With less than two weeks to go before the 2015 NFL Draft, the football odds are starting to crank up for the biggest spectacle of the offseason. Is Jameis Winston really a deadbolt lock to go No. 1 overall?
For the first time in nearly a decade, the NFL Draft will not take place at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Football’s annual player selection meeting kicks off April 30 at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, with ESPN and the NFL Network on hand to provide wall-to-wall coverage of the league’s biggest offseason event. It just keeps getting bigger, too. Early draft odds have already been published for the props market, much earlier than usual this year. While we wait for these props to hit our official NFL odds board, let’s see what kind of numbers we might be looking at once they do.
If you’re not frightened by chalk, the easiest bet on the board appears to be right at the top, where Jameis Winston is a –400 favorite to be selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. All indications are that the Buccaneers will pull the trigger on Winston, who played two years with the Florida State Seminoles, winning the National Championship and the Heisman Trophy after his 2013 freshman season.
Not that there aren’t some reservations when it comes to Winston. He’s gotten himself into plenty of trouble over the past couple of years. But Tampa Bay (2-14 SU, 7-9 ATS last year) needs a viable franchise quarterback, and if people are willing to overlook Winston’s indiscretions, he’s got the NFL-ready tools to be a quality starter right out of the box.
Or does he? Football Outsiders has broken down the advanced stats and given Winston a 61.3-percent chance of being a bust. According to their QBASE model, Winston’s projections are even worse than those of JaMarcus Russell and Tim Couch, two of the more notable No. 1 QB picks to go busto in the NFL. Football Outsiders gives Winston a 12.8-percent chance of becoming a quality starter after three years, and 25.8 percent to become merely adequate.
There is another Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback available this year. Marcus Mariota is coming off a fine junior campaign with the Oregon Ducks, thumping Winston and the Seminoles (+7.5) 59-20 at the Rose Bowl before falling to the Ohio State Buckeyes (+6) at the National Championship Game. But Mariota didn’t learn a “pro-style” offense at Oregon; he worked primarily out of the spread under head coaches Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich.
That doesn’t appear to suit Tampa Bay. Head coach Lovie Smith is a traditionally minded coach, and not the type to care much what QBASE has to say about anything. Initially, it appeared that the Tennessee Titans were willing to take a pass on Mariota with the No. 2 pick, as well. But after a strong combine, and with QBASE giving Mariota only a 22.8 percent chance of busting out, it looks like Tennessee will trade the pick for value, if not take Mariota outright. He’s priced at even money to go at least as high as No. 3.
Things get a lot fuzzier when it comes to the top prospects at the other “skill” positions. Who will be the first wide receiver off the board? Alabama’s Amari Cooper and West Virginia’s Kevin White are knotted at –120 for that wager, with both wideouts pegged at an over/under of 5.5 on the Draft Position props. However, Cooper appears to be the preferred choice of the two, and isn’t widely expected to fall any further than the Oakland Raiders at No. 4, so keep that in mind when making your NFL picks.
Then you have the battle at running back between Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. Again, each player is priced at –120 to get picked before the other, with the over/under for draft position set at 20.5. And again, it looks like Gurley is more likely to go first, perhaps as high as the San Diego Chargers at No. 17. Let’s see if those early football odds hold up by the time they land on our board.