2015 Fantasy Football: Sleepers and Busts from the Oddsmakers

The NFL is back and that brings the welcome return of fantasy football. Over the past three seasons we have used oddsmaker’s projections to shed a new light on fantasy rankings, and the results have been overwhelmingly successful.

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Our method is simple: we compare the ESPN positional rankings with the league leader futures over at an offshore sportsbook — in this case the well-respected 5Dimes. By analyzing the largest discrepancies between ESPN’s rankings and the oddsmaker rankings, we are able to find the top values for fantasy players. A positive number represents a potential sleeper while a negative number reflects a potential bust.

Last season we had mixed results across the board. We recommended avoiding Nick Foles, Bishop Sankey and Zac Stacy — all of whom can be categorized as massive busts. However, we also told players to steer clear of Jordy Nelson who posted an absurdly productive season with 98 receptions, 1,519 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.

Our sleepers last season included Tom Brady and Mike Wallace who both outperformed their average draft position; however, we had several big misses including Ray Rice (yikes), Cecil Shorts and Eli Manning.

Although 2014 was defined by mixed results, our strategy has been very effective in previous seasons. Before the 2013 campaign, we recommended Drew Brees over the higher rated Aaron Rodgers, and the Saints quarterback outscored the Packers gunslinger by 180 points in a standard league.

We also projected breakthrough seasons for Demaryius Thomas and Jamaal Charles before they were household names and made sure that bettors knew that Stephen Jackson was no longer a viable fantasy asset.

This season we will analyze the three major positions looking for the best and worst values according to the oddsmakers.

Quarterback

Player Passing Leader Oddsmaker Rank ESPN Rank Difference
Nick Foles +7500 T-15 28 13
Matthew Stafford +1200 7 14 7
Joe Flacco +5000 13 20 7
Derek Carr +8500 T-19 26 7
Josh McCown +12500 T-24 30 6
Jameis Winston +7500 T-15 21 6
Andy Dalton +8500 T-19 24 5
Eli Manning +1500 8 12 4
Philip Rivers +2500 T-9 13 4
Jay Cutler +7500 T-15 19 4
Brian Hoyer +20000 T-31 34 3
Drew Brees +700 3 5 2
Sam Bradford +6500 14 16 2
Carson Palmer +7500 T-15 17 2
Matt Ryan +800 5 7 2
Blake Bortles +15000 T-28 29 1
Robert Griffin III +12500 T-24 25 1
Andrew Luck +325 1 2 1
Tom Brady +2500 T-9 10 1
Ben Roethlisberger +1000 6 6 0
Matt Cassel +20000 T-31 31 0
Peyton Manning +750 4 4 0
Ryan Tannehill +4500 12 11 -1
Marcus Mariota +12500 T-24 23 -1
Teddy Bridgewater +8500 T-19 18 -1
Aaron Rodgers +500 2 1 -1
Tony Romo +2800 11 9 -2
Alex Smith +15000 T-28 22 -6
Colin Kaepernick +12500 T-24 15 -9
Cam Newton +10000 23 8 -15
Russell Wilson +8500 T-19 3 -16

Based on our analysis, there were three quarterbacks offering tremendous value to fantasy football managers although only one is particularly relevant in standard 10-team leagues. Matthew Stafford has the seventh best odds of leading the league in passing yards; however, he’s currently the 14th ranked quarterback according to ESPN experts. This means that managers could potentially wait until every other team has selected a quarterback, and still grab the Lions QB in later rounds.

In two quarterback leagues, Nick Foles and Joe Flacco are excellent late round values. ESPN ranks Foles as the 28th best quarterback and Flacco as the 20th best quarterback while oddsmakers have this pair listed at 15 and 13 respectively. We should also note that 5Dimes views Andrew Luck as the superior quarterback to Aaron Rodgers, which contradicts the rankings at ESPN. 

The three players with the largest negative values are Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick; however, much of their value is based on their rushing ability. Since these contributions belie their true value, the two most obvious potential busts are Alex Smith (22 at ESPN, 28 at 5Dimes) and Tony Romo (9 at ESPN, 11 at 5Dimes).

Additional sleepers: Derek Carr, Josh McCown, Jameis Winston (all in 2 QB leagues)

Running Back

Player Rushing Leader Oddsmaker Rank ESPN Rank Difference
Arian Foster +1200 8 40 32
Joseph Randle +2000 T-10 22 12
Jeremy Hill +950 3 10 7
Chris Ivory +7500 24 30 6
LeSean McCoy +1000 T-4 9 5
Todd Gurley +2500 14 19 5
T.J. Yeldon +5000 T-19 24 5
Latavius Murray +3500 T-17 21 4
Marshawn Lynch +600 2 5 3
Alfred Morris +2000 T-10 12 2
Rashad Jennings +10000 T-25 26 1
Isaiah Crowell +20000 28 29 1
Melvin Gordon +2800 T-15 16 1
Adrian Peterson +450 1 2 1
Jamaal Charles +1000 T-4 4 0
DeMarco Murray +1000 T-4 4 0
Justin Forsett +2800 T-15 15 0
Eddie Lacy +1000 T-4 3 -1
Frank Gore +5000 T-19 18 -1
LeGarrette Blount +25000 29 28 -1
Carlos Hyde +3500 T-17 14 -3
Matt Forte +2000 T-10 7 -3
CJ Anderson +2000 T-10 6 -4
Andre Ellington +12500 27 23 -4
Joique Bell +10000 T-25 20 -5
Jonathan Stewart +6500 23 17 -6
Lamar Miller +5000 T-19 13 -6
LeVeon Bell +1350 9 1 -8
Mark Ingram +5000 T-19 11 -8

Last season with the Cowboys, running back DeMarco Murray rushed for 1,845 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns behind arguably the best offensive line in football. When Murray signed with the Eagles as a free agent during the offseason, rumors began circulating that Adrian Peterson could be dealt to Dallas as the replacement. These speculations never came to fruition and last season’s backup, Joseph Randle, will take over the starting role.

Oddsmakers list Randle with the tenth best odds of leading the league in rushing; however, he’s only the 22nd ranked running back according to ESPN’s fantasy experts. Considering that his backup (Darren McFadden) has never stayed healthy, it would seem that Randle has far more job security than people are giving him credit for. In limited action, Randle rushed for 6.7 yards per carry last season and could be a steal on draft day.

Our analysis also indicates that although Jeremy Hill has typically been drafted early in the second round, he should be valued as a top-five pick. We also believe that fantasy football managers are overreacting to Arian Foster’s injury, as the Texans running back could be an excellent late season performer if managers are willing to show patience.

Additional sleepers: Chris Ivory, LeSean McCoy, Todd Gurley

Players to avoid: Mark Ingram, Lamar Miller, Jonathan Stewart and Joique Bell.

Wide Receiver

Player Receiving Leader Oddsmaker Rank ESPN Rank Difference
Riley Cooper +7500 27 96 69
Martavis Bryant +6600 T-22 31 9
Steve Smith +12500 T-35 43 8
Anquan Boldin +15000 37 44 7
Andre Johnson +5300 19 24 5
Julio Jones +700 2 6 4
Calvin Johnson +800 T-3 7 4
Torrey Smith +10000 T-31 34 3
Keenan Allen +4500 16 19 3
Desean Jackson +5000 17 20 3
Roddy White +10000 T-31 33 2
Jordy Nelson +800 T-3 5 2
Larry Fitzgerald +12500 T-35 37 2
TY Hilton +1600 9 11 2
DeAndre Hopkins +2200 12 14 2
Odell Beckham +800 T-3 4 1
Antonio Brown +600 1 1 0
Randall Cobb +2000 T-10 10 0
Amari Cooper +6600 T-22 22 0
AJ Green +1200 8 8 0
Sammy Watkins +5250 18 18 0
Emmanuel Sanders +3500 T-14 13 -1
Mike Evans +3250 13 12 -1
Jeremy Maclin +8000 T-28 27 -1
Alshon Jeffery +2000 T-10 9 -1
Brandon Marshall +8000 T-28 25 -3
Dez Bryant +1000 T-6 3 -3
Demaryius Thomas +1000 T-6 2 -4
Brandin Cooks +6500 T-20 15 -5
Golden Tate +8000 T-28 23 -5
Jordan Matthews +6600 T-22 16 -6
Julian Edelman +7000 26 17 -9
Vincent Jackson +10000 T-31 21 -10

Although there were a handful of players being undervalued, one player sticks out above all others: Eagles WR Riley Cooper. Ranked as the 96th best wide receiver by ESPN draft experts, Cooper is going undrafted in most standard leagues. However, oddsmakers give Cooper the 27th best odds of leading the league in receiving yards.

Sam Bradford should be an upgrade over the combination of Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez, and Cooper should be the beneficiary of additional targets now that Jeremy Maclin is a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Cooper’s racist comments have made him unpopular in many circles, but the value is definitely there for the 6’4″ receiver.

Another sleeper is a player who has been garnering a lot of buzz in the lead up to the season — Martavis Bryant. Last season the 6’4″ receiver hauled in just 26 catches, but showed big play ability with 21.1 yards per reception and 8 touchdowns. With a full year under his belt, Bryant looks poised to make significant strides in his sophomore season.

It’s also interesting to see that ESPN has Julio Jones ranked as the 6th best receiver when 5Dimes lists him with the second best odds to lead the league in receiving yards. It’s all the more interesting when you consider this head-to-head prop bet from the UK-based Ladbrokes:

Additional sleepers: Steve Smith, Anquan Boldin, Andre Johnson

Players to avoid: Vincent Jackson, Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Golden Tate, Demaryius Thomas

For anybody interested in Daily Fantasy (DFS) make sure to check out Fantasy Labs for access to Pro Models, Lineup Optimizer and other unique data for your Week 1 lineup.

Have any questions for the staff at Sports Insights? Utilize our live chat to speak with a customer service representative or e-mail us at help@sportsinsights.com.

David Solar is the Content Manager for Sports Insights and can be reached directly at David@sportsinsights.com.

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David Solar

David Solar has been the Content Manager at Sports Insights for over four years. He specializes in sports betting analytics and has created several popular data-driven betting systems. He can be reached directly at david@sportsinsights.com or on twitter at @TheDavidSolar.

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