It always feels like certain things are given going into the NFL season. But because of the attrition rate among the league’s players, those “givens” don’t always pan out.
Still, that never stops bettors from taking chances on prop bets before the season starts.
Prop bets are often a good value proposition. If you can find the undervalued players across the league and bet on them, you stand a good chance of striking gold. Of course, you also have to hope that they stay healthy to reach these ceilings. But as long as they do, savvy bettors can hit on sleeper picks and underdogs.
Ahead of the 2021 NFL season, there are a handful of good-looking prop bets for bettors to wager on. They include the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Derrick Henry.
Below are The Sporting News’ top player prop best bets for the 2021 NFL season.
All odds are via FanDuel Sportsbook unless otherwise noted.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs: OVER 5,000.5 passing yards (-112)
Mahomes has either thrown for 5,000 yards or been on pace to throw for more than 5,000 yards twice in his two years as a starter. In 2018, he totaled 5,097 yards and a league-leading 50 touchdown passes.
Last season, he came up just short of 5,000, but he didn’t play in the Chiefs’ final contest. He was on pace for 5,056 passing yards after 15 games, so in a 17-game season it stands to reason that he will be able to eclipse that mark again.
There’s always a chance that Andy Reid will rest Mahomes and the Chiefs’ starters if they have a playoff berth locked up, but with only one bye up for grabs that’s less likely than it once was. And even if he plays in just 16 games, he’ll still have a chance to go well over the 5,000-yard mark. He could even approach Peyton Manning’s single-season record of 5,477 yards.
So, we’ll trust Mahomes to go over on this one.
Tom Brady, QB, Buccaneers: UNDER 36.5 passing TDs (-112)
Brady posted some of his best passing numbers in nearly a decade last season with the Bucs. He racked up 4,633 yards and 40 passing touchdowns for Tampa Bay.
But can he be trusted to do that again? That’s a tricky question to answer.
On the one hand, it’s hard to doubt Tom Brady. He has won seven Super Bowls, after all, and was still playing at a high level during his Age 43 season.
On the other hand, Brady had surgery to replace a torn MCL during the 2021 offseason. Players return from that injury often, but he’s 44 now. So it’s at least worth some level of concern.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that Brady has averaged 4,438 passing yards and 32 pass TDs per 16 games played since 2013. If he produces at that rate per game over a 17-game season, it won’t be enough to hit the over.
So, it’s best to bet on a Brady regression. Not necessarily in the win column, but at least from a statistical standpoint.
Derrick Henry, RB, Titans: OVER 1,539.5 rushing yards (-112)
Derrick Henry has led the NFL in total rushing yards in back-to-back seasons, and there’s no reason to bet on him slowing down during the 2021 season.
The Titans have spoonfed Henry an absurd amount of carries the past two seasons. In 2019 and 2020, he led the NFL in total rush attempts. He had 303 carries in ’19 and a whopping 378 carries in ’20.
Tennessee will probably continue to ride the 6-3, 247 pound Henry as their top offensive producer. He ran for 2,047 yards in 16 games last year, so there’s a chance he could break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record in a 17-game season.
Henry needs to average less than 100 rushing yards per game to eclipse this mark, so it’s very easy to trust him in this spot.
Deebo Samuel, WR, 49ers: OVER 875.5 receiving yards (-112)
Samuel represents a risky pick with upside. He has the potential to be a 1,000-yard receiver at the NFL level; he just hasn’t stayed healthy yet.
Last year, Samuel appeared in just seven games for the 49ers. Still, he averaged 55.9 receiving yards per game despite largely playing without Jimmy Garoppolo. In 2021, Garoppolo will be healthy, and the 49ers will have a much better backup in Trey Lance than the Nick Mullens/CJ Beathard combo that the 49ers and Samuel worked with last season. Plus, Samuel is healthy again.
Also, if Lance plays well, he could overtake Garoppolo and create a nice tandem with Samuel. Samuel is a good route runner but he has enough speed to be a deep threat. Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle will take defensive attention away from him as well. Samuel could certainly eclipse 1,000 receiving yards if he stays healthy, so it’s worth taking a chance on him.
Jared Goff, QB, Lions: Most interceptions thrown (+650)
Betting on a player to lead the league in interceptions isn’t always exciting, but it can be lucrative if you guess right. In this case, Jared Goff looks like a prime candidate to do just that. It’s all about the situation surrounding him in Detroit.
The Lions don’t have much receiving talent. Tyrell Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown and T.J. Hockenson could form a solid crew, but they don’t have a proven No. 1 option. Goff is used to playing with the likes of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, so without them and quarterback guru Sean McVay he could have more trouble finding open receivers.
It also doesn’t help that Goff has struggled with interceptions before. He has totaled 41 over the past three seasons and at least 12 in each of those three seasons.
That said, even if Goff struggles in Detroit, the team isn’t likely to replace him at quarterback — unless he gets hurt. They have a lot of money tied up in Goff after acquiring his bloated contract from the Rams, and their backups behind him — Tim Boyle and David Blough — only project as career backups. So, even if Goff struggles with interceptions, he’ll probably stay in the game.
Those factors could all combine to give Goff a lot of chances to throw interceptions, especially since Detroit will be trailing often. We’re getting enough juice here to make betting this prop worthwhile.
Chase Young, DE, Washington Football Team: Most sacks (+1200)
Young’s rookie season was an excellent one, and he really came on during the second half of the season. There’s a good reason to expect a big leap from the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, too.
Young actually had a real training camp and preseason this year. That helped him get some extra reps and he showed off his immense upside when he got a sack on the first drive of Washington’s game against the Patriots.
He is also fully recovered from a hip injury that gave him issues at the beginning of last season. So, his ceiling should be higher with that minor issue in the rearview mirror.
Young had 7.5 sacks as a rookie, but he could see that number double (or do even better because of the addition of a 17th game). He’s a talented, young player with a lot of potential. Aaron Donald and T.J. Watt may be the safer bets, but with these kinds of odds Young could provide a nice payout if he reaches his ceiling in 2021.
Expert NFL player prop best bets from TeamRankings.com
Our friends at TeamRankings.com have player projections for 2021 available for free in the fantasy football section of their new BetIQ site. Those data-driven projections incorporate things such as risk of injury, expected player usage and team stat projections based on similar teams. Last season, for players whose yardage projection was more than 100 yards different than the preseason prop line at DraftKings Sportsbook, betting in the direction of the BetIQ projection would have gone 29-15.
Below are four player prop bets that stick out according to the 2021 BetIQ NFL player projections.
All odds below are via DraftKings Sportsbook.
Darren Waller receiving yards: OVER 1050.5 (-115)
BetIQ Projection: 1,186 Receiving Yards
Do you know how many tight ends in NFL history have had more than 1,000 receiving yards at both ages 27 and 28?
Darren Waller, Travis Kelce, Jason Witten and Todd Christensen. That’s it.
That’s pretty good company, and Waller’s historical comparables held their value pretty well the next year as elite receiving tight ends.
Waller is still in the same offense. He’s the Raiders’ primary guy with question marks at wide receiver, even if one of the young players emerges. The defense still projects as being near the bottom of the league, which should lead to plenty of shootouts.
There’s also some potential value here on his yardage prop relative to receptions. Waller’s prop total on receptions is 95.5, which is close to our projection for him (96). But his implied yards per catch is 11, which would be even lower than the 11.2 yards per catch he averaged last year.
In 2019, Waller averaged 12.7 yards per catch, so he could see positive regression in that category. If so, that gives you some value on yards.
D’Andre Swift rushing touchdowns: UNDER 8.5 (-140)
BetIQ Projection: 5.8 Rushing TDs
Swift scored eight rushing touchdowns last year on only 114 carries. But that TD rate was an anomaly for a back with that number of touches. Since 1990, there have been only 20 running backs who have scored eight or more rushing touchdowns in a season in which they had 120 or fewer total carries.
The Lions’ overall team projection plays a role in why the under is favored here. Detroit is projected for 4.5 wins in the NFL win total futures market, and Swift’s rushing touchdown total is too optimistic for a back on a team expected to be among the league’s worst.
Since 2002, 26 teams have had a projected win total of five or fewer. Only two backs on those 26 teams scored more than eight rushing touchdowns, and four others scored exactly eight rushing touchdowns. Those two backs were Michael Turner on the 2008 Atlanta Falcons and LaDainian Tomlinson on the 2004 San Diego Chargers. Both of those teams surprised to win double-digit games and reach the playoffs.
If you expect the Lions to be a major surprise, you would be better off wagering on some long-shot playoff odds. If you think Detroit is appropriately priced as being near the bottom of the league, Swift will need another fluky rushing touchdown total to go over the 8.5 number.
Brandon Aiyuk: OVER 67.5 Receptions (-115) and 875.5 Receiving Yards (-115)
BetIQ Projection: 78 Receptions, 1,070 Receiving Yards
Brandon Aiyuk’s rookie year was interrupted by multiple injuries and missed games because of COVID-19 protocols. Those absences disrupted an otherwise promising rookie season, and he could be in line for an even bigger year in 2021.
Aiyuk announced his presence with a highlight-reel catch-and-run against Philadelphia on “Sunday Night Football” that included hurdling a defender. He later went on a six-game stretch in which he averaged more than 90 receiving yards per game, catching passes from all three quarterbacks on the roster.
Aiyuk did benefit from some lost time for both George Kittle and Deebo Samuel last year. However, he showed No. 1 receiver upside and should now have better overall offensive stability and QB play this season. Nick Mullens was responsible for the majority of his receptions last year, whereas he’ll be catching passes from Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance in 2021.
Wide receivers often break out in their third year, but early-round picks such as Aiyuk who put up productive numbers as rookies tend to be ahead of the curve. DK Metcalf is the latest example of a second-year receiver who broke into the top 10 after a solid rookie season. Our models like Aiyuk’s chances of being another one.
Jaylen Waddle receiving yards: UNDER 750.5 (-130)
BetIQ Projection: 680 Receiving Yards
Over the past 20 years, here are the times that top 10 rookie wide receivers have gone over 700 yards receiving, based on their age:
- 21 years old: 4 of 7
- 22 years old: 4 of 14
- 23+ years old: 2 of 7
Waddle turns 23 in November and is on the older end of the rookie receiver spectrum. He also faces plenty of competition for touches in a Miami offense that does not project as a high-volume passing game, even if it does take a step forward with QB Tua Tagovailoa in his second year.
Miami added wide receiver Will Fuller V this offseason, has a receiving back in Myles Gaskin, and still has both DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki. Waddle could have a solid rookie season, be a part of that rotation and still not hit that over because of the competition for touches.
Between the age factor and how it relates to breakouts at the position as well as our projection for Miami’s passing yards and the number of potential contributors, we’ll be conservative here.
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