NFL Draft Betting: How Many Quarterbacks Will Go in the First Round?
The quarterback is the most important position in today’s NFL. However, with the accelerating cost of veteran quarterbacks’ salaries on the open market, it has become ever more important to find young, cost-controlled options in the NFL Draft. That’s why the last few years have seen quarterback prospects in the first round fly off the shelves like toilet paper in a pandemic.
NFL odds is once again offering a betting line – set at 3.5 – on how many quarterbacks will be selected on the first night of the Draft in 2022.
This year is complicated by a largely underwhelming class of passing prospects, however, and a bunch of teams that might not see reaching on a question mark-riddled quarterback as such a pressing need.
Which will win out – the league’s unstoppable demand for cheap passers, or the immovable concerns about this cycle’s crop – and how should you use this information to bet this line? How many first-round quarterbacks will be drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft?
Scouting the NFL Draft is always a very subjective matter.
That said, we on the outside of this exercise have the luxury of taking a variety of sources and amalgamating their information. Through this web of statistics and experience and opinion, we can avoid the question “Which quarterbacks are worth a first-round pick” and simply try to answer the question “Which quarterbacks do NFL teams think are worth a first-round pick”.
One of those important data points that we will use comes from our own Jim Sannes, who examines the NFL Draft’s quarterback classes statistically every season. Jim’s pre-draft projection model blends a number of factors into a composite percentile score. This score boils a full college statistical resume down into a more manageable number that we can use to compare prospects.
In his 2022 article, Jim fully breaks down the top-six quarterbacks in this class by their production, but the takeaway for our purposes is the average percentile score for quarterbacks drafted in the first since 2010: 71.3%. By Jim’s model, three quarterbacks are solidly above that mark – Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, North Carolina's Sam Howell, and Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder. Mississippi passer Matt Corral still meets the threshold to be considered a below-average first-round prospect as well. If we just used the stats, we could wrap this up easily: four first-round caliber quarterbacks means we bet the over.
Stats aren’t everything we need, though.
The other critical components of predicting the Draft are more intangible – things like scouting and team insider info. The best way to capture these pieces is by using mock draft data. Grinding the Mocks is a fantastic resource for aggregating the mock draft industry, with their Expected Draft Position (EDP) serving as a “pulse of the people”. In addition, I keep an “expert composite” of the most successful mock drafters over the last five years per The Huddle Report’s rankings.
As of now, there is one ironclad first-round quarterback who lands in the first 32 picks in every single expert mock, as well as the crowd composite mock by EDP: that’s Kenny Pickett. The other near-lock, though he falls well outside of the first-round thresholds by stats standards, is Liberty's Malik Willis. As Jim himself acknowledges, Willis’s first-round buzz is based heavily on tools over production; teams see him as a high-ceiling, long-term project, and that’s why he’s mocked into the first by eight of my nine experts and is a near top-10 pick by EDP.
After that, there is no consensus. The table below shows the top passing prospects, where they score in Jim’s model, their ADP in the composite expert mock, and their EDP rank.
|Player||School||Sannes Percentiles||Adj. Expert ADP||EDP Rank|
|Matt Corral||Ole Miss||66.8%||32||26|
|Sam Howell||North Carolina||78.0%||34||36|
|Bailey Zappe||Western Kentucky||87.0%||N/A||168|
The only two of these seven that don’t seem to have a real chance to become a top-32 selection are Nevada's Carson Strong and Western Kentucky's Bailey Zappe. Strong has impressive arm tools but poor production and none of Willis’s dual-threat “wow” factor that could make a team reach on him. Zappe, while he assembled an impressive statistical resume, is rightly getting dinged by evaluators for assembling those stats against lower-level opposition.
The NFL franchises hold the real power in this situation, however. Quarterback envy is a real deal in the league, and it has only accelerated over the last 50 years of the NFL Draft.
For the first decade after the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, just 16 passers were selected with a first-round pick – 1.6 per year on average. Over the last decade, more than double that amount landed with teams in the top round of the draft – 3.3 per year on average. In fact, since 1996, every draft class has seen at least one quarterback sneak into the first round, and just 4 out of the 25 years have seen only one make it in.
The tough thing to figure out is if the acceleration of the position in the draft will continue at a linear pace this year. If it does, there should be at least four first-round quarterbacks – the average over the last five years. If the trend slows a little bit, bending back to a longer-term historical norm, three maximum seems to be the best expectation. These two different ways to interpret the data sit on either side of that 3.5-quarterback line for the prop, so what do we do?
There are nine teams that could feasibly select a quarterback in the first round this year – the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Commanders, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, and Pittsburgh Steelers – and 11 first-round picks between them.
Right away, I’m going to rule out the Commanders and Vikings as highly likely first-round landing spots. Both teams just invested significant assets in trading for Carson Wentz and extending Kirk Cousins, respectively, but they also have significant other needs that can be addressed by prospects who should fall to them. New Orleans also became less likely to spend a first on a passer recently, with Jameis Winston re-signing for at least the 2022 season and Andy Dalton inking a high-priced backup deal. Perhaps the Saints will end up carrying a third quarterback if the right one falls to them, but few teams opt to do so anymore.
Even if we also believe Lions’ general manager Brad Holmes when he implies that they won’t be a player for a quarterback at the second overall pick, that leaves at least seven clear chances for a quarterback-hungry team to go get an upside youngster to develop.
There are two quarterback prospects that, based on the data, are clear first-round picks in this class: Pitt’s Pickett and Liberty’s Willis.
With a league ever-accelerating towards total quarterback domination and (at bare minimum) six teams who should be jockeying for draft position to select a signal-caller of the future, at least one more could join them on Day 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft.
North Carolina’s Howell and Mississippi's Corral, in particular, both constantly fall right on the cusp of the first round in mock drafts. However, there’s reason to assume both could find their way into the first: it takes only one team to fall for them and swap up to secure the precious fifth-year team option that first-round picks receive. Cincinnati’s Ridder even makes a compelling case for a late-first developmental option given his production against top-level defenses and lengthy experience despite being the second-youngest top-five quarterback prospect in this class.
When we add into our calculus the fact that “over” 3.5 quarterbacks drafted in Round 1 comes with +162 odds (“nder” is a lofty -220), that makes a call like this well worth the risk. If we assume this is almost a 50-50 proposition, the over’s implied odds of 38.2% give us about 10% of surplus-value in betting this line. The under is a strong favorite for a reason – that is the more likely outcome. But, the over seems almost as likely and is much more valuable.
Risk Recommendation: 0.5 units on “over 3.5 quarterbacks drafted in Round 1” to win 0.8 units.