2024 NFL Draft Predictions: Bet QBs by Fading Michael Penix & Bo Nix

2024 NFL Draft Predictions: Bet QBs by Fading Michael Penix & Bo Nix article feature image

No position in team sports is more important than quarterback.

When the 2024 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday night, four QBs are expected to have their names called near the top of the round, possibly even in the top four picks, while two more quarterbacks could sneak into the back end of the first round.

USC's Caleb Williams remains a heavy favorite at No. 1. LSU's Jayden Daniels and UNC's Drake Maye could go second and third in some order, and Michigan's J.J. McCarthy is expected to go top 10, maybe even top five. Washington's Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon's Bo Nix may also hear their names called in the first round.

I wrote this week about the top four QB prospects and evaluated them based on where the league is heading. I've got Maye, not Williams, at the top of my board, with Daniels a distant third, and I don't rate McCarthy as a first-round investment at all.

But what about Penix and Nix? Both guys are seasoned pros and will be 24 years old on Opening Night, and with over 100 career starts combined, many think those two could be ready to step into a starting NFL job.

I'm dubious. I'll make the case against Penix and Nix and why under 4.5 first-round QBs (+280 at DraftKings or +240 at FanDuel, as of Wednesday afternoon) is my favorite 2024 NFL Draft bet on the board. First, let's start with how to bet those four names at the top.

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2024 NFL Draft Predictions

Betting on the four QBs at the top is an information game at this point. NFL insiders have it and will have more info by draft night, and bettors are stuck reading the tea leaves and drawing their best conclusions.

It's a tricky, dangerous game, so be careful. By the time you get information in one new direction, the sports book almost certainly got that information too and has already adjusted its odds to reflect.

Caleb Williams seems a lock to go No. 1 to the Bears. He's available to go first at -10000 at BetMGM, meaning a $100 bettor returns $101 on a win. Free money or not, most books won't let you get down too much and there are probably better ways to earn a buck.

The interesting race has been the back-and-forth push for No. 2 — from Maye to Daniels to near even odds, now back to Daniels as a sizable favorite. As of Wednesday afternoon. Daniels is -550 to go second (FanDuel), and Maye is -290 to go third.

My read is for Washington to take Daniels at No. 2 based on their coaching and personnel and the information we've seen, but there's little to gain by betting into so much juice. The information we're seeing could be a smokescreen, or even if it's right, the bet could still go awry with a trade. There's just far more to lose than gain.

If you must play something on Williams, Daniels, or Maye, I don't mind Drake Maye at -2000 (FanDuel) to go top five. Maye has been ranked first on many reputable draft boards, and it's hard to see him sliding outside the top five altogether. He's a possible No. 1 draft pick and those guys just don't slide too far. You could do worse than invest in a 5% profit in two days.

What about McCarthy? You might be tempted to bet on the first-round players drafted to all be quarterbacks (+170, FanDuel), but don't do it. We've only ever seen QB-QB-QB in the top-three four times ever, and four in a row would be history. It could happen, but the juice isn't worth the squeeze.

And Good luck figuring out which team might trade up for McCarthy. Now you're just guessing at information you don't have.

If you believe in McCarthy and expect him to be a trade-up target, you can bet McCarthy to go top 10 at -600 (FanDuel), a bargain compared to -2000 at other books. If you think he slides out of that top group, it may be worth nibbling a long shot or two as a McCarthy sleeper.

Last year's "fourth" QB of the top four was Will Levis. He tumbled out of the top 10, then out of the first round altogether. If you think McCarthy does that, he's +5000 to go in the second round (FanDuel).

Personally, I think the ship has sailed on finding value on these four quarterbacks at the top. Instead, I'm looking at QB5 and QB6 and going back to the well with a favorite annual bet, one we already hit last year.

Let's start with brief scouting reports on Penix and Nix and some red flags I see on each.

Bo Nix Scouting Report

Nix is an incredibly unique prospect. He started an NCAA-record 61 games at QB and threw almost 2,000 career passes. His numbers took a massive leap along the way, with his completion percentage below 60% through three years at Auburn, then 75% in two years at Oregon and an FBS-best 78% this season.

So what changed? In a word, everything.

Nix played in a gimmick offense that made him more point guard than quarterback, distributing the ball quickly and letting the playmakers do the rest. Nix's 2.44 seconds to throw ranked sixth lowest among all QBs with 200 attempts, and he ranked 120th in air yards per attempt (6.25) and 116th in throws behind the line of scrimmage (34%!) with an absurdly low 6.8 ADOT. Oregon lived in the screen game, and Nix's throws were almost always quick and easy.

Maybe that's why Nix's 85.5% Adjusted Complete Rate basically breaks PFF's metric, and perhaps that's why Nix had only five Turnover-Worthy Passes all season, just 1.0% of his throws, the lowest of any QB. Nix was also sacked only six times all season with just 79 pressures. These numbers are basically breaking these metrics. He's getting the ball out too fast, too easily, for any of them to even matter. They're meaningless.

Nix's accuracy falls off a lot under pressure when he actually faces it, and he lacks the arm talent and zip to hit outside throws. He's not super athletic and doesn't offer much mobility. He's a point-and-shoot Mike Leach-style point guard, an accurate enough passer who can stand in and get the job done.

That's not the profile of an NFL starter, now or in the future since Nix is already 24. But it is a very valuable backup, a la Gardner Minshew, and we saw with so many QB injuries this season just how valuable a quality backup is, especially one on a cheap rookie-scale contract.

But you don't draft a career backup quarterback in the first round.

DRAFT GRADE: Valuable third-round career backup

Michael Penix Scouting Report

In some ways, Penix is similar to Nix. He's nearly 24 himself, and he played six years of college ball thanks to four season-ending injuries and the extended pandemic eligibility rules.

Penix ended up making 45 college starts, the last two in the College Football Playoff, where he had the game of his life in the semifinal against Texas. He threw for 430 yards and two scores, repeatedly dialing up the deep ball and dropping it in a bucket for a streaking receiver downfield. If the Penix we saw against Texas is who he is as a prospect, I'll be very wrong on him.

I'm banking on Penix's other 44 starts, in which I don't see anything even remotely resembling a first-round pick. Those deep balls sure are pretty, and he led all QBs in Big Time Throws per PFF (43), but Penix's deep-ball success rate overall was not great and he was often bailed out by a trio of elite future NFL receivers and an aggressive downfield attack that gave him innumerable opportunities to hit the sweet highlight.

Penix gets a ton of credit for his elite 7.6% pressure to sack rate and crazy low sack numbers, but I think that data is being interpreted backward. Penix had 31 throwaways, second most in the nation, and he tends to get cement feet and chuck the ball up for grabs down the field. Giving your stud WRs a shot down the field may work against weak PAC-12 defenses, but you can't do that regularly in the NFL.

Throw by throw, Penix actually had questionable accuracy and ball placement. He was poor on short throws, poor against zone and poor outside the numbers. He showed little creativity or ability to make plays with his feet. The counting numbers look sexy, thanks to the repeated deep balls to great WRs, but his completion and turnover numbers are not great given the system he played in surrounded by elite talent.

And then there's the injury and age profile. Penix had four season-ending injuries in college, twice on a torn ACL and twice on shoulder surgery. That is a massive, red-flag-to-end-all-red-flags injury history, and it directly led to his advanced age.

Penix turns 24 in two weeks. He's two-to-three years older than most prospects in this class. That means he's much further down the development curve with less time to improve, and it also means he compiled his big season with a serious edge against the competition.

Take a look at this chart of the oldest QBs drafted in the first round since 1967, with research from FootballPerspective.com:

Penix would be the third oldest first-round quarterback in the history of the NFL — and Nix is a few months older, by the way.

It's easy to fall in love with what Michael Penix did in his age-23 season at Washington, but that would be a short-sighted mistake. With his age and injury history, lack of high-end arm ability and overall profile, Penix would be an outlier among outliers as a first-round pick.

I'm not a believer in Penix's ceiling, nor his floor. I'd rather gamble on the erratic Spencer Rattler further down the draft board. He has a ton of downside and may never stick in the league, but he's a high-variance player with starter upside, and that wide range of outcomes is more valuable late than a safer floor.

DRAFT GRADE: Day 3 pick, with little NFL starter equity

How to Fade Penix & Nix as First-Round Prospects

The NFL Draft is impossible to predict. It's entirely possible Nix and Penix end up good NFL quarterbacks, but history says they should not and will not be first-round draft picks.

This is my favorite bet on the board just about every draft season.

Quarterback is such a uniquely important position in team sports that we do this same thing every year leading up to the draft. Everyone agrees on the top tier of quarterbacks but gets bored, and then we spend two months talking about the next couple of guys on the list and slowly inch them up our mock drafts.

Last year it was Tennessee's Hendon Hooker, another older prospect with an injury history in a gimmicky system. Many thought Hooker might sneak into the first round. We bet otherwise at plus money and didn't even have to sweat it. Hooker was drafted 68th, and Will Levis — the other guy buzzing up draft boards as a possible top-five pick — fell out of the first round entirely, too.

The year before that it was it was Malik Willis getting late first-round buzz. He was drafted 86th. How about a few other names that come to mind over the last 15 years: Drew Lock (2019; drafted 42nd), Paxton Lynch (2016; 26th), Jimmy Garoppolo (2014; 62nd), Geno Smith (2013; 39th), Andy Dalton (2011; 35th) and Brian Brohm (2008; 56th). Only one of those hyped prospects snuck into the first round. Most ended up closer to the third round.

On Tuesday, Penix and Nix got some buzz from NFL insider Peter Schrager as not just first-round picks, but names that could even sneak into the first half of the round.

Does this feel like a movie you've seen before? It should. Last year on the week of the draft, Hooker got late first-round buzz when he was mocked in the first round by none other than Schrager. And how'd that work out?

Penix and Nix have a more realistic chance of a high draft pick than Hooker ever did, but I don't buy either one in the first round.

If you want to fade either quarterback independently, you can do that. Nix is -225 to be drafted outside the first round at BetMGM — listed as over 32.5 draft slot — and Penix is +194 at FanDuel.

I like fading them both at once by betting under 4.5 first-round quarterbacks, my favorite bet on the board, +280 at DraftKings or +240 at FanDuel as of Wednesday morning. These lines are constantly moving so be sure to shop around for the best price

We've only ever seen five QBs in the first round four times ever (1983, 1998, 2018, 2021), and we've only seen two quarterbacks older than Nix or Penix drafted in the first round in NFL history.

If these guys do slide further than expected, the individual team odds for Penix and Nix destinations are also wrong, offering intriguing long-shot upside. Nix is priced at -150 to the Broncos at BetMGM, a ludicrously confident 60% implied expectation for a guy that's probably not even a top-50 prospect. Odds that long can only mean value elsewhere. I'm also a bit intrigued by Nix +255 head-to-head against Penix at DraftKings.

Those are cute appetizers and all, but don't miss the main course and a chance to fade Nix and Penix.

Under 4.5 first-round quarterbacks at plus money is my favorite bet for the 2024 NFL Draft. It's a bet on history and a bet on common sense. Take the under.

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