Course No. NFL 107
The name of the game in daily fantasy is gaining an edge over your opponent. Especially with NFL fantasy, the obvious data is out there, everyone has it. Everyone knows the elite plays on a given week because they've had six or seven days to sort through all the noise and hear the same players be touted over and over. However, where the real edge lies is in digging deeper, with advanced research. The important thing is not just finding statistics and resources, but learning how to apply them usefully to your basic research.
Vegas player props can be as useful or even more useful than team and game totals. Player props are given in line form, setting an over/under, henceforth referred to as O/U in this piece for each of the statistics a players is going to accumulate in a game, including yards, touchdowns and more. The more statistics Vegas is providing a total for the more useful they are likely to be. The most scrutinized position in the NFL, quarterback, also happens to generally have the most player prop bets assigned to it. They'll offer an O/U for obvious things like yards and touchdowns, but also even more analytical numbers like completions and interceptions. The yards and touchdowns obviously easily correlate to fantasy points the quickest, as they are directly scored in all fantasy formats. However, we can glean some knowledge from the completions number as well. A high completions number means the quarterback is either throwing a ton of attempts or completing a very high percentage of them: both great things for fantasy production. As for the other positions, the numbers set are much more static as you'd expect. Basically, for the rest of the skill positions, we're getting yards and touchdown O/Us. Many books began doing catches last year and I expect that to catch on even more with the increase popularity of fantasy sports and the point per reception (PPR) format.
The other big thing to look at with player props is the “price" to place the bet. A great player to use as an example from last year is DeMarco Murray, who seemed to be over 100 yards with a touchdown in every game early in the season. In Week 6, he had an O/U of 124 yards, which is obviously very strong. The price to take the over on that line was -120, which means you had to wager $120 to win $100 if he did go over. Clearly, Vegas was anticipating a very high yardage total here and built that into the price as well as the line. He was also -150 to score a touchdown in that same game, meaning similarly that you had to wager $150 to win $100 on him scoring a touchdown. Touchdown props can get tricky though, as it's often just a yes or no proposition and the price often just fluctuates based on the popularity of that player's touchdown potential that week more than anything else.
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Opportunities and Touches
Opportunity is at least as important as efficiency in fantasy football. How often have we seen plodding running backs or receivers with terrible run after catch skills succeed as fantasy options? There's not doubt that some players, many players in fact, can produce on limited opportunities. They are all NFL caliber players of course and can make plays. However, we're trying to look at these players analytically and in a predictive manner, so while past production is great, it's much more effective to look at past opportunity. Take a look at two generic examples through the first two games of a season.
Player 1: 22 targets, 11 catches, 173 yards, 1 touchdown
Player 2: 14 targets, 11 catches, 212 yards, 2 touchdowns
Player 2 is the one that's going to be see more highlights on SportsCenter and is going to be higher all on the most productive and who's hot lists, but the player with more predictable production is quite clearly Player 1. Maybe he has some catch rate issues, but also in a two game sample size, his fairly low catch rate could just be variance, much like Player 2's better yards per catch and touchdown rate could be and most likely are. What most likely isn't variance out of all of these stats is Player 1's heavy target number. He's averaging 11 targets per game through those first two games and that can be realistically expected to continue, with a potential rise in yards per catch and touchdowns as well. With him we're getting simply more opportunity for the same production we're getting from Player 2.
The same goes for running backs, as they get both carries and catches to fall into this group, often making them even more predictable. However, game flow often factors into running back touches much more than it does for receivers, as backs can rack up carries when teams are winning and are unlikely to accumulate the difference in carries when they are losing with catches. However, using the point spreads and O/U like we talked about in the Vegas lesson, we can get a good feel for what the game flow of a specific game is expected to be.