LAS VEGAS — Recent mammoth interest in the NFL Draft has been reflected on the big screens at Mandalay Bay, BetMGM’s headquarters. When that first round begins, the audience demands to hear its audio, not the rival NBA Playoffs.
“They want the sound on the draft rather than any NBA playoff game,” says BetMGM director of trading Jeff Stoneback. “Look at the way they televise it, in prime time. Look at all the people who flock to the cities that hold it. It’s a huge event now.
“Look what they did in Nashville [in 2019]. Ours will be even bigger and grander than Nashville, which was a big hit and well attended. This town will be hopping for the draft.”
The event had been New York-centric — Jets fans raining boos upon whomever the franchise picked — until 2015, when the league opened a bidding process to prospective hosts. It landed in Chicago for ’15 and ’16, Philadelphia in 2017, and Dallas a year later.
Vegas had been slated to play draft host in 2020, but that was pandemic-delayed to this year. Cleveland staged last year’s event. It’s slated for Kansas City next year and Detroit in 2024.
The 2022 NFL Draft kicks off Thursday evening, amid a floating stage in Bellagio’s fountains, as neon and fans and the NFL shield all vie for the Strip spotlight. The second round is Friday, and the third through seventh rounds take place Saturday.
“I’m looking forward to it,” says DraftKings director of operations Johnny Avello. “It’ll be a big deal, and there will probably be more people in town than New Year’s Eve.”
Officials expect double the typical 300,000-person crowd that visits annually for the last day of the year, quite a boom for a city that was so decimated by the pandemic.
Local merchants have been peddling “NFL Draft 2022 Las Vegas” key chains, bottle openers, decals, lanyards, and koozies for bottles and cans.
Oddsmakers Hate Booking NFL Draft
Protecting theirs is why many sportsbook directors despise posting NFL draft propositions because, more than maybe any other niche, the public can beat the house.
The South Point first posted its props Thursday, a single sheet dotted with props on both sides. The Westgate SuperBook waited until the Monday of Draft Week to hang odds, and Ed Salmons, vice president of risk, told Gaming Today editor Marcus DiNitto the event is his shop’s least favorite to book. Wished good luck, Salmons responded, “We’re going to need it, believe me.”
The Golden Nugget passed altogether on exposing itself to smart action.
“It’s just too tough,” said a Golden Nugget ticket writer. “There’s just too many players, just too much work.”
And despite all the typical hype and hoopla, a Shakespearean comedy — Much Ado About Nothing — might aptly describe a draft lacking a top-flight quarterback or someone with absolute sizzle.
“It’s one of the least-anticipated drafts that I can ever remember,” says Long Island handicapper Tom Barton. “There are just no top guys out there that people are drooling over. I think that really matters. People really believe that these potential first-round quarterbacks might all be total, utter busts.
“Go back to 2013, which was probably the worst draft in history. I remember thinking, during it, ‘This is awful.’ And everyone knew it would be awful. I won’t be surprised if this draft is sort of like that one. There’s no massive difference-maker.”
At No. 1: Hutch or Walker
That notion, however, doesn’t mean the 2022 NFL Draft will lack interest, or that large amounts of money won’t be changing hands — or betting accounts — during its three days.
The top overall selection has, once again, drawn the most interest at DraftKings, says Avello. That is impressive, since DK had posted at least 30 props toward the end of last week and, according to Avello, is adding more by the day.
I know of one public figure who wagered $500, at 18-to-1 odds at one shop, that Georgia defensive end Travon Walker — a 6-foot-5, 275-pound specimen of an athlete — will go No. 1 to Jacksonville. That shop immediately cut Walker’s No. 1 odds to 10-1, and my source followed suit with another $500 on him to be the first name called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Walker, in fact, has surpassed Aidan Hutchinson as the favorite to be selected first overall, listed at -150 at DraftKings as of Monday. He is -1000 to be among the top five picks.
Georgia's Travon Walker is now the consensus favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick at sportsbooks.
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) April 25, 2022
“Who will go first is always the most popular,” says Avello. “Always has been, because it’s up first. There have been changes, and the leader has changed three or four times already.”
Hutchinson, a 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive end out of Michigan, was the favorite to go No. 1 until the week of the draft. He’s now the +140 second choice at DraftKings with an over/under draft position of 1.5 (ov -180, un +135).
On March 1, at WynnBET, Hutchinson was +300 to go first. Those early on him might reap solid dividends. At that time, Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal opened as the -105 favorite.
To go second at DraftKings, Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux is +200, Hutchinson -130, Walker +475. At third, North Carolina State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu is +300, Neal +400, Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner +350.
At the South Point, Walker’s draft spot of 3.5 (over +210, unde -250). Ekwonu’s 4.5 (-110 either way), as is Neal’s 5.5; Sauce is 5.5 (over +100, under -120).
Odds and prices, as always, are subject to change.
Barton says this draft will be remembered for its raft of standout receivers, which seems to be the consensus. He secured what he considers to be his best wager a few weeks ago, when he nabbed ‘over 5’, on receivers to be picked in the first round, at -275.
He has seen that move to 5.5 (over -250). Station Casinos has its first-round receivers total at 6 (-115 either way). By the late second round, Barton expects as many as 10 wide receivers will have been nabbed.
“Everyone needs receivers,” he says. “I think it’ll be, ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t believe how many receivers went’ … To me, that’s going to be the story of the draft when we look back on it.”
Garrett Wilson (Ohio State), Drake London (USC), Jameson Williams (Ohio State), Chris Olave (Ohio State), and Treylon Burks (Arkansas) are considered the top quintet, roughly in that order.
Next comes Jahan Dotson (Penn State), Christian Watson (North Dakota State), George Pickens (injured all last season at Georgia), Tyquan Thornton (Baylor), and Skyy Moore (Western Michigan).
John Metchie III (Alabama) and Justyn Ross (Clemson) might squeeze into those first few rounds, too.
At William Hill (rebranded Caesars Sportsbook throughout most of the U.S.), Iowa State’s Breece Hall is the -275 favorite to be the first running back taken, Ekonwu is the narrow -150 favorite to be the first offensive lineman drafted, and Liberty’s Malik Willis is the -220 choice to be the first quarterback chosen.
Station Casinos offers a variety of options. With their first pick, will the Jets take an offensive lineman (+180), defensive lineman (+200), or receiver (+250), among 10 position choices? Will the Packers tap a receiver (+180), offensive lineman (+200), or quarterback (+10000)?
On another sheet, do the Cowboys go offense (-130) with their first pick, or defense (even-money). Do the Ravens go offense (+110) or defense (-140)? Do the Seahawks go offense (-160) or defense (+130)?
Don’t Sleep on Burks
Phil, a betting pal, is passionate about college football, and he’s netted more than 50 units in his combined action on collegiate and professional basketball this season? He’s been busy.
He has only vague interest in the NFL Draft because he hasn’t got the time, connections, or information to do it justice.
“My head exploded looking at all the betting options,” he says. “I’m watching and taping all of the college football spring games, so those have my attention. I will watch the draft, but just for fun.”
He does believe the steal of the draft will be Treylon Burks of the Razorbacks.
A 6-foot-3, 225-pound target whose 40-yard dash is closer to 4.6 seconds than 4.5, DraftKings has pegged his draft slot at 23.5, (under -120, over -110). He’s physical and versatile, and Phil says Burks might emulate Deebo Samuel, a true NFL danger man running or receiving.
“He has great hands, can play in the slot and at running back. He’s just a beast, and I think he’s way under the radar.”
Phil also favors quarterback Matt Corral of Ole Miss over Pitt’s Kenny Pickett in a big way. At the South Point, Pickett is the No. 2-listed QB, at +140, to get picked first among the position. Corral, at 15-to-1 odds, is fourth.
“I don’t think Pickett’s ready to play. He had a good offensive line, but he panicked. Corral doesn’t panic. Corral has a huge heart, he’s so tough.”
EJ Perry, Anyone?
Barton understands anyone’s reluctance to partake in draft props. His list of clients, many of whom he’s had for nearly 10 years, never demand draft selections. As he unearths a gem or two, though, he confers action.
He has an impressive pipeline of contacts, scouts, and resources, but he recommends newcomers take only minor stabs at some props.
“If your unit typically is 100 dollars,” says Barton, “I’d say pick two or three, and only bet five or ten bucks on them. Just have fun with it.”
He plans to watch some of it only because he’s so dialed into the college game. The Ivy League is a wheelhouse for Barton, who has a nationally syndicated show on the Sports Garten sports-betting radio network.
He believes someone will prosper by picking Brown quarterback EJ Perry, whom DraftKings lists at 200-to-1 odds to be the first QB selected.
Perry started his career at Boston College, and he led the FCS in total offense in 2019. He threw for 3,034 yards last season.
“Obviously he’s intelligent, very smart,” says Barton. “Maybe he doesn’t come in and be this great starter who leads a team to a championship, but I think he’ll be a sneaky pick, maybe the fourth or fifth quarterback selected, maybe the late second round, early third.
“Every single scout I’ve talked to talks about him. Every scout. A sure thing, not as a superstar, but to be a successful NFL quarterback. I don’t think a lot of the public understands, not everyone has to be a superstar. You do need role players. To get a backup quarterback with the talent of an EJ Perry, that’s a very, very good pick.”
The draft will finish, as usual, with Mr. Irrelevant, the final selection. It is overall selection No. 262, and San Francisco owns it as a compensatory pick. At DraftKings, it’s -115 on that person being an offensive player or a kicker, -115 on him being a defense player or punter.
“We try to give the consumer what they’re looking for,” says Avello. “We’ll do ‘in-game’ drafting just like last year, keep it open as the draft goes on.”