Minnesota Vikings

Five NFL players who could become stars in 2019

Leave a comment

By Sam Monson, PFF Senior Analyst

One of my favorite aspects of PFF data and grading is how it can spot the obvious coming when it’s still some ways off on the horizon—getting ahead of the curve and identifying talent before it becomes self-evident. Every year there are players who excel in limited snaps before ultimately being handed a larger role and workload for their teams. When they continue dominating, we wonder how they were ever seen as anything other than superstars.

Case in point: When Joey Porter was a star and the sack leader for the Miami Dolphins back in 2009, coming off a 17.5-sack season, we at PFF were clamoring for his backup –- a former undrafted pass-rusher who had not long before been playing in Canada -– to get more snaps because he was generating pressure at a far greater rate than Porter. Cameron Wake ultimately went on to be one of the best pass rushers of the past decade and looked it from Day 1 if you were seeing beyond the box score numbers.

Such examples are everywhere, and each year it’s always an interesting exercise to take a look through the PFF grading and predict the players that could take that next step if they get the right opportunity. This past week we unveiled our PFF 50—a list of the best 50 players in football entering the season—but in this case let’s look a year from now and predict some players who could make that list in 2020.

Levi Wallace, CB, Buffalo Bills: If there’s a player with the backstory to rival Wake’s, it’s Wallace. With precisely zero scholarship offers coming out of high school, Wallace walked on at Alabama, and eventually earned a starting job. Then he had to do it all over again when he went undrafted before signing as a collegiate free agent with Buffalo. As a rookie in 2018, he earned the highest PFF grade of any first-year cornerback, along with the highest coverage grade, and wasn’t beaten for a catch longer than 29 yards all season. Though he played far fewer snaps than first-round selection Denzel Ward of Cleveland, Wallace looks like a potential star in the making if he’s given greater opportunity in year two.

Vita Vea, DL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: At the other end of the scale, you’ve got Vea, a player who went in the first round in 2018 but fell off the radar a little because he began the season injured, then took a little while to get going and ultimately didn’t produce the box score production people want to see. Vea ended up with only three sacks, but had 23 additional pressures as a pass-rusher, 17 of which came in the final six weeks of the season. Over that stretch of play, his overall PFF grade was 86.4, and he had a top-20 grade at his position, hinting at what’s to come.

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Minnesota Vikings: Changing positions in the NFL can be a significant adjustment, and sometimes it takes time. The Vikings drafted Alexander in 2016’s second round and moved him inside to the slot after he principally played outside at Clemson. His transition wasn’t smooth, but he has now seen his overall PFF grade improve each year of his NFL career: from 47.5 as a rookie, to 54.1 in 2017, climbing to 78.1 last year. Over the final half of the season, he was the highest-graded cornerback in the league at 88.2, surrendering just 80 receiving yards in a seven-game span. Alexander could emerge as a force with the right opportunity in 2019.

O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Another former first-round pick, Howard has yet to top 600 receiving yards or 35 receptions in a season, even while tight ends are breaking receiving records across the NFL. Dive deeper into the numbers, however, and Howard looks primed for a huge season with an uptick in opportunity. His overall PFF grade last season was 89.4, higher than any other tight end outside of San Francisco standout George Kittle. And on a yards per route basis, he was third behind only Kittle and Kansas City star Travis Kelce. His average depth of target was 11.3 yards downfield, a top-five mark in the league, and now the vertical threat he brings is being linked up with new Bucs coach Bruce Arians and an offense that lives down the field.

Jon Halapio, C, New York Giants: The Giants are revamping their offensive line in a major way, but one of the unsung components of the rebuild is at center, where Halapio could emerge as a foundation piece to the new-look front. He began last year as New York’s starter before going down with an injury after just 116 snaps of action. But in those snaps, he didn’t allow a single pressure, despite almost 50 pass-blocking snaps against the Jaguars and their array of pass-rushing weapons. With vastly improved players beside him, Halapio could prove to be a significant upgrade as a player who isn’t being talked about much heading into 2019.

Sunday Night Football odds: Bears slim favorites hosting rival Vikings

Leave a comment

A first-place showdown in the NFC North is a study in contrast twice over, with a young Chicago Bears team trying to buck a long-term betting trend, while the more seasoned Minnesota Vikings try to maintain one.

The Bears, with the rookie head coach / second-year quarterback combo of Matt Nagy and Mitchell Trubisky, are 2.5-point favorites on the Sunday Night Football odds against the Vikings with a 44.5-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The first-place Bears are 5-1-1 against the spread in their last seven home games against teams with winning records, but since 2012 they are 4-6 straight-up and 3-6-1 ATS as a home favorite of 3.0 or fewer points. For what it might be worth, over that same span the Vikings are 8-2 both SU and ATS in 10 games as a road underdog, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

Minnesota is also on a 6-0-1 SU run over its last seven games against NFC North counterparts.

The Vikings, who are 5-3-1 SU and 4-3-2 ATS, are firmly in the middle of the NFL pack in offensive proficiency after betting big on quarterback Kirk Cousins in free agency. Minnesota has had turnover issues and the fourth-ranked Bears defense, built around outside linebacker Khalil Mack, thrives at takeaways and creating opportunities for points off of turnovers.

Minnesota expects to have both of its top two wide receivers, Stefon Diggs (ribs) and Adam Thielen, healthy, as they try to break down a Bears pass defense whose 6.8 yards per attempt is the third-best in the league.

While a bye in Week 10 might have given Minnesota extra time to work on their ground game with Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, they are only 2-6 ATS in their last eight post-bye week games. The Bears lead the league with 3.6 yards per rush allowed, which mean Cousins will likely face his share of obvious passing downs.

The Bears, who are 6-3 SU and ATS on the season, are on roll behind Trubisky, a quarterback in the modern mold who can create havoc for defenses with his arms and legs. Whether the Bears continue a trend of being 8-2 ATS in their last 10 home games against the Vikings, a team they play twice a season, will come down to whether Trubisky will keep his wits about him against a fifth-ranked Vikings defense whose 31 sacks are second in the NFL.

The Bears have the benefit of having a cadre of receivers – Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller out wide; Trey Burton at tight end; and Tarik Cohen coming out of the backfield – whose varying skillsets could force Minnesota into a guessing game.

Bettors will have to decide whether the fact the Vikings allow a full yard per pass, 7.8 yards, more than the Bears speaks more to scheme or health. Defensive stalwarts such as nose tackle Linval Joseph, defensive end Everson Griffen, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Andrew Sendejo are all expected to be available after missing games. Despite those injuries, Minnesota played the run well, allowing 3.6 yards per rush, a close fourth in the league rankings.

The total has gone UNDER in eight of the Vikings’ last 10 games at night. The total has gone UNDER in seven of the Vikings’ last nine games against the Bears, with an average combined score of 38.33 points. The total has gone OVER in five of the Bears’ last six games, with an average combined score of 54.33 points.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

NFL Thanksgiving Day betting guide: Odds, trends for trio of matchups

Leave a comment

Whether the Dallas Cowboys can break both their funk and a trend of failing to cover against sub-.500 teams might hinge largely on the status of one man – left tackle Tyron Smith.

The Cowboys host a pick-’em on Thursday against the Los Angeles Chargers with a 48-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The OddsShark NFL Database notes that the Cowboys are an underwhelming 4-12 against the spread in their last 16 home games against teams with losing records like Los Angeles, so having Smith (back/groin) return from a two-game absence will be paramount against a Chargers team that has one of the NFL’s best pass rushes, led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.

The Chargers are 4-6 straight-up and 5-4-1 ATS, but with veteran QB Philip Rivers’ savvy they are good on short weeks, sporting a 4-1 ATS mark in their last five Thursday games. The Cowboys, who are 5-5 both SU and ATS, could impose their will on the Chargers in the rushing phase. Alfred Morris has been a bright spot with Ezekiel Elliott injured, and Dallas leads the NFL in yards per rush while Los Angeles gives up the most yards per rush.

The total has gone over in three of the Chargers’ last four games against the Cowboys. The total has gone over in seven of the Cowboys’ last nine games in the late afternoon.

Earlier on Thursday, the Minnesota Vikings are three-point road favorites against the Detroit Lions, with a 44.5 total.

The Vikings are 8-2 SU and 6-4 ATS, and bettors will have to decide whether to give more weight toward their head-to-head showing against the Lions – 0-3 SU in their last three – or a 6-0 SU streak that began after a Week 4 home loss against Detroit. The favored team is just 3-9 ATS in the last 12 games of this matchup. The Lions, who QB Matthew Stafford has led to a 6-4 SU and 5-4-1 ATS record, have shown a tendency to hit their stride in late November. They are 8-0 SU and ATS in their last eight home games in November.

The total has gone under in seven of the last eight games in this matchup.

And the Washington Redskins are set as 7.5-point favorites against the New York Giants, with a 44.5 total in the primetime matchup on Thursday.

The main question with the Giants and QB Eli Manning, who are 2-8 SU and 4-6 ATS, is whether they maintain the same urgency they had in Week 11 when they upset the Kansas City Chiefs, assuaging the pressure on head coach Ben McAdoo. The form suggests that’s unlikely, as New York is 2-7-1 ATS in its last 10 road games. The Redskins, who are 4-6 both SU and ATS, should rate a good shot at putting up a point total somewhere in the high 20s, since QB Kirk Cousins is playing well and RB Samaje Perrine looks like a ready-made replacement for the injured Chris Thompson.

The total has gone under in eight of the Giants’ last 11 games against the Redskins. Whether that trend holds will come down to the chess match between the Giants offense (30th in scoring) and Redskins defense (31st in scoring defense).

For more info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the new OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com