Best NFL player prop bets for the 2021 seasonESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)
The NFL season is closing in upon us, and there are plenty of betting opportunities already out there. If you're looking to get in on the early action, we're here to offer some assistance.
ESPN betting analysts Joe Fortenbaugh, Doug Kezirian, Tyler Fulghum, Mike Clay, Seth Walder and Anita Marks offer their best prop bets for the 2021 season.
Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill.
Jalen Hurts under 3600.5 pass yardsKezirian: First of all, I am not convinced Hurts is the starter after a handful of weeks; I would not be surprised to see Nick Mullens take over the gig. But even if Hurts does play all 17 games, he must average 212 yards per game. In his four starts last year, he surpassed that total just twice -- but did so with ease. Aside from that, defenses will learn to limit his abilities because he does not have many as a passer. His running nature will also translate to fewer passing yards, and that style also increases the chance for injury. Hurts had a great college career, but I think the NFL ceiling is quite low.
Walder: I'm going to tail Doug here. In limited playing time last season, Hurts recorded a QBR of just 41, which was actually worse than what Carson Wentz posted (50) with the same team. Had he qualified, Hurts would have been the second-worst QBR quarterback in the league last season, ahead of only Sam Darnold. I'm not closing the door on Hurts after just four rookie starts, but last year's performance -- after being considered a non-premiere QB prospect -- means we have to be pretty open to the idea that he won't pan out.
Carson Wentz over 3675.5 pass yards
Fortenbaugh: Wentz would need to average a paltry 216.2 passing yards per game in order to cash an over ticket, a threshold 25 quarterbacks were able to cross in 2020. If this prop seems low, there's a very good reason. Wentz has played a full 16-game season just twice in his five-year career, as injuries have been a constant burden for the North Dakota State product. However, in Indianapolis, Wentz will be playing behind one of the league's top offensive lines as opposed to the injury-riddled wreck he played with in Philadelphia last season. Even if Wentz misses three games due to injury in 2021, he would need to average 262 passing yards per game in order for our over to hit. Eleven quarterbacks eclipsed that mark in 2020.
Daniel Jones over 3,700.5 pass yardsMarks: The Giants overhauled their offense more than any team in the league, therefore this number for Jones seems ridiculously low, and I'm all over it. The G-Men added Kenny Golladay to their wide receiving corps, where he becomes the top target -- and he catches everything thrown his way. They also added John Ross and Kyle Rudolph to the existing mix of Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton and Evan Engram. Jones also will be playing in the same system as last season and will have the same offensive coordinator in Jason Garrett. His offensive line has improved, and his wide receivers will have a very favorable schedule against opposing secondaries.
Baker Mayfield over 3900.5 pass yardsWalder: Between the return of Odell Beckham Jr. and the Browns projecting to have the best pass protecting offensive line in the league, Mayfield is set up extraordinarily well. The counterargument here is obvious: Cleveland is a run-first team. But to that I say, the No. 1 analytical takeaway about modern football is that passing is, on average, more efficient than running. And the Browns have the largest analytics staff in the league. And they did pass more frequently down the stretch last season, for what it's worth. I don't think that means they'll pass like the Bills in 2021, but I do expect an increase in passing rates in Cleveland in 2021, and this is a relatively low total for Mayfield.
Joe Burrow over 4150.5 pass yardsFulghum: Burrow will have the perfect stew of ingredients to eclipse this total. Ja'Marr Chase joins Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon in an exciting group of weapons to distribute the ball to. Last year as a rookie, Zac Taylor pushed Burrow at a tempo that led to the second-most pass attempts per game in the NFL (40.4, behind Ben Roethlisberger at 40.5). The most important ingredient, though, is Cincinnati's defense -- which is likely going to promote a lot of shootouts for Burrow and the Bengals offense.
Sam Darnold under 21.5 pass TDsClay: Darnold has been around for three seasons and has yet to clear this number. He threw 17 touchdowns as a rookie in 2018, a career-high 19 in 2019 and nine in 12 games last season. Darnold struggled with effectiveness (6.6 YPA and 60% completion percentage) and health (three-plus missed games all three seasons) during his time in New York. He's now in a better situation in Carolina, though Matt Rhule and Joe Brady's offense accrued only 16 pass TDs last season, which ranked 29th in the league. Play-calling was the culprit, as Carolina was one of the league's run-heaviest teams near the goal line. Darnold's projection is 17.2.
Ryan Fitzpatrick under 22.5 pass TDs
Marks: I love Washington as a team this season and Fitzpatrick is a definite upgrade at quarterback, but I am on the under for his touchdown passes. The most TDs Fitzy has passed for in a season is 23. Plus, he is 38 years old, and chances are he will not start every game due to injury. I'm banking more on Washington's defense and their running game with Antonio Gibson than Fitzpatrick's arm. Teams only averaged 20 points against Washington last season, and its defense is even better this year. Washington's offense is not going to need to put up a lot of points to win games this season.
Trevor Lawrence under 24.5 pass TDsClay: Eight quarterbacks have been picked first overall since 2010. Only one of the eight (Baker Mayfield) reached 25 pass TDs as a rookie. In fact, only four rookie QBs have reached 25 pass TDs in league history, with three more reaching 23. Lawrence will benefit from entering the league in a pass-friendly era with an extra game and a respectable group of targets, but 25 is still a very high watermark. History says lean under and so does his projection of 22.5 pass TDs.
Derek Carr over 24.5 pass TDsMarks: Carr comes into this season with a chip on his shoulder and Marcus Mariota potentially waiting in the wings. Carr tossed 27 touchdowns last season, and, oh by the way, he gets a 17th game this season. The Raiders offense should only be better this season. Henry Ruggs enters his second season ready to roll and should be a huge factor in Jon Gruden's system, Darren Waller is unstoppable in the red zone, and I loved John Brown in Buffalo last season. Brown is an upgrade from Nelson Agholor and will help Carr reach the over in touchdown passes this season. Las Vegas' offensive line got better as well with the addition of tackle Alex Leatherwood in the draft. And to keep up with the firepower of Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, expect Carr to sling that rock a lot.
Matt Ryan under 28.5 pass TDsClay: Ryan has fallen short of 29 pass TDs in six of the past eight seasons and threw 26 in both 2019 and 2020. This, despite operating in one of the league's pass-heaviest schemes throughout his career. Ryan will now move to Arthur Smith's run-first scheme. Smith's Tennessee offense cleared this line in both of his two seasons as the play caller, but it took elite passing efficiency, which is not something we're assured of in Atlanta, especially after the team traded Julio Jones. Ryan's projection checks in at 24.7.
Running back props
Miles Sanders under 1025.5 rush yardsMarks: The Eagles could be just as bad as the Texans and Lions this season. They will be playing from behind the majority of the year and will be throwing come "garbage time." They drafted receiver DeVonta Smith in the first round and will make him the centerpiece of their offense. And there is a lot more depth in the Eagles backfield with Boston Scott and the additions of Kenneth Gainwell and Kerryon Johnson. The offensive line can never stay healthy, they are long in the tooth and will face good Washington and Giants rush defenses twice each.
Najee Harris over 975.5 rushing yards
Kezirian: Harris is the main running back for a team that wants to get back to running the football. The Steelers sent that message by drafting and signing several linemen this offseason, addressing a major issue from last year's team. Ben Roethlisberger returns for another season, but this team needs balance. The rookie is already a grown man at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, so I have no concern with the Alabama product's ability to handle the workload over 17 games. A 1,000-yard season is in the cards.
Damien Harris under 850.5 rushing yardsFortenbaugh: Over the past 10 years, New England's leading rusher has averaged just 840.9 rushing yards per season, with only five of those campaigns featuring a running back who posted 841 or more rushing yards. Remember, this is New England! Handicapping which running back will enjoy the bulk of the workload has been somewhat of a national nightmare for fantasy prognosticators. Harris will be competing with 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel, who led New England in rushing in both 2018 and 2019 before missing six games due to a quadriceps injury last season. Additionally, James White is still in the picture and Cam Newton is more than capable of running the rock on occasion (137 carries last season).
Gus Edwards over 600.5 rushing yardsWalder: He may be the No. 2 back in Baltimore, but Edwards is a good player in a good offense who is going to get his opportunity. He ranked fifth in rush yards over expectation, given the run block win rate in front of him last season (and similarly ranked third in Next Gen Stats' rush yards over expectation). And he's also likely to get even better blocking this season. The Ravens ranked eighth in run block win rate a year ago, but I project they'll jump up to second this year with Ronnie Stanley back at left tackle. Edwards has recorded over 700 rushing yards in each of his three seasons in the league, without the benefit of a 17th game, and I like his chances to do so again.
Ezekiel Elliott over 9.5 rush TDsFulghum: In the proverbial "best shape of his life," Elliott looks like a good bet for a 10+ TD season. The Cowboys offense should be one of the most fertile scoring environments in all of the NFL. Dak Prescott is back pulling the trigger. Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and La'el Collins are still premier offensive linemen. The defense still remains a massive question mark. The Cowboys should score a lot, and Elliott may also benefit from Prescott being less aggressive with his legs coming off serious injury. Prescott has "vultured" 24 rushing TDs in his NFL career.
Antonio Gibson over 8.5 TDsMarks: Gibson had 11 rushing TDs last season as a rookie playing in just 14 games. I expect him to be used as a hybrid RB/WR talent in Washington's offense, which means he should not come off the field. He is an electric running back with tremendous receiving capabilities. Washington's offensive line is solid and only got better with the additions of Charles Leno and Sam Cosmi. Expect Gibson to shine this season.
Austin Ekeler under 5.5 rush TDsClay: This is a lofty line for a player who is entering his fifth NFL campaign and has yet to clear three rushing TDs in a single season. Ekeler managed only one rushing TD in 10 games last season. The issue has been a lack of opportunity, as he has registered 14 career carries inside the 5-yard line. That includes only two last season (60 RBs had more). Ekeler's 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame has limited him to a career-high of 132 carries, and it's possible he never reaches 200 in his career. Even with a projected 188 carries, Ekeler's rush TD projection is 4.7.
James Conner over 5.5 rush TDs, over 575.5 rush yardsClay: Conner has cleared these marks in two of his three seasons as an NFL starter despite missing 12 games during the span. He's now in Arizona and set to take over Kenyan Drake's early-down/goal line role, which allowed Drake 955 yards and 10 TDs on the ground last season. Drake ranked seventh in the league in carries, third in carries inside the 5-yard line and second in expected rush TDs (13.2). Even with Chase Edmonds in the mix, Conner can hit these marks with ease. His projection is 711 yards and 6.6 TDs.
Keenan Allen over 1050.5 receiving yardsFortenbaugh: This is a great buy-low price on Allen, who posted just 992 receiving yards last season after recording at least 1,190 receiving yards in three straight campaigns prior to 2020. So, what gives? Take note that Allen was working with a rookie signal-caller in Justin Herbert last year, which also explains the wideout's drop in yards per reception (9.9, a career-low). Herbert now has 15 starts worth of experience under his belt and when you factor in a 17th regular-season game, it's not hard to figure out why I'm very bullish on an Allen bounce-back in 2021.
Kenny Golladay over 1025.5 receiving yardsMarks: Jones to Golladay is something you will hear a lot this season. Golladay will be Jones' No. 1 receiver in the Giants' revamped offense and is the type of receiver who fights for every ball that is thrown his way. The Giants receiving corps also has a very favorable schedule against opposing secondaries this season.
Robert Woods over 1000.5 receiving yardsFulghum: The Rams offense is hoping to see a major boost from QB Matthew Stafford. Most agree that Stafford provides higher upside and more explosive opportunity than Jared Goff. With Goff as his QB the last four seasons, Woods averaged 1017.5 yards per season and 69.0 yards per game. If that's a baseline with Goff, I like his chances to soar past this number with Stafford. Sean McVay deploys Woods more than any receiver on the team. In 2020, Woods played more than 90% of the offensive snaps in 10 of 16 games. Add in the Cam Akers injury that may make McVay skew more pass heavy than he intended, and I think there's value on Woods -- who hasn't missed a game due to injury since 2017.
Calvin Ridley under 9.5 TD receptionsClay: Ridley is one of the league's best wide receivers, but this is a lofty projection for a player with career TD totals of 10, seven and nine during his three pro seasons, respectively. He hit those marks in a very pass-heavy offense, but now switches to Arthur Smith's run-first scheme. Julio Jones is out of the way, but Ridley likely doesn't have much room for more volume after already ranking top 10 at wide receiver in targets, receptions, yardage, touchdowns and end zone targets last season. Also, 10 is a very big number. Only seven wideouts reached it last season, with four more scoring nine times. Ridley's projection for me is 7.5.
Kyle Pitts over 6.5 receiving TDsMarks: Julio Jones is gone and Kyle Pitts has arrived. Pitts is an outstanding talent who will be a nightmare to defend in the red zone. His size and athleticism should allow him to quickly adjust to the NFL. He averaged one TD a game and accounted for almost 40 percent of the Florida Gators' touchdowns last season. Matty Ice is going to love him.
Odell Beckham Jr. over 5.5 TD receptions
Clay: Beckham has been on a 17-game pace of at least seven touchdowns in six of his seven NFL seasons. That includes three TD catches in six games last season. Beckham has been a mainstay near the goal line, ranking top five in end zone targets in both 2018 and 2019 before ranking eighth last season prior to his injury. Injuries have been a problem recently, but OBJ is healthy, still in his prime at 28 and is working in a good offense that leaned more on the pass late last season. His projection is 7.3.