You Should Back the Favorites to Lead the NFL in Receiving Yards

Every NFL season is unique -- and uniquely unpredictable.

Obviously, each year, teams have slightly different rosters, slightly different coaching staffs, and moderately different schedules, but projecting a season requires some guesswork. More appropriately, projecting a season should work with the underlying assumption that things can go wrong (or right) for teams and players. Variance is real, and range of outcomes matter. Especially when seeking value in props and over/unders.

Rather than rely solely on numberFire's projections -- the most likely outcome for every player this season -- I wanted to dig into the "what-ifs" for every player over a full season.

That helped me find betting value on passing yardage leaders on FanDuel Sportsbook as well as rushing yardage leaders. What's left? Receiving leaders, of course.

The Process

It's pretty simple. I simulated the NFL season 10,000 times, using numberFire's projections (and standard deviations) as the basis.

This showed me the probability that a given player would lead the league in receiving yards in 2019. Why? Because a median projection is great, but it doesn't necessarily account for variance and range of outcomes. Volatility helps players reach a higher range of outcomes, such as leading the entire league in yardage.

The Odds

Per FanDuel Sportsbook, Julio Jones (+600) is favored to lead the league, followed by DeAndre Hopkins (+750). A seven-player second tier comes next in a competitive race to lead the league in yardage.

You can check out every player's odds to lead the league in receiving yardage below or over at FanDuel Sportsbook, but here are the top 37 (before things drop off to +10000).

Player Odds Player Odds
Julio Jones +600 Stefon Diggs +5000
DeAndre Hopkins +750 Tyler Boyd +5000
Mike Evans +1200 Tyler Lockett +5000
Odell Beckham +1200 Zach Ertz +5000
JuJu Smith-Schuster +1300 Allen Robinson +6500
Michael Thomas +1300 Emmanuel Sanders +6500
TY Hilton +1300 Marvin Jones Jr +6500
Antonio Brown +1400 Mike Williams +6500
Davante Adams +1400 Sammy Watkins +6500
Adam Thielen +2000 Will Fuller +6500
George Kittle +2000 Alshon Jeffery +8000
Keenan Allen +2000 Calvin Ridley +8000
Travis Kelce +2200 Christian Kirk +8000
AJ Green +2600 Cooper Kupp +8000
Amari Cooper +3400 Dante Pettis +8000
Brandin Cooks +3400 DeSean Jackson +8000
Kenny Golladay +3400 Jarvis Landry +8000
Julian Edelamn +4400 Robby Anderson +8000
Robert Woods +5000


Julio Jones (+600) - Jones is our projected leader in receiving yardage (1,559), giving him a 70-yard lead over DeAndre Hopkins (1,489), and only three other players are projected to crack 1,400 in our median projections. It stands to reason, then, that Jones led the league in the most simulated seasons. At +600, Jones' implied probability to lead the league is 14.3%. He actually led in 29.0% of the simulated seasons. That's high for sure, but Jones is the all-time leader in career yards per game (96.7), and we project him for 168 targets, tied for the league lead (with Davante Adams). He's the favorite for a reason, but he actually offers positive expected value.

DeAndre Hopkins (+750) - There really have only been two surprise receiving yardage leaders -- just based on name value -- over the past 15 years (Brandon Lloyd in 2010 and Muhsin Muhammad in 2004). The other winners were all big names. So while backing Julio and Hopkins won't get you a huge return, it's not the worst combo to seek. At +750, Hopkins' 11.8% implied probability is shy of the 17.3% of simulated seasons in which he led the league in receiving. We already know he's within 100 yards of Jones for the receiving title in our median projections, but he's a virtual lock for 150-plus targets, and his quarterback -- Deshaun Watson -- should have much better health this year than he did last year.

Odell Beckham (+1200) - Okay, okay. I get it. It's not fun to back the favorites, but let's be pragmatic. Receiving leaders need to be voluminous and productive, and these three fit the bill. Beckham led the simulated seasons in receiving 10.2% of the time, making him one of three players (along with Julio and Hopkins, of course) to do it in at least 10.0% of the sims. At +1200, he should have around a 7.7% chance for break-even value. Beckham actually grades out sixth in our median projections, but it's his volatility that gets him to the top of the leaderboard more frequently than his peers. Also in Beckham's favor is the elite efficiency that Baker Mayfield showed in the second half of the season after the Cleveland Browns' coaching change. Mayfield is a good bet to lead the league in passing, so it makes sense that his top target is worthy of consideration as well.

Keenan Allen (+2000) - Allen hits a break-even point at his odds (4.8%) when we ramp up the volatility in the projections. That doesn't mean that there's positive expected value here, and that makes it a tough sell. However, if you want more return on your investment than 14/1, Allen is maybe the place we can feel comfortable if using our heads rather than our hearts to project. Allen is slated for 151 targets, eighth-most in the league, and at 1,365, he is projected to finish seventh in receiving in our median projections. Allen's 74.4 yards per game rank him 15th all-time, and we're projecting the Los Angeles Chargers to be the sixth-best passing offense in 2019.