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

Player Odds (8/29) Oddsmaker Rank ESPN Rank Difference
Drew Brees   +550 1 5 4
Ben Roethlisberger   +750 2 6 4
Andrew Luck   +900 3 4 1
Philip Rivers   +900 3 11 8
Matt Ryan   +1000 5 21 16
Aaron Rodgers   +1100 6 2 -4
Eli Manning   +1100 6 9 3
Carson Palmer   +1200 8 7 -1
Kirk Cousins   +2000 9 13 4
Matthew Stafford   +2100 10 16 6
Blake Bortles   +2200 11 10 -1
Tom Brady   +2500 12 8 -4
Joe Flacco   +2600 13 23 10
Russell Wilson   +3300 14 3 -11
Ryan Tannehill   +3300 14 20 6
Derek Carr   +3300 14 14 0
Ryan Fitzpatrick   +3500 17 19 2
Tony Romo   +4000 18 32 14
Jameis Winston   +5000 19 18 -1
Cam Newton   +5000 19 1 -18
Brock Osweiler   +5000 19 22 3
Andy Dalton   +5000 19 17 -2
Jay Cutler   +5750 23 24 1
Marcus Mariota   +6250 24 15 -9
Alex Smith   +7500 25 27 2
Teddy Bridgewater   +8500 26 26 0
Robert Griffin III   +10000 27 25 -2
Sam Bradford   +10000 27 29 2
Mark Sanchez   +12500 29 39 10
Tyrod Taylor   +12500 29 12 -17
Jared Goff   +13500 31 36 5
Blaine Gabbert   +15000 32 31 -1
Geno Smith   +15000 32 42 10
Carson Wentz   +17500 34 41 7
Colin Kaepernick   +20000 35 35 0
Jimmy Garoppolo   +27500 36 34 -2
Josh McCown   +27500 36 38 2
Paxton Lynch   +30000 38 37 -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

Player Odds (8/29) Oddsmaker Rank ESPN Rank Difference
Adrian Peterson   +600 1 1 0
Todd Gurley   +750 2 2 0
Doug Martin   +900 3 8 5
Lamar Miller   +900 3 7 4
Ezekiel Elliott   +975 5 3 -2
Le'Veon Bell   +1100 6 6 0
LeSean McCoy   +1400 7 12 5
Jamaal Charles   +1400 7 11 4
Eddie Lacy   +1700 9 10 1
Thomas Rawls   +1700 9 16 7
David Johnson   +1900 11 4 -7
Arian Foster   +2000 12 24 12
Carlos Hyde   +2000 12 14 2
C.J. Anderson   +2000 12 15 3
Jonathan Stewart   +2200 15 13 -2
Matt Jones   +2500 16 23 7
Devonta Freeman   +2500 16 5 -11
Mark Ingram   +2500 16 9 -7
DeMarco Murray   +3300 19 21 2
Ryan Mathews   +3300 19 20 1
Jeremy Hill   +3300 19 18 -1
Latavius Murray   +3300 19 19 0
Justin Forsett   +3500 23 39 16
Jay Ajayi   +3500 23 37 14
Jeremy Langford   +3500 23 22 -1
Frank Gore   +3500 23 28 5
Matt Forte   +3500 23 17 -6
Melvin Gordon   +4500 28 25 -3
Chris Ivory   +5000 29 33 4
Rashad Jennings   +6000 30 29 -1
LeGarrette Blount   +7500 31 43 12
Ameer Abdullah   +7500 31 32 1
Isaiah Crowell   +10000 33 41 8
T.J. Yeldon   +10000 33 30 -3
Chris Johnson   +10000 33 56 23
Derrick Henry   +10000 33 34 1
Giovani Bernard   +17500 37 31 -6
James Starks   +30000 38 42 4
Jordan Howard   +30000 38 57 19
Tevin Coleman   +30000 38 44 6

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

Player Odds (8/29) Oddsmaker Rank ESPN Rank Difference
Antonio Brown   +500 1 1 0
Julio Jones   +700 2 3 1
Odell Beckham Jr.   +1000 3 2 -1
DeAndre Hopkins   +1000 3 4 1
Jordy Nelson   +1400 5 8 3
A.J. Green   +1600 6 5 -1
Alshon Jeffery   +2500 7 10 3
Dez Bryant   +2500 7 7 0
T.Y. Hilton   +2600 9 17 8
Allen Robinson   +2800 10 6 -4
Amari Cooper   +2800 10 14 4
Sammy Watkins   +3300 12 12 0
Keenan Allen   +3300 12 16 4
Demaryius Thomas   +3300 12 15 3
Brandon Marshall   +3300 12 9 -3
Brandin Cooks   +3300 12 13 1
Mike Evans   +3300 12 11 -1
Doug Baldwin   +4000 18 19 1
Golden Tate   +4300 19 24 5
Jeremy Maclin   +4300 19 21 2
Jarvis Landry   +4300 19 20 1
Eric Decker   +5000 22 23 1
Emmanuel Sanders   +5750 23 26 3
Jordan Matthews   +6250 24 31 7
John Brown   +6250 24 30 6
Marvin Jones   +6250 24 33 9
Kelvin Benjamin   +6600 27 28 1
Julian Edelman   +7500 28 18 -10
Donte Moncrief   +8000 29 25 -4
DeSean Jackson   +8500 30 32 2
DeVante Parker   +10000 31 36 5
Randall Cobb   +10000 31 22 -9
Willie Snead   +10000 31 43 12
Kevin White   +10000 31 38 7
Larry Fitzgerald   +10000 31 29 -2
Michael Floyd   +10000 31 28 -3
Steve Smith   +17500 37 50 13
Allen Hurns   +17500 37 34 -3
Corey Coleman   +30000 39 47 8
Dorial Green-Beckham   +30000 39 70 31
Vincent Jackson   +30000 39 44 5

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.

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.

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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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