NFL Receiving Yards Season Leader: Bet or Pass on Cooper Kupp, Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images. Pictured: Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson
Who will lead the NFL in receiving yards in 2022?
This wasn’t close a year ago when Cooper Kupp had one of the best seasons for a wide receiver in NFL history. He racked up 1,947 yards on 145 catches for 16 touchdowns and led the league in all three categories. Kupp more than lapped the field as he finished with 331 yards more than the closest competitor.
Still, of all the major season-leader awards, books always think this race is the most open and price it accordingly. That means plenty of longer odds — even for Kupp — and upside for bettors if we make the right choice.
There’s only one season leader, so medians and likely outcomes are of little use. We need unpredictable outliers, and while we can’t exactly predict randomness, we can use schemes, expected target share, catch rate and yards per reception (YPR) to project best-case scenarios and find value.
We’ll start by considering the favorite, then run through other names of note. As always, it’s all about the value at the number.
Be sure to check out the other season leader bets if you haven’t already:
- Passing yards
- Passing TDs
- Rushing TDs
- Receiving TDs
- Season Leaders podcast ft. Chris Raybon & Gilles Gallant
How Many Receiving Yards Do We Need?
Kupp posted 1,947 yards last season — just 17 short of the all-time record — with a monster 114.5 yards per game (YPG). Obviously, we probably don’t need to expect quite that much production in a normal season.
Stefon Diggs was the leader in 2020 with a more reasonable 1,535 receiving yards, averaging a more attainable 95.9 YPG. That’s the only time in the past 11 seasons there hasn’t been at least one receiver averaging at least 100 YPG, though, which means we likely need 1,700 yards.
Recent years have seen around six pass catchers at 80 YPG (1,360 yards) and typically at least three at 90 YPG (1,530 yards), so we probably need a path to at least 1,500 yards to even have a shot. Sure enough, 13 of the past receiving yards leaders had at least 1,500. From there, we’ll have to hope for some outlier luck to put us over the top.
Bottom line: We need 1,500 receiving yards to even get into the conversation and probably need to top 1,700 yards to win.
Should We Bet the Favorite?
Cooper Kupp +900
Coming off one of the greatest receiving seasons in league history, it’s a bit surprising to get Kupp at +900, but that just goes to show how wide open and volatile this particular market is.
Kupp saw a huge increase in target share last season as Matthew Stafford’s go-to receiver. He averaged 8.5 catches per game and 11.2 targets per game, up from 8.4 and 8.3 targets the previous two years. The other big difference was his average depth of target (ADOT). That jumped from 6.8 the previous two years to 8.6 last year as Stafford’s arm opened up more routes. Kupp’s YPR skyrocketed from 10.6 in 2020 to 13.4 in 2021.
Kupp’s career YPR is 12.7, so it’s reasonable to expect at least a slight drop there, though most of that was with Jared Goff. If we figure around 13 YPR, the big question is just how many targets Kupp sees — especially since his 72.4% career catch rate is outstanding, too. At those rates, Kupp would need around 160 targets to get to our target number of 1,500.
He had 191 targets last year, so it’s apparent he is certainly in the conversation. Last year’s Rams lost Robert Woods to injury midseason, but added Odell Beckham Jr. the same week, so they effectively got one full season between the two. This year both are gone and are being replaced by Allen Robinson, who has been receiving great reviews out of camp. We can probably also expect the Rams to run the ball a bit more this year with a healthier group of running backs, as has been their pattern in the past.
I project Kupp right at 1,500, squarely in the mix again, and second on my board. It should be noted we haven’t had a back-to-back receiving yards champ in a decade, and only one player since the 60s has more than two crowns. That was Jerry Rice, by the way … with six. He was pretty good.
Kupp has to be the favorite and whether you just want one bet or prefer to build a position around a few guys, it’s hard to fault you for putting some money on him. Barring an injury, he’s in the race even when factoring in significant regression. It’s rare we get a bargain price on a favorite, but at +900, Kupp is worth the price of admission.
Verdict: There’s rare value on Kupp at +900, but history is against it.
Big Names to Stay Away From
Mike Evans +4000
Let’s rule out a few options your instincts might want you to consider. Perhaps Evans comes to mind since Tampa Bay is short on receiving options with Rob Gronkowski retired and Chris Godwin injured to start the season.
Evans has a career 15.3 YPR and the Buccaneers led the league in pass attempts last year. However, we need the whole package and the one thing Evans has never been is a target-share monster. He’s had just 109 and 114 targets in the past two years with Tom Brady, and he’s maxed out at 74 catches in all but two seasons. Even at 15.3 YPR, we’d need around 100 receptions. It’s too steep an ask.
A.J. Brown +3500
Brown has a similar profile to Evans in that he’s a big body and a great touchdown threat with a fantastic YPR, but he just doesn’t get a ton of targets or catches. Even worse, he now plays for a team likely to finish near the top of the NFL in rushing frequency, the exact opposite of Evans.
Brown has only played three years, but his career highs of 106 targets, 70 catches and 1,075 yards show us just how far out of this race he is. He’s a nice addition for the Eagles, but I wouldn’t even bet him in this market at +10000.
Deebo Samuel +2500
Over the first nine games last season, Deebo Samuel averaged about 10 targets, six catches and 100 receiving yards per game. He was clearly San Francisco’s go-to receiver for that stretch and barely touched the ball as a runner. But over the final nine games (including the playoffs), those numbers plummeted to around 3.5 catches for 60 yards on just five targets.
Samuel effectively became a running back, or at least a hybrid, in the second half of the season. He also led the league at 18.2 YPR last year, a number that screams regression. San Francisco is also expected to run more this year with Trey Lance at quarterback. Samuel’s odds are somewhat short because he had 1,405 yards last year, but he could finish at around half that this year.
Tyreek Hill +2000
I want no part of the Miami passing game until proven otherwise. New head coach Mike McDaniel brought in Frank Smith to be his offensive coordinator, and both guys have leaned very heavily toward run in the past. The 49ers were usually top 10 in rushing attempts with McDaniel around, and Smith is known as a run-game guru.
Miami ranked eighth in pass attempts, but Tua Tagovailoa was super inefficient at 6.8 YPA, and the Dolphins finished just below league average in yards. Better blocking and coaching should make Tagovailoa more efficient, and McDaniel’s offenses in San Francisco always featured huge yards after catch (YAC) numbers.
That could be great for a speedster like Hill, but the adjustment to a new (but much worse) offense, while sharing targets with a similar player in Jaylen Waddle, likely means regression is coming. Tagovailoa has a questionable deep ball, and unless Hill gets a few long ones like he did in Kansas City, the math suggests he could be a threat to finish below 1,000 yards.
It’s Possible, But That Doesn’t Mean You Should Bet It
Stefon Diggs +1800
Diggs led the league in receiving yards in 2020, but remember, it’s pretty rare for players to lead the league twice in their careers. Diggs was mostly stable in targets with 166 and 164 the past two years, but he plummeted from a 77% to 63% catch rate last season as Josh Allen failed to hit his favorite target far too often.
Allen’s accuracy and efficiency fell way off last year, and now the offense loses Brian Daboll’s schemes. Buffalo did jump to fifth in passing attempts, so that’s good news, but Diggs has dropped to just 12.0 YPR in Buffalo after getting downfield better in Minnesota. And remember, the year he did lead the league was also the only season in 12 years without a 100 YPG receiver.
Diggs has a good chance of finishing in the top 10, but he likely lacks the ceiling we need to lead the league.
CeeDee Lamb +1400
Everyone keeps waiting for the expected Lamb breakout, but he just hasn’t found consistent chemistry or targets in Dallas. Maybe that changes this year with Amari Cooper gone and Michael Gallup injured, leaving Lamb as the only experienced receiver. However, I wonder if tight end Dalton Schultz might end up being the guy who picks up a lot of the slack.
Lamb had 111 targets for 74 catches as a rookie in 2020, then 120 targets for 79 catches last year. His career 13.3 YPR is fine, but nothing special. Again, we need at least 1,500 yards to even start talking. Lamb would need 113 catches at his career YPR, and he’s barely getting that many targets. There’s also the problem of the offensive line, particularly Tyron Smith’s injury, which could kill the Cowboys’ efficiency and YPR.
Lamb is super talented and a great YAC receiver, and maybe he’s in for a third-year breakout. But his upside and the lack of Cowboys receiving options has already been baked into the number and removed any potential betting upside for us. Even a breakout season with 150 targets, 100 catches and 1,300 yards would be far above his past numbers, but still leave us far short.
Davante Adams +1200
Adams is another talented receiver on the move and his numbers could be on the move too. He was the clear go-to option for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, but Derek Carr already has two target monsters in Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller. Adams has averaged around 10 targets per game over the past four years, but that will almost certainly drop some in Vegas.
There’s another potential problem. We don’t know for sure how the new Josh McDaniels offense will look. The Patriots were almost always top eight in rushing attempts and toward the bottom of the league in passing frequency. With so many passing weapons, it’s fair to expect the Raiders to trend up from there, but even finishing around league average could be troubling in conjunction with the crowded target share.
I wouldn’t touch any Raider or Dolphin in the passing game this year, not in fantasy football nor with my money, until the value adjusts to the new environments. Adams is great, but playing in a run-heavy system with more targets and a worse quarterback spells big downside.
Not My Pick, But I Won’t Stop You
Travis Kelce +2000
Are we totally sure Patrick Mahomes lost his go-to receiver? Tyreek Hill is gone, but Kelce has always been Mahomes’ security blanket. Kelce has averaged at least 8.4 targets per game all four years with Mahomes, and it’s reasonable to expect him to push 9.5 or 10 with Hill gone.
Kelce is older at age 33, but he’s a tough dude who’s missed only three games in the past four years. If he stays healthy for all 17 games, he has a very real chance of posting a career year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him post career highs in targets, receptions and yards. I project around 115 catches. But even there, his 12.9 YPR from the past four years leaves us capped at 1,500.
If I could bet on Kelce to finish in the top five or 10, I’d be interested. But season leader is asking a bit too much.
Ja’Marr Chase +1200
Chase is a tough one to predict because we have only one season of data. It was obviously a great one as Chase won Rookie of the Year with 81 catches for 1,455 yards and 13 scores on 128 targets.
The Bengals took a huge leap in pass frequency from Week 14 onward last season, but Chase wasn’t a primary beneficiary outside of one monster game. He jumped from 7.5 to 8.1 targets per game. That’s not nothing, but also not enough to move the needle.
The number that really matters here is 18.0 YPR, which nearly led the league as a rookie. You probably recall any number of long Chase plays last year, sometimes beating defenders over the top and other times busting a long one with big YAC. Chase had 13 catches for 30-plus yards last season, including six of 50-plus and touchdowns of 69, 70, 72 and 82 yards.
Remove those four plays, and Chase’s YPR plummets from 18.0 to 15.1. That’s not entirely fair, of course, because Chase is so talented that he could just as well have those long plays again — or twice as many of them! But that mostly tells us there’s a huge variance in outcomes here and the Bengals had an outlier — historically great — deep passing game last year that looks certain to regress, at least a little.
Chase is really tough to predict and it’s tempting to just expect the talented youngster to build on his rookie year and explode for an even bigger season. But growth isn’t always linear — for player or team — and I’m not sure that’s the correct expectation.
VERDICT: Chase certainly could post a big season again, but with a price so near the more reliable favorites, he’s the wrong bet here.
Long Shots Worth Sprinkling
Amon-Ra St. Brown +8000
St. Brown exploded over the final six games of his rookie season posting at least eight catches in each game for a total of 51 catches, 560 yards and five touchdowns. Projected over a full 17 games, that stretch would pace Brown to 145 catches for 1,587 yards and put him very much in play here.
The Lions added D.J. Chark and Jameson Williams (and were missing T.J. Hockenson for most of that stretch), though, so St. Brown will probably have to share targets this year. He also averaged an ADOT of just 7.1, racking up catches on mostly short throws, Jared Goff’s specialty. He has high upside in the receptions category, but the short passes limit his yardage upside and reflect why his number is so long here.
Diontae Johnson +4000
Johnson tied for fifth in the NFL in catches with 107 last season, but posted only 1,161 yards because he had a poor YPR at 10.9. That matched Johnson’s career YPR, so even with a high target share, it could be tempting to rule him out for the yardage title.
But there’s an obvious reason Johnson’s YPR has been so low. Ben Roethlisberger lacked the arm to get it downfield toward the end of his career, so that’s an easy explanation for all those short passes. Whether it’s Mitchell Trubisky or rookie Kenny Pickett this season, it’s not hard to expect Pittsburgh to get the ball to Johnson down the field more often this season.
The Steelers ranked top four in passing attempts in each of the past two seasons under offensive coordinator Matt Canada. That probably drops a bit this year with a less reliable quarterback, but Johnson is averaging close to 10 targets per game. If he gets slightly fewer targets, but offsets that with a catch rate increase, he should still clear 100 catches with ease.
The key is that YPR. At 10.9, he’s not in the mix. If it jumps to 12, that could put him in play, and at 13 or better, he’s a serious threat. This is a big projection, but for a guy with such a heavy target rate and a key change at quarterback, Johnson is intriguing at long odds.
D.J. Moore +3000
Moore averaged almost 10 targets a game last year, but never had a reliable quarterback to get him the ball. Now, Carolina adds offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who has skewed wildly pass heavy for most of his career. That should mean even more passing in Carolina and it could mean Moore increases from 163 targets to somewhere in the range of 200 over 17 games.
Moore’s catch rate hasn’t been good at 60.4% over his career, but Baker Mayfield might be the best quarterback he’s played with. Moore already had a nice ADOT of 10.6, so if he gets more targets and catches, he could be a serious sleeper threat. We’re projecting again and expecting upside and high-end outcomes, but that’s what we have to do to find a long shot.
Or we could just bet the guy I think could lap the field.
The Favorite You Have to Bet Right Now
Justin Jefferson +1000
Jefferson was my pick in this category last year and I’m going back to the well — but even more confidently this time around.
Jefferson finished with 1,616 yards (second in the NFL) so he’s nearly won the yardage crown already. He ranked fourth in both targets and catches. And Kupp is a good name to mention here, because Jefferson has potential for a Kupp-like season.
New Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell comes over from the Rams, where he and Sean McVay moved Kupp all over the field. Kupp played the X, Y and Z, moved before the snap, ran outside routes and got catches inside from the slot. Jefferson was an elite slot receiver at LSU before moving outside in the NFL, so it would be easy to see him succeeding out of the slot again and moving all around the field for O’Connell.
Jefferson already had 167 targets, almost 10 per game, so an increase of even two per game would push him to 200. He also has a career 67% catch rate, and it’s fair to suspect that could rise some if he gets shorter looks out of the slot. Jefferson had 108 catches last year and could surpass 125 in his new offense.
And these are not just any catches. Jefferson averaged 15.0 YPR last season and 15.9 the year before. Unlike some of the long shots just discussed, Jefferson is making these catches count. If he catches 125 balls at 15.0 YPR, that would be 1,875 yards and one of the best seasons of all time.
That’s not an entirely fair expectation since more looks out of the slot likely mean a drop in YPR. But this is where ADOT can tell us how dangerous Jefferson has been. Nineteen players caught 82 passes last year, and only seven of them had an ADOT of at least 10. Jefferson dwarfed the field at an incredible 12.4 ADOT.
For comparison, Kupp had an all-time great receiving year, racking up 145 catches on 191 targets, but an ADOT of just 8.6. He tallied 1,643 “target yards” from the moment the pass was released. Adams had 1,622 target yards. Chase and Hill were at 1,613 and 1,654, respectively.
Jefferson had amassed a monster 2,071 target yards — and that was before this expected boost in usage and efficiency!
He has an absolutely monster ceiling. I project him at 1,850 yards, which is 350 ahead of his closest competition. That would make him a prohibitive favorite for this prop and we’re getting +1000.
And that means this is one of my favorite seasons leader bets on the entire board.
Receiving Yards Verdict
All-in on Justin Jefferson +1000. There’s some value on favorite Cooper Kupp at +900, but Jefferson is the better play and the best of the season leader bets on the board.