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Ben Gretch is back on OddsChecker to provide his best bets for the first round of the 2021 NFL draft

NFL First Round Draft Picks & Props

The NFL Draft kicks off Thursday night, and we should be in for a fantastic first round. By most accounts, the first two picks are more or less locked in, with Jacksonville expected to select Trevor Lawrence and the Jets eyeing Zach Wilson. The drama will start at pick No. 3, where the San Francisco 49ers will have their choice of the remaining quarterbacks after paying a significant cost to trade up early in the process. After their selection, the Falcons, Bengals, and Dolphins could all select offensive players, and many mock drafts don’t have a defensive player coming off the board until Pick 10 or later.

The draft is one of the best events on the NFL calendar, and the opinions, speculation, and outright misdirection make it a fun one to bet. Here are some of my favorite options for Thursday night’s first round.

View all the odds for the NFL draft here.

Team to Draft Ja’Marr Chase — Cincinnati Bengals, +110, Resortscasino.com

First Non-QB to be Drafted — Ja’Marr Chase, +250, DraftKings

Former LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase looks like a can’t-miss wide receiver prospect. He outproduced teammate Justin Jefferson in 2019 in LSU’s historic offense, and Jefferson went on to tear up the NFL in 2020. Chase then posted fantastic pro day numbers this offseason, seemingly putting to bed any concerns about his decision to opt out of the 2020 college football season.

With the first three picks all very likely to be quarterbacks, the question of first non-QB to be drafted comes down to the Falcons at No. 4 and the Bengals at No. 5. Tight end/superfreak Kyle Pitts is the favorite to be the first non-QB off the board as the betting favorite to go to Atlanta at four, but the Falcons do have two other options. They could see this as the opportunity to take their long-term replacement for Matt Ryan themselves, or they could potentially strike a deal to move out of the fourth pick with a team willing to come up and get a franchise signal-caller.

I like Chase to the Bengals at No. 5 after Cincinnati signed free agent offensive tackle Riley Reiff in the free agency period. The Bengals have long been a rumored landing spot for offensive tackle Penei Sewell, and Reiff is a veteran who was only given a one-year deal and could presumably kick inside to guard so his signing doesn’t necessarily preclude them from making that pick. But Chase has an ace in the hole as the potential pick here given that he played with franchise quarterback Joe Burrow at LSU, and the buzz has been steadily building that he could be their choice to pair with Tee Higgins and slot receiver Tyler Boyd after A.J. Green’s departure this offseason. I’m on the Chase to the Bengals bet, and I don’t mind a few bucks on Chase to be the first non-QB at longer odds, though of course in any scenario where a QB goes No. 4, the Bengals would also have the option of solving their tight end issues by taking Pitts themselves.

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That’s it! It doesn’t matter which team drafts a QB or which QB is drafted. All you need to cash in is any quarterback to be the first name to come off the board during Thursday’s first round of the NFL Draft.

Team to Draft Trey Lance — Carolina Panthers, +1300, DraftKings

Team to Draft Justin Fields — Carolina Panthers, +1600, BetMGM

The Panthers aren’t frequently mocked a quarterback after their trade for Sam Darnold, but we have to read between the lines a bit here. Carolina made it clear prior to Deshaun Watson’s legal situation that they were interested in offering significant trade capital to acquire the Texans’ quarterback, and they are obviously looking for a long-term answer at the position. The acquisition of Darnold did cost them future picks in the second and fourth rounds, as well as a 2021 sixth-rounder, but it wouldn’t be crazy to suggest they might not be entirely sold. One interesting point to that end is Carolina has been clear they won’t pick up Darnold’s fifth-year option until after the draft, with a deadline for that decision looming May 3. There have also been rumors they aren’t opposed to making multiple bets at the game’s most important position in the same offseason.

One concern for these bets is whether Carolina might trade out of the top 10, which is entirely possible and could be an explanation for them publicly waiting on Darnold’s option to try to drum up interest. At the same time, Carolina had personnel in attendance at both Lance’s and Fields’ pro days, and it’s at least possible they are in love with a quarterback in this class and are hoping that player slips to eight. With most insiders feeling Mac Jones is more and more likely to be the pick at No. 3 to the 49ers, and guys like Pitts, Chase, and Sewell expected to come off the board somewhere between picks four and six, it’s starting to look perhaps likely that one of Lance or Fields will be there when Carolina is on the clock. The question is whether they would pull the trigger on either, trade out, or perhaps make a pick elsewhere like offensive tackle as they are frequently mocked. But I love the idea of throwing a few bucks on both of these longshot bets before we get that answer.

Jaycee Horn, over/under pick 12.5 — Under, -112, DraftKings

South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn has been a riser over the pre-draft period in part thanks to an impressive pro day. He’s not the favorite to be the first cornerback off the board, but Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II is pretty heavily expected to go off the board by Pick 10 to the Cowboys, with the possibility he’s gone earlier. Horn could land in Dallas in that scenario, or he could be a fit for the Giants at 11 or Philadelphia at 12, and he’s very frequently mocked to the secondary-needy Eagles.

Despite rarely being mocked before the 10th pick, Horn’s Expected Draft Position at Grinding The Mocks is 12, and he’s typically not mocked any later than to the Cardinals at 16, which indicates he’s pretty universally seen as an option in the first half of the first round. That three-team stretch from Pick 10 to Pick 12 that could all feasibly go cornerback provides the appeal to this under 12.5 bet.

First Running Back Drafted — Travis Etienne, +160, William Hill

Last year, the Chiefs shocked most observers when they took Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the final pick of the first round to make him the first running back off the board. For most evaluators, Edwards-Helaire wasn’t a top-three back, with some combination of Jonathan Taylor, D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, or Cam Akers taking up those spots.

I don’t expect such a big shock this year, particularly because this RB class is not as deep as last year’s. There is a clear top three between Alabama’s Najee Harris, the odds-on favorite to go first, and then Clemson’s Etienne and UNC’s Javonte Williams. Williams is the darkhorse to go first — he’s typically mocked well into the second round as the third back off the board. Harris has been heavily linked to the Steelers at Pick 24, but Etienne is a more dynamic back who has been mocked even higher than that in recent days. I’m also just a little skeptical of the Harris to Pittsburgh reports, mostly because it’s hard to put a ton of stock on landing spots that deep in the first round. In other words, a lot can happen before Pick 24, and it’s tough to imagine the Steelers would want it known if they were completely locked into Harris there.

The current odds seem influenced by those Harris to Pittsburgh rumors — Harris’s pick over/under has been taken off the board at some books — and the expectation we won’t see a RB name earlier. Neither of those things feels certain. If we do believe the Pittsburgh rumors, we have to assume they don’t think Harris going before 24 is a major concern. And Etienne’s over/under is 33.5 and being bet to the under, so the market has him off the board by the second pick of the second round. I like the number we can get on Etienne for a prop that is probably closer to a toss up.

Article Author


Ben knows his football. A fantasy football expert who was most recently seen at CBS Sports, he'll be helping bettors find value ahead in the NFL with OddsChecker.


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