What Does It Mean to Bet a Unit on a Draft?

When you bet on an NFL football game, you are typically placing a wager on the final score of the game. However, there is more than one type of wager you can make on an NFL football game, and one of them is interesting enough to merit its own discussion. That is the case with ‘betting on a draft.’ What is betting on a draft, and how does it work? Let’s examine the history of the NFL and the AAF and the different nuances of betting on a draft in the two leagues.

The Evolution of NFL Football

The first ever league game was played on January 18, 1920, between the Chicago Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds. The game was played at Hilltop Park in the suburbs of Chicago. The teams didn’t have much in terms of personnel, with the Cardinals only having one player that would go on to be considered a legend in the NFL: Bronko Nagurski. He is credited with inventing the tackle spin move that is now used throughout the league. In other words, if you’re writing a history of the NFL, you could say Nagurski is responsible for popularizing the tackle spin motion.

The league grew slowly for many years, and in fact, the next game wasn’t played until January 21, 1923, when the Buffalo Indians and the Akron Pulphers met in an exhibition game. It wasn’t until the 1930s that things really began to pick up, with the NFL expanding from 8 teams to 12, and to 16, before the official start of the Great Depression. The NFL wasn’t the only U.S. sports league to feel the crunch of the economic crisis, with many leagues cancelling or postponing games until the economy improved. Some sports historians reference this period as the ‘Black Summer’ of American sports, with many high-profile sports figures getting in trouble with the law or having health problems that stemmed from over-exertion while playing football. This was especially pronounced in the case of professional baseball, where overuse led to serious injuries, and the annual death toll was so high that there was talk of abolishing the sport.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen, and the NFL continued to grow, eventually adding a second championship game in 1935, and eventually, a third championship game, which debuted in 1936 and is still played today. The league would continue to grow throughout the 20th century, adding a second conference in 1950, expanding to 14 teams and finally, getting to 16 teams as well in 1978. However, even back in the 1930s and 1940s, when the NFL was at its peak, things weren’t quite as rosy as they seemed, with allegations of players being paid under the table and serious questions about the corruption that was present in the league at the time. To this day, the NFL still operates with a substantial amount of secrecy and no clear mechanism for player unions or collective bargaining agreements. In other words, while the NFL may have evolved into the highly professional league that we know today, it doesn’t look like it had all that much sunshine in the early stages.

It’s interesting to compare the early stages of the NFL to the early stages of the American Football League (AFL), which was originally founded in 1926. The AFL was started to provide athletes with an alternative to the NFL, which many saw as being too corrupt and too competitive. The NFL and the AFL split into two separate leagues in 1933, with the former maintaining a stronghold in the South and the latter in the North, and have since remained separate. Some notable differences between the two leagues:

  • The NFL is widely recognized as being a more established league
  • The NFL requires its players to be at least 5’9” and under 200 lbs, while the AFL allows for players to be as small as 49 inches and as large as 6’5”
  • The AFL allows for hybrid players, which the NFL doesn’t
  • THe NFL has a more stringent drug policy than the AFL
  • The NFL has a 16-game regular season, while the AFL has a 12-game regular season

The Evolution of Drafts in the NFL

While it’s interesting to compare the early stages of the NFL to the early stages of the AFL, it’s not very interesting to compare the two leagues at the present moment in time. The NFL has completely morphed into a different animal, with a completely different set of rules and operating procedures. One of the more interesting changes that the NFL has implemented in recent years is the use of multiple quarterbacks on the active roster. The concept of having multiple quarterbacks on the roster is nothing new, as the league has always had the ability to activate a reserve quarterback, though that has become an increasingly common practice in the wake of the pandemic.

In 2018, three quarterbacks started the first nine games of the season before the starter became injured. The following season, Patrick Mahomes II started the season opener before he suffered an injury that set the stage for another quarterback to step in and start the rest of the season. Since then, it seems as though the NFL has taken a liking to the idea of having more than one starter at a time. In 2020, four quarterbacks started the first nine games before Baker Mayfield was injured and had to miss the rest of the season. This season, Mayfield will return as the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, while a second starter, Jacoby Brissett, is working his way back from a torn ACL and is expected to make his debut in Week 7.

Another interesting development is that, in the past, players would get selected in the NFL draft and then would sign a contract with the team that drafted them, effectively binding the player to that team for the rest of their career. However, with the new collective bargaining agreement that the NFL and the NFL Players Association signed back in 2019, draft picks can now opt out of signing with their original team and can now be free to sign with any team that they like. That brings us to the next section…

The Meaning of Betting on a Draft

In the NFL, betting on a draft refers to the practice of wagering on the outcome of the draft, which takes place every year in late April. During the draft, teams can trade draft picks with other teams, or they can even swap players with each other. The idea behind betting on a draft is to make a relatively accurate guess at which players will be picked in the upcoming draft, and then wager on whether those players will be worth the pick. Most people that bet on a draft follow the draft closely and monitor the players’ performances across the different sports leagues and teams, as well as look at the economic statistics that NFL teams release – such as how many tickets each player sells, how many t-shirts, hats, and gloves they generate, and how many meals they buy for their families and friends. Based on all of that information, they can come up with a fairly accurate guess as to which players will be drafted and which teams will select them.

For example, in 2019, the Dallas Cowboys had the 27th overall pick in the draft, and since the Cowboys are always among the top teams in ticket sales, family and friends, and merchandise purchases, it’s not a huge surprise that they decided to use their pick on Daniel Jones, who they believed was the best quarterback available at that time. Jones started the season well, with four wins and no losses before he suffered an injury that put his start streak in jeopardy. Since then, he’s lost three games and has yet to play a down in the second half of the season. However, based on the trends that the Cowboys have been following since they began competing in the NFL, it seems likely that they will be able to get the most out of Jones when he returns from injury. For now, they will have to settle for a backup quarterback who has not started a game yet, Brett Rogers, who the Cowboys signed to a one-year deal in late October.

In the 2020 draft, the trend of having more than one starter at a time appears to have continued, as the San Francisco 49ers started the season with Jimmy Garropolo and C.J. Beathard under contract. In fact, by mid-June, Garropolo and Beathard had each accounted for 18 wins and 13 losses. Since then, neither has had an uninterrupted stretch of play, with Garropolo going 0-3 in August and Beathard losing his first three games before getting injured later in the season. The season hasn’t been kind to either one of them, as Garropolo is 2-7 as a starter and Beathard is 3-5.