The NFL preseason kicks off Sunday with the Miami Dolphins facing the Dallas Cowboys, which means fantasy football fiends around the globe are doing hardcore research to prepare for their drafts. While Yahoo, NFL.com and ESPN all utilize a team of fantasy gurus to compile their rankings, we’re more curious about the people with real money on the line — specifically offshore oddsmakers. Every season, a number of sportsbooks offer season-long prop bets regarding which players will lead the league in various categories, and their odds can easily be turned into a ranking system.
Last season, we examined the discrepancies between ESPN’s rankings and these sportsbook props to determine which players were being undervalued. Among our conclusions, we stated that Brandon Marshall (the 12th ranked player according to ESPN) was being undervalued based on his odds to win the NFL receiving title. Ultimately, Marshall finished 3rd in the league in receiving yards while ending the year as the 2nd ranked fantasy receiver (trailing Calvin Johnson by just 4 points in a standard scoring league).
We also highlighted the Broncos’ WR Demaryius Thomas (23rd ADP, 17th best odds) as a potential sleeper, and with 1,434 receiving yards and 10 TD’s, Thomas finished 2012 as the 5th ranked fantasy receiver. But who will be the biggest sleepers this season? By comparing the yardage props at Sportsbook.com and BetOnline with the players average draft position (ADP) at Yahoo, we were able to discover some major disparities.
Quarterbacks are typically the highest scoring players in fantasy, so we will begin by comparing the odds of each player to win the NFL passing title with their Yahoo rankings.
As you can see, Drew Brees is the favorite to lead the league in passing yards at both sportsbooks, but he is listed behind Aaron Rodgers for fantasy purposes. Although Rodgers does offer an additional rushing dimension (Rodgers out-rushed Brees 259 to 5 last season), it’s worth noting that Brees actually finished last season as the higher ranked fantasy performer.
You may also be curious to see that Cam Newton — ranked as the 3rd best quarterback by Yahoo — does not appear on these rankings. That is because most of Newton’s fantasy value comes from his legs. Last season the Auburn product ranked 1st amongst all QB’s in rushing TD’s and 2nd in rushing yards (trailing Robert Griffin III by 74 yards), however he finished just 13th in passing yards.
The sleeper in this bunch looks to be Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford. The former #1 overall pick has the 2nd best odds to lead all passers in yardage at BetOnline and the 3rd best odds at Sportsbook.com. However, Stafford is ranked just 9th according to Yahoo experts. Considering that Stafford was the 4th ranked QB going into last season and was just 33 yards away from back-to-back 5,000 yards seasons, it’s surprising to see Stafford being drafted in the same area as perpetual choker Tony Romo. With the offseason addition of Reggie Bush, Stafford has yet another weapon to utilize and could be a steal in the middle rounds of your draft.
Running Back Rankings
Last season we highlighted Jamaal Charles as an undervalued player, and he rewarded any faithful readers with 1,509 rushing yards — good for 4th in the league. This season it’s Washington’s Alfred Morris and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson who are being undervalued in the fantasy community. Morris, who has the 4th best odds to win the rushing title at BetOnline, is only the 9th ranked running back according to Yahoo. Johnson (who previously rushed for over 2,000 yards) doesn’t even crack the top 10 fantasy backs, yet the former East Carolina star is tied for the 8th best odds to win the rushing title at BetOnline.
Looking for a player to avoid? Look no further than the newest Falcon RB — Steven Jackson. The 30-year old running back is the 11th ranked rusher by Yahoo (14th ranked overall), yet his odds of winning the rushing title look incredibly grim at 40/1. Those long odds rank just 20th at Sportsbook.com and trail lower ranked players such as David Wilson, DeMarco Murray and Frank Gore.
Wide Receiver Rankings
Over the past five seasons, there may be no fantasy player more undervalued than Wes Welker. Despite his short stature, the undrafted receiver has recorded at least 100 receptions and 1,100 yards in five of the past six seasons. Although he will no longer be catching balls from Tom Brady, it’s not exactly like he downgraded by signing with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Still, Welker is currently the 24th ranked fantasy receiver and is being drafted behind the likes or Pierre Garcon, teammate Eric Decker, and his replacement in New England, Danny Amendola. However, oddsmakers clearly have a different take. At +1,200, Welker is tied for the 5th best odds to lead the league in receiving at BetOnline. Admittedly, Welker’s size often keeps his red zone targets limited, but this is one of the most consistent receivers in the league playing in what should be one of the league’s most explosive offenses. Particularly in PPR (Points Per Reception) leagues, Welker is a bona fide stud.
It’s also worth nothing that although Jimmy Graham is ranked 38 spots ahead of Rob Gronkowski (15 vs. 53), the league’s two premier tight ends actually have identical odds to lead the league in receiving at +10,000. That information indicates that oddsmakers have faith in the health of Gronk, who is currently recovering from both back and forearm surgeries.
Which players will you be targeting this fantasy season? Do you disagree with any of the oddsmakers’ projections? Please leave any thoughts or questions in the comment section below, and don’t forget to check out our injury reporter app for the the latest and most accurate injury news.