A Very ‘Tough’ NFL Draft Market Gets A New Favorite At Number One

Defensive end Travon Walker suddenly has the shortest odds to be the first pick at Thursday's NFL Draft
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It may be a tired cliche, but it doesn’t make it any less true: Life comes at you fast in the NFL Draft betting markets.

Sunday afternoon, defensive end Travon Walker of the University of Georgia was as high as +190 at DraftKings to be the No. 1 pick. He trailed fellow defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson of the University of Michigan, who was at -200 or higher across all books.

And then … not so much. The script flipped — if a second tired cliche is allowed — and Walker catapulted to favorite status.

It was just the latest in what has, thus far, been the most unpredictable NFL draft in recent memory.

And for sports bettors, the unpredictability, if played right, can lead to massive wins in this information game.

I actually think that if bettors embrace the variance, this could be a more profitable draft than in years past,” said Anthony Amico, who works the draft prop market at Establish the Run.

All is not rosy

But this year, bettors have run into a problem. “There has been a noticeable lack of markets at a bunch of books,” Amico noted.

This sentiment was echoed by Connor Allen, the director of betting at 4for4 Fantasy FootballMany books last year posted massive losses and have been skittish about posting draft props this year,” Allen said.

Noted pro gambler Bill Krackomberger saw the same once he touched down in New Jersey to place his wagers. “What a difference from last year,” he said. “I flew to Atlantic City to bet the draft and am kind of upset.” 

Krackomberger said DraftKings was taking just about everything, whereas FanDuel had much lower limits and wouldn’t take action at the counter. The DraftKings note, in fact, was also high on Amico’s and Allen’s lists of positive developments in this year’s draft season.

DraftKings has actually done a good job of getting a lot of props out there relative to most other shops,” Allen noted.

“Shoutout to DraftKings — and PointsBet — for putting out tons of stuff still with the competition lacking,” Amico said.

Even Circa, widely considered to be the bettors’ best friend in the business, was waiting until Monday afternoon to issue any NFL Draft markets. A Circa spokesman denied comment as to why, but it’s fair to wonder if Allen’s assessment that the books took a bath last year played into their decision, for variance cuts both ways.

Walker to the moon

Walker’s late ascent up the odds boards — which coincided with the release of NBC’s Peter King’s mock draft late Sunday — points to how wild this draft season has been. After all, Walker was still +600 at DraftKings less than a month ago to be the No. 1 pick.

“This year is tougher than the last two,” Krackomberger said. “You have to be as patient as possible, because if you have one guy wrong it could have a cascading effect on your entire draft.”

Krackomberger also noted the outsized effect some mock drafters have on the market. “Some of them affect the market big time,” he said.

That was evidenced early in mock draft season by The Athletic’s Dane Brugler. 

In late January, Brugler posted his second mock, and he had Ikem Ekwonu, an offensive lineman from North Carolina State, as the No. 1 pick.

At the time, Ekwonu’s odds to be first off the board were 100/1 at both DraftKings and PointsBet. Within hours of the mock being posted, the odds were knocked all the way down to +500.

As of Monday, Ekwonu’s odds sat at +1600 at FanDuel to be first off the board.

And before Thursday’s draft, Brugler and the rest of the other heavy mock draft hitters will be releasing their final mocks. If they all agree Walker is the pick, expect his odds to move significantly. If they don’t agree … well, Hutchinson is all the way up to +160 at BetRivers to be the No. 1 pick.

Other books straggle in

While DraftKings and PointsBet were first to market with numerous ways to bet the draft, most of the other online sportsbooks have waddled into the fray.

Caesars in particular has a robust market, and FanDuel has added something that is the closest thing to “easy money” there is in these markets: It allows parlay betting on top-three, top-five, top-10, and top-32 picks.

For instance, the lowest odds available on FanDuel for a top-32 pick is Trevor Penning, an offensive lineman for Northern Iowa and a virtual lock to be a first-rounder. His odds are at -700. But a bettor can match him with other near-lock first-rounders, like Arkansas wideout Treylon Burks (-500) and Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie (-500) for a not-terrible -155 parlay. 

Outside of the No. 1 pick, the biggest mystery in this year’s draft is when — and to which team — the quarterbacks are going, particularly Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, and Desmond Ridder. Mock drafts are all over the place with their placement, though expect plenty of movement as trade rumors will undoubtedly swirl in the coming days.

The first round of the NFL Draft starts at 8 p.m. ET Thursday and will be broadcast on ABC, ESPN, and The NFL Network.   

Photo: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY

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