Player props are the smoothest transition for fantasy players into the world of gambling. Pouring hours into individual player evaluation, we’re working on projections and taking a macro approach to a range of outcomes for a player to select in our fantasy drafts. We’re starting off by looking at the props to predict the league leaders in passing, rushing and receiving yardage.
The Chalk: Patrick Mahomes is the favorite across all books to lead the league in passing after he finished second in the league last season with 5,097 yards. Ben Roethlisberger edged Mahomes by 32 passing yards in 2018, but he also needed 95 more pass attempts to do so. We still don’t have official word for how long Mahomes and the Chiefs will potentially be without Tyreek Hill this season, who is the league’s best distance scorer. Averaging 92.4 receiving yards per game a year ago and leading the league in touchdowns of 35-yards or longer in all three of his seasons in the league, any absence for Hill takes away a major component to Mahomes’ yardage ceiling.
Jameis Winston: DraftKings +1200, Caesars +1500, MyBookie +1600, FanDuel +1700
Tampa Bay quarterbacks passed for 5,358 yards last season, the most in the league. That mark was good for the fourth-most passing yards thrown by a team in a single season. Of course, Ryan Fitzpatrick went bonkers to open the season by throwing for over 400 passing yards in each of the opening three weeks of the season, but Winston also played his part in those numbers. Winston averaged 294.2 passing yards per game in his nine starts last season, a per game average that would’ve ranked fourth in the league. His 38.0 pass attempts per start would’ve ranked fifth in the league over a full season and he passed for over 300 yards in five of those starts. This season, Tampa Bay has the best passing schedule in the league for passing efficiency, still has a defense we’re projecting to be among the back of the league, and has no known quality of a running game, a recipe for major passing volume.
Jimmy Garoppolo: Caesars +1800, DraftKings +2800, FanDuel +3200, MyBookie +5000
Garoppolo was a darling of the fantasy community last summer, but now, all of that surrounding buzz swirling around him paired with Kyle Shanahan has all but evaporated. To close the 2017 season, Garoppolo made five starts and averaged 8.8 yards per attempt and 308.4 passing yards per start. Both marks would’ve paced the position over that season. Last season, Jimmy G made just three starts before suffering an ACL injury. There’s still every reason to maintain having faith in the offensive system elevating Garoppolo. Undrafted rookie Nick Mullens was fourth in the NFL in yards per pass attempt (8.1 Y/A) Weeks 9-17 as a starting quarterback and seventh in the league in passing yardage over that span. Mullens finished seventh in the league last season with 284.6 passing yards per game. That was essentially just throwing to George Kittle and a rookie wide receiver. The 49ers have upgraded nearly everywhere on offense this offseason and we only have them projected for eight wins, leaving them in position to still have plenty of passing scripts.
Contrarian Bet: Derek Carr: Caesars +2500, FanDuel +5000, DraftKings +5000, MyBookie +6600
Carr’s career-high may only be 4,049 passing yards but hear me out on this long play. That yardage total came in a season in which his leading targets were a 31-year old tight end in Jared Cook (8.3 yards average depth of target), a 33-year old wideout in Jordy Nelson (9.3 aDOT) and a satellite back in Jalen Richard (1.8 aDOT). Throwing to that gaggle of intermediate options, Carr’s depth of target was just 7.1 yards last season, which ranked 38th in the league. We have studies that show that depth of target belongs more to the receiver than the quarterback and this season, the Raiders went out and added Antonio Brown (11.2 yards career aDOT) and Tyrell Williams (12.8 yard career aDOT) as their two primary passing options while adding ancillary speedster JJ Nelson (18.9 yard career aDOT). With the Raiders projected to have the fifth-fewest wins while holding the league’s worst defense in the league on paper, Carr should be in store for heavy passing volume paired with a vertically upgraded receiving unit.
Fade: Primary Runners
Over the past decade, scrambles account for 48.1 percent of all quarterback rushing attempts. If you’re a passer who uses his mobility often, check downs and ancillary passing attempts often turn into rushing attempts. This is why the primary runners at the position frequently reside among the middle to bottom of the league in pass attempts. Last season, the only quarterback to rank in the top-10 in both rushing and pass attempts was Patrick Mahomes. Even a strong dual threat option such as Deshaun Watson ranked just 27th in passing attempts per game (31.6). Players such as Watson, Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson and other run-heavy passers can be avoided.
The Chalk: Ezekiel Elliott has led the NFL in rushing yards per game in each of his first three seasons in the league. Playing behind his worst offensive line performance for his career, Elliott paced the NFL in rushing by 127 more yards than the runner up while also sitting out the regular-season finale. With Travis Frederick returning to the lineup and the Cowboys projected to be above .500 once again this season, it’s a no brainer why Elliott occupies the top spot.
Joe Mixon: FanDuel +1200, Caesars +1400, DraftKings +1400, MyBookie +2000
In his second season, Mixon ranked third in rushing yards per game (83.4) behind Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott. Mixon was successful on the ground despite the Bengals trailing for 53.6 percent of their offensive snaps (26th in the league) and running only 58.6 total offensive plays per game (30th). He also accomplished that production by being the only tangible offensive weapon for a large portion of the season. This season, the Bengals have brought in Zac Taylor as the head coach. Expected to raise the tempo, Taylor was under Sean McVay the past two seasons when the Rams ranked first in overall pace over each of the past two seasons in neutral game script. A rise in snaps and pace can neutralize any potential truth to Gio Bernard’s reduced role expanding. The 23-year old Mixon is positioned to take another step forward in year three with a healthy roster and new offensive regime.
Derrick Henry: Caesars +1200, MyBookie +1200, DraftKings +1400, FanDuel +3200
Over the final four weeks of the season, the Titans finally committed to Henry. He rewarded them by leading the NFL with 585 rushing yards on 87 carries (6.7 YPC) and seven touchdowns over that span. Even outside of his massive 238-yard output in Week 14, Henry still posted 170, 84 and 93 yards rushing the other three games. From the head coach to the general manager, the word from the Titans all offseason is that they plan to ride Henry from the start of this season like they did to close 2018. Henry’s overall output and opportunity have risen each year of his career and he still has a lot of room to grow in that area as he totaled just 215 carries a year ago. The Titans added to their offensive front in Rodger Saffold and will get starting right tackle Jack Conklin back after he missed seven games in his second season.
Contrarian Bet: Mark Ingram: Caesars +5000, FanDuel +5000, DraftKings +5000, MyBookie +6600
Ingram has never had more than 230 rushing attempts in a season but should inherently push career-highs in terms of overall opportunity on the Ravens. Even if Ingram falls into sharing opportunities with some of the competition on the roster, the Ravens really featured their backfield once turning their offense over to Lamar Jackson. In the seven regular-season games with Jackson under center to close the year, the Ravens backfield averaged 27.6 rushing attempts for 149.7 yards per game. Over that span, undrafted rookie Gus Edwards ranked tied for third in the league in rushing yards. Still effective per carry last season, we’re only one year removed from Ingram ranking fifth in the league in rushing yardage on only 230 carries.
Fade: Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey is a locked-in fantasy option, but where he makes his fantasy paper is being a dual asset. Even last season McCaffrey averaged just 13.7 rushing attempts per game with just two games eclipsing 17 carries. Devonta Freeman in the 2015 season is the only back under 210 pounds to receive more than 250 carries in a season over the past five years. With simply not enough rushing volume, McCaffrey is an easy avoid with top-six odds across the majority of books.
The Chalk: Julio Jones led all wideouts in targets (170) and receiving yards (1,677) last season. Averaging 104.8 receiving yards per game, Jones has now averaged over 100 yards receiving per game in five different seasons, which is the most such seasons in NFL history. Entering the season at age 30, Jones isn’t quite in the prime of his career arc, but he’s missed just two games over the past four seasons.
Mike Evans: Caesars +800, FanDuel +1200, DraftKings +1200, MyBookie +1400
Having Jameis Winston to lead things off in the quarterback section, Evans carries a lot of similar rationale in terms of overall team passing volume and strength of schedule. With 1,524 yards in 2018, Evans became just the third player in league history to post over 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first five NFL seasons, joining Randy Moss and A.J. Green. Tampa Bay lost 29 percent of their targets, receptions and receiving yardage through free agency with the departures of Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson. While Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard will see spikes in their volume, Evans also stands to have very good odds on adding to his 138 targets from a year ago. The 26-year old wideout is still in the prime of his career and has already flirted with leading the league in yardage, ranking inside the top-five in two of the past three seasons.
T.Y. Hilton: DraftKings +1200, MyBookie +1200, FanDuel +1300, Caesars +1500
After a down 2017 season playing with Jacoby Brissett, Hilton bounced right back to be an effective fantasy wideout playing alongside Andrew Luck, setting new career-highs with 90.7 receiving yards per game and 10.6 yards per target in 2018. Hilton did this on bum ankle as he practiced just twice over the final six weeks of the season and still led the league in receiving yardage (685 yards) over that span. Hilton has already paced the position in overall yardage in 2016 and in his past three full seasons playing with Andrew Luck, Hilton has ranked sixth, third and sixth in receiving yards per game in those seasons.
Contrarian Bet: Sammy Watkins: DraftKings +5000, Caesars +6500, FanDuel +6500, MyBookie +8000
Watkins hasn’t reached 600 yards in any of the past three seasons and has now missed time in each of his past four seasons since playing 16 games as a rookie, so why the hell not? While injuries once again depressed Watkins’s bottom line in 2018, this wasn’t like 2017 when he was just flat out ineffective. Watkins secured a career-high 72.7 percent of his targets and was just more open than any wide receiver in the league as the Chiefs used him more as a mid-range target. In his seven full games played, Watkins actually out-targeted Tyreek Hill (49-45) and had more receptions (37-32) than Hill. With Hill now potentially out of the lineup, Watkins could be set up to be the lead receiver in a Patrick Mahomes-led offense. It will potentially take a miracle at this point to see Watkins on the field for 16 games -which we’ll need to cash in here- but as a hedge on Mahomes’ high odds while playing for the chances that Hill sits out half of the season or longer, let the dart fly.
Fade: Tight Ends
Last season we saw Travis Kelce break the all-time receiving yardage record in a season for a tight end and then saw that record be broken by George Kittle just about an hour later. While their high-yardage campaigns signaled the apex of a new era of athletic tight ends that possess elite yards after the catch ability, their record-breaking yardage totals were only good for the eighth- and 10th-most receiving yards in context of the league last season. No tight end has ever led the league in receiving yardage since the NFL merger.