NFL Player Props 101: Making the jump from fantasy football | NFL and NCAA Betting Picks | PFF

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NFL Player Props 101: Making the jump from fantasy football

Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws to wide receiver Dez Bryant (not pictured) for a second quarter touchdown as Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson (45) defends at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

There’s an edge for savvy fantasy football players in the betting space, and that advantage comes in the form of player props.

NFL props are bets determined by player statistics, and this gambling format is growing in popularity among fantasy football players daily fantasy and redraft players alike because of the individual player-centric analysis needed to find worthwhile wagers.

No group of NFL fans conducts more research into players’ outlooks than fantasy football gamers, which is exactly why making the jump to player props is a logical move. They make gamedays more fun and extremely profitable. But don’t expect to quit your day job anytime soon betting them.

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PLAYER PROPS 101

Online sportsbooks are notorious for setting low maximum limits on props ($50-$500) because they simply don’t give as much attention to them compared to more popular bets.

But if you attack prop betting with volume the king in fantasy football you’ll be pleasantly surprised with your return on investment over time.

Oddsmakers are more preoccupied with their main markets (NFL game spreads and point totals), so player props often fall to the wayside after the initial post.

That’s where educated fantasy players can first get an edge. The opening lines hardly ever change in unison with injury or weather-related news that will cause main market numbers to move. There are just too many relevant news items to make adjustments on every single prop bet.

But, the hard-working team at PFF doesn’t let anything go unnoticed. PFF fantasy rankings and projections adjust frequently throughout the week in correlation with any news items. By being proactive, one can easily find value bets.

For example, a game total could drop because of an injury to a star offensive player or weather, but the corresponding player props in that game may either not move at all or adjust slowly leading up to the game. This creates a window of opportunity to bet the “under” on players' yards totals because offensive production will still be impacted by the weather.

LEVERAGE FANTASY KNOWLEDGE

Fantasy footballers also have a better sense and scope of each team’s depth chart. If you pay attention and stay involved throughout free agency, the NFL draft and the rest of the offseason, you learn the basic structure of a team’s offensive personnel. Therefore, you’re prepared to know more about how a team may potentially combat an inactive status to one of their starters better than any oddsmaker.

Having player knowledge also contributes to depth chart knowledge because you’re more aware of player usage trends and matchup advantages and disadvantages.

For instance, Cole Kmet took over the starting role as the Chicago Bears starting tight end a week before the team went on its bye (Week 11). He was playing ahead of Jimmy Graham in both snaps played and routes run.

But the betting market treated the veteran like the starting tight end for two more full weeks until correctly adjusting the lines to reflect Kmet as the primary starter.

Knowing which defenses are weak against a certain position also provides some edge. Oftentimes, specific matchups — such as a defense that allows a high percentage of targets to running backs — won’t be factored enough in the set line. Lines will measure defensive strength overall, but not to a granular level.

In Week 17, running back James White faced off versus a New York Jets defense that ranked 31st in receptions allowed to running backs. Entering the game, the New England Patriots scatback had at least three receptions in four of his past five games played. His prop for catches was set at 2.5. White went over that number by the start of the third quarter.

You can also use prior fantasy research to take advantage of WR/CB matchups. If a star cornerback is ruled out midweek, you can easily put money into the over on the receiver he was scheduled to line up most against. Chances are that the prop number hasn’t changed; it will still be based on that starting cornerback being in the game when, in fact, he won’t play.

TAKE ADVANTAGE AND PLAY THE FIELD

Aside from not being up to date, plenty of prop bets are also just poorly written. Many sportsbooks copy their lines from bigger entities to save time so they can get action on the bets as soon as possible. That absent-mindedness can lead to simple mistakes that might not seem like a big deal on the surface but make a huge difference.

Phrases like “at least” or “more than” can lead to major discrepancies between props that look identical at a glance but have requirements that range exponentially.

An extreme example of this happened during the latest college football national championship. Former Ohio State Buckeye running back Trey Sermon was coming off a massive three-game stretch where he totaled more than 200 rushing yards per game. Naturally, his rushing prop for the playoff game was set around 100.5 rushing yards at most sportsbooks.

But, one sportsbook which shall remain unanimous — made a critical error by placing the decimal point in the incorrect spot, making Sermon’s rushing prop just 10.5 yards. Ironically, the book ended up with the last laugh because Sermon left the game with an injury after the first play with just two rushing yards to his name.

Differences in sportsbooks present the final key takeaway: line shop. Don’t necessarily just go to the same sportsbook over and over again if there are lines with better odds or props available.

DraftKings and Pointbets are two popular online options, but even they have disparities among offerings. New York Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson has a passing yards prop set at 3850.5 at one book and 3800.5 at another. Depending on which side you’d want to bet — take the over based on the PFF projections — it’s easy to determine where to place your bet.

2021 APPLICATION

It’s still early, but there are already some season-long prop bets worth investing into on the DraftKings sportsbook. Major discrepancies exist between PFF’s quarterback projections and the passing totals found on DraftKings.

Player PFF Projected Passing Yds Passing Yds Prop Difference
Tua Tagovailoa 4522 3850.5 +671
Baker Mayfield 4390 3750.5 +639
Lamar Jackson 3799 3200.5 +598
Daniel Jones 4236 3700.5 +536
Ryan Tannehill 4418 4050.5 +367
Joe Burrow 4537 4250.5 +286
Jalen Hurts 3568 3800.5 -232
Dak Prescott 4600 4900.5 -299

There are several quarterbacks who the market seems to be underestimating, including Tua Tagovailoa and Lamar Jackson.

Tagovailoa is in a new offensive system built around him (no more Chan Gailey), has upgraded offensive weapons in Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller V, and is another year removed from his hip injury. 

The offense’s personnel changes and focus make it clear the Dolphins want to highlight Tagovailoa’s strengths, such as passing at the short-to-intermediate level so players can create more yards after the catch.

From 2018 to 2019 at Alabama, Tagovailoa ranked in the top 10 in percentage of passing yards generated after the catch (53.3%) and No. 1 in passer rating (139.6) throwing from 1-19 yards downfield.

And even if Tagovailoa only maintains his passing production from last season (242 passing yards per game over his last five outings), that would still easily put him over 4,000 passing yards in a 17-game season.

Jackson’s over/under of 3,200.5 passing yards is also too low. That mark means he will throw for under 200 yards per game, which is rare to find in today’s pass-happy NFL.

There’s no doubt this line is based on Jackson’s 199.7 average passing yards per game over his 33 starts the past two seasons (including playoffs), but it’s assuming there’s no room for growth in the passing game. That goes against everything the Baltimore Ravens have said and done this offseason.

They’re an analytical-driven organization, one that understands the value of the pass over the run, and have added a plethora of receiving targets, headlined by first-rounder Rashod Bateman, fourth-rounder Tylan Wallace and veteran Sammy Watkins. The selection of a receiver in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft is notable because teams that invest such coveted draft capital at the position tend to pass more.

Last season, only the Philadelphia Eagles failed to increase their passing attempts among teams that drafted a first-round wide receiver. And that’s because they were already passing at one of the highest rates in the NFL, and they switched to a rushing quarterback as their starter during the last month of the year.

Jalen Hurts projects to continue running into 2021. PFF has him pegged for 642 rushing yards (38 per game) and 125 attempts (7.4 per game). But that puts his chance of hitting his 3,800.5 passing yards total in jeopardy.

There have been only five instances since 2011 of a quarterback compiling 100 carries for at least 500 rushing yards while also throwing for at least 3,800 yards — Kyler Murray (2020), Deshaun Watson (2018),  Cam Newton (2015, 2012) and Russell Wilson (2015).

Hurts’ rushing ability is great for fantasy football, but it's not necessarily optimal for hitting the over on his passing yards prop, even with a 17th game added. 

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