How Vegas Spreads Affect Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Performance
In 2015, according to FantasyData, 26 wide receivers scored more point-per-reception (PPR) points than Latavius Murray, who was the 10th-best running back in PPR scoring. John Brown was the 26th-best receiver in PPR scoring.
People who have begun drafting for the 2016 season have taken notice. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, in 12-team PPR leagues, an average of 21 wide receivers are being drafted in the first three rounds, while only 14 running backs are being drafted.
It seems that drafting receivers early and often will be a popular draft strategy.
No matter how many receivers you draft, you'll inevitably run into a few injuries -- a few busts -- and those will begin to overwhelm you as the bye weeks arrive. How many Sunday mornings have you spent staring at the free agent list debating on which receiver to plug and play? Lionel Richie said that he was "easy like Sunday morning", but I don't think he ever had to choose between starting Dontrelle Inman and Markus Wheaton while screaming at his laptop.
There are more valuable choices at wide receiver than any other position. For example, in Week 15 last season, 49 wide receivers scored 10 or more PPR points. Only 28 running backs scored as much. Picking a receiver to get your team double-digit points may feel good, but you'll need to find some upside to truly succeed.
But what information can we use?
Luckily for us and Lionel, our friends in Las Vegas can sometimes help us make the right choice. Bookmakers create a spread for every NFL game, and this data can help us make more logical decisions when setting our lineups.
In order to conduct this study, I used the Rotoviz Game Splits App, which allows you to break down how a player has performed in specific situations. Using statistics from FantasyData.com, I was able to scrape results for the top-60 wide receivers in PPR scoring from 2015.
Next, the results were split by how they performed when they were favorites and then as underdogs. Not just for 2015, but over their entire career. I also included some players who were injured last season such as Jordy Nelson and Kelvin Benjamin.
In this new pool of 64 wide receivers, the favored receiver scored an average of 12.56 PPR fantasy points, while underdogs scored an average of 11.78, a difference of about 0.78 points.
That doesn't seem like much -- I'd never recommend starting a receiver only because their team is favored. But some players have excelled when their teams are favored.
For instance, Brandin Cooks has averaged 3.45 more points per game as a favorite than he has as an underdog. On the contrary, A.J. Green has averaged 3.08 more points per game as an underdog than he has as a favorite.
The entire list of wide receivers is listed below, sorted by the largest discrepancy between favorite and underdog success.
|Odell Beckham Jr||24.54||21.26||3.28|
The bottom-10 wideouts on this list are filled with some superb talent. Martavis Bryant has scored an astounding 19.14 points per game when the Steelers are underdogs. Since Todd Haley joined the Steelers as their offensive coordinator in 2012, they've averaged about 36 passing attempts per game, according to the Rotoviz Team Splits App. In the seven games where Bryant started and the Steelers were underdogs, they averaged about 39 passing attempts and about 56 more passing yards per game.
Bears' wideout Alshon Jeffery averages nearly four points more per game when the Bears are underdogs. His quarterback, Jay Cutler, averages about two more passes per game when the Bears are underdogs. Also aiding Jeffrey's success as an underdog is that the Bears have run the ball an average of four carries more per game when favored since Cutler joined the team in 2009.
T.Y. Hilton has averaged 15.79 per game as a favorite, which is over 4 points better than he has performed as an underdog throughout his career. If you take it one step further, in games where Andrew Luck has played, that average rises over 16 points per game as a favorite.
Odell Beckham averages the highest scores per game of all wide receivers, regardless if the Giants are favored. He is matchup-proof.
These stats are interesting, but which ones are actionable for us on Sundays? Let's take a look at the top four on the list.
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Willie Snead busted onto the scene in 2015 and dominated when the Saints were favored. He averaged 16.75 points per game as a favorite, which is 7.14 points greater than he performed as an underdog. In 2015, the Saints averaged an astonishing 83 more passing yards per game as favorites. This explains why Cooks and Snead both have had success as favorites. Even if that discrepancy in passing yards regresses, Saints' quarterback Drew Brees has averaged 25 more passing yards per game when he was favored since joining the Saints in 2006.
John Brown, the speedy receiver known as Smokey, also performs very well when the Cards are favored. His career average of 13.61 as a favorite is nice, but when Carson Palmer has started, Brown has averaged 14.5 points per game. On the contrary, Palmer has performed at an average of about three points worse per game when his teams have been underdogs. Brown has been mostly boom or bust during his short career -- he's the kind of player you can take a chance on in tournaments.
Demaryius Thomas had a quiet season in 2015 after playing with 77-year-old Peyton Manning. But before last season, Thomas dominated fantasy football when the Broncos were favored. Now, this comes with a small disclaimer since he racked up many of these stats when Peyton was breaking records. Thomas, though, has also been productive with the likes of Tim Tebow, so he's being underrated right now. As a favorite, he's scored an average of 19.08, which only trails Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. He will likely be overlooked early in the season if the Broncos quarterback picture is still murky. Their Week 1 matchup versus Carolina may be one to avoid, but they will likely be favored in week two versus Indianapolis.
Tops on the list was a rookie in 2015. Even in a small sample size, Stefon Diggs averaged more per game as a favorite than players like DeAndre Hopkins, Steve Smith, and Allen Robinson have in their careers. Diggs played in seven games where the Vikings were favored, and his quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, also excels as a favorite, averaging over two points better per game.
Diggs only had one game with more than 60 receiving yards in his last nine games of the season, and the Vikings just drafted Laquon Treadwell, so this will undoubtedly scare folks off of Diggs. The Vikings are favored in week one versus the Titans, who allowed the fourth best passer rating to quarterbacks in 2015. It's June, sure, but remember that.
Instead of blankly staring at your phone on Sundays, debating between two receivers who are essentially dead on arrival, look at the lines from Vegas. Using this data could help you uncover a player that wasn't even on your radar.
When that data works in your favor, you and Lionel could be dancing on the ceiling.