Whenever a Pro Bowl caliber player gets injured, my inbox is inundated with questions about how sportsbooks will adjust their numbers and how oddsmakers assign the point-spread values necessary to make a line adjustment.
In the past, we have found that elite quarterbacks are worth roughly between 6 to 7 points to the spread, which was demonstrated last season following Ben Roethlisberger’s knee injury and Tom Brady’s four-game suspension. Even p̶e̶r̶e̶n̶n̶i̶a̶l̶ ̶l̶a̶u̶g̶h̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶s̶t̶o̶c̶k̶s̶ second tier quarterbacks like Jay Cutler can greatly impact the spread — especially if they have an inept backup. The value of other skill positions, on the other hand, may shock many bettors.
After speaking with representatives from three different sportsbooks (Bookmaker, The Greek, and William Hill), I was able to compile a consensus list of NFL point spread values. These numbers may fluctuate throughout the season, which was well demonstrated last year following Tony Romo’s injury and Dak Prescott’s phenomenal (and surprising) performance. That said, these numbers provide valuable insight into the methodology of bookmakers.
Outside of the quarterback position, there are only a handful of players capable of impacting to the line, with very few players valued at more than a half point. This valuation can be impacted by the matchup, as an elite running back’s value is increased against subpar run defenses.
An absence for players like Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, Rob Gronkowski, Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, and A.J. Green will likely move the line. LeSean McCoy, Dez Bryant, Devonta Freeman, Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley, and Travis Kelce are all viewed as borderline players, and the line won’t necessarily move if they’re ruled out.
One of the most interesting conversations involved defensive players, as there wasn’t a consensus about which players could affect the line. Two of the people I spoke with named J.J. Watt, Von Miller and Khalil Mack as the only defensive players who can move the spread while another representative specifically singled out Watt, arguing he could be worth as much as 1.5 points.
It’s also important to note that sportsbooks place tremendous value on cluster injuries. Books won’t adjust their spread if one offensive lineman is ruled out (even an All-Pro caliber player like Joe Thomas), but they will adjust the spread up to 2 points if three or more lineman are forced to sit.
The value of starting quarterbacks varies based on the matchup and the quality of their backup. Players can obviously improve their point spread value slightly by exceeding pre-season expectations, but the list below provides some insight into the most valuable players in the league.
Special thanks to Scott Cooley, Ryan Oakes, Nick Bogdanovich and Scott Kaminski.
Tier 1 (6-7.5 points)
|Aaron Rodgers||Green Bay Packers||89-58|
|Ben Roethlisberger||Pittsburgh Steelers||105-93|
There was some disagreement among the people I interviewed regarding which quarterbacks should be included in the top tier. Last season Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger were the consensus picks, but this year Rodgers was the only “elite” player identified by all three individuals. Part of that is based on the Patriots coaching and the emergence of Jimmy Garoppolo.
“I could make the case that Jimmy G’s value is around 1 point,” stated Scott Cooley, a spokesman for Bookmaker. “It’s all about the system, which is why I don’t have Tom Brady in the top tier. He’s certainly worth that 6-6.5, but not as much as Rodgers and Big Ben.”
That same sentiment was shared by Nick Bogdanovich, the Director of Trading at William Hill. “Jimmy is worth something as a backup. If Brady is out, then Jimmy’s value of 1 would take over; not the full 6-7.” If the Patriots had traded Garoppolo over the off-season and Jacoby Brissett was the tentative backup, Brady would have been included in this top tier.
Tier 2 (5-6 points)
|Tom Brady||New England Patriots||136-92|
|Matt Ryan||Atlanta Falcons||78-69|
|Derek Carr||Oakland Raiders||26-21|
|Andrew Luck||Indianapolis Colts||44-30|
|Drew Brees||New Orleans Saints||120-99|
There was a general consensus regarding the second tier of quarterbacks, although there was some debate surrounding Derek Carr and Drew Brees. One representative that I spoke with stated that Carr belonged in the first tier along with Brady, Rodgers and Roethlisberger; however, he was the lone dissenter. Another claimed that Brees was showing signs of slowing down and worried about the loss of wide receiver Brandin Cooks, and argued he should be placed in the third tier.
For the second straight year, Andrew Luck was one of the most polarizing quarterbacks in the league. Everybody expressed various levels of concern about the Colts offensive line, and there was ambivalence about whether the Stanford alum belonged in second of third tier.
Tier 3 (4-5 points)
|Russell Wilson||Seattle Seahawks||52-37|
|Matthew Stafford||Detroit Lions||47-62|
|Philip Rivers||Los Angeles Chargers||94-87|
|Cam Newton||Carolina Panthers||54-43|
Another player who drew mixed reactions was 2015 MVP Cam Newton, with one person I spoke using the term “one-year wonder.” There’s no questioning Newton’s ability, but it’s impossible to overlook his poor decision making. It’s also worth noting that sportsbooks have some respect for Derek Anderson, the Panthers veteran backup. That’s a significant factor when comparing Newton to somebody like Luck, since Scott Tolizen doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in oddsmakers.
Tier 4 (3-4 points)
|Kirk Cousins||Washington Redskins||23-19|
|Eli Manning||New York Giants||110-94|
|Dak Prescott||Dallas Cowboys||10-7|
|Jameis Winston||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||16-16|
|Alex Smith||Kansas City Chiefs||77-67|
Alex Smith was easily the most hotly debated player in Tier 4, with the term “game manager” used liberally. That said, it’s tough to overlook Smith’s 67.1% completion rate and the Chiefs 12-4 record last season. Smith has always shown great instincts and has excelled at limiting mistakes. It’s easy to understand why some people aren’t sold on Smith’s value, but he’s one of the most underrated signal callers in the league.
Tier 5 (2-3 points)
|Marcus Mariota||Tennessee Titans||9-17|
|Carson Palmer||Arizona Cardinals||82-92|
|Ryan Tannehill||Miami Dolphins||35-40|
|Joe Flacco||Baltimore Ravens||76-70|
|Andy Dalton||Cincinnati Bengals||51-39|
|Sam Bradford||Minnesota Vikings||39-39|
Aside from Marcus Mariota, the fourth tier is largely comprised by veteran quarterbacks with limited upside. These are middle-of-the-road starters that are capable of moving the chains and winning games. Perhaps the most interesting development is that Carson Palmer and Joe Flacco were both viewed as Tier 2 quarterbacks before last season, but have regressed significantly.
Tier 6 (1-2 points)
|Blake Bortles||Jacksonville Jaguars||20-23|
|Tyrod Taylor||Buffalo Bills||14-13|
|Carson Wentz||Philadelphia Eagles||8-8|
One representative I spoke with was significantly more optimistic about Carson Wentz than the other two, but I have some concerns about the Eagles franchise quarterback. After getting off to a hot start, Wentz displayed poor decision making and often struggled with his accuracy. Adding Alshon Jeffrey over the offseason was a big move, but Philadelphia still has one of the league’s worst receiving corps.
Tier 7 (No Value)
|Trevor Siemian||Denver Broncos||8-6|
|Jared Goff||Los Angeles Rams||0-7|
|Josh McCown||New York Jets||26-33|
|Brian Hoyer||San Francisco 49ers||17-13|
|Cody Kessler||Cleveland Browns||2-6|
|Mike Glennon||Chicago Bears||8-10|
|Tom Savage||Houston Texans||0-2|
There are several teams who have not officially announced their quarterback including the 49ers, Browns, Bears and Texans. Even so, the difference between the presumptive starter and backup is so minimal that the spread likely won’t change much (if at all) once the starter is announced.
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