2020 NFL player prop bets to target

How to wager on football amidst this year's unusual dynamics.

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The 2020 NFL season will have a different dynamic to it than we are accustomed to, with players opting out and the lack of a normal training camp and preseason. With all this in mind, there are a couple of educated guesses we can make on the impacts our new reality may have on the season.

  1. Teams with consistent personnel from last year should have a slight advantage over teams bringing in new people, especially at key positions like quarterback.
  2. With running backs not being able to get into football shape right away, we can expect a potential lower rushing volume for individuals at the beginning of the season. 
  3. This also means we could see teams lean more heavily on the pass, or institute more of a committee approach for carrying the football to start the season. 
  4. Offenses should have a leg up on defenses out of the gates, especially in the passing game. Defenses rely heavily on scheming and communication to be successful. Without a normal camp and preseason to get these reps in, defenses may have more slip-ups than normal and may not be able to disguise their coverages as effectively early on. 

That said, let’s dive into some of my favorite passing, rushing, and receiving props for the 2020 season.

Passing props

Patrick Mahomes over 4500 yards and 34.5 TDs

Is there a passing offense that embodies the advantages listed above more than the Chiefs? They return with essentially all of the same personnel. 

They also had Damien Williams opt out and now have rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire (CEH) to lead their backfield. Last year, the Chiefs had the 6th fewest rushing attempts, and that includes 43 of their 375 attempts coming from Mahomes. They are not going to rely on the run game, and instead should lean on the best QB in the NFL. 

In 2018, Mahomes threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 TDs as a rookie. Last season, he barely topped 4,000 yards and only threw 26 TDs, thanks in part to missing a couple games with a knee injury. Had he made all 16 starts, he was on pace to exceed his 4,500 yard prop but would have missed the 34.5 TD prop. 

I think the 26 TDs we saw from Mahomes last year is his absolute floor, and 50 TDs may not even be his ceiling. While we shouldn’t expect the insanely efficient 8% touchdown rate Mahomes posted in his rookie year, he should be able to be more efficient in the TD percentage department than last season. He will be facing defenses that haven’t had a normal preseason and could have to come out with less complicated defensive schemes to start. 

Mahomes has tallied over 8 yards per attempt in both of his pro seasons so far. If we give him the extra 100 or so attempts he missed last year due to injury, that tacks on another 800 yards to his 4,000 yard season, easily covering 4,500 total passing yards in a season where the Chiefs could lead the league in pass attempts. 

Matt Ryan over 4500 yards and 27.5 TDs

Outside of the Chiefs, the Atlanta Falcons have the 2020 passing offense that I am highest on in terms of pure volume. In 2019, Matt Ryan finished third in the NFL in passing attempts with 616. However, the two guys ahead of him – Jared Goff and Jameis Winston – each had only ten more attempts than Ryan at 626, despite both guys playing an extra game. Had Ryan not missed a game with injury, he would have led the league in attempts. This trend should not change in 2020.

This offseason, the Falcons brought in Todd Gurley, who only handled 55 percent of the Rams’ rushing attempts in 2019. With his knee issues, Gurley is no longer a workhorse, though he can still be utilized in the pass game, as evidenced by his 49 targets last year. This only helps Ryan. 

Ryan also boasts a talented receiving corps headlined by Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. The Falcons will be without Austin Hooper, but they made a trade with the Baltimore Ravens for Hayden Hurst, who has matched Hooper in yards per route run over the last two seasons, and who should be able to plug right into Hooper’s role. 

The Falcons also continue to run out a suspect defense year after year, allowing opposing teams to rack up points. This forces the Falcons to throw the football heavily throughout each game. Combine this with the fact that Atlanta doesn’t have a running back they trust with 30 carries per game, and it’s hard to see a decrease in passing volume in 2020.

Since 2012, Matt Ryan has thrown for at least 4,500 yards six times, missing this mark only twice. He would have eclipsed this yardage total last year as well, if he had played all 16 games. 

In the touchdown department, Ryan has consistently hovered in the 4-5 TD percent range. If Ryan repeats his volume of 615 attempts, he needs a TD rate of 4.5 percent to throw 28 TDs. Ryan has hit this TD rate in 7 of 12 seasons in his career and there’s a chance he could approach 650 attempts, which would allow him a bit more room for error on TD efficiency.

Nov 28, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) runs for a first down against the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Rushing yard props

Ezekiel Elliot under 1275 yards rushing

Let me start by saying this is not a knock on Zeke. More so, this speaks to the transition of the run-heavy Cowboys offense into a more dynamic passing attack. 

Dallas brought in Mike McCarthy this offseason after letting Jason Garrett go. In McCarthy’s 13 seasons as the Green Bay Packers’ head coach, his teams ranked top 10 in rushing attempts a total of zero times. The highest they ranked in those 13 seasons was 12th, which occurred twice. 

If we compare these ranks to Garrett’s, there is a massive disparity. In the last six seasons as the head coach of the Cowboys, his teams ranked top 10 in rushing attempts five times. 

The argument can be made that the Packers had been built around the passing game while the Cowboys have recently been built to run the football. However, the Cowboys just spent a first round pick on one of the best rookie Wide Receivers in the draft in CeeDee Lamb. They also drafted the talented Tony Pollard last year to help take some of the burden off of Zeke at the running back position.

Zeke has rushed for 1,434 yards and 1,357 yards in his last two seasons, respectively, needing 304 and 301 attempts to do so. As previously stated, if we exepct running backs to come out at the beginning of the year with slightly less volume, the results from the high volume attempts will also take a hit. 

So basically, the combination of McCarthy’s pass-first tendencies, the departure of Garrett’s run-first tendencies, and the high powered pass attack the Cowboys can run out there, lead to a year of lower volume for Zeke. The line is currently set at only 82 yards fewer than his total last year, and that’s a bet I’m willing to make given the circumstances.

Kenyan Drake over 975 yards

In 2019, after Drake was traded to Arizona, he proceeded to rush for 643 yards on 123 attempts in only eight games. If we double this pace to a full 16 game season, we’re looking at a 1,286-yard campaign. 

The sportsbooks are essentially telling us that Drake only has to be 75 percent as efficient as he was last year to hit the over on his yardage prop for 2020. 

A talented running back who never got a chance to show his true skill as a Dolphin under Adam Gase, finally made noise with the Cardinals. It’s almost like Gase holds back every player from reaching their potential. Drake smashed without Gase, as did DeVante Parker, and Le’Veon Bell has been terrible with Gase. 

The Arizona offense also added DeAndre Hopkins, which should only help the run game be more efficient as defenses have to respect Hopkins’ presence and can’t load up the box to stop a successful run game. Pick your poison.

Last year, Drake also had to compete with David Johnson and learn the Cardinals playbook as the season went on. Acclimating to the offense is less of a concern for a running back, but with Johnson being traded to the Texans in the Hopkins deal, there are many signs that point to Drake having his first 1,000 yard rushing season. 

Receiving yard props

Calvin Ridley over 1025 receiving yards

Piggybacking off the good year Matt Ryan should have, Calvin Ridley is the second main beneficiary of Ryan’s output behind only Julio Jones. 

In 2019, Ridley had just a 17 percent target share, and he is too talented to see such a low number again. In Ridley’s third season, we could see him approach the 20 percent target share mark. If he does hit the 20 percent mark on Ryan’s 625 attempts, that’s a 125-target season. 

In his prior two seasons, Ridely has only reached 92 and 93 targets, so this would definitely be a notable bump in volume. This forecasted increase is where we can take advantage of the prop line offered by the sportsbooks. 

Ridley has caught 70 and 68 percent of his targets in his first two seasons, respectively. If we project a conservative 67 percent catch rate, this puts him at the 84-reception mark for the season. 

From there we need to assess his yards-per-reception metric to be able to assign Ridley a total yardage projection for the year. Ridley has garnered 12.8 and 13.7 yards-per-reception totals in his first two seasons with the Falcons. If we again conservatively assign Ridley a 12.5 yards-per-reception total, that’s a season of 1,050-yards. 

The name of the game here is volume, as Ridley has shown he can be efficient when given targets. I am betting he can creep into the 20 percent target share range for this team.

Jalen Reagor over 650 receiving yards

On draft night, I immediately slotted in Reagor as the rookie WR1 once he got the landing spot in Philly. The Eagles are led by a talented quarterback in Carson Wentz and are severely hurting for depth at the Wide Receiver position. 

Enter Reagor, first round pick out of TCU. He is an electric playmaker who lacked a good quarterback throwing him the ball in college. Per Pro Football Focus, Reagor saw the 4th most inaccurate targets in college football. 

That will not be a problem in Philly. The main competition for targets will come from the tight end position, with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert leading the team in receiving last year. This leaves field-stretching Wide Receiver production as a major need, for which Reagor fits that mold. 

In 2019, Wentz threw the ball 607 times. If we use a similar amount of attempts (600) as a baseline for 2020, and we assign the first round Wide Receiver a 15 percent target share, we are looking at a 90 target season for Reagor. He has been efficient with on-target passes in college (15.2 yards per reception), and is too talented to not turn a 15 percent target share in the Eagles offense into more than 650 receiving yards.

Rushing and receiving combo prop

Alvin Kamara over 1450 yards

In 2017 and 2018, Kamara combined for over 1,500 yards rushing and receiving. In 2019, he finished with a combined 1,330 yards while missing two games. Had he played a full season in 2019, all but certainly would have reached the 1,450 mark. 

The Saints have done nothing to address their running back depth this offseason either, leaving Latavius Murray as the “1B” rushing option behind Kamara. With a lack of options behind him, Kamara should be able to continue to grind out 175+ carries on the ground. The Saints love to get his other touches through the air, forcing around 100 targets his way in each of his three seasons so far. 

275 touches are to be expected from one of the game’s most elite hybrid running backs and, with around a third of those touches coming through the air where more yards are gained, Kamara should look to hit the over on his combo prop in 2020. 

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