NFL Futures Friday: Using Injury Prediction Data to Bet Unders on Season-Long Player Props
Sportsbooks have begun to release more season-long player prop lines across the market, and the available projections may seem a bit low to you. In this week’s NFL Futures Fridays article, I’m looking at these deflated projections and assessing some of the most likely players to be injured this season using data from DraftSharks’ Sports Injury Predictor database.
Why NFL Unders are Deflated
For example, would we really expect Christian McCaffrey to finish with just 900 rushing yards if he plays a full season? However, these lines are deflated to counteract injury risk, as most full-time starters will miss at least a couple of games throughout the course of the season. The NFL season expanded to 17 regular season games last year, and we’re still waiting to see how that shift will affect the year-over-year prevalence of injuries.
Connor Allen of 4for4Football did a deep dive on the metrics and found that if you blindly bet every single under on the yardage and touchdown markets last year, you would have had a 66.6% hit rate and profited over 68 units. While I wouldn’t recommend blindly betting the under, it’s an excellent context to know that the lines are still overinflated on sportsbooks despite seeming low with the continued prevalence of injuries.
DraftSharks’ Sports Injury Predictor
My favorite tool for understanding injury risk in the NFL is the Sports Injury Predictor database which DraftSharks acquired. The database is a collection of “hundreds of NFL players with injury histories dating back to college,” broken down by various conditions and body parts. As you might expect, lower-body injuries have proven to be the most common over time.
That injury data is disseminated into a complex analytical formula that leads to a predictive estimate of the probability of injury in the upcoming season and the projected number of missed games for each player. Using that data, I’m considering bets on the under on the prop line for the following players.
*Odds included from DraftKings Sportsbook
QB Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Current Betting Lines: 3950.5 passing yards and 25.5 touchdowns
This inclusion pains me as I have been high on Tua Tagovailoa’s long-term prognostication as a starting NFL quarterback. Still, it’s concerning to see where the model landed on his injury chances for this season. Tagovailoa has a 73% probability of injury, the second-most among starters behind only Carson Wentz, and is projected to miss 2.2 games this season.
Thus far in his career, Tua has played just 23 total games over two seasons, and he has split time with veterans Jacoby Brissett and Ryan Fitzpatrick due to his inability to stay healthy. Tua has nine career injuries, including a gruesome dislocated right hip in 2019 that was more akin to the injury someone might suffer in a car accident than a football game. This year, the Dolphins brought in veteran Teddy Bridgewater to provide injury insurance against Tagovailoa.
There are positive factors to be excited about with Tua between the hiring of Mike McDaniel, the trade acquisition of Tyreek Hill, and the signing of Terron Armstead. McDaniel’s offense will scheme more production for Tua, Hill will provide an elite receiving weapon, and Armstead will help keep him upright. However, those additions alone can’t shake the fact that Tua might miss time again this season. With the current projections slating Tua for career-best numbers across the board, it might be wise to fade him just a bit due to that injury possibility.
RB Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
Current Betting Lines: 1150.5 rushing yards and 9.5 touchdowns
Thus far in his five-year NFL career, Dalvin Cook has yet to play an entire season. Over the last four years, he has averaged just 13 games per season. Last season alone, Cook suffered an ankle sprain, shoulder dislocation, and a torn labrum. With a 94% injury risk, Cook is tied for the highest injury probability among running backs on the DraftSharks site, and he’s expected to miss 3.6 games. While he has been elite when on the field, durability has not been Cook’s strong suit.
While Cook only played 13 games last year, he still surpassed the current line on his rushing yards as he went for 1,159 rushing yards in those appearances. Cook’s career 17-game pace is 1,462 yards and 11.7 touchdowns. However, the hiring of Kevin O’Connell as Minnesota’s new head coach is expected to see the team transition to a pass-first offense. With the high injury risk for Cook included, I would be targeting the under on his player props.
RB Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
Current Betting Lines: 900.5 rushing yards and 6.5 touchdowns
Miles Sanders is tied for Cook with a 94% injury probability, the highest among running backs this season, and he’s projected to miss 3.9 games. Sanders played a full 16-game season as a rookie, but he’s played in just 12 games in each of the last two seasons as he has suffered a total of eight injuries, almost all of which were to the lower body. Last season, he aggravated the same ankle three different times.
Sanders averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season, the fourth-most among running backs, so when he’s on the field, he’s rather efficient behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. However, Kenneth Gainwell flashed exciting talent in his rookie season, especially as a better receiver than Sanders. The coaching staff likely won’t hesitate to make him the featured back if Sanders misses time. I’m taking the under on Sanders with his betting lines at career-high numbers.
WR Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
Current Betting Lines: 65.5 receptions, 1,000.5 receiving yards, and 6.5 touchdowns
As someone with a massive ownership rate of Mike Williams in Underdog best ball leagues at the moment, seeing his injury probability scares me. Of course, I was already aware of the perception of Williams, but he has played in 15 or more games each season since his rookie year, so I didn’t expect him to be this high in the projections. Per DraftSharks, Williams has a 93% chance of injury this year, tied for the highest among projected starters, and is expected to miss 2.9 games. However, I believe the injury risk is properly baked into these DraftKings projections.
Last year, his first in the Joe Lombardi offense, Williams was used all over the field and not solely as a deep threat as he came down with 76 catches for 1,146 yards and nine touchdowns, career-high numbers across the board. I’m expecting big things for Williams as Herbert’s top receiver this season (apologies to Keenan Allen stans), but the injury risks are significant. I’m not sure I would go as far as to bet against Williams hitting the 1,000-yard threshold, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
WR Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals
Current Betting Lines: 75.5 receptions, 975.5 receiving yards, and 7.5 touchdowns
Tee Higgins has a 91% chance of injury per DraftSharks and is projected to miss 3.9 games. He has six career injuries dating back to his time at Clemson, including two ankle sprains and three hamstring strains. Those recurring injuries to the same area are concerning, especially as studies have shown recurrence rates are disproportionate for hamstring injuries. Higgins also had off-season shoulder surgery for an injury he suffered early last season.
The current DraftKings lines have Tee Higgins producing a career-high number of receptions and touchdowns. I’m inclined to believe he’s capable of beating these numbers after having 74 catches for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns in just 14 games last season. However, if he were to miss 3.9 games this season, Higgins’ career per-game pace would have him at about 61.6 catches for 872.5 yards and 5.2 touchdowns. Betting the under on Higgins this season might be the sharp move with this information in mind.
TE George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
Current Betting Lines: 66.5 receptions, 825.5 receiving yards, and 5.5 touchdowns
I wasn’t the least bit surprised to see George Kittle at the top of the list for an injury probability among tight ends as he has averaged just 12 games played over the last three seasons. Kittle has a 92% chance of injury this year per DraftSharks and is projected to miss 3.1 games. The Niners’ tight end has suffered a laundry list of lower body injuries throughout his career, including five in the last two seasons alone.
When Kittle has been on the field, he’s been incredible. In ESPN’s recent poll, execs, coaches, and players ranked him as the best tight end in football, and it’s well deserved when you factor in his elite production as a receiver and blocker. However, the injuries are unlikely to cease to be a concern for him, and I would advise betting the under on his current season-long player props.