Nowadays, the aerial attack dominates the way offense is played in the NFL. There are still a few teams out there willing to roll with the “ground and pound” style run-heavy attack, but most successful teams are more than happy to air it out these days.
Teams have never passed the football more often than they do today, which has led to some downright gaudy passing and receiving yards totals in recent years.
While we’ve seen more and more teams commit to a pass-heavy approach, we actually saw a bit of a dip in overall attempts last season. Three teams (Miami, Tennessee, Seattle) averaged fewer than 30 throws per game in 2018, which was the first time since 2015 that that happened.
About half of the league has averaged 35 or more pass attempts per game over the last handful of years, however.
While some may be starting to turn back the clock and focus more on running the ball, I’d expect the league to be quite pass-happy again in 2019.
To the surprise of nobody, Atlanta’s Julio Jones led the league with 1,677 receiving yards a season ago. It marked the second time in Jones’ career that he won the receiving yards title, and he’s the odds-on favorite to repeat the feat in this coming season.
The odds to lead the NFL in receiving yards in 2019 are listed as follows, courtesy of MyBookie:
- Julio Jones (Falcons) +400
- DeAndre Hopkins (Texans) +600
- JuJu Smith-Schuster (Steelers) +1000
- Michael Thomas (Saints) +1000
- Odell Beckham Jr. (Browns) +1000
- T.Y. Hilton (Colts) +1200
- Mike Evans (Buccaneers) +1400
- Davante Adams (Packers) +1600
- Antonio Brown (Raiders) +1600
- Adam Thielen (Vikings) +1800
- Keenan Allen (Chargers) +2000
- A.J. Green (Bengals) +2200
The focal point of Carolina’s offense these days is running back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey actually led Carolina in receiving yards (867) a season ago, and he also led the way in receptions (107) and targets (124).
The Panthers have given no indication that they plan to take a different approach this season, so I think McCaffrey makes for a very intriguing long-shot bet here at +22500.
We don’t often think of running backs as viable options when it comes to leading the league in receiving, but McCaffrey is so heavily involved in the offense that I think he’s worth a look as a YOLO betting option at favorable odds.
Interestingly enough, McCaffrey doesn’t even have the best odds among running backs.
That honor would belong to New York’s Saquon Barkley, who is coming off a record-setting rookie campaign.
While McCaffrey is the engine that makes the Panthers’ offense go, Barkley is that and then some for the Giants. Eli Manning isn’t getting any younger, and it’s a matter of time before the Giants decide to hand the keys of the offense over to Daniel Jones.
In the meantime, we can expect Barkley to keep carrying the load for New York this season.
The rushing totals speak for themselves, but Barkley was also tremendous as a receiver last year. He caught 91 passes on 121 targets for 721 yards with 4 touchdowns. He ranked well behind McCaffrey in every statistic, which is why I much prefer the crazy value on McCaffrey way down at +22500, but Barkley may even see a bigger role as he enters his second season.
It’s also worth noting that Odell Beckham is now in Cleveland, which means there will be more targets to go around in this offense.
Barkley at +12500 is another stellar long-shot option.
Todd Gurley checks in between Barkley and McCaffrey at +17500, but I think he’s an easy option to pass up. Gurley was limited down the stretch last season due to arthritic knees, and it doesn’t sound like a situation that has gotten much better during the offseason.
I’d expect the Rams to take a cautious approach with their bell cow back this season, so Gurley is a no-go for me on this one.
It really comes down to Barkley and McCaffrey. Neither is a particularly likely bet to pay off, but they’re both worth a mention considering the insane volume they both see in their respective offenses.
Rob Gronkowski is gone, which means the tight end talent pool has taken a hit this offseason. Gronk wasn’t ever going to be a factor in the receiving yards title race, though, so it is what it is.
The tight end with the best odds of winning said title is none other than San Francisco’s George Kittle, who put up monster numbers a season ago despite playing most of the year with backup quarterbacks.
Kittle, who is priced at +3300, hauled in 88 passes for 1,377 yards with 5 TDs last season despite having to catch passes from such luminaries as Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard for most of the campaign.
Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to return for the beginning of the season after tearing his ACL last fall, so an upgrade at the quarterback spot could mean an even more productive year out of Kittle is in the offing.
Kittle’s aforementioned receiving yards total ranked eighth in all of football last season, and his 136 targets ranked tied for 14th.
The only TEs more involved in their respective offenses were Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce.
Ertz is at +5000 to lead the NFL in receiving in 2019, while Kelce is tied with Kittle at +3300.
I prefer Kelce of the two here. The Chiefs are a more pass-happy offense than the Eagles, and there is uncertainty surrounding the availability of the team’s most prolific pass-catcher, Tyreek Hill.
If Hill winds up being suspended for any amount of time, guys like Kelce and Sammy Watkins will get more targets from reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes.
Kelce is also the most proven commodity among these three, as he’s topped 1,000 yards receiving in each of the last three seasons. His target share has risen in each of his first five years as a pro, topping out at 150 in 2018.
I love the value on Kelce at +3300. If a tight end leads the NFL in receiving next season, I bet it will be Travis Kelce.
Tyler Lockett at +6600 is a betting option that stands out. The Seahawks ranked dead-last in pass attempts as a team last season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Seattle adjust the offense a bit to get a big-play threat like Lockett more involved.
Doug Baldwin retired this offseason, which means his team-leading 73 targets from a season ago will need to go somewhere. On a team without a whole lot of talent at the skill positions, Lockett stands out as the clear-cut best option.
I don’t love the bet considering Seattle will still likely focus quite a bit on the run game, but Lockett is worth a look thanks to his game-breaking ability, if nothing else.
Stefon Diggs is also undervalued a bit at +4000.
He’s every bit as talented as Adam Thielen, if not more so, but Thielen has emerged as the No. 1 target for Kirk Cousins.
Thielen caught 113 passes on 153 targets last season, and he wound up totaling 1,353 yards through the air. All three totals led the team, but Diggs wasn’t far behind. Diggs hauled in 102 passes of his own on 149 targets for 1,021 yards.
They both scored nine touchdowns.
While the numbers were similar, Thielen has far better odds to win next season’s receiving yards title at +1800.
Frankly, I don’t think the discrepancy in the numbers is big enough to warrant such a big gap in the betting odds. Diggs finished tied for ninth in targets in all of football. Among those that finished in the top-10 last season, Ertz (+5000) is the only player with worse odds to lead the league in receiving yards next year. Diggs is a tremendous value, per the numbers.
Keenan Allen certainly doesn’t fall under the “sleeper” heading, but his odds are too low. Philip Rivers’ top target has a lengthy injury track record, which complicates matters, but it is worth noting that he’s played all 16 games in back-to-back seasons.
The productivity has been there, as he’s caught a total of 199 passes for over 2,500 yards combined in those two years. He has also totaled 295 targets over those two seasons, so we know Rivers is going to look his way frequently.
The +2000 odds offer plenty of upside.
Tyler Boyd at +5000 is also fairly alluring. He topped 1,000 yards last season following a couple of mediocre years to begin his career. The Bengals figure to be playing from behind quite a bit next season, so Andy Dalton should be throwing quite a bit.
A.J. Green is still the head honcho here, but he isn’t getting any younger. If Green sustains another injury or if he just starts to see a lesser role in the offense, Boyd would presumably emerge as the primary beneficiary.
At +5000, I’d be willing to take a shot.
As mentioned, Julio Jones makes for an easy betting favorite at +400 to repeat as receiving yards champ in 2019. The Falcons pass the ball as much as anybody, and Jones’ 170 targets led the league a year ago.
He essentially lapped the field in yardage last season, as he gained 105 yards more than any other receiver in the game. Assuming he stays healthy, there’s no reason to believe Jones won’t be up near the top of the leaderboards again.
DeAndre Hopkins was the man that finished 105 yards south of Jones, and his 163 targets ranked third.
His quarterback isn’t as decorated as Jones’, but he has topped 1,300 in each of Deshaun Watson’s first two seasons in town. A healthy season out of Will Fuller (knock on wood) and the potential emergence of Keke Coutee could lead to a lower target share for Hopkins next season, but I wouldn’t necessarily bank on either of those things panning out.
As such, Hopkins is a tremendous value to overtake Jones at +600.
Nobody else checks in with odds under +1000. Oddsmakers are very high on JuJu Smith-Schuster, and with good reason. JuJu caught 111 passes for 1,426 yards last season with Antonio Brown sharing his targets.
Now that Brown is in the Bay Area, Smith-Schuster should be the apple of Ben Roethlisberger’s eye. I’m not convinced Big Ben is going to lead the league in passing for a second year running, but Smith-Schuster saw 166 passes come his way last season, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that number to potentially rise.
Frankly, I slightly prefer Smith-Schuster at +1000 to Hopkins at +600.
T.Y. Hilton is my favorite option in this tier, though. Injuries are also a concern for him, but if he can stay on the field, he should put up massive numbers once again now that Andrew Luck has been fully healthy for over a year.
The addition of Funchess may take away some of Hilton’s underneath routes, but if nothing else, Funchess’ presence should mean Hilton gets more deep opportunities.
His 76 receptions and 120 targets are two numbers I expect to rise. Obviously, the yardage will come with it.
Hilton was the only player to top 1,200 yards receiving on fewer than 80 catches a season ago. That kind of efficiency is outstanding, so for +1200, this bet has a ton of upside.
Mike Evans is interesting at +1400 considering he’s topped 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons as a pro.
However, I’m scared of his quarterback situation. Jameis Winston likely won’t have a long leash in what may be his final season as the team’s starter, and the fact that Blaine Gabbert is the backup doesn’t inspire much confidence, either.
If Winston struggles, Evans’ numbers may easily tumble as a result. He’s one of the more volatile options on the board despite numbers that have been consistent to this point in his career.
Smith-Schuster is interesting considering his track record is shorter than others in his price range, but at +1000, I think he makes for a tremendous bet. He enjoyed a breakout season a year ago, and with Brown in Oakland, I wouldn’t be surprised if he achieves “household name” status this season.
You can do a lot worse than taking a shot on JSS at +1000.
Jones and Hopkins are both solid bets in their own right, though the value on Jones is a bit dicey at +400. If he misses a game or two due to injury, the bet is unlikely to cash, so I might hold off until we get closer to the season before betting in case the odds happen to get a little more profitable.
Christian McCaffrey is a full-on flier at +22500. That’s really just a price play, and it makes sense considering his involvement in the Panthers’ offense.
T.Y. Hilton should put up another monster season assuming he and Andrew Luck are able to stay healthy together, so for +1200, he’s one of the highest-upside options of all.
Below are my favorite picks to lead the NFL in receiving in 2019:
- JuJu Smith-Schuster +1000
- T.Y. Hilton +1200
- DeAndre Hopkins +600
- Julio Jones +400
- Stefon Diggs +4000