2016 Fantasy Football: Sleepers and Busts from the Oddsmakers

2016 Fantasy Football: Sleepers and Busts from the Oddsmakers

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

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

Last season this strategy had some success, although there were certainly a few major whiffs. We had tremendous success at the quarterback position, recommending that managers take Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr and Jameis Winston in later rounds. All of those players outperformed their average draft position. We also recommended that managers avoid Tony Romo entirely, and he played only four games due to injuries.

Unfortunately, our recommendations for running backs were slightly less accurate. We pinpointed Cowboys running back Joseph Randle as a potential steal, but teammate Darren McFadden finished as the team’s top rusher. We also said to avoid Mark Ingram and Lamar Miller — both of whom posted tremendous seasons. On the bright side, fantasy managers would have done well to follow our advice to select Chris Ivory and Todd Gurley.

We also projected a breakthrough season for Martavius Bryant, who was incredibly productive after serving his four-game suspension. Unfortunately, the veteran receivers we highlighted (Steve Smith, Anquan Boldin and Andre Johnson) all failed to impress.

This season we will once again analyze the three major positions looking for the best and worst values according to the oddsmakers. This list should be used alongside your normal rankings in order to highlight players that are being drafted too high or low.

Quarterback

PlayerOdds (8/29)Oddsmaker RankESPN RankDifference
Drew Brees  +550154
Ben Roethlisberger  +750264
Andrew Luck  +900341
Philip Rivers  +9003118
Matt Ryan  +100052116
Aaron Rodgers  +110062-4
Eli Manning  +1100693
Carson Palmer  +120087-1
Kirk Cousins  +20009134
Matthew Stafford  +210010166
Blake Bortles  +22001110-1
Tom Brady  +2500128-4
Joe Flacco  +2600132310
Russell Wilson  +3300143-11
Ryan Tannehill  +330014206
Derek Carr  +330014140
Ryan Fitzpatrick  +350017192
Tony Romo  +4000183214
Jameis Winston  +50001918-1
Cam Newton  +5000191-18
Brock Osweiler  +500019223
Andy Dalton  +50001917-2
Jay Cutler  +575023241
Marcus Mariota  +62502415-9
Alex Smith  +750025272
Teddy Bridgewater  +850026260
Robert Griffin III  +100002725-2
Sam Bradford  +1000027292
Mark Sanchez  +12500293910
Tyrod Taylor  +125002912-17
Jared Goff  +1350031365
Blaine Gabbert  +150003231-1
Geno Smith  +15000324210
Carson Wentz  +1750034417
Colin Kaepernick  +2000035350
Jimmy Garoppolo  +275003634-2
Josh McCown  +2750036382
Paxton Lynch  +300003837-1

It’s important to note that these oddsmakers rankings only examine the odds to lead the league in passing yards, so the rankings for mobile quarterbacks are highly skewed. These oddsmaker rankings fail to correctly pinpoint the value of players like Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor, Russell Wilson and Marcus Mariota, so they will not be included in either list.

In terms of potential value, Matt Ryan looks like a late round steal. The Falcons quarterback has the fifth-best odds of leading the league in passing yards, yet he’s just the 21st-ranked quarterback according to ESPN. Our oddsmakers rankings don’t account for statistical categories like touchdowns or interceptions, but this type of inconsistency is tough to ignore.

Given the depth of the position, I’m a big proponent of waiting to select a quarterback this season. Instead of taking an elite quarterback early, managers would be well served to wait until the later rounds and take some combination of Matt Ryan, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. By selecting the best matchup on a week-to-week basis, managers may be able to replicate the production of top-ranked quarterbacks.

Underrated: Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins

Overrated: Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton, Blake Bortles, Carson Palmer

Running Back

PlayerOdds (8/29)Oddsmaker RankESPN RankDifference
Adrian Peterson  +600110
Todd Gurley  +750220
Doug Martin  +900385
Lamar Miller  +900374
Ezekiel Elliott  +97553-2
Le'Veon Bell  +1100660
LeSean McCoy  +14007125
Jamaal Charles  +14007114
Eddie Lacy  +17009101
Thomas Rawls  +17009167
David Johnson  +1900114-7
Arian Foster  +2000122412
Carlos Hyde  +200012142
C.J. Anderson  +200012153
Jonathan Stewart  +22001513-2
Matt Jones  +250016237
Devonta Freeman  +2500165-11
Mark Ingram  +2500169-7
DeMarco Murray  +330019212
Ryan Mathews  +330019201
Jeremy Hill  +33001918-1
Latavius Murray  +330019190
Justin Forsett  +3500233916
Jay Ajayi  +3500233714
Jeremy Langford  +35002322-1
Frank Gore  +350023285
Matt Forte  +35002317-6
Melvin Gordon  +45002825-3
Chris Ivory  +500029334
Rashad Jennings  +60003029-1
LeGarrette Blount  +7500314312
Ameer Abdullah  +750031321
Isaiah Crowell  +1000033418
T.J. Yeldon  +100003330-3
Chris Johnson  +10000335623
Derrick Henry  +1000033341
Giovani Bernard  +175003731-6
James Starks  +3000038424
Jordan Howard  +30000385719
Tevin Coleman  +3000038446

These oddsmakers ratings are an imperfect measurement, but it does reveal some valuable information. For instance, Doug Martin has the third-best odds of leading the league in rushing despite being ESPN’s 8th ranked running back. Occasionally these discrepancies can be explained by a player’s role within their offense. Do they receive goal line carries? Do they offer value as a receiver? Are they injury prone? These are all serious concerns for Martin, which makes him the ultimate boom or bust player.

In order to fully exploit these oddsmakers rankings, you need to compare similar players. David Johnson has the 11th best odds to league the league in rushing, but he’s also the favorite to lead the league in total touchdowns. Jamaal Charles has better odds of leading the league in rushing yards, but that doesn’t make him a superior player. Charles has suffered several major injuries over his career, which makes him a huge risk. Johnson provides additional value as a receiver, which needs to be taken into consideration. For what it’s worth, anybody drafting David Johnson should select backup Chris Johnson as a handcuff in later rounds.

In comparing similar players, I would strongly recommend that fantasy managers select Lamar Miller over the higher ranked Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys have a tremendous offensive line and I have no doubts about Elliott’s talent, but he’s not a proven commodity.

Underrated: Lamar Miller, LeSean McCoy, Thomas Rawls, Arian Foster, Justin Forsett, Matt Jones

Overrated: Devonta Freeman, Mark Ingram, Ezekiel Elliott, Jonathan Stewart

Wide Receiver

PlayerOdds (8/29)Oddsmaker RankESPN RankDifference
Antonio Brown  +500110
Julio Jones  +700231
Odell Beckham Jr.  +100032-1
DeAndre Hopkins  +1000341
Jordy Nelson  +1400583
A.J. Green  +160065-1
Alshon Jeffery  +25007103
Dez Bryant  +2500770
T.Y. Hilton  +26009178
Allen Robinson  +2800106-4
Amari Cooper  +280010144
Sammy Watkins  +330012120
Keenan Allen  +330012164
Demaryius Thomas  +330012153
Brandon Marshall  +3300129-3
Brandin Cooks  +330012131
Mike Evans  +33001211-1
Doug Baldwin  +400018191
Golden Tate  +430019245
Jeremy Maclin  +430019212
Jarvis Landry  +430019201
Eric Decker  +500022231
Emmanuel Sanders  +575023263
Jordan Matthews  +625024317
John Brown  +625024306
Marvin Jones  +625024339
Kelvin Benjamin  +660027281
Julian Edelman  +75002818-10
Donte Moncrief  +80002925-4
DeSean Jackson  +850030322
DeVante Parker  +1000031365
Randall Cobb  +100003122-9
Willie Snead  +10000314312
Kevin White  +1000031387
Larry Fitzgerald  +100003129-2
Michael Floyd  +100003128-3
Steve Smith  +17500375013
Allen Hurns  +175003734-3
Corey Coleman  +3000039478
Dorial Green-Beckham  +30000397031
Vincent Jackson  +3000039445

The ESPN ranking system is based on a standard scoring format, so obviously the results are skewed for anybody participating in a PPR league. That also helps explain why two of the most overrated wide receivers (Julian Edelman and Randall Cobb) are undersized, possession receivers. That said, one of my favorite sleepers falls in the same category.

During his rookie season, Willie Snead tallied 69 receptions for 984 yards in 15 games. Despite that production and his prominent role in a pass-heavy offense, Snead is currently the 43rd ranked receiver. He’s ranked behind popular lottery tickets Kevin White and Sterling Shepard, but neither of those players have played a single NFL snap. Drew Brees is the favorite to lead the league in passing yards, it’s fair to expect even better numbers from Snead this season.

Underrated: Steve Smith, Marvin Jones, T.Y. Hilton, Jordan Matthews, Golden Tate

Overrated: Allen Robinson, Brandon Marshall, Michael Floyd

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.

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David Solar

David was the Content Manager at Sports Insights. He has since moved on to greener pastures.

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