama CB Patrick Surtain’s draft position: Over 10.5 +125, Under 10.5 -159
Numerous books are offering props like this, but are they beatable? The first thing to check is the hold percentage on different sites to see how right we need to be to win.
DraftKings: ~5.6% hold on average
BetMGM: ~5.4% hold on average
FanDuel: ~5.1% hold on average
Note: Individual hold percentages vary by bet. Some are closer to or even above 6%, while others are below 5%.
Now that we know a profitable bet will need a roughly 6% edge to win in these markets, we now need to find that edge.
Without acute knowledge of NFL teams’ big boards, this market is a very tricky one to beat. Sure, we can look at recent rumors about which players certain teams are reportedly ‘enamored’ with, but any rumor that gains significant traction as a potential truth will be accounted for in Draft betting markets. If you can beat the market to the rumor mill, that’s great, but without a lot of time and devotion to NFL Twitter, that’s a tough ask for anybody with a day job.
Our next best option is the aggregation of public knowledge.
Thankfully, sites like NFLMockDraftDatabase.com do exactly that. Here they provide an aggregated big board using “38 Big Boards, 418 1st Round Mock Drafts, and 506 Team Based Mock Drafts.”
Immediately, you should notice a stark difference in an individual player’s position on the aggregated big board vs their specific team/pick projection. The aggregated board does not take into account team positional needs or where certain teams are picking. The projections, however, do take that into account.
Unfortunately, we can’t just compare these projections to market lines, as there will almost certainly be teams trading up and down to acquire certain players. Almost as unfortunate, sportsbooks are pretty much only offering these markets on players that are either locked in as the #1 player at their position or are virtually guaranteed to go in the top-15 picks.
I don’t believe you can extract a greater than 6% edge in these markets currently without, like previously stated, acute knowledge of NFL teams’ big boards.
I am, however, optimistic that books will offer these props on more players who project near the end of the first round.
Example: Rondale Moore Draft position Over/Under 32.5.
Later draft position props offer the opportunity for much larger discrepancies between betting lines and aggregate public sentiment, which in turn results in more profitable betting opportunities. If these props are offered, it will likely be in the final week leading up to the draft, so be sure to keep a watchful eye on if new players appear in these markets as we inch closer to Draft Day on Thursday, April 29.
If you have more confidence than myself that these markets are beatable, then I encourage you to bet them. I do believe that we as bettors can give ourselves significantly more opportunity to win with a few of the other types of props I about to discuss.
First Round Positional Totals
Average hold %s in these markets is a tick higher than draft position O/Us on average:
Note: Individual hold percentage varies by bet
This is where that aggregate big board I linked above shows its value for NFL bettors. Betting into this market offers us more margin for error compared to individual player O/Us, as the draft position of individual players is meaningless beyond ‘did they get drafted in the first round’. All we need to know is how many players of a position are likely to be valued as top-32 picks.
Based on the aggregated big board, those totals are:
(Note: Travis Etienne is #33, so this could be considered 1.5)
(Note: Kadarius Toney is #30 and Terrace Mashall is #34, so the effective range is 4-6)
(Note: Samuel Cosmi is #31 and Jalen Mayfield is #35, so the effective range is 5-7)
(Note: Jayson Oweh is #32, so this could be considered 4.5)
Offensive Total: 18
Defensive Total: 14
These numbers are eerily close, if not borderline identical, to what we find in 2021 NFL draft betting markets. Similar to draft position O/Us, I don’t think there is a ton of value to be extracted here. Fortunately, we are about to get into the good stuff.
Position of Team NFL Draft Picks
This is by far my favorite market available, as it’s virtually impossible to price the potential of every team drafting every position in the first round correctly. A team’s first pick often addresses the most glaring team needs, so a simple audit of each team can show us where they are most likely to look. Because these are multi-way markets, the hold % is largely irrelevant as we are looking for individual value, and can be very choosy with what we bet. Let’s get into specifics.
LA Chargers to Draft OL +110 (BetMGM)
No team has struggled with poor offensive line play more in the last decade than the Chargers.
Rookie QB Justin Herbert recorded the 9th-highest pressure % of any QB last year, feeling pressure on 36.6% of his dropbacks. The Chargers had four players start at offensive tackle in 2020, and none of them cracked the top 35 tackles in pass-blocking efficiency or top 50 in overall PFF grade and PFF run-blocking grade.
This group of tackles needs help and there is no better place for it than pick No. 13, where either Rashawn Slater or Christian Darrisaw would be the likely selection. Darrisaw is even the most commonly projected player to be selected by LA, per public draft boards.
Dallas Cowboys to Draft a CB +105 (BetMGM)
With 27-year-old Anthony Brown (and his 48.3 PFF coverage grade from 2020) currently penciled in as a starter alongside 2nd-year CB Trevon Diggs, the Cowboys are fortunate to likely have their choice of corners with the No. 10 pick.
Being a primarily zone-coverage team makes Patrick Surtain the ideal fit, but more importantly, the No. 10 pick is just too high to draft a defensive lineman (the Cowboys’ other biggest need). Unless Kyle Pitts or Penei Sewell somehow makes it this far, it’s reasonable to assume a CB to be drafted by 2020’s 5th-worst defense.
Green Bay Packers to Draft WR +200 (DraftKings)
Similar to the teams already discussed, the Packers both need a WR to pair alongside Davante Adams and possess a solid 1st-round opportunity to grab one at pick No. 29.
Since Adams mostly plays outside, I would expect this pick to come down to one of the top slot options, Rondale Moore and Elijah Moore. Both players would lift Green Bay’s receiving core to levels we haven’t seen since Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were around. After the disaster that was last year’s draft, I’d expect Green Bay to do what they can to keep their current franchise QB happy with some (immediate) offensive help.
Indianapolis Colts to Draft DL +350 (BetMGM)
Indy’s edge rushers are a complete disaster and they should have close to their choice of edge defenders with the No. 21 overall pick. I’d be shocked if they didn’t select a defensive lineman on day 1 or 2, because if not, they risk going into the 2021 season with Isaac Rochell, Ben Banogu, Tyquan Lewis, and Kemoko Turay as their main edge rushers. Not great.
KC Chiefs to Draft WR +550 (BetMGM)
Yes, KC needs help at offensive tackle and that’s priced as their most likely first selection. In a stacked WR class, however, it’s easy to see how KC’s 1st-round selection could present them with an opportunity to grab an outstanding slot receiver to replace now-Raven Sammy Watkins.
Not to mention there isn’t a coach more pass-friendly than Andy Reid. This is one of the top long-shot draft props out there right now.
NE Patriots to Draft CB +550 (DraftKings)
Unlike many of the other bets I’ve listed, this isn’t about the Pats needing help at CB, they have one of the best CB groups in the league for goodness sake! This is about how much Bill Belichick loves corners who excel at man-to-man coverage.
Jaycee Horn is the man-to-man corner in this class. After losing Jason McCourty to free agency, New England could have a great opportunity to add a rookie corner who can immediately bolster their three-deep at CB. If Horn makes it to pick No. 15 (currently 14th on the consensus big board), books will regret offering +550.
First Draft Pick by Position
In this market in particular, I’m going to try to dial on players with elite-enough skill sets that they are either virtually guaranteed to be the top player at their position or they are skilled enough that they could be considered the top player at their position by at least one NFL team. Basically, I’ll be using a barbell approach with the near-locks on one end and the longshots on the other. Let’s start with the locks.
Micah Parsons First LB Drafted -400 (DraftKings)
According to the PFF’s head college scout Mike Renner: “Parsons is the best LB prospect we’ve scouted in seven years of grading college. He can play in any scheme.” 4.39 forty-yard dash. It doesn’t get much easier than this when it comes to NFL draft bets.
Trevon Moehrig-Woodard First S Drafted -400 (BetMGM)
Similar to Parsons, the gap between Moehrig-Woodard and the next best safety is likely too large for any team to consider passing him up if they want a safety.
On the consensus big board, Woodard ranks 28 spots ahead of the next best safety. That’s the largest gap between any #1 and #2 player in any position group.
Christian Barmore First DL Drafted +900 (BetMGM)
This is a great long-shot bet. Unlike previous drafts, the edge class has no standout players like Joey Bosa or Myles Garrett. While it’s typically assumed an edge will come off the board before Barmore, I can easily see a team falling in love with his dominant interior performances in the 2020 CFP. As the No. 12 overall player on PFF’s big board (highest edge is No. 24), Barmore could certainly be the first DL to have his name called.
Javonte Williams +600 First RB Drafted (BetMGM)
It’s a flier, but Williams offers the best elusive rating in PFF history (thanks to a bevy of broken tackles), and rated in the 90th+ percentile in his PFF rushing grade on BOTH zone and gap schemes, as well as in yards after contact per attempt. 75 missed tackles forced in 2020 was insane (1st), and an NFL team could easily fall in love with his tape (which is awesome) enough to make him RB1. Also the 2nd-youngest draft-eligible RB. Javonte is a major target of mine in Best Ball and rookie drafts.
Micah Parsons First Defensive Player Drafted +250 (DraftKings)
This pick will almost certainly be either Patrick Surtain or Micah Parsons, and I personally think it’s fairly close between those two. That makes 2.5-1 quite a large discrepancy with Surtain the consensus No. 8 player and Parsons at No. 12.
Another reason to like the Parsons side of this is that he is much more clearly the No. 1 player at his position. There is a chance that a team that needs a corner takes Jaycee Horn over Patrick Surtain. There is a significantly smaller chance teams value Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah over Micah Parsons.
More 2021 NFL Props to Look for
The wider the array of props, the more opportunity for an edge. As we get closer to draft day, books will look for more action on the event and will post more unique props as a result. Here are some I’m looking out for.
Like I mentioned in the draft position O/Us section, O/U props for players projected near the end of the first-round should offer solid value. The further away from pick No. 1, the lower the likelihood a sportsbook can price it accurately.
Another market that should gain a ton of steam in the next week is head-to-head draft props. The only one I’ve seen posted thus far is from DraftKings:
Assuming more come to market, these should offer value as long as we shop around to find the best number possible.
Finally, I’m hopeful some books will offer ‘team to draft specific player’ props (outside of the top-3 picks), as these can be easily taken advantage of with careful study of team tendencies and player profiles. I could also see these being offered as live bets during the draft, so be sure to keep an eye out even after the draft kicks off.
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