Football

5 Season-Long Player Props to Love

2021 NFL Player props to Love
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Spreads and totals get most of the attention in the growing media landscape of NFL betting. It’s fun to start fresh each week, scan the board for alleged locks, and plant yourself on the couch for seven hours of commercial-free football to watch it unfold. Player props, although growing in popularity, are discussed a bit less. Maybe you have no clue who is going to cover the spread in the Bucs-Cowboys opener, but you’re confident Chris Godwin has a good game against Dallas’ brittle secondary. Betting on player props narrows the scope and allows bettors to hone in on their own specific areas of expertise.

While weekly player props can be exciting and provide a unique sense of pride when they pan out, they’re difficult. Sometimes great players have tough weeks and vice versa. The difficult part is predicting when those duds and breakouts occur. Matchup data and trends can point a bettor in the right direction, but zooming out just a bit can sometimes provide a clearer picture.

Why Player Props?

If you believe Player X will have a better season than oddsmakers project, you can put your money where your mouth is without having to time it. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the player prop market is its imperfection. Whereas bookmakers have been perfecting spread and total markets for decades, the player prop market is relatively new. As a result, there are less resources allotted to the player prop market than there are the more common, lucrative markets. Less resources and less dedicated time means there are likely more market inefficiencies to take advantage of.

Below are the five player props I will attempt to take advantage of for the 2021 NFL season.

1.     Najee Harris OVER 1000.5 Rushing Yards

This past year’s 24th overall pick, Harris figures to be the uncontested lead back for the Steelers and begins the year number one on the depth chart. Since 2011, there have been nine first-round rookie running backs to start more than 10 games. Of those nine, eight averaged at least 59 rushing yards per game, the minimum 17-game average to reach 1,000 yards. Playing all 17 games may seem like a big variable for an NFL running back, but Harris did not miss a single game in his last three years at Alabama. At 6’1, 230 pounds, he’s built to last. 

Even if he doesn’t play all 17 games, he’ll have more than a puncher’s chance at 1,000 yards. Six of those nine first-rounders rushed for 1,000 yards, but only Saquon Barkley and Doug Martin actually played a full season. The best part is that Harris doesn’t have to be great for this bet to cash. James Conner played 13 games last year for the Steelers, and only saw double-digit carries in nine of them. Somehow, he stumbled into 56 yards per game, just shy of where Najee needs to be. Predicting he’ll be marginally better than James Conner was last year doesn’t feel like a stretch.

2.     Austin Ekeler UNDER 5.5 Rushing TDs

For starters, Ekeler has never had more than three rushing touchdowns in a season in his four-year career. Last year, without former backfield mate Melvin Gordon, he had just one rushing touchdown in 10 games. Ekeler’s 5’10, 200-pound frame doesn’t lend itself to being a goal line back, and the Chargers have echoed that sentiment since signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2017. In 2020, Ekeler had just two carries inside the five, ranking fourth on his own team. Backup Joshua Kelley and rookie Larry Rountree possess more typical physical profiles of a goal-line-back and it’s worth noting quarterback Justin Herbert had eight rushing attempts and five rushing touchdowns from inside the five last year. Of course, it’s possible to score from farther away, but with just 11 carries of 20-plus yards in four years, Ekeler hasn’t shown home run hitting ability as a rusher. That, combined with his lack of involvement on the goal line, make the under the pick here.

3.     Antonio Gibson OVER 1300.5 Total Yards

Last season, as a rookie, Gibson finished with 1,042 yards from scrimmage while playing only 37% of snaps. Running backs like Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, and Josh Jacobs, who are not utilized in the passing game, all played at least 50% of snaps last season. Gibson, a wide receiver in college, is a major threat in the passing game and should massively cut into J.D. McKissic’s receiving work in his second year. Backup quarterback Kyle Allen went as far as saying the team envisions a McCaffrey-like role for Gibson this year. For reference, in 2019, Christian McCaffrey was on the field for a jaw-dropping 93% of the Panthers’ snaps. Nobody expects that for Gibson, but based on his 2020 yards-per-snap rate, just 47% of snaps would have given him over 1,300 total yards. A 47% snap count would almost certainly still rank him outside the top-20 in snap percentage among running backs. With his skillset and what figures to be an improved offense under Ryan Fitzpatrick, Gibson should be able to eclipse 1,300 total yards.

4.     Brandin Cooks UNDER 900.5 Yards

Cooks has had at least 1,000 yards in five of his seven NFL seasons, but he’s playing with the worst quarterback of his career. He’s had the fortune of playing with Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Jared Goff with Sean McVay, and Deshaun Watson. Tyrod Taylor leading the odds-on favorite to be the league’s worst team is a massive step down from Cooks’ previous situations. Tyrod has only supported one 900-yard receiver in his career and that was six years ago with a 22-year-old, explosive Sammy Watkins. Even if Cooks is the de facto number one option in the passing game, the pie will be incredibly small. Taylor has never averaged more than 18 completions per game as a starter or thrown for 3,100 yards. If Taylor matches his career-high of 3,000 yards, Cooks will need a 30% share of the team’s receiving yards to surpass 900 yards. That would have ranked 7th among all wide receivers each of the last two seasons and would be substantially higher than the 23.7% share he saw with Deshaun Watson last year. I’m betting against Tyrod (or rookie Davis Mills) more than I am Cooks.

5.     Cooper Kupp OVER 6 Receiving TDs

In 2019, Kupp hauled in 10 touchdowns thanks to a whopping 11% touchdown-to-target rate. In fact, over his first three years, Kupp scored a touchdown on 7.4% of his targets. He never dipped below 5.3% in a single season, but that plummeted to just 2.4% last year. Over the last three years, 83% of wide receivers who recorded at least 90 receptions scored at least six touchdowns. In 2020, Kupp finished as one of only five wide receivers in that span to produce 90-plus receptions and less than six touchdowns.

If you extrapolate out Kupp’s averages from the last two seasons to account for the added game this year, he’d have averaged 137 targets, 99 receptions, and 6.85 touchdowns at a 5% per-target rate. Based on the league-median 6% touchdown-to-target rate over the past two seasons, he’d score over 8 touchdowns with those numbers. There’s year-to-year volatility in touchdown rates, but the point is that Kupp’s production and involvement in this presumably elite offense almost always warrants six or more touchdowns. Health can dictate how many targets he gets and touchdowns he scores, but Kupp has been an iron man of late, missing just one game since returning from ACL surgery a few years ago.

Takeaways

Betting on player props is not just for those who are uncomfortable with betting on spreads and totals. Player props, especially season-long, present a different angle to bettors. Because of how relatively fresh player prop markets are, there are likely more inefficiencies to be taken advantage of than there are in spread and total markets. That doesn’t mean every line is a bad line and it doesn’t mean there aren’t inefficiencies in other markets. Player props simply provide another way to do research and analysis. It’s up to you to find out where your expertise lies and where you can most reliably make money.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: DraftKings Buys for Week One - Championship Sports Media

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