As fantasy managers, we’re always looking for ways to gain advantages on opponents and set our optimal lineups. With today’s day and age of technology, everyone seemingly has instant access to the same information and reports in real time. The old days of doing extended internet research to gain an edge on your competition seem long gone, as even the non-committed fantasy manager can be in the know as much as anyone else. So how can we try and use additional data out there to gain an advantage for our lineups and put together the best lineups possible?
One way that has led to some success for me has been to analyze Vegas prop bets and betting trends to identify expectations for certain players. For anyone who’s new to the betting world or unfamiliar, sports gambling has exploded over the last few years, and through platforms like DraftKings and FanDuel, you can bet on just about anything related to a football game. Previously before online gaming, you could put money down on the outcomes of games, but DraftKings has opened the door to betting on statistics from games. For example, Vegas will set an Over/Under on the number of yards, receptions, touchdowns, etc. that a player will achieve. As we know Vegas is very good at setting lines for games, and isn’t in the business of losing money, so they set these lines to a number we would expect to be very close to a player hitting.
So how can we use this data for fantasy? We can equate a players’ prop bets and lines set by Vegas into projected fantasy points. Every fantasy site sets rankings, and some owners will stick to rankings like a bible, but using Vegas as a projection tool could help give you an edge since everyone out their looks at rankings each week, but not everyone is in tune with the betting world. As an example, for Week 3, James Cook for the Buffalo Bills has the following lines on his prop bets set by Vegas – 53.5 rushing yards and 17.5 receiving yards. If Vegas is setting these lines for Cook’s production, they feel very strongly that he will produce numbers very closely to these lines. We could expect about 71 total yards from Cook on Sunday.
When it comes to touchdowns Vegas doesn’t set lines for Over/Under touchdowns, but will make odds on anytime touchdown scorers, which sets a line on the odds a player will score. For a player like Cook, his odds for anytime touchdown scorer in Week 3 are at +160, which is pretty good odds when compared to other players on the week. Using this data, we can anticipate a high probability that Cook will score a touchdown this week. Now we know touchdowns can be flukey, and very hard to predict, but given the odds set by Vegas, we think there’s a high chance of a James Cook touchdown this week. So given his expected rushing and receiving yards, plus a high chance at a touchdown, we can anticipate James Cook to score somewhere around 10-12 points this week, plus any additional points from receptions (Vegas doesn’t set prop bets on receptions for RBs). But if Cook is expected to have 17.5 receiving yards, we can anticipate a few receptions for Cook. A reasonable expectation for Cook this week would be somewhere in the range of 12-15 PPR points.
Another way to use the Vegas odds is to see which side of the bet that the money is favoring. For example, Cook is -130 to go Over 53.5 rushing yards, but is +100 to go Under 53.5. This tells us that Vegas is setting the expectation that Cook will go over this line, and the money being bet on Cook is betting on the Over. We can have a high expectation that Cook will rush for more than 53.5 yards in Sunday’s game. A similar story for Cook’s receiving yards. The odds for under 17.5 receiving yards is at -120, while the odds for going Over are at -110. This indicates Vegas odds and the money being bet are telling us to expect Cook to hit under 17.5 receiving yards this week. If we combine the two together, and assume he rushes for more than 53.5, but gets less than 17.5 receiving yards, the 12-15 PPR point projection we laid out above is what we can expect.
When we look at Vegas odds, of course the superstar players are going to have better projected stats, but where we can use this data to help us in fantasy, is to analyze the mid-tier of players and see if there’s anything in the slate that jumps out as unusual. If you’re having a tough lineup decision split between two guys, look at the Vegas odds on their prop bets and use that data to put together projections. Here’s a few players that I saw on the slate this week that caught my eye from Vegas.
Players to Start
Jaylen Warren, Pittsburgh Steelers – Last season Najee showed a lack of explosiveness, and we heard whispers of Jaylen Warren becoming more and more involved in the offense. That trend has seemingly continued this year, as Warren has been on the field for ~40% of snaps in both games and has seen his opportunities grow from 9 to 12 from Week 1 to Week 2. The Vegas line for total yards for Warren sits at 47.5, with the odds set at -115 for both the Over and the Under. We can reasonably expect Warren to finish the day with right around 47.5 yards total. The interesting part of this is the odds laid out for Najee Harris. The line on Harris’ total yards is set at 66.5, much higher than Warren, however Harris is -125 to hit the under, and only -105 to hit the over, meaning Vegas and the bettors strongly believe Najee won’t hit 67 yards in this game. If Najee continues to be inefficient, we could see Warren continue to get more and more work in the backfield, and a soft matchup against the Raiders this week could put Warren into the low-end RB2 conversation when the week’s over. For example, I would start Warren ahead of guys like Khalil Herbert, Roschon Johnson, Dalvin Cook, Samaje Perine and Dameon Pierce.
Gabriel Davis – A very disappointing Week 1 had us feeling tremors from last season with Davis, where he was completely boom or bust and provided some week winning games but gave you basement level floors in the other games. Gabe came along in Week 2 with a more consistent performance, 6 catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. Davis’s line this week is set at 40.5 yards, and the odds say we can expect him to hit the Over. He is at-125 for the over, and -105 for the under, meaning most of the money is slamming the over.
Drake London – Similar to Gabe Davis, London disappeared in Week 1 with 0 points and gave managers heartburn given the reasonably high capital needed to acquire him this year in drafts. Questions about the Falcons’ passing game volume had people shipping London off for pennies on the dollar. He bounced back in Week 2 with 6 for 67 and a touchdown, and we can expect another solid output in Week 3. His line is set at 51.5 yards, and the odds favor the Over this week (-120).
Tyjae Spears – A deeper cut here we’ve seen Spears somewhat involved in the Titans’ offense. Seemingly the days’ of workhorse Henry aren’t completely gone, but there’s a compliment in the backfield now. Spears’ snap percentage went down in Week 2, but his opportunities increased. Spears’ line is set at 34.5 yards with the odds favoring the Over.
Players to Fade
Najee Harris – Part of the reason I like Warren is due to the decline of Harris. Even in a soft matchup, I would look for other options way from Harris within reason. Najee’s line is set at 66.5 yards, with the heavy odds on the Under. I believe a big part of this is the expectation of more involvement from Warren.
Dameon Pierce – Pierce has been very inefficient this year as the Texan’s have seemingly become an Air Raid attack, and we should expect Pierce to continue to underwhelm in Week 3. Pierce’s line is set at 61.5 yards with the odds leaning towards the Under.
Roschon Jonson, Chicago Bears – Roschon has been a favorite sleeper since early in the off-season and exploded in Week 1. I wouldn’t have high expectations for Johnson this week since his line is set at 40.5 and the odds favor the under. Running mate Khalil Herbert’s line is set at 46.5 with equal odds to the Over and Under, so if you’re debating between the two, I would play Herbert this week ahead of Johnson.
Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Another mid-round favorite from draft season, White continued a lot of what we saw in Week 1 – a lot of inefficiency on the ground. He came back to life in Week 2 and exploded for 21 PPR points, but Vegas is telling us to look elsewhere this week if you have a similar option. White’s line for total yards is set at 70.5 with a heavy amount going towards the under. 70.5 is still a really attractive line so I wouldn’t get away from White completely for a lower tier option, but for example I would start James Conner, Miles Sanders, Zack Moss, Raheem Mostert, and James Cook over him If you have that decision this week.