Vegas is smart…very smart. The guys in Vegas that make betting lines incorporate predictive analytics and human intuition into their lines. It’s their job and if they weren’t any good at it they would be out of a job. Jonathan Bales has a great breakdown about taking advantage of Vegas lines and odds in his Fantasy Football For Smart People series. I highly recommend checking it out and adding it as another tool to your fantasy football tool belt. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
I have been successfully using Vegas lines in fantasy football for a couple of years. I took a look at early yardage prop bets to uncover five players Vegas odds rank higher than their ADPs. The following prop bets are based upon the odds Vegas has on a player to lead the league in passing, rushing or receiving yardage.
ALFRED MORRIS (Vegas Odds Rank: 6, ADP: 12) The first two years of Morris’ career place him as the 9th most successful running back of all time in between Ladanian Tomlinson and Barry Sanders. Let that sink in for a bit. Vegas lines have him as the 6th most likely running back to lead the league in rushing in 2014. Morris has averaged 1444 yards and 10 touchdowns over 2 seasons. The addition of Desean Jackson should keep safeties deep and allow Morris to succeed. As Rich Hribar noted, Washington trailed by two scores in the first half eight different times in 2013, tied for most in the league with Houston and Jacksonville. While Washington’s play dipped last year Morris’ did not, as he averaged 4.6 yards per carry. If Morris does happen to add 15-25 catches, as Cedric Benson and Benjarvis Green-Ellis were able to do under Gruden, then you could have yourself a RB1. Morris is going in the late 2nd/early 3rd in most drafts…and even later in best ball leagues.
ELI MANNING (Vegas Rank: 12, ADP: 19) – Manning was atrocious in 2013. Enter Ben McAdoo and film favorite Odell Beckham and Vegas now ranks Manning 12th most likely to lead the league in passing. Is it likely to happen…probably not. Does that make him useless…absolutely not. A lot of 2013 could be blamed on injuries as only 5 of 11 Giants starters played a full 16 games. We are still high on Rueben Randle who was more efficient with his targets than Hakeem Nicks. Victor Cruz looks to bounce back to Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall levels. While there is no one stat that I can point at that says Eli will succeed in 2014, if you believe in any of the weapons around him, he will do better than 2013. His ADP sits in round 13 as the 19th QB taken, which makes him a target for Late Round QB practitioners. Vegas likes him better than the likes of Alex Smith and Carson Palmer, who are two popular LRQB options.
E.J. MANUEL (Vegas Rank: 14, ADP: Undrafted) – 100/1 isn’t great odds to lead the league in passing, but it’s surprisingly better than the likes of Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick. While Geno Smith was kind of awesome for 8 games last year, Manuel was more consistent as he put up at least a touchdown in eight of ten games. Manuel was also useful against his AFC East foes averaging over 21 PPG and over 24 PPG in games where Buffalo was favored. Last year the Fantasy Douche introduced his Hydra QB strategy that featured selecting E.J. as a late round target. Add in a year of experience, Sammy Watkins and breakout WR Robert Woods and its easy to see how Manuel could have some streaming appeal. Manuel currently doesn’t even register an ADP at FFCalculator which is kind of like getting a free pull on a slot machine.
MIKE WALLACE (Vegas Rank: 15, ADP: 28) – In 2013 Desean Jackson’s yardage numbers increased 20 percent while his touchdown totals increase 43 percent and he finished as Pro Football Focus’ highest rated wide receiver. Guess who is entering that position in Bill Lazor’s Miami version? That’s right…Mike Wallace. Wallace averaged eight touchdowns a year in Pittsburgh before disappointing in the Dolphins stagnant offense in 2013. Increases similar to Jackson’s would have Wallace flirting with 1200 yards and double-digit touchdowns. The 50/1 Vegas line places Wallace as the WR15 in comparison to his WR28 ADP ranking. Lots of fantasy owners have jumped off the Mike Wallace bandwagon after 2 straight disappointing seasons. With a 1,257 yard 10 td season under his belt, the price to acquire Wallace may not be cheaper. Vegas’ odds are more indicative of his 16.1 ypc and 7.4 touchdowns per season career averages.
CECIL SHORTS (Vegas Rank: 15, ADP: 45) – For those not comfortable taking a shot on Wallace, Shorts offers the same odds at a mid to late 10th round price. The ADP Arbitrage App also likes Shorts as comparable to Roddy White and Victor Cruz. Shorts is also a player whose ADP is dropping.
Cecil Shorts is his team’s top receiving option and is going later than some number three receivers. With Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson likely a year away, Shorts could see 70 receptions. With a career Yards per catch average of 14.5, that would put Shorts just over 1,000 yards. While that may not lead the NFL in yardage, it is solid for a player going close to the 11th round. Over the last 2 seasons Shorts has caught 85 of 152 targets for 1,116 yards and 7 tds. The Jaguars should be forced to pass in 2014 as they are only expected to win 4.5 games this season. With Vegas ranking Shorts as the 15th most likely WR to lead the league in yards and drafters taking him as the WR45, there is definitely value to be had.
While these early yardage prop bets don’t represent a complete projection outcome for each player, it does show that odds makers see this group of players with a higher ceiling of outcomes than the fantasy community as a whole. I would feel comfortable with any one of these players outperforming their ADP.