Utilizing Vegas Prop Bets to Identify Undervalued Pass Catchers (Fantasy Football)
If you’ve been sports betting at all for the past few years, then you know one phrase that’s pretty common: “The House Always Wins”. For those of you that don’t bet much, this essentially means that no matter how many people win or lose, the casino or sportsbook taking the bets is going to make money. This is partly because of the lines they set, but it’s also because of the insane statistical research put into their lines. Vegas sportsbooks have some of the best data analysts in the world working on their teams, and the models they build to make the lines are as sophisticated as any program you’d see on Wall Street.
When it comes to fantasy football, we can use these lines to our advantage. For pass catchers, in particular, Vegas has enough lines to project actual fantasy points for a season. Since the vast majority of fantasy leagues score points on receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns, we can calculate projected fantasy output for the players that have lines listed for all three. There are a few outliers like Deebo Samuel who will be tougher to confirm since rushing yards are a big part of their fantasy totals, but for the most part, it’s a pretty simple exercise.
As we all know, exercise is the worst. So I took care of it for you. I pulled all of the lines from the DraftKings Sportsbook and identified which pass catchers had lines for the major statistical categories in fantasy. There were a total of 33 players, made up of both wide receivers and tight ends. As Kyle Borgognoni recently explained in a similar exercise, Vegas totals are typically lower than projected fantasy totals across the board, for the purpose of making the lines enticing and potential missed games. Kyle normalized his examination of receiving yardage totals and I’m going to do the same thing for fantasy point projection discrepancies.
The average gap between projected Vegas totals and the projected totals in the UDK was 24.52 fantasy points per player. For the purpose of more realistic data, I added the median total from each player’s individual gap and finalized a list in order of the largest discrepancies to the smallest. Players that have a negative gap may be a bit overvalued or have more risk according to DK lines, and players with a positive gap are potential mathematical value picks since Vegas and DK like them a bit more than the Footballers do. Keep in mind that Vegas doesn’t factor in roster construction or weekly ceiling for your fantasy team, but they do factor in football. I would focus much closer on the UDK projections when drafting, but it’s worth keeping these things in mind when it comes to tiebreakers on draft day.
Here’s the list, with players with positive values on the far right column having potential value according to the betting lines. The higher the number on the right column is, the more the DraftKings Sportsbook likes that player when compared to the Footballers projections:
|Player||Receiving Yards (DK Prop)||TDs (DK Prop)||Receptions (DK Prop)||FFB Projections||DK Projection (Fantasy Points)||Gap||Gap + Median|
|Odell Beckham, Jr||925.5||6||69.5||185.8||163.3||-22.5||2.0|
Here are four of the potentially undervalued pass catchers that seem to stand out from this exercise:
It didn’t surprise me at all to see DJ Chark lead the pack here, because he’s someone with a lot of potential variance. The offseason narratives from the coaching staff weren’t excessively positive, and there are a lot of unknowns in the Jaguars’ offense. Chark does have the skillset to be their number one option, we just don’t have the same level of confidence. Chark was the only player to have a negative gap before the median was removed, so he’s someone that Vegas appears to like quite a bit. His draft cost is reasonable, so he’s someone we should consider drafting more often at his ADP, depending on roster build and format. His upside is enticing, but his floor isn’t guaranteed.
Thomas is fresh off a contract extension and is working with a new and improved quarterback, which bodes well for his long-term outlook. Washington wouldn’t pay him if they didn’t want to use him, and the team still lacks significant weapons in the passing game outside of Terry McLaurin. The biggest issue is going to be whether or not he sees the same target volume he did with Alex Smith since Smith was primarily a check-down artist and short-yardage king. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a much more aggressive thrower of the football, but he also takes more risks near the end zone. Thomas may balance out his lower target share with a higher touchdown rate. The Tight End position is a difficult one to project at times, but Logan Thomas looks like a lock for a top-12 finish. He may not be as exciting as some other guys at his position, but his floor should be rock solid.
Cooper seems to be undervalued every season, including the ones he was in Oakland. His ‘boom or bust’ tag has followed him everywhere, despite his consistency as a fantasy performer. Per the career consistency charts in the UDK, Cooper has finished as a top-18 receiver in three straight seasons, and as a WR2 or better in every season except 2018 when he missed two games. The emergence of CeeDee Lamb and the presence of a lot of offensive firepower seems to be capping his ceiling from every statistical view, but his ADP is a bit too low. Cooper is a rock solid WR2 with week-winning upside and should be drafted as such.
There are a lot of options in the Tampa Bay passing game, which should tell you that Tom Brady is somehow being undervalued again this year. I’ll leave that defense to Andy because he is spot-on about Brady’s ADP. The argument regarding their WR1 has settled down this past year as Mike Evans found the end zone at a ridiculous clip. We’re only one season removed from an overall WR2 finish for Godwin, and it appears as if a slight overcorrection may be underway. Evans is a primary candidate for severe touchdown regression, and Godwin was hobbled at times last year. He’s healthy and ready to go for 2021 which is a beautiful thing. Brady has always favored his slot receivers, so I expect a big-time bounce-back for Godwin and a fresh postseason debate regarding the Bucs WR1.