NFL Betting Odds, Picks & Preview: Who Will Lead the NFL in Receiving Touchdowns in 2021?
Quinn Harris/Getty Images. Pictured: Davante Adams #17 of the Green Bay Packers.
Predicting receiving touchdowns can be a fool’s errand.
Receivers only touch the ball a handful of times each game, and TD totals can vary wildly from one year to the next. One huge game can propel someone to the top of the leaderboard, and it’s common to see leaders one season fall off entirely the following year.
Davante Adams is the reigning TD king after a monster 18-TD effort. That tied for third most in NFL history, and he did it in only 14 games. But no one has gone back-to-back as touchdowns champ in two decades, not since Terrell Owens in 2001-02. History says it’s not likely Adams defends his crown and that we probably won’t see 18 TDs again either.
The 2019 leader was Kenny Golladay. His 11 TDs were the fewest for a leader in a non-strike season since 1975. The leader in this category had at least 13 TDs in 11 of the past 12 seasons. We’ll never anticipate who might get those last few touchdowns to put them over the top, but we better be able to see a clear path to at least double-digit TDs to have a chance here.
Let’s start by considering the chance Adams repeats, then run through 17 other contenders. Our analysis won’t go as deep as yards since TDs are much less predictable, but that also means opportunity in the betting world.
Be sure to check out the other season leader bets if you haven’t already:
Will Our Favorite Repeat?
Davante Adams (+850 FanDuel)
Adams might have had a shot at the NFL record if he had played a full 16 games last year. Could he get there with a 17th game this season?
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Adams now, or that he’s not a TD machine. Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams was a cheat code in 2020. There may not have been a more unstoppable play in football with those two on the same page, Adams uncoverable, and Rodgers placing the ball into the tiniest of windows.
The problem is that history doesn’t repeat itself. Rodgers had a career-high TD rate last year, an outlier 9.1% that was over 50% above his usual 6.0, already one of the all-time marks. Those numbers mean Rodgers’ 48 passing TDs a year ago would likely regress to around 32 in an ordinary year, and that’s a ton of missing TDs for Adams and everyone else.
Adams has always been a TD machine. He averages one score every 10.4 catches for his career, a 9.6% TD rate himself, elite for a receiver. He’s also scored double-digit TDs in four of the last five seasons, so that almost certainly puts him in the mix.
But Green Bay’s receiving corps is deeper and more talented than in recent years, Packers receiving numbers should regress, and Adams usually misses a couple games.
VERDICT: Adams can absolutely win, but history says he won’t repeat, even if he’s likely to be in the mix here.
Guys Who Probably Can’t Win
Stefon Diggs (16-1 DraftKings)
Diggs led the NFL last season in both receptions (127) and yardage (1535). He played all 16 games for the first time in his career and had 166 targets, a huge part of Josh Allen’s breakout season.
And despite all of that, Diggs still topped out at only eight TDs. Diggs isn’t a big TD guy at 7.7% rate for his career, and he’s an obvious regression candidate after such a ginormous season for both him and Allen. He hasn’t even hit double-digit scores before, so getting to the a high enough number to win here is unlikely.
A.J. Brown (20-1 DraftKings)
There’s little question that the Titans have one of the more imposing WR duos ever in Brown and Julio Jones. Both are towering redzone threats who may make a bet tempting.
But Tennessee is expected to stick with a very run-heavy game plan even without Arthur Smith around, and that’s even truer in the redzone where Derrick Henry is usually responsible to run it in. Brown did have 11 scores last year but did so on only 70 catches.
That 15.7% TD rate is not sustainable, and there’s probably not enough volume in this offense for him to make up ground, especially with Julio around to soak up target share.
Amari Cooper (20-1 DraftKings)
Cooper could definitely be in play for the yardage crown as a potential target and volume monster in a fast-paced offense. But his career high is 8 TDs, and his touchdown rate has been pretty stable with both the Raiders- and Cowboys- during his career.
Dallas has better red zone threats and loves to run it into the endzone when they get close, and CeeDee Lamb may be the WR1 now anyway. Cooper is not a smart play.
Adam Thielen (12-1 DraftKings)
It seems crazy to say Thielen probably can’t win when he had 14 TDs last year, but he did that on just 74 catches, an insane and unsustainable touchdown every 5.3 catches.
That screams regression with his 18.9% TD rate in 2020 more than double his already terrific career 9.8%. Thielen is 31 and has slowed down mightily the last two years with just 104 receptions combined, and Justin Jefferson is clearly the WR1 now.
Minnesota is also a run-first offense, both in the red zone and all game long, so the opportunity just won’t be there. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Thielen finish with 5-to-7 TDs.
They Could Win, But the Odds Are Not in Our Favor
Calvin Ridley (+900 DraftKings)
Ridley is a favorite for all the receiving stat leaders now that Julio Jones is gone, but he could let bettors down.
Matt Ryan led the league in completions and passing attempts last season, but new Falcons coach Arthur Smith had his Titans third to last in the league in passing attempts, a full 141 fewer passes.
That’s a huge volume swing that could mute this passing game in a surprising way as Atlanta moves to a more balanced or even run-first attack under Smith. Ridley had four TDs the first two games of 2020 but only had five more the rest of the season, and Jones was already a non-factor most of the season.
The presumed high-end upside just may not be there.
Travis Kelce (10-1 DraftKings)
Kelce has been a paragon of consistency, which is why he’s such a sure thing in the fantasy world. He has at least 83 catches in five straight seasons, over 1200 yards in each of the last three, and 34 TDs over the last four years.
Travis Kelce is awesome and a likely Hall of Famer. The problem is that he’s already been playing at his peak and still never topped 11 TDs, and he’s now a 32-year-old tight end on the wrong side of his career.
He’s never out of this with Patrick Mahomes chucking the rock, but the high-end upside to win this may not be there and that makes Kelce a fade at 10-1.
Justin Jefferson (14-1 DraftKings)
Jefferson is certainly the better play than Thielen at nearly the same price, but he’s still not a great pick. As a rookie, Jefferson had a monster 88-1400-7 line, and that included a slow-ish start on a run-first team.
Jefferson could be a volume play even on a running team with Thielen aging, no real WR3, and tight end Irv Smith out hurt, and that makes him a yardage best bet.
Touchdowns may be harder to come by, especially with Thielen and Dalvin Cook to eat into his totals on a team that probably won’t light up the scoreboards. Maybe Jefferson has a huge season, but even then, yards and receptions are the smarter play.
DeAndre Hopkins (16-1 DraftKings)
Hopkins is always a volume giant. He’s had 150 or more targets in six straight seasons, and he’ll always be in play for the yardage and receptions crown. The touchdowns haven’t always been there though, at just 8.0% career TD rate.
Last year, Hopkins racked up 160 targets with Arizona but had only six scores. He did hit double-digit TDs three times in Houston and led the league in 2017, and Arizona is one of the fastest teams in the league, so that always helps.
But until Kliff Kingsbury learns how to coach a real NFL offense, it’s tough to bet on this team, especially in a stacked division. TDs is not the way to play Nuk.
Tyler Lockett (20-1 DraftKings)
Lockett did have 10 touchdowns in 2020, but he also had not one but two three-touchdown games. That looks like an obvious outlier, but Lockett had 10 scores in 57 catches in 2018 and eight more TDs on 82 catches the year after.
He’s proven to be a bit immune to TD rate regression as a Russell Wilson favorite, a remarkable 11.7% TD rate over the past three years.
If the Seahawks open things up under new OC Shane Waldron and let Russ cook all season, that could put Lockett in play. But at 20-1, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze for a guy that still looks like a regression candidate and who hasn’t topped 10 yet anyway.
Longshots Worth a Sprinkle
CeeDee Lamb (30-1 PointsBet)
Lamb is Justin Jefferson to Amari Cooper’s Adam Thielen. He’s the better play between the two options, especially with much longer odds at 30-1. Lamb had 25 receiving TDs his final two seasons at Oklahoma in 27 games, so he’s a good bet to find the endzone.
Lamb has been getting rave reviews in camp and looks poised for a breakout season that could make him WR1 in a great offense that plays fastest in the league. The range of outcomes is big here, and Ezekiel Elliott will always eat into the TD total, but there’s enough high-end upside to sprinkle a little at +3000.
Odell Beckham Jr. (50-1 PointsBet)
OBJ is another throwback longshot on a yesteryear player who may not still be in there. Beckham had 35 TDs his first three seasons with the Giants, an awesome 12.2% TD rate, but injuries have robbed of his career since.
He has only 199 catches the last four seasons, with just 16 TDs combined. Considering we need almost that many this year, this is obviously a long shot, but maybe OBJ finally stays healthy and explodes on a loaded offense.
Want to get crazy? Tom Brady was our pick to lead the league in passing touchdowns, with a chance to approach 50 again if everything goes right on the league’s most loaded offense. Tampa had the league’s No. 1 offense on its fastest pace over the final seven games last season.
Antonio Brown is a Brady favorite and reportedly looks like his old self in camp. That old self had 67 TDs his last six seasons in Pittsburgh and led the league in 2018. He also has five TDs in nine games with Brady, a 9.4-TD pace over a full season and might be Brady’s favorite target in what could be a huge season.
Gronkowski hasn’t scored double-digit TDs since 2015 and almost certainly doesn’t have the volume at this point, but his outrageous career 15.2% TD rate means he doesn’t need a huge receptions total to be in range.
There could be a ton of TDs to go around in Tampa. Even with plenty of mouths to feed, you might want to nibble on one of these long shots. Brown’s volume makes him the better play of the two.
Playable If You Believe
Chris Godwin (28-1 DraftKings)
Can I interest you in another piece of the Tampa passing game? Godwin would be a star on most teams, but he’s just another guy on this absurdly loaded roster.
That might mean targets going elsewhere some weeks, but it also means he’s likely to see a lot of single-team coverage. Godwin’s career TD rate of 9.8% is pretty strong, and he had seven and nine the last two seasons despite missing six games combined.
If you think he stays healthy and breaks out as WR1 on this team, he’s a sensible play who could put up a big number.
DK Metcalf (14-1 DraftKings)
For eight games last season, Russell Wilson was on pace for 5082 yards and 56 TDs. During that stretch, DK Metcalf racked up 788 yards and 8 TDs on 43 catches, pacing the league in scores early. Then Wilson and the passing regressed in a huge way over the second half.
He dropped to a 3342-24 pace, and Metcalf still caught 40 balls but plummeted to 515 yards and only two scores as teams schemed away the deep ball.
For half a season, that Wilson moonball to DK was about as unstoppable as any connection in the league. If Seattle can find its deep game again, Metcalf has a shot to lead the league in TDs.
Tyreek Hill (+950 DraftKings)
There’s no one quite like Tyreek Hill. Most of the other guys on this list tower over the competition, and here’s a 5-foot-10 jitterbug lighting up the charts. Hill racked up 15 TDs in 2020, good enough to lead the league most years, and he’s quite literally a cheat code.
If it’s not a deep ball beating defenses over the top, Hill is using his speed to create separation instead of size in the redzone. The Chiefs love to run that jet sweep shuffle pass and that helps Hill steal a few essentially running TDs to add to his total. There’s just no way to defend it at the goal line.
Hill has 34 TDs in 43 games with Mahomes, a ridiculous 14.7% TD rate during that stretch. With the Chiefs defense looking pretty roughshod, Kansas City may be forced into a bunch of shootouts this year, and Cheetah can score on any play. What’s wild is that Hill has never even topped 87 receptions. If he pushes 100 in a healthy year, the sky is the limit for his TDs.
Mike Evans (14-1 DraftKings)
It shouldn’t be a surprise to find Evans in the best bets section when there are three Tampa receivers already on the list.
Brady could be in line for a monster TD season, and that means it’s a pretty good idea to get a position on the Bucs biggest and best redzone weapon. That’s really saying something on this team, but at 6-foot-5, there’s just not much opponents can do against Evans.
He has 61 TDs in 532 receptions for his career, a terrific 11.5% that’s even more impressive when you think about the quarterbacks he’s played with over the years. He hit a career-high 13 TDs in his first season with Brady last year, and he did that on only 70 catches so he didn’t even need much volume.
That 18.6% rate would be unsustainable for most, but with Evans and Brady, it just might be in play again. You’ll want a piece of this Tampa offense, and Evans is the biggest piece of the pie.
Receiving Touchdowns Verdict
In an unpredictable race, Tyreek Hill +950 and Mike Evans +1400 look like good plays.
But this is a great spot to sprinkle on a few longshots. Odell Beckham Jr. +5000 and Rob Gronkowski +6600 are nice options, and Antonio Brown +6600 might be the best play on the board.