The 5 prop bets to make on the 2021 NFL Draft
By Rob Rang
FOX Sports NFL Draft Analyst
Even the unluckiest bettor could have forecasted that when the Nevada Gaming Control Board began allowing prop bets on the annual NFL Draft back in 2017, the money was going to start rolling in.
After all, the draft has become the second-most popular event in the NFL, behind only the Super Bowl – the most widely bet sporting event in the world each year.
And that, of course, was long before anyone anticipated that a worldwide pandemic would force us all to be that much more creative in finding entertainment.
How many bets are there? The answer to that question is limited only by your imagination, with 14 categories to choose from, including predicting which player will be the first selected at each position, which player(s) your favorite team will take in the first round, the number of offensive or defensive players selected among the top 32 and more customized bets than some rival online sportsbook offer for the entire NFL draft.
We’ve ranked five great bets in descending order below, starting with a dark horse that could pay big, following with a parlay worthy of a party and finishing with as sure a thing as the 2021 NFL Draft has to offer.
Virtually every interview I’ve done in the weeks leading up to this year’s draft has included a question about the San Francisco 49ers’ target at No. 3 overall. The betting favorite for this selection has swung back and forth between Alabama’s Mac Jones (the current favorite at FOXBet at -162) and Ohio State’s Justin Fields (+125).
I think either could be successful in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. He had great success with a traditional drop-back passer in Matt Ryan while serving as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator prior to taking over as head coach for San Francisco, and Fields’ dual-threat talent and grit are undeniably intriguing, especially in Shanahan’s offense (more on this later). However, with incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo still on the roster, the 49ers have time to develop a quarterback should they want to do so.
Lance has some Patrick Mahomes-like throws on tape, and I know scouts who think he – not presumptive No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence – is the quarterback with the highest ceiling in this class. I’m a huge fan of Shanahan’s ability to develop quarterbacks and think the 49ers might be willing to gamble on their coach as well.
4. Medicals making money
FOX Bet has set up nine "Head to Head" bets pitting players at the same position against each other, gambling that you will not be able to correctly determine which of the Alabama wideouts will hear his name called first Thursday or whether it will be Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond, Stanford’s Davis Mills or Florida’s Kyle Trask who comes off the board first, following the so-called "Big Five" quarterbacks.
Among the better plays, in my opinion, is at cornerback, where two legitimate first-round talents at the position line up opposite each other in Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley and Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II. Both players have plenty of medical questions that will impact their draft stocks. While Newsome is smaller than Farley and has missed at least three games in each of his three seasons at Northwestern, his injuries have been relatively minor, and he has never had to undergo surgery. Farley, on the other hand, has had three of them, including one in March on his back and another to repair a torn ACL suffered on a non-contact drill in 2017.
I think the experts are backing the wrong cornerback on this one, with Farley (-200) the favorite to be drafted ahead of Newsome, a better athlete than we normally see coming from Northwestern and a value at +145.
3. Custom bets: Do you trust my mock draft?
FOX Bet offers 32 customized bet options, including one in which you would have to get five players selected in the correct order: Lawrence first overall (a pick currently owned by the Jaguars), BYU’s Zach Wilson at No. 2 (New York Jets), Fields at No. 3 (San Francisco 49ers), Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell at No. 5 (Cincinnati Bengals) and Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons going ninth overall (Denver Broncos).
Lawrence is as close to a sure thing for No. 1 overall as you are ever going to find in an NFL draft, and BYU’s Wilson to the Jets is seen by many as a virtual lock as well. With all due respect to Jones, Fields is a better fit in the rollout game Shanahan has preferred in the past. His accuracy on the move is far superior to that of Jones, and Fields proved his mettle against elite competition dating to high school, unlike the previously mentioned Lance.
The Bengals could opt to reunite Joe Burrow with Ja’Marr Chase at No. 5 overall, but protecting their quarterback from the dominant edge rushers of the AFC North should be priority No. 1, and Sewell is special.
I really like the fit of Parsons in Denver with defensive-minded head coach Vic Fangio, and my instincts weren’t wrong two years ago, when I correctly forecast in a similar prop bets article that then-GM John Elway would fall for strong-armed Missouri quarterback Drew Lock.
This bet is essentially a five-pick parlay, and that carries plenty of risk, but there is a significant reward at +1300. A $25 wager would land you a cool $350 return if everything worked out.
2. Riding the unicorn to the bank?
The toughest part of projecting the NFL draft is accounting for trades, which can (and assuredly will) throw a wrench into everything at some point.
In my conversations with clubs recently, the player generating the most buzz in potential trade-ups is easily Florida’s star pass-catcher, Kyle Pitts, affectionately referred to as a "unicorn" by some talent evaluators because of his unbelievable package of size, speed and catch radius.
One isn’t going to be able to send the kids away to college with Pitts' line at -154, but a $50 bet would return $82.50. If Chase (+245) or Sewell (+320) is more your style, that same $50 bet would get you $172.50 or $210.00 if the NFL teams play along.
1. Betting on Bama’s ballers to get picked first
Years ago, I had a general manager rationalize his selection of an interior offensive lineman in the first round with the simple truth that one is rarely fired for drafting a Pro Bowler.
Following that same "Keep It Simple, Stupid" strategy, it feels like easy money to place bets on Alabama’s Najee Harris (-182) and Patrick Surtain II (-250) to be the first players drafted at running back and cornerback, respectively. One isn’t going to get rich with this wager, but a $50 bet on both (for a total of $100) would return a fairly safe investment, with an additional $47.50 of profit in your pocket.
One of the most recognized names in the industry, Rob Rang has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com, Yahoo, USA Today, NFL.com and NFLDraftscout.com, among others.