After every milestone in the NFL calendar, smart bettors are always looking for ways to capitalize on the ever-shifting landscape of the NFL. The NFL Draft is no different as it provides perhaps the best window into how a team truly thinks and values players.
There was a point during our team’s NFL Draft Livestream where we even joked (I wasn’t joking, sorry) about getting early action immediately after a team made their draft selection. I plan on writing more in-depth columns on other Futures Bets later this offseason, but for those that are aggressively trying to chase some early lines, now’s the time to lay some money down before the sportsbooks adjust.
During last weekend’s event, I placed four Futures Bets. Today’s article will dive into these with my reasonings for each one. Just a side note on these — I’m generally chasing wagers that incorporate a combination of high odds and a realistic range of outcomes of happening that make them worth pursuing. I’m not anticipating to hit on all of these, but the payouts for even a handful coming to fruition make them worthwhile endeavors. I like to view Futures in a similar light as GPPs, while NFL Props are akin to cash games. The Futures can be big bankroll boosters when they hit while the NFL Props are where we can make systematic increases to our bankroll.
I just felt like that was necessary to preface my style of play and line of thinking prior to diving into these bets.
Finally, as always, shop around for the best lines.
MVP — Dak Prescott (+2000)
The Cowboys made some incredible value selections in this year’s NFL Draft and it’s led to me chasing a potential ceiling with their offense. Not only did the team add one of the most explosive vertical receivers in CeeDee Lamb, they also helped negate the loss of center Travis Frederick by taking Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz to shore up the middle of their offensive line. The Cowboys may have jettisoned Jason Garrett, but they retained pass-happy OC Kellen Moore to pair with HC Mike McCarthy, who’s 2018 Packers led the league in pass play percentage (67.5%). McCarthy has since stated after the team’s draft they want all three of their starting receivers — Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup — to play both inside and out when the team goes to 11 personnel. Biadasz was viewed by many in the draft community as a potential top-five interior offensive linemen after coming from a Wisconsin program that continues to churn out top offensive line talent. His addition in the fourth round mitigates the loss of Frederick.
The Cowboys’ defense is another unit that’s going to have a lot of new faces. They’ve notably lost their top cornerback (Byron Jones, $82.5M contract with MIA) and last year’s top sack artist (Robert Quinn, $70M contract with CHI), reshuffled their defensive interior, and replaced one of their starting safeties. It’s quite a number of changes for this unit that will likely have less time than normal to gel before the season kicks off. It could lead to some early-season struggles that forces the offense to pass if they fall behind. Add it all up and we have the potential for Dallas to really lean on the pass for the first time in Dak Prescott’s career. We saw last year that Prescott broke out of his conservative shell by throwing for 4,902 yards (second-most in the league), 30 passing touchdowns (fourth-most), and 8.2 yards per attempt (fifth-highest). Those were all career-highs for Prescott with the scariest part being he can easily improve upon those touchdowns given his mediocre touchdown rate (5.0%). Add in a receiver upgrade in Lamb — who led this year’s WR draft class in Yards per Route Run (3.9) and yards after catch per reception (11.2) — on an aggressive, pass-happy offense, and those +2000 odds for Prescott to claim the MVP title sound pretty enticing.
NFL Championship Winner — Indianapolis Colts (+2800)
We’ve seen a lot of the recent moves by Tampa Bay indicate that they’re trying to go all-in on Tom Brady’s remaining years. The betting lines reflect that as well with Tampa having the fourth-highest odds of winning this year’s Super Bowl (+1200). I’d much rather go after a team with odds twice as good that are also doing winning moves, albeit outside the national spotlight, in the Indianapolis Colts (+2800). Let’s take a quick recap of the additions the Colts have made to this roster.
The best starting point is to look at Philip Rivers who the team brought in to capitalize on this strong roster assembled by GM Chris Ballard. They extended left tackle Anthony Costanza, brought in tight end Trey Burton, and picked up Xavier Rhodes in free agency. The team also traded away this year’s first round pick to grab top defensive tackle, Deforest Buckner, from the 49ers. They then aggressively added some offensive weapons in the second round by taking WR Michael Pittman Jr. and RB Jonathan Taylor. Both players can contribute right away. The singular moves here point to a team that’s working to improve. Added up collectively, it looks like a team that’s trying to capitalize on Rivers’ remaining years.
FiveThirtyEight did a study on close games via win probability. Their findings indicate the Colts went 2-6 last year on games deemed as “coin flips” during the final five minutes of games, and had luck been a little bit more on their side, they could’ve netted an additional four wins. I don’t buy into that 100%, but the point remains that there were multiple close games for the Colts last year. An improved roster should certainly help raise Indy’s probability of winning these closely contested matchups in 2020, especially given the state of their Division. The AFC South consists of a rebuilding franchise (JAX) and a team that’s in complete disarray due to poor management (HOU). That leaves just Tennessee for Indy to contend with for the Division and then anything can happen once they get into the playoffs. The Colts surrounded Rivers with a talented offensive line, strong skill position players, and backed him with a solid defense. At +2800 odds, I’ll take a stab at Rivers finally getting that elusive NFL Championship ring.
Offensive Rookie of the Year — JK Dobbins (+2800)
Doubling down on +2800 bets, don’t be surprised at all if we see Dobbins make a run at being this year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Dobbins was selected by the Baltimore Ravens with the 55th overall pick in Round 2 in this year’s draft with HC John Harbaugh tabbing him as their top-rated back in this year’s class. Mark Ingram turns 31 later this year. The team purposefully kept his touches low (15.2/game), 25th among all running backs, and we shouldn’t be surprised at all if those numbers decline with Dobbins now in the backfield. The former Ohio State running back could get the majority of touches sooner rather than later in the league’s heaviest rushing offense.
No team ran at a heavier rate (54.1%) than Baltimore last year. They also led the league in rushing yards per game (206), yards per attempt (5.5), and ranked second in yards before contact per attempt (3.2). That elite blocking rate combined with Dobbins’ ability to break off big gains — he led all FBS backs in runs of 15+ yards last year — make Dobbins a homerun threat every time he touches the ball. Lamar Jackson’s presence should only create bigger holes for Dobbins to run through as RPO’s often forced defenders to key on Jackson and put themselves out of position to slow the running back. We also saw Dobbins post 20+ receptions in three-straight seasons at Ohio State, showcasing a well-rounded skillset. That’s a necessary component for OROY, as two of the last three winners of this award went to versatile backs in Saquon Barkley (2018) and Alvin Kamara (2017). Ingram will still see touches with Gus Edwards and Justice Hill also sporadically sprinkling in looks, but after seeing Baltimore spend early Day 2 capital on Dobbins, this is quickly going to be Dobbins’ primary backfield. +2800 odds were just too enticing to bypass.
Offensive Rookie of the Year — Justin Herbert (+2000)
Another wager I placed earlier this week was on Justin Herbert taking over as the Chargers’ QB1 and putting up Offensive Rookie of the Year numbers. We saw Kyler Murray take home this award last year, and while Herbert is nowhere near as polished a prospect as Murray, he enters arguably the best situation among Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, and himself.
The Chargers’ offensive line saw some improvement this offseason with the additions of RG Trai Turner and RT Bryan Bulaga. They are absolutely loaded with pass catchers that can attack every quadrant of the field. I especially like the fantasy outlook of Keenan Allen paired with Herbert, as Herbert targeted his slot receivers on 43.5% of his attempts last year. We also know this Chargers offense is conducive to targeting the running backs and Herbert’s accuracy on 1-5 yards downfield (85.6%) was second to only Jordan Love (85.7%) in this year’s qualifying QB class, meaning wheels up for Austin Ekeler. Between Allen, Ekeler, Hunter Henry, and Mike Williams, there are plenty of receivers here that can capitalize on YAC and help elevate Herbert’s passing numbers.
Last year’s Chargers offense also tied for the league lead in pass play percentage during situation-neutral gamescripts (65%). They want to lean on the pass. Shane Steichen took over playcalling duties in October of last year after Ken Whisenhunt was let go and we saw this team’s points per game and total yards per game climb under his watch. He was retained and promoted to full-time OC entering the 2020 season, leading to what should be another pass-heavy campaign. There is also the rushing upside of Herbert to take into account with GM Tom Telesco describing Herbert as a “big, fast, dual-threat quarterback”. Though Herbert never really ran the ball at Oregon, he certainly has the physical makeup to do so:
That rushing element is the cherry on top to a pass-heavy LAC offense. While it’s doubtful we see Herbert duplicate Kyler Murray’s rushing performance (93-544-4), he could follow the path of another recent OROY in Dak Prescott (2016) where his modest rushing line was buoyed by touchdowns (57-282-6). The Chargers’ defense is certainly good enough to put the Chargers’ offense in optimal field position several times a game. A few goal line plunges from Herbert wouldn’t surprise (he had five rushing touchdowns in 2017 with Oregon). The Chargers also added three new starters on the defensive side of the ball in Chris Harris Jr., Linval Joseph, and first-round pick Kenneth Murray, which should only enhance this championship caliber defense. Admittedly, Herbert’s a bit of a longshot to take home this award, especially with the unknown elephant in the room of Tyrod Taylor. That’s reflected though in his +2000 odds. If Herbert can claim that starting quarterback position early in the year (if not start the year with it), a 20-to-1 payout for him to take home this hardware isn’t a poor bet at all given his supporting cast.