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Ed Oliver Odds-On Favorite to be 1st-Overall Pick, But History Favors QBs

Sascha Paruk

by Sascha Paruk in NFL Football

Updated Apr 4, 2020 · 5:20 PM PDT

Image of the 2010 NFL Draft stage.
There is a long history of QBs going first overall at the NFL Draft, yet the early odds have two defensive players as the favorites, one of whom is injured. Photo by Marianne O'Leary (Wikimedia Commons) CC License.
  • Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver is the overwhelming favorite to be the #1-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. 
  • But no DT has gone first-overall since 1994. 
  • Where does the value lie for bettors looking to wager on NFL Draft props?

Sportsbooks have released its initial odds for the 2019 NFL Draft. The first bet on the board centers on who will go first overall.

At the moment, there are only four options to choose from (see table below), and only one stands out as offering value.

2019 NFL Draft: #1 Pick Odds

Player School Position Odds to be #1 pick in 2019 NFL draft (Sep. 25)
Ed Oliver Houston DT -150
Nick Bosa Ohio State DE +275
Justin Herbert Oregon QB +750
Field/Any Other Player N/A N/A +175

Why There’s No Value on Oliver and Bosa

Let’s start with the obvious: Ed Oliver is a beast who is going to be an immediate impact player at the next level. His ability to get into the backfield and stuff the run is unparalleled, and his interior pass-rushing skills are improving (despite his goose egg in the sack column to date). His dominance in his first two-plus years at Houston has him as the top-ranked prospect on almost every draft board.

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But he’s not the first-overall pick in every mock draft due to factors like team-need. Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports has Jonah Williams (LT, Alabama) going first and several others (NBC Sports; DraftTek) have Nick Bosa ahead of Oliver.

History also indicates that Oliver will have a tough time staking a claim to that coveted first-overall slot by virtue of being a defensive tackle. No interior defensive lineman has been taken first overall since Dan Wilkinson in 1994. Over the last 21 drafts, a quarterback has been drafted first overall 15 times (71.4%), and offensive tackles (2) and defensive ends (4) account for the other six #1 picks.

Year Player Position
2018 Baker Mayfield QB
2017 Myles Garrett DE
2016 Jared Goff QB
2015 Jameis Winston QB
2014 Jadeveon Clowney DE
2013 Eric Fisher OT
2012 Andrew Luck QB
2011 Cam Newton QB
2010 Sam Bradford QB
2009 Matthew Stafford QB
2008 Jake Long OT
2007 JaMarcus Russell QB
2006 Mario Williams DE
2005 Alex Smith QB
2004 Eli Manning QB
2003 Carson Palmer QB
2002 David Carr QB
2001 Michael Vick QB
2000 Courtney Brown DE
1999 Tim Couch QB
1998 Peyton Manning QB

For what it’s worth, no player from a non-Power 5 school has gone first overall in the last five years, either. The last, Eric Fisher (OT, Central Michigan), has yet to make a Pro Bowl.

So as good as Ed Oliver is, history favors a pivot (from a Power 5 school) being drafted first. Quarterback is just a far more valuable position. Case in point: the St. Louis/LA Rams languished in mediocrity from 2014 to 2016 while Aaron Donald was dominating interior offensive linemen. It wasn’t until Jared Goff became an upper-echelon quarterback in 2017 that the team turned into a Super Bowl contender.

All things considered, laying -150 odds on a defensive tackle from a Group of 5 team is way too much to stomach.

So is Nick Bosa the play? After all, an edge rusher has gone first in two of the last five drafts. Absolutely not.

The Ohio State defensive end is now out indefinitely with a core muscle injury.

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The injury will inevitably hurt his draft stock, while boosting the stock of other edge rushers like Clelin Ferrell (Clemson), Raekwon Davis (Alabama), and Zach Allen (Boston College).

But again, history indicates that a QB is going first overall.

If you’re worried that most of the terrible teams in the NFL recently drafted a QB (e.g. Buffalo, Arizona, NY Jets), fear not: draft-day trades are one of the few things more common than QBs being picked first, and there are multiple franchises that will/might head into 2019 looking for their QB of the future (NY Giants, Jacksonville, Denver, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Oakland).

So What About Justin Herbert?

In terms of QBs, the list at sportsbooks only takes Oregon’s Justin Herbert off the board. He could wind up being the first quarterback selected, but Brady Quinn noted on Will Brinson’s Pick-Six podcast on Tuesday that Herbert is going to have a big transition to the NFL and that he hasn’t shown much development so far this season.

In his first four games, he’s had a completion percentage below 50% twice and has also tossed five picks. Making matters worse, three of those games came against non-Power 5 schools (Bowling Green, Portland State, San Jose State), i.e. teams he should dominate.

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Herbert also couldn’t get it done late against Stanford (38-31 OT loss) in his first real test of the season, though he did perform well on the whole against a tough Cardinal defense (26/33, 346 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT).

At this stage, there is no consensus #1 QB prospect. On the one hand, that’s bad for betting the field because no one in said field has emerged as a must-have QB. But you could have said the same in 2016 when Jared Goff wound up going first, and all the elite college QBs still have three-quarters of a season to impress scouts. Any of Drew Lock (Missouri), Will Grier (West Virginia), or Ryan Finley (NC State) could jump into the lead with a strong 2018 season.

That Leaves the Field!

Taking the Field gives you all but three players, and all but two healthy ones. If bettors are sold that Herbert is the best QB prospect, there is also the option of wagering on both the Field and Herbert. That would payout at about +110 and give you all but one healthy player, including every QB on the board.

That is excellent value.

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