Prop Bets: Will Antonio Brown or JuJu Smith-Schuster Score More Touchdowns, Have More Yards?
By now, you probably know all about the Antonio Brown drama that's gone down this week. Someone decided to tweet a graphic showing JuJu Smith-Schuster as the Steelers' MVP -- an honor he won for his work during the 2018 season -- and AB, now an Oakland Raider, responded with "...boy fumbled the whole post season in the biggest game of year ! Everyone went blind to busy making guys famous not enough reality these days !"
That caused Smith-Schuster to tweet, "Crazy how big that ego got to be to take shots at people who show you love! Smh"
Now we've got beef.
Stemming from all this, FanDuel Sportsbook now has two new props for the 2019 season. You can bet on which player you think will score more touchdowns next year, as well as which pass-catcher will have more yards.
Yards Compiled (Smith-Schuster +115, Brown -140)
To put up yards, a wide receiver needs to be targeted. And, talent aside, there's more opportunity for targets in offenses that throw a lot of passes.
The Steelers have ranked in the top-10 in pass-to-rush attempt ratio in each of the last three seasons, resulting in a minimum of 590 pass attempts in a single season. Oakland, meanwhile, has thrown the ball 556 and 558 times over the last two years, respectively, and they haven't thrown the ball 600 times since 2015.
A pass-catcher seeing 25% of the team's targets in Pittsburgh is going to see more volume than one with the same target share in Oakland. At least, that's what the last few years has told us.
Smith-Schuster captured about 24% of Pittsburgh's targets in 16 games last year -- his sophomore season -- which we should project to be bumped in 2019 without an elite wideout lined up on the field with him. In 2018, only DeAndre Hopkins saw more than 28.3% of his team's pass attempts go his way, so let's not go overboard: Smith-Schuster is probably in line for about 26.5% of his team's attempts.
Brown, given the competition in Oakland, shouldn't have an issue getting close or exceeding that 28% mark. Let's say he hits 29%.
If we lock Pittsburgh in with roughly 610 pass attempts (that puts them in line with what's happened the last three years) and Oakland with about 580 (a jump given they've got Brown now), then we'll get the following target projections for Smith-Schuster and Brown:
Now, consider this: Ben Roethlisberger's yards per attempt rate over the last three seasons has been 7.5, 7.6, and 7.6. Derek Carr's has been 7.3, 6.8, and 7.0. Roethlisberger has thrown it 15 or more air yards on 20.4% of his throws during this time. Carr's deep-ball rate is just 14.8%.
Even if we knock Roethlisberger down a bit due to the absence of AB, and even if we do the opposite for Carr, chances are, Roethlisberger will see a higher yards per attempt rate in 2019. If that's the case, Smith-Schuster could straight-up beat Antonio Brown in the receiving yards department.
JuJu Smith-Schuster Receiving Yards Projection: 1,363.7
Antonio Brown Receiving Yards Projection: 1,309.4
Bet to Place: Smith-Schuster (+115)
Touchdowns Scored (Smith-Schuster +175, Brown -220)
Brown is listed as the favorite to score more touchdowns, and it's by a fairly significant margin. That's logical -- AB scored 15 times last year and has double-digit touchdowns in four of his last five seasons, while Smith-Schuster has 14 total scores across his two-year career.
But as you just saw, things are different for Brown this year. The Steelers have been one of the most pass-heavy teams in football during this late-career Roethlisberger era, while the Raiders have been a more middle-of-the-road passing volume team.
AB's going from a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, who's had a touchdown rate at or north of 5.0% in each of his last three campaigns, to Derek Carr, who hasn't hit that mark in three years. In other words, Roethlisberger's touchdowns per attempt rate has been much higher than Carr's.
Touchdown rate usually regresses year in and year out, but above-average passers are typically able to maintain a better-than-normal rate. That's what we've seen from Big Ben throughout his career -- he's got a career-long touchdown rate of 5.1%, when the league's average has hovered around 4.5%.
Roethlisberger doesn't have Antonio Brown anymore, but that may not be as big of an issue as you'd think. During his seasons without AB, Roethlisberger, according to numberFire's expected points model, actually played at the same efficiency above the league's average efficiency (per drop back) as he did with Brown.
|Split||Passing NEP per Drop Back||League Average||Difference|
|With AB Starting||0.20||0.08||+0.12|
|Without AB Starting||0.15||0.03||+0.12|
Antonio Brown didn't exactly make Ben Roethlisberger.
Now, let's take the 610 projected pass attempts for Pittsburgh above, and the 580 we've got from Oakland. At Ben Roethlisberger's career touchdown rate, that would mean he'd be in store to throw 31.1 touchdowns in 2019. At Derek Carr's career 4.4% rate, he'd be looking at 25.5 touchdown tosses. Even if you bump Carr's touchdown rate up because of Brown being a Raider, it's hard to project him to throw more touchdowns than Roethlisberger in 2019, all things considered.
All the while -- and this shouldn't be shocking -- passing touchdowns correlate pretty strongly to passing yards. Since 2011, we've seen an r-squared of 0.57 between the two variables. In turn, players with more receiving yards often score more touchdowns.
So if Smith-Schuster is projected to have a similar receiving yard total as Brown, and if Roethlisberger is projected to throw more touchdowns than Carr, then, well, you know what to do.
JuJu Smith-Schuster Touchdown Projection: 8.5
Antonio Brown Touchdown Projection: 8.9
Bet to Place: Smith-Schuster (+175)