NFL Receiving TDs Season Leader: Bet or Pass on Cooper Kupp, Travis Kelce, Mike Evans, More
Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Mike Evans
It can be a fool's errand attempting to predict receiving touchdowns.
Receivers only touch the ball a handful of times each game and TD totals can vary wildly from one season to the next. One monster game can propel a player to the top of the leaderboard and it's common to see one year's leaders fall off entirely the following season.
Cooper Kupp is the reigning receiving TD champion with 16 last fall, and he also led the league in receptions and yards as part of a historic season. No player has gone back-to-back as the receiving TD leader in two decades, not since the great Terrell Owens in 2001-02. History says it's unlikely Kupp defends his crown, so that could open this market up.
Let's start by considering the chance Kupp repeats as the favorite, then consider other key contenders. Our analysis won't go as deep as other categories since TDs are much less predictable, but that also means there is plenty of betting opportunity.
Be sure to check out the other season leader bets if you haven't already:
- Passing yards
- Passing TDs
- Rushing TDs
- Receiving yards
- Season Leaders podcast ft. Chris Raybon & Gilles Gallant
How Many Receiving Touchdowns Do We Need?
Kupp led the league with 16 receiving touchdowns a season ago. Davante Adams had 18 the year before and did that in only 14 games. In 2019, Kenny Golladay led the league with only 11 scores. These numbers are all over the place, so what should we expect?
If you look at passing numbers, 2019 was a weird outlier season in numerous ways. It's also the only season in the past 13 years with a receiving TDs leader below 13. The past three seasons have each had four players with 13 receiving TDs or players on a 13-TD pace, so that's a pretty good floor to set.
Kupp was the only player with 15 scores last year, but 2020 saw three players catch 15 TDs, with just one the previous three seasons.
This will be tight. We almost certainly need at least 13, but 15 might be the top number. That brings a serious element of randomness to this market, but randomness can bring value.
Bottom line: We need at least 13 receiving TDs, though anything in that 13-to-15 range is more than enough to believe in.
Should We Bet the Favorite?
Cooper Kupp +700
As always with season leaders, we have to start by considering whether to bet or fade the favorite. Kupp led the league with 16 receiving TDs last season. Any guess as to how many he had the previous season?
Kupp had three receiving TDs in 2020. Of course, he also had 10 the year before that. That just goes to show how wild and unpredictable TD numbers can be.
Kupp scored a touchdown in 11 of 17 games last season, then got even better in the playoffs when he found the endzone six times, with at least one score in all four games. He was clearly Stafford's go-to guy, both in the red zone and all over the field, and it didn't seem to matter much that the defense knew the ball was coming Kupp's way.
That could change some with the addition of Allen Robinson, a big 6-foot-2 red zone threat who once led the league in receiving TDs himself with 14 (Robinson is +3000, if you're so inclined). The Rams also ranked top-10 in rushing TDs in 2022 and top-five the previous three years under Sean McVay. Now that the backfield is healthy again, it's reasonable to expect Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson to steal some of these scores.
And remember, no player has gone back-to-back as receiving TDs leader in two decades. This is just too volatile a market to bet on a favorite repeating.
Verdict: Too volatile a category to bet the favorite
Big Names to Stay Away From
Tyreek Hill +2200
Hill caught 15 TDs in 2020, but has never led the league in receiving TDs and has finished with single-digit TDs all but two seasons. Now, he moves to a new team where his role is unpredictable, but Mike McDaniel and OC Frank Smith both come from run-heavy backgrounds, so that doesn't bode well.
The Dolphins will certainly score less than the Chiefs, so there's won't be as many TDs to go around and you can probably subtract a couple of those jet sweep shuffle pass scores Mahomes was so good at. Hill just isn't a guy to bet on here.
Mark Andrews +2000
Tight ends, of course, can win this too and Andrews had a huge 2022 with 107 catches, 1,361 yards and nine TDs. Andrews also had 10 scores in 2019 and seven the year in between, so he's established a pretty reliable floor.
But we need ceiling, not floor. Those 10 receiving TDs were the highest Ravens total in the Lamar Jackson era. Baltimore prefers to run the ball in. The Ravens ranked ninth in rushing TDs last season and top-three the previous three years. Runners have the upside in Baltimore, not pass catchers.
CeeDee Lamb +2000
Lamb is a popular breakout pick, in part because Dallas traded away Amari Cooper and will start the year without the injured Michael Gallup. The Cowboys threw 40 TDs last season and, well, someone's gotta catch them all, right?
Well, yes and no. Dallas may not throw 40 again because the team probably won't be nearly as good with a regressing defense and major injuries and depth issues on the offensive line and at receiver. The Cowboys also still like to run the ball in with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.
Even with 40 passing TDs, no Cowboy had more than eight last season and that was Dalton Schultz, who's still around and could lead the team again. Lamb has only 11 career TDs, five and six his two seasons. He has the talent for a huge number, but it's too much of a leap to bet at a relatively short number.
Stefon Diggs +1400
Diggs has had a pretty safe TD floor during his career, with at least eight TD catches in four of the past five seasons, but the ceiling hasn't been there. He caught 10 TDs last year and that was his career best, still well short of the number we need.
The Bills should be very good and Josh Allen could throw 40 TDs, so there will be plenty of scoring. But Dawson Knox has become a big TD threat and new WR2 Gabriel Davis also looks like an explosive TD threat. Davis has 13 TDs on just 70 catches over the past two years and that doesn't even count his four-TD explosion against the Chiefs in the playoffs.
With so many mouths to feed, Diggs doesn't have the ceiling we want at +1400.
Travis Kelce +1200
Kelce is similar to Diggs in that he's established a very reliable floor with at least eight receiving TDs in four of the past five seasons. But Kelce has also had a bit of a glass ceiling with a career-high 11 TDs in 2020. He's averaging 8.4 TDs over this huge five-year stretch.
The upside with Kelce is that Tyreek Hill is gone, vacating a significant number of touchdowns. That's nine scores from a year ago that Kelce could gobble up. But how many of them will Kelce get? The Chiefs tend to be extremely egalitarian offensively — especially in the red zone — sharing looks with any number of players. Eleven Chiefs caught TDs last year, 10 the year before.
You could do worse than betting on Patrick Mahomes' go-to receiver to lead the league in something, but relying on a 33-year-old tight end to post a career year with a huge outlier TD number isn't a smart play, especially at +1200.
Fair Enough Favorites, But We'll Pass
Davante Adams +1200
Adams sure does catch a lot of TDs. He led the league with 18 receiving TDs in 2020 and he's had double-digit scores in a remarkable five of the past six seasons. That's an incredible floor and it means we have to take Adams seriously in this category — even if we hate the switch to Las Vegas.
Derek Carr has never been a TDs guy. It's just not his forte and that may not change this year since new Raiders coach Josh McDaniels has typically worked with offenses that rank near the very top of the league in rushing TDs. Carr's career-best is 32 TDs. That's nothing in 2022 and we don't yet know how the targets will be split up between Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller.
Don't forget how many of those Adams TDs came as a direct result of his incredible chemistry with Aaron Rodgers near the goal line. He was basically unguardable, but that's because Rodgers knew just where to get him the ball. That's a big loss, even with his past Carr chemistry.
Adams is a stud, but it takes more than one player to score a receiving TD. I think he's all downside this season and I only included him in this tier instead of the "Don't Bet" group out of sheer respect.
Justin Jefferson +900
Let's keep this brief and simple: Jefferson is an absolute monster and a guy I'm backing in nearly every was possible. He's a must-bet for yardage leader and a good play for receptions too. In fact, I wouldn't mind taking a shot at Jefferson winning OPOY.
Jefferson could put up a big TDs number, but this line is basically the same as his yardage and receptions lines and those are just far better plays. I project Jefferson at 12 TDs, the second highest number on my board, so I certainly wouldn't fault the play, but there are better ways to bet on Jefferson.
Ja'Marr Chase +900
Chase finished third in the NFL with 13 TDs as a rookie and it appears the sky is the limit for him going forward. Chase is one of the hardest guys on the list to project since we have only one season of data. That makes him a high variance guy, but I think too many people are focusing on the unknown upside and ignoring the downside of the variance.
Eight of Chase's 13 TDs last season were 32 yards or longer and four were bombs of at least 69 yards. Those sort of plays are highly unpredictable and not sticky from game to game or year to year. In a category like this, we are far better off betting on guys who have proven themselves to be big red zone threats, guys like Davante Adams or Mike Evans who rack up TDs year after year.
Chase only found the endzone in four of his final 13 games last fall, including the playoffs. He scored multiple times in two of those games, but I prefer a more consistent and reliable threat. I project him at 12 and respect the upside, but there's a better chance of him ending with half that number than leading the league. He's an easy no bet decision for me.
Long Shots Worth Sprinkling
Courtland Sutton +6000
Sutton had a disappointing season in 2021 and fell somewhat off the radar, but he could be due for a big bounce-back year. This is Sutton's second year after tearing his ACL and historically it takes players until that second year to return to full strength. At 6-foot-4 with his burst back, Sutton should be a great deep threat, and he's always a big target in the red zone.
Oh, right — he also has a new quarterback. Russell Wilson has consistently posted a high TD rate throughout his career and he's helped his receivers put up big numbers. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett combined for 20 receiving TDs in each of the past two seasons and Wilson's receivers have combined to post nine seasons of 8-plus TDs over the past seven seasons. That includes 29 and 26 from Metcalf and Lockett the past three years and 29 from Doug Baldwin in an earlier three-year stretch. Baldwin had 14 in one of those years.
Wilson consistently producers big TD receivers and Sutton looks like his new DK Metcalf. Sutton has a similarly large frame and is a big threat on deep balls outside the numbers, where Wilson's passing heat map lights up. Nobody throws a better deep ball and Sutton will also get red zone looks. Sutton is a good threat for double-digit TDs, and if he gets at least that high, he's worth a play at +6000.
Adam Thielen +4000
Thielen is reminiscent of another old Vikings receiver, Cris Carter — all he does is catch touchdowns. Thielen caught 10 TDs a year ago, tying teammate Justin Jefferson for the sixth most in the league, and he had 14 the year before.
Thielen has scored 39 TDs in 54 games the past four years. At that rate, over a healthy 17-game season, Thielen would pace to 12.3 TDs and instantly be in play for this category. Of course, health will be key since Thielen hasn't played every game in four years and missed 11 games the past three years. And that probably won't go away at age 32.
Still, it's clear Thielen is a major TD threat and a reliable red zone target for Kirk Cousins. The Vikings have an explosive offense that should see an uptick in scoring under Kevin O'Connell, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see 40 passing TDs. Jefferson will get some of those, but Thielen is almost just as much of a threat to lead the team, but available at 4.5 times the payoff.
The age and health profile probably limit the upside here, so we'd likely need Thielen to get over the line with 13 or 14 scores and not rely on a huge number. But he's much better than this price would indicate. Thielen started last season at +1200 and is probably on a better team now. He's tied for second in my projections with 12 TDs.
I wouldn't put Thielen or Sutton longer than +2000, which makes them good long shot plays. But there's one king to rule them all in this category.
The Favorite You Have to Bet Right Now
Mike Evans +800
Evans was my recommended play last year in this category and he finished with 14 receiving TDs, trailing only Cooper Kupp. I'm going back to the well and I like Evans even more this year.
Evans is a potential Hall of Famer and his touchdown production is a huge part of the reason why. At 6-foot-5, Evans is a massive red zone threat who opponents have simply never found an answer for. Add in a lethal TD passer in Tom Brady, and the duo have been unstoppable.
Evans has 27 TDs over the past two years with Brady, 31 if you count the playoffs. That's nearly a touchdown a game together. Evans had 14 last year and 13 the year before, and he also has two other seasons with 12-plus TDs. Evans has 75 TDs in his career and he's done that on only 606 catches, a remarkable 12.4% TD rate that is somehow still going up each year.
That number is up to 18.8% in the two years with Brady, which means almost one in every five Evans catches has gone for a score over the past two years. The man is unstoppable and playing in an offense that led the league in passing attempts, completions, yards and TDs last season.
It gets better. Don't forget that Brady's security blanket and all-time great TD threat Rob Gronkowski has retired, taking his 13 TDs from the past two years with him. Antonio Brown was another great TD threat and he's gone too. Chris Godwin is out to start the season and new addition Julio Jones has never really been a big TD guy.
Twenty of Tampa Bay's 43 passing TDs last season went to players no longer on the roster. Someone has to catch all those extra TDs. And that someone's name is probably Mike.
I project Evans at 15 TDs and he has the potential to fly past that number. Even at 15, that's three touchdowns higher than any other player projection. That may not seem like much, but in a category this close, a 25% margin is massive. That puts Evans further ahead of the field in this category than any other projected player in any statistical category and it means I'd make him a clear favorite in this category, probably something like +400.
Put another way: Mike Evans is not just the best bet to lead the league in receiving TDs. At +800, he's the best season leader bet on the entire board.
Receiving Yards Verdict
All-in on Mike Evans +800, the best season leader bet you can make. And sprinkle Adam Thielen +4000 and Courtland Sutton +6000 as long shots.