NFL Draft Betting: How Many Offensive Linemen Will Go in the First Round?
Lots of positions are generating buzz for being better-than-usual heading into the 2020 NFL draft.
The quarterback class has the top-end talent in Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. The wide receivers have been touted as being one of the strongest bunches to ever enter the pool at once.
Sneakily, the offensive line talent is right up there, as well. That makes betting on the class extra intriguing.
Right now at FanDuel Sportsbook, the total on offensive linemen taken in the first round is set at 6.5 with +108 on the over and -142 on the under. That number is actually the highest of any position that FanDuel has posted, which makes sense given how many you need on each roster. But it's still a number that sticks out as being high when you sprinkle in historic context.
Even with that being said, the over here looks pretty enticing. Let's discuss why that's the case.
Before digging into this year's class specifically, it helps to have a baseline to work with from previous years. We have to know what numbers are viewed as being large at the position before we can take a stance on whether we'll see more than six go in the first.
Hitting the over would be a deviation from recent history. Across the past three drafts, an average of just four offensive linemen have gone in the first round per year with a max of six. But if you dig back a bit further, 6.5 looks less outlandish.
We've had an average of 5.5 offensive linemen go in the first per year over the past eight drafts, and the over has hit on 6.5 three times. This still would encourage us to bet the under, but it shows that 2017 to 2019 weren't necessarily in line with what's normal.
This gives us some leeway when looking at the class. If we think it's actually an improvement over what we've seen in previous years, we can feel good about getting plus money on the over. The draft experts seem a bit torn on whether that's the case.
What the Experts Say
In a mock draft released Tuesday morning, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. slotted seven offensive linemen in the first round. Four were gone in the first 14 picks, and three others went toward the back end of the round.
Kiper's clearly one of the most plugged in guys in this industry, so we need to put a lot of stock in how he views things playing out. Unfortunately, when we expand the search and include other mocks, our path gets less definitive.
|Most Recent Mocks||Kiper||McShay||Casserly||Jeremiah|
|Linemen Taken in First||7||5||6||6|
Kiper's the only person to hit the over on our number at 6.5, and McShay was actually two short of it with just five in the first round. That likely means this number at 6.5 is pretty spot on.
One important note is that McShay's and Jeremiah's mocks took place before free agency while Kiper's and Casserly's took place after. Both the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers have added first-round picks since then while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers potentially became more likely to snag a tackle thanks to their hole at quarterback being filled by Tom Brady. In fact, Kiper and Casserly both had the Bucs taking a tackle in the first round whereas McShay and Jeremiah did not.
This likely means that we should put extra weight on the Kiper and Casserly mocks because they had more relevant information to work with. Ideally, we'd be able to wait until more mocks from respected analysts come out so that we can get a better picture.
But betting doesn't work that way. With Kiper putting seven linemen in the first round, there's a chance this number at FanDuel Sportsbook isn't available much longer. As such, we need to try to get ahead of the curve and look at other sources to decide where things are going to settle before the numbers move against us. That's where the combine comes into play.
Buying Into Athleticism
Using combine numbers for offensive lineman is an imperfect science because there's clearly so much that goes into playing these positions. You can't measure technique at an event like this.
Still, data says that NFL talent evaluators do factor the combine into their decision-making.
Because offensive linemen come in all shapes and sizes, it's important to adjust for weight when looking at combine numbers. We'll do that for each player to work out at the combine since 2010 with a mark of 100 being average for someone of that player's weight in each category.
Once we make those adjustments, here's the correlation between each of the big category's weight-adjusted numbers and where the player went in the draft, starting with the tackles.
|Workout||Correlation to Draft Pick|
|Adjusted 40-Yard Dash||-0.399|
|Adjusted Broad Jump||-0.256|
And here's the same for interior linemen.
|Workout||Correlation to Draft Pick|
|Adjusted 40-Yard Dash||-0.229|
|Adjusted Broad Jump||-0.300|
Athleticism seems to impact draft stock more at tackle than it does on the interior. Luckily for us, most of the guys being mocked in the first round count for the former.
This should mean that we can look at what players did at the combine and get an idea for how many could go in the first round. If evaluators have put stock in these numbers in the past, you'd expect them to do the same in 2020.
A key for this will be finding players who fit the athleticism mold of previous first-round picks at their positions, putting extra weight on the numbers that evaluators seemingly value most. Once again, we can look at the data to get an idea of this.
Looking at the tackles taken in the first round since 2010, here are their averages in the most relevant weight-adjusted combine workouts, again with 100 being average at the position. The column on the right shows how many tackles in the 2020 class met or exceeded that number.
|Workout||Average Among First-Rounders||2020 Tackles Above Threshold|
|Adjusted 40-Yard Dash||102.51||10|
The 10 tackles to beat a mark of 102.51 in the 40-yard dash is up from five in last year's class, and three of those five (Andre Dillard, Tytus Howard, and Kaleb McGary) eventually were first-round picks.
The numbers for the three-cone and shuttle are obviously less glowing. However, it's important to note that not all linemen take part in each workout.
This year, only 13 of 26 tackles at the combine took part in the three-cone and just 14 did the shuttle. Included among those who sat out at least one of these workouts were Mekhi Becton, Jedrick Wills, and Josh Jones, all of whom are likely first-rounders.
The participation was much higher in the 40-yard dash with 23 of 26 tackles competing there, and a whopping 10 of them clocked in with numbers comparable to past first-round picks. That's even with both Jones and Andrew Thomas missing the cut with numbers right around 100.
Basically, the tackles -- in the drills where they actually participated -- did have good times, and some of those who didn't are still good bets to come off the board early. That's a plus for the over.
Participation was even lower at the interior positions with 11 of 26 invitees doing nothing outside of either the bench or the 40, neither of which had a heavy correlation to a player's draft position. Those who did work out, though, showed out well in relevant metrics.
|Workout||Average Among First-Rounders||2020 Interiors Above Threshold|
|Adjusted Broad Jump||101.68||10|
This one may actually be more noteworthy than what the tackles did even with lower participation.
The one constant across the mock drafts from the experts is that all four had five tackles in the first round: Becton, Wills, Wirfs, Thomas, and Jones. We can lock those five in as being first-round picks, at least for this exercise.
The question becomes whether any others sneak into the back end of the first round. This is risky given that teams could trade back up into the first round in order to lock in fifth-year options at valuable positions, but if we're going to get the over to hit, we need two players outside of those five tackles to get plucked late.
Kiper had one of them being Cesar Ruiz, a center out of Michigan going 32nd overall to the Kansas City Chiefs. Ruiz had great numbers in both the broad jump and the vertical (sixth-best weight-adjusted vertical among interior linemen at the combine since 2010), and there are teams with needs up the middle drafting in this part of the round. With Travis Frederick announcing Monday he is retiring, there's even an outside chance the Dallas Cowboys could be in play up at 17 overall.
With how athletic the interior linemen were at the combine and with the number of teams potentially considering linemen on the rise, it's hard to see the number on the over getting any longer than it is right now. That's even more true with the most recent Kiper mock pegging this thing to hit the over. This looks like a situation where if you want to enter this market, you'd be wisest to do so right now and side with the over.
It's true that betting the over on 6.5 does mean we're going against recent draft history and -- to an extent -- what the mocks are saying. For a couple reasons, that doesn't mean it's a bad idea.
First, recent mocks -- after some needs have been filled in free agency -- have hinted that the over is very much in play. We could see even more of those needs filled in the final month leading into the draft, opening teams up to dabble elsewhere.
Second, based on the athletic numbers, this does seem to be a talented class relative to what we've seen in years past. Lots of tackles beat our baseline in the 40-yard dash, and a handful of interior players bolstered their stock by laying down quality numbers in workouts that front offices have valued historically. If teams do get extra freedom to deviate from their current needs, there's a good chance they shift their focus to the offensive line.
Finally, we have a good floor of offensive linemen we can say almost with certainty will go early. With five different tackles all going in the first in each mock draft, we can bank on five going, potentially all as quickly as the first 20 picks. We don't need much to break our way in order to get a seventh guy into this first round.
With all of these forces combining, it seems unlikely that we still get +108 on the over for much longer. As such, now's a good time to take the plunge, bet the over, and see how the dominoes fall one month from now.