Apr 14, 2020
Apr 14, 2020

A guide to 2020 NFL Draft betting

Does the NFL Draft matter?

What 2020 Draft props to consider?

A basic NFL Draft betting strategy

A guide to 2020 NFL Draft betting

The NFL will be holding their annual draft from April 23-25. Unlike any years prior, the Draft will be held in a virtual setting. Without any other sports being played around the globe, there are hundreds of 2020 NFL Draft betting options. More eyes on the market can mean more efficient pricing, but also more work for bookmakers and more opportunities for bettors. Here are some thoughts on navigating a wild two weeks ahead.

Does the NFL Draft matter?

The media build-up to the NFL Draft is enormous. From late February through the free agency period in March and up to the first pick in late April, there is wall to wall coverage on every major sports network. With such an emphasis on the Draft, it’s surprised to work back and see how little the betting market values the impact of rookies in the season ahead.

In the past five seasons, only four teams of the 160 market options have had their Super Bowl odds increase by more than 2% from the start to the end of the Draft week.

Odds movement after NFL Draft

Year

Team

Pre-Draft odds

Post Draft odds

Change

2017

New England Patriots 

5.50

4.50

4.04%

2019

Cleveland Browns 

31.00

15.00

3.44%

2018

Los Angeles Rams 

21.00

13.00

2.93%

2018

San Francisco 49ers 

26.00

17.00

2.04%

What is equally surprising is that three of the four teams (New England, Cleveland and Los Angeles) did not draft in the first round and there were no notable transactions by any of these teams during Draft week. New England and Los Angeles did not draft until the third round, and Cleveland owned the 46th pick of the 2019 Draft. In 2018, San Francisco drafted in the middle of the first round and took an offensive lineman.

The lack of impact draftees have on the betting market relative to trading for existing players is understandable. Players already in the league have established value in the betting market, while rookies entering the league are an unknown, and often potential, downgrade. Bettors can add or subtract existing player value from rosters with a baseline more accurately than guessing with new players.

Scouting and drafting players is also a coin flip proposition. Since 2010, first-round draft picks have averaged a success rate of 53% using the approximate value metric from Pro Football Reference. First-round quarterbacks have had a higher rate near 60%, but skill position players have been in the 40% range consistently year after year. Considering the most elite skill position players in the league typically do not impact a point spread more than 1 to 1.5 points above their replacement, it is a long shot to find a player in the Draft that can move the betting market.

Aditionally, the market selection for this evaluation which can cloud the numbers. The Super Bowl futures market has an enormous priced in margin. Margins ranged from 118-122% for the five years of odds data sourced. With such a large cushion to work with and pre-existing risk accumulated through previous bets, bookmakers may get new information through bets that a team has upgraded in the Draft, but not need to adjust.

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NFL Draft Odds

NFL Draft betting: What to consider

Due to the impact COVID-19 is having on the worldwide sports scene, NFL Draft propositions have been posted online since the middle of March. With no other betting events for bookmakers to focus on, the availability of propositions is greater than any season before.

For the bookmakers offering hundreds of individual prop markets, it is a huge challenge to move each one in synchronicity and bettors can benefit off of the lag and shop for prices that correlate to a move in a widely applicable market.

Bookmakers typically do not have a full menu of propositions available until the second or third week in April. Before the calendar flipped from March to April this season, bookmakers not only had a full menu of primary Draft propositions available but secondary and tertiary offerings as well. With the Draft now fast approaching, every bookmaker has hundreds of propositions posted.

From a betting perspective, this is both good and bad. The expanded menu of betting options creates more opportunities to find a mispriced proposition. However, because the Draft is the main focus of all bettors without any other sports available, price discovery is accelerated. Within minutes of many propositions going up, they are corrected and bet into place.

Assumptions that Draft propositions will be more efficient this season than any years past may be a bit premature. The increased influence that the media are going to have on the Draft is just beginning. In a “normal” draft year, all propositions are driven by news. 

Teams will send scouts and personnel staff to different locations across the country to evaluate the workouts of different players in the Draft. With Covid-19 restricting travel for organisations in addition to preventing any cross-staff physicals, team personnel are at the mercy of video calls and reporters to further examine potential picks.

We’ve already seen that well in advance of the Draft, a comment about Tua Tagovailoa – the second quarterback prospect in the draft – failing a physical for an unmentioned team ballooned his Over/Under for Draft positioning one spot. The comment was followed up a day later by a national reporter saying that he impressed on a private video which moved his Draft pricing back near to its prior number.

Despite no public confirmation of either comment, the impact anybody with an audience can have on these propositions this year is becoming clear. The majority of all NFL Draft content is opinion and not fact-based to provoke a response to generate clicks. The race for clicks this year will be more aggressive than ever, and Draft odds will ping pong around as reporters try to one-up each other.

The middle and latter part of March saw the markets move in a forward-looking manner. During the remainder of the time leading up to the Draft, the markets will be in full reaction mode. It is crucial to notice the difference before snap betting any price moves. 

A basic NFL Draft betting strategy

A lot of value can be extracted from proposition markets by correlating bets around a specific handicap. With the Draft prop market specifically, bettors need to ask themselves if they know more than the market. For the majority of people reading this, the answer is likely to be no. 

All hope is not lost.

As mentioned earlier, there are more betting options available this season than any year prior. For the bookmakers offering hundreds of individual prop markets, it is a huge challenge to move each one in synchronicity and bettors can benefit off of the lag and shop for prices that correlate to a move in a widely applicable market. For example, one of my biggest correlated plays is on wide receivers drafted in the first round.

I started by noticing the price of offensive players vs. defensive players drafted in the first round beginning to tip towards offensive players. The price opened as low as 1.91 per side but shot up at many bookmakers to 1.77 and 1.71. As that price was starting to move up, “Under 4.5 Quarterbacks Drafted in the First Round” was beginning to move up as well. The under started at 1.50 and quickly moved up towards 1.33.

Knowing that the betting market was correcting prices on both of the markets, I started to make the inference that offensive players that were not quarterbacks drafted in the first round would start to increase in value. Shortly after both widely applicable markets began to move offensive linemen drafted in the first round started to rise. I quickly bet into my favourite proposition bet of the Draft, “Over 5.5 Wide Receivers Drafted in the First Round” at odds of 1.67. Within the next 24 hours, the priced moved to 1.36.

To further build on the correlation, I started to supplement the “Over 5.5 Wide Receivers” prop with individual wide receivers drafted in the first round. In total, I have four different wide receivers to be selected in the first round in addition to two wide receivers under their projected position. Six of the seven bets in the account are ahead of the current market price. 

I say this not to gloat nor boast, but to illustrate the idea of finding value through correlation and letting price moves in more widely applicable markets identify places to begin looking for value in other markets off of the radar. Timing is still critical, and there is a need to move quickly, but with the influence, the media will have on markets the next two weeks, many bettors will focus on betting the main story, while the value will be in related markets off the radar.

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