The first round of the NFL draft gets underway on Thursday night. Despite the fact that we're just a little over 24 hours away from the madness getting started, there's still a litany of unanswered questions regarding just what will happen on Thursday and through the weekend. Travon Walker has emerged as a prohibitive favorite to be the first overall pick. How many quarterbacks will go in Round 1? Those are just some talking points as we enter one of the biggest weekends on the league's calendar.
Another major talking point that's gaining steam over the last few days is the cornerbacks at the top of this year's draft. For most of the pre-draft process, Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner out of Cincinnati has been viewed as the top defensive back in this draft. However, the betting market seems to suggest that LSU's Derek Stingley Jr. is making a serious late push and might even end up a top-3 pick.
Late market movement favors Stingley
Just two days ago, Gardner was a -500 favorite to be the first cornerback drafted in the 2022 NFL draft. However, as of Wednesday afternoon, with the draft just a day away, Gardner is now just -145 to be the first defensive back taken. Based on the implied probability, Gardner has gone from an 83% chance of being the first cornerback taken to just 59%.
On the other side of that equation, Derek Stingley Jr. has gone from +250 to just +105 to be the first cornerback off the board. Behind those two, Trent McDuffie out of Washington has the third best odds at 20-to-1. McDuffie is projected as a mid-first round pick while Stingley and Gardner could both go in the top 10.
At BetMGM, a nice 69% of the bets and over half of the money is backing Stingley to be the first corner off the board. Gardner is getting just under 28% of the bets while no other cornerback is getting more than 2% of the bets. Stingley is the biggest liability for the book in this market.
Stingley opened with an over/under of 12.5 for his draft position. After the combine, he quickly moved down to a projected draft position of pick 9.5. Over the last few days, BetMGM has pulled this prop off the board as his stock continues to rise.
Currently, Stingley is the betting favorite to go to Houston with the third overall pick. Ikem Ekwonu, an offensive tackle out of NC State, was the betting favorite to go third for the past few weeks, but that has changed over the last few days. There have been reports about Houston being interested in the LSU cornerback, and the market has reacted. Stingley is currently +200 to be the third overall pick of the draft. Ekwonu is +300 while Gardner is +400.
Why the rise for Stingley?
Both Gardner and Stingley are interesting prospects. Gardner was in the national spotlight a lot this past college football season, as his Cincinnati Bearcats made the college football playoff. On the other hand, Stingley missed most of the season with a foot injury.
There has been hype around Stingley for years. As a freshman, he was a huge part of the 2019 LSU team that featured the likes of Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase. That team went undefeated and won the college football championship. At that time, Stingley looked like a can't-miss prospect but he wasn't yet draft eligible.
The last two years weren't great for Stingley. The pandemic didn't help and created some weird times at LSU. The program unravelled and their on-field play was poor, costing Ed Orgeron his job. Stingley also dealt with ankle injuries in 2020 and the aforementioned foot injury in 2021.
On the other hand, Gardner did not give up a touchdown in coverage in his three years at Cincinnati. In fact, quarterbacks often even avoided throwing the ball his way. There are obvious questions with Gardner, though. He played at Cincinnati, and didn't consistently go up against the level of competition that Stingley did at LSU. Gardner also lived in press-coverage, something that's not as easy to do in the NFL.
Stingley also did a great job to answer any questions about his most recent injury with his performance at his pro day.
— NFL (@NFL) April 6, 2022
That pro day performance was the start of the ascension for Stingley. If Stingley was coming off his 2019 season right now, he'd be the sure-fire top cornerback off the board. Instead, there are legitimate questions about him. However, the betting market seems to think Stingley has answered those questions in a satisfactory way during the pre-draft process. Let's see how it plays out on Thursday.