The NFL odds are tighter than a drum for this year's rushing and receiving props. Which two of these talented “skill” athletes are most likely to cash in at the end of the season?
In theory, there are two ways to make money betting on sports. One is to predict the winners. The other is to find inconsistencies in the marketplace and exploit them. We prefer the second method by far; even in this age of quantitative analysis, it's a hell of a lot easier to predict where recreational bettors will make their mistakes than it is to pick a winner.
But we still try our best to do both. In fact, today we're going to throw the concept of betting value out the window and see if we can pin down which players are most likely to lead the NFL in rushing and receiving yards this year. Let's start with the running backs – there are five of them tied at +600 on the NFL Futures & Props betting board, so we've got some work to do.
Here are the five tailbacks in question, with their yardage and yards per carry from 2014:
DeMarco Murray, Philadelphia Eagles (1,845 yards, 4.7 YPC)
Arian Foster, Houston Texans (1,246 yards, 4.8 YPC)
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (1,033 yards, 5.0 YPC)
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (bupkes)
Three of these five players have led the league in rushing before: Peterson (2008, 2012), Foster (2010) and Murray (2014). There are issues with all three gentlemen, though. Peterson is 30 and missed all of last year on suspension, Foster is 28 and hasn't played a full season since 2012, and Murray might not get 24.5 carries per game now that he's not with the Dallas Cowboys.
We feel Murray is the safest bet anyway. LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing (1,607 yards, 5.1 YPC) during Chip Kelly's first year as Eagles coach, and McCoy kept it up last year, finishing third with 1,319 yards (4.7 YPC). And he got nearly 20 touches per game both years. Murray can slip right into that role; there might be some issues with Philly's offensive line this year, but that's a small unknown compared to Peterson's situation in particular. McCoy, by the way, is +1000 after getting traded to the Buffalo Bills. Sorry about your damn luck.
The odds at 5Dimes aren't as tightly packed for the receivers, but there's still a crowded first tier to consider. Here's the list, including yardage and yards per catch from 2014:
Antonio Brown (+500), Pittsburgh Steelers (1,698 yards, 13.2 YPC)
Julio Jones (+600), Atlanta Falcons (1,593 yards, 15.3 YPC)
Demaryius Thomas (+650), Denver Broncos (1,619 yards, 14.6 YPC)
Odell Beckham (+750), New York Giants (1,305 yards, 14.3 YPC)
Calvin Johnson (+800), Detroit Lions (1,077 yards, 15.2 YPC)
Jordy Nelson (+800), Green Bay Packers (1,519 yards, 15.5 YPC)
Dez Bryant (+800), Dallas Cowboys (1,320 yards, 15.0 YPC)
That's quite a talented group of players. Brown led the NFL last year ahead of Thomas – we've already discussed the latter's chances of leading the league in receptions, and while we're pessimistic about that prop bet, we prefer his chances when it comes to raw yardage. Brown needed 129 catches to get all those yards last year, while Thomas had 111 receptions, even though they were targeted at roughly the same frequency.
Of course, if we were talking about value NFL Picks, we'd be all over Jimmy Graham at +6600. He has yet to lead the league in receiving, or even play a full 16-game slate, but now that he's one of the very few downfield targets on the Seattle Seahawks, the reward seems worth the risk. But is Graham a safe bet? Hell no. Stick with Thomas, or even Brown, if you're trying to nail as many of your football picks as possible next year.