Smoke Screens Galore: How One Bookmaker Navigates the NFL Draft Noise
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
By now, the smoke screens are fading into thin air, and the NFL draft is coming into clearer view.
For John Murray, race and sportsbook manager for the Westgate Las Vegas, weeks of analysis and — more importantly — weeks of information and disinformation culminate with those first few selections Thursday night.
Just last year, the Nevada Gaming Commission decided to allow wagering on the NFL draft. Unlike games on the field of play — or even props based on sporting events, such as Super Bowl coin tosses — setting the line on what is ultimately a subjective draft is a difficult task.
“We poured through a lot of mock drafts,” Murray said of his work with fellow draft oddsmaker Ed Salmons. “He and I follow college football very closely. But the market is not nearly as solid as it is for an NFL game or a win total, so when we start seeing bets coming in on this stuff, we’re going to move our number very aggressively. The market for this is extremely volatile.”
Case in point: Josh Rosen vs. Saquon Barkley (pictured above). The UCLA quarterback opened draft betting at -300 to be selected before the Penn State running back. With Barkley’s name rising in recent days — some are pegging him to go No. 2 to the New York Giants — he moved up to -270 by Wednesday afternoon.
On the other hand, Murray is not buying Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield’s late ascension.
“Yesterday or the day before, it comes out that the Browns are considering Baker Mayfield, and I’ll tell you right now, we don’t believe for one second the Browns don’t know who they’re taking with the No. 1 overall pick. That’s a perfect example of a smoke screen,” Murray said.
In NFL breaking-news circles, some information carries more cache than others. Unlike in NBA reporting, which seems to be entirely dominated by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Yahoo’s Shams Charania, viable predraft information can come from many sources.
“We track different guys, but we saw that (NFL Network’s) Daniel Jeremiah had the most accurate mock draft last season, and that might not mean anything, but we looked at him pretty closely,” Murray said. “We’re definitely looking at Adam Schefter — we trust some guys more than we trust others — but at the end of the day, those guys may be getting fed bad information, too. It’s a very difficult thing to follow. We’re really moving more off the money.”
Last season, Murray said, Westgate did well with the NFL draft props, but didn’t dominate the day, as Dalvin Cook cost them in a big way.
“Every single mock had him going in the first round, and he went in the second,” said Murray, who said the book lost on the total number of running backs drafted. “We didn’t win as much as we thought we were going to, but there was a very positive response to it.”
This year, Westgate increased its draft props from eight to 20, and it is poised to do even more next year, should rules allow.
The most random matchup prop?
Texas-San Antonio’s Marcus Davenport versus Washington’s Vita Vea. Even that relatively obscure matchup of defensive linemen is drawing big heat.
“It amazes me the level of interest in the draft,” Murray said. “This is such a jam-packed time on the sports calendar — playoff basketball, hockey playoffs, baseball — and people still want to talk about the draft.”