NFL Draft Betting: Who Will Be the First Wide Receiver Selected?
We are getting ever closer to the 2021 NFL, Draft and whole host of new markets have opened over at FanDuel Sportsbook for those who enjoy a flutter on such things.
Wagering on who will be the first wide receiver drafted is one such bet you can make. Right now it's a two-man race as the odds fall off in a big way after Ja'Marr Chase and Devonta Smith.
Let's look at those two favorites plus a couple of long shots who could offer some value.
Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
FanDuel Sportsbook Odds: -135
We didn’t see Ja'Marr Chase in 2020, as he opted out of the season due to COVID concerns. But when he was last on the field, he was carrying out the small matter of catching 84 passes for 1,780 yards with 20 touchdowns for national champion LSU. Not surprisingly, the yards and touchdowns led the NCAA in 2019.
The lack of Chase in 2020 has not dampened the NFL's enthusiasm for him. Given his prototypical size (6-1, 208 pounds), elite production, and the ease with which former teammate Justin Jefferson took to the NFL as a rookie, Chase would seem to be worthy of being the first wideout taken.
Devonta Smith, Alabama
But maybe some team would prefer to take a receiver who tore up college football this past year -- Alabama's Devonta Smith. Smith was even more dominant this year than Chase was in 2019. Smith led the nation with 117 receptions, 1,856 receiving yards, and 23 receiving touchdowns.
Smith was no one-year wonder, either. He finished his time at 'Bama with 235 receptions, the third most in SEC history. No SEC player has more career receiving yards or touchdowns than Smith, who amassed 3,965 yards and found the end zone 46 times. Per PlayerProfiler, Smith's college dominator rating (96th percentile) and yards per catch (95th percentile) were top-shelf clips.
The major knock on Smith is his weight as he was listed at only 175 pounds. While that's a legit worry, Smith's elite production should outweigh most any concern teams have. And there's always a chance he weighs in a little heavier during the pre-draft period. He could easily go off the board before Chase on draft night, and in a lot of draft classes, Smith or Chase would be the clear top dog at wideout.
Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
As seems to the case in most years, there is not just one Alabama wide receiver expected to go in the first round. Smith finished 2020 in record-breaking fashion, but things might have been different had Jaylen Waddle stayed healthy. Through the first four games of the season, Smith had caught 38 passes for 483 yards and four scores. Waddle had 13 fewer receptions but 74 more yards while also scoring four times.
Waddle was by no means dominant when healthy, never commanding more than 12.8% of the targets in a single season. But his incredible production -- his average of 21.1 yards per reception is in the 96th percentile, according to PlayerProfiler, albeit on a small sample -- in 2020 could entice a team with a high draft pick to take him ahead of Chase and Smith. We've seen big-play weapons like Marquise Brown and Henry Ruggs be the first receivers taken in each of the past two drafts.
Kadarius Toney, Florida
Karius Toney emerged as a focal point of the Florida Gators' offense in 2020 after three fairly ordinary seasons leading up to his final year.
Before 2020, Toney had only 50 receptions for 606 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He blew past all of these marks as a senior, catching 70 balls for 984 yards and scoring 10 times. Toney finished inside the top 10 in this draft class in both yards per target (11.3) and yards after the catch per reception (7.3). But he profiles as a slot option in the NFL, and while his deeds this past year are admirable and he is generating first-round buzz, it would be absolutely stunning if he were to be the first receiver chosen.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC
If we are looking for real outsiders, look no further than Amon-Ra St Brown. The younger brother of Equanimeous of the Green Bay Packers, St. Brown caught 60 passes for USC as an 18-year-old freshman in 2019. These catches brought him 750 yards and three scores. As a sophomore a year later, he hauled in 77 balls for 1,042 yards with six touchdowns. This past season, St. Brown played in just six games, and while his receptions and yardage tallies are not out of this world (41 for 478), he still scored seven times.
St. Brown is not a particularly explosive player, and while he has NFL bloodlines and a bodybuilding dad who boasts some interesting ideas with regards to fitness and preparation, he is not a player who is likely to vault to the front of the wide receiver queue on draft night. But I’m confident he’ll hear his name called at some point.
It might seem boring -- and if you were a gambler, you may think me soft -- but my money would be on Chase being the first wideout taken. What Chase offers -- his physical attributes and production -- makes him one of the most exciting prospects at wide receiver for many a year. And we’ve seen some belters in recent years.
If pushed to pick a long shot, Waddle going before Smith and Chase would not completely blow my tiny mind. But Waddle is +1000 for a reason.