NFL Draft Betting: Who Will Be the First Offensive Lineman Selected?
TIRED: Betting where quarterbacks will be taken in the 2020 NFL draft.
WIRED: Betting where defensive players will go. The abundance of analysis around quarterbacks lowers the edge at the position.
INSPIRED: Betting on the big boys.
That's right. We're talking offensive linemen today. Please contain your excitement.
Over at FanDuel Sportsbook, you've got a couple of markets you can enter if the hog mollies get you all hot and bothered. You can bet how many will be taken in the opening round with the mark set at 6.5 (+108 on the over). We might come back to address that some other time.
For now, let's look at some specific names and try to predict who will be the first offensive lineman drafted next month. There's no clear-cut favorite here, which makes things even spicier, if talking linemen doesn't get you jazzed enough by itself.
There's a cluster of three at the top with Mekhi Becton (+160), Tristan Wirfs (+160), and Jedrick Wills (+260) all grouped together before a dip down to Andrew Thomas (+850). Which way should we bet this puppy at those current odds? Let's check it out.
What the Big Boards Say
There are two separate ways to look at things here. First, we can and should look at how experts are stacking up this class. That's what we'll do here. Then, we'll see if we can glean any insights from what the linemen did at the combine.
For the expert rankings, we'll want a variety of sources. There are a lot of smart, plugged-in people involved in the draft business, and we should use that to our advantage when betting.
Here's a rundown of where those top four tackles are ranked at various sources. The first two are rankings via ESPN's Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr.. The third column is where NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah stacks them up. Finally, the right-hand column is a consensus big board ranking by NFLMockDraftDatabase.com.
Kiper had his top 25 players listed in his most recent update (before the combine), and Thomas was outside that group, trailing Josh Jones (+2500) among tackles in addition to the other three. With Thomas' relatively low rankings elsewhere, we can probably whittle this down to just the top three.
Between the three individual analysts, McShay has Wirfs listed highest while Kiper and Jeremiah lean toward Becton. Wills doesn't lead any of the lists, but he's ranked no lower than 12th by any of the analysts, ahead of Wirfs by both Kiper and Jeremiah. Becton's lowest ranking is 11th, and he's never lower than second among these top three.
That would seemingly nudge us a bit toward Becton with Wirfs sitting a solid second. However, it's clear that there's no runaway favorite here, similar to what the odds are showing us. As a result, we should be looking to expand the data we're looking at. That's where the combine comes into play.
The Combine Matters for Draft Stock
There are a lot of factors that front offices account for when evaluating offensive linemen. Many of those factors in no way relate to athleticism. Still, there is a relationship between players' testing numbers and where they go in the draft.
From 2010 through 2019, 254 tackles have been invited to the NFL combine. Not all of them competed in each drill, but with 234 of them having at least run the 40-yard dash, the sample here is robust.
Because the players, themselves, are also varying degrees of robust, we should adjust for weight when evaluating each player's performance at the combine. Using each player's weight, we can create an expected mark for them in each category, which we will call their "adjusted" mark going forward. A mark of 100 in each category means they were average relative to other players while anything higher than 100 is above average.
Historically, there has been a tie between weight-adjusted marks in workouts and where these tackles went in the NFL draft. This table shows the correlation between each tackle's adjusted measurement in each workout and their eventual pick position in the NFL draft.
|Workout||Correlation to Draft Pick|
|Adjusted 40-Yard Dash||-0.399|
|Adjusted Broad Jump||-0.256|
These correlations certainly aren't Earth-shattering by any means. But we can see that NFL teams do seem to value athletic testing in offensive tackles, and that matters when trying to predict how things will play out in the draft.
Based on these numbers, it seems like the 40-yard dash is going to be the number we'll want to lean on most heavily when looking at this class. That bodes well for both Wirfs and Becton, who had historic marks in that department.
Once we add in the 2020 class, there have been 257 tackles who have run the 40 at the combine since 2010. Wirfs' weight-adjusted 40 time is the fifth-best in that span, and Becton's is seventh. It's easy to understand why they're so high on the experts' lists.
This isn't to say that Wills lagged here, by any means. He was 46th among all tackles and still above average with a mark of 103.31. Additionally, Wills was above average in the broad jump, another metric that showed some relationship with draft order.
The problem with turning there for Wills is that Wirfs excelled beyond just the 40. In fact, his weight-adjusted broad jump was the best for any tackle in this sample by a wide margin. It was one of two records he set as he also boasts the top vertical jump whether you adjust for weight or not. Athletically, Wirfs is an alien, and nobody else really measures up.
We can't compare Becton to Wirfs in these other columns, either, because the only testing drills he did were the 40 and the bench, and the bench was the workout with the lowest correlation to each player's draft slot. This should count as another mark in Wirfs' favor as we just have more data on him than we do Becton.
The final potential negative with Becton is that Louisville ran a unique offense, which limited his sample of pass-blocking reps. Pro Football Focus charted Becton with 73 true pass sets, 40 fewer than they counted for anybody else in the class. If the NFL shares PFF's concerns about Becton's sample size, it's hard to see a team pulling the trigger on him when both Wirfs and Wills are available.
Bet on Wirfs
Ideally, we'd want to have a consensus here with one prospect running away with the crown. That's not the case once you consider the whole picture. But based on the information we have now, it seems like Wirfs is where you want to put your money at +160.
The athletic numbers on Wirfs wow you, and he backs them up with comparable rankings among the experts to both Becton and Wills. When his betting odds are even with Becton's, and Becton seems to be the prospect with more question marks, it's easy to bite and ride with Wirfs.
There are also a couple of other markets you could enter if you're bullish on Wirfs and the numbers he dropped at the combine. His current draft position is 7.5 with -112 on both the over and the under. The tackle-needy New York Giants select fourth overall, and the Los Angeles Chargers -- who pick sixth -- just traded their left tackle earlier this month. You could also bet Wirfs at +175 to be the Giants' first-round pick, though with that number being relatively close to his odds to be the first tackle taken, we're likely better off giving ourselves the extra flexibility and not tying him specifically to one team.