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NFL Receptions Leaders 2022: Bet Justin Jefferson or Amon-Ra St. Brown to Lead the League

NFL Receptions Leaders 2022: Bet Justin Jefferson or Amon-Ra St. Brown to Lead the League article feature image
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Todd Kirkland/Getty Images. Pictured: Amon-Ra St. Brown

Who will lead the NFL in receptions in 2022?

Unless you’re playing in a PPR fantasy football league, receptions probably don’t mean much to you. A simple caught pass doesn’t even necessarily move the ball forward or lead to points. It’s the offense’s equivalent of a tackle, just another counting stat, but receptions can be more predictable than you think.

Cooper Kupp led the league with 145 receptions last season, 22 more than the next closest competitor. Only nine other players were even targeted as many times as Kupp had actual catches. He led the league in receiving yards and TDs too, taking home the receiving Triple Crown with an historic season.

So will Kupp repeat in 2022?

It’s not as rare as you think. Five of the last 13 receptions leaders had led the category in a previous season. History says we can expect 10 or 12 guys around six catches a game, or 100 for the season. About half that many make it to 110, and in each of the past four years since the 2018 passing explosion, at least one player has caught 125 or more passes.

Normally, we count down 15 or 20 potential betting options, but I have only two players in the NFL projected at 125-plus receptions — and neither of them is Kupp. I do have Kupp third at 120 catches, and he was one of our long shot plays in this column a year ago. But at +500, he’s the shortest season leader favorite on the board, and there’s just too much uncertainty over a whole season to back him at that price, even coming off a monster season.

Instead, we’re going to cut right to the chase with the two names you need to bet for receptions leader: the guy who should actually be the favorite at +1000 and the vastly underpriced long shot at +4000.

Be sure to check out the other season leader bets if you haven’t already:

Amon-Ra St. Brown Is the Long Shot You Have to Bet

Amon-Ra St. Brown +4000

Let’s start with the long shot, and I’m not sure St. Brown is anywhere near as much of a long shot as this number implies at +4000.

If you play fantasy football, you already know all about Amon-Ra St. Brown. Either he was on your team as you won last year’s championship, or he was probably a big part of the reason you didn’t win it.

St. Brown was an unheralded fourth-round rookie who didn’t get much buzz last fall, but an empty Lions receiving room meant that he got a shot early. He had just six catches the first three games but matched that in Week 4 and started to earn more playing time from there.

From Weeks 4 through 12, St. Brown tallied 33 catches for 309 yards. It wasn’t anything particularly special, but St. Brown was establishing himself as a steady and reliable target, highlighted by an awesome 79% catch rate during that span. Jared Goff is not a lot of things, but one thing he can do is hit the quick and easy passes, and that’s St. Brown’s specialty.

Ben Johnson noticed.

Johnson took over as the Lions’ offensive play caller coming out of the midseason bye and began to elevate St. Brown’s role in the offense. And when December hit, St. Brown took off.

He had a career-best 10 catches for 86 yards against the Vikings, scoring his first touchdown in the Lions’ first win of the season. St. Brown had at least eight catches in all five remaining games after that too, and he tallied at least one score and 90 or more receiving yards in each of the final four games.

Over that six-game stretch, St. Brown racked up 51 catches, 560 yards, and five TDs. He did that on 67 targets, over 11 per game, and maintained an outstanding 76% catch rate. Prorate those six games over a full 17-game schedule, and St. Brown would’ve finished the season with 145 catches for 1,587 yards and 14 TDs on 190 targets.

Cooper Kupp had 145 catches last season on 191 targets.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, in other words, produced at an identical pace to Cooper Kupp over the final six games last season.

Of course, we don’t get to magically prorate a six-game stretch over a full season. Teams will take the Lions more seriously this year, and Detroit did add to its receiving room. Free agent signing D.J. Chark will start across St. Brown, and first-round pick Jameson Williams will get into the mix at some point later in the year once he recovers more. Tight end T.J. Hockenson was also missing for much of that final stretch of the season.

Still, St. Brown is the proven target in this offense. He’s earned Goff’s trust, and now that Ben Johnson has been promoted to offensive coordinator, we should expect St. Brown to continue in his reliable role. St. Brown’s average depth of target (ADOT) is not particularly high, so he may not see huge yardage, but he could rack up piles and piles of receptions for the Lions.

In my initial projections, I was stunned to see how high up the list St. Brown finished. There he was right at the top of my wide receiver leaderboards: Justin Jefferson, Cooper Kupp, Ja’Marr Chase… and then Amon-Ra St. Brown, a potential top-five fantasy receiver and tied for the lead with 130 receptions. That’s admittedly more than a little optimistic, but it tells us what’s in play.

If you’re looking for this year’s Cooper Kupp, why not pick a guy who already matched him step for step over the final six weeks of the season?

VERDICT: Amon-Ra St. Brown already matched Kupp’s pace over the final six games of last season. He’s an absolute bargain long shot at +4000

Justin Jefferson Is the Real Favorite

Justin Jefferson +1000

Jefferson is only entering his third season in the NFL, but he might already be the best and most valuable receiver in the league.

His outstanding rookie season finished with 88 catches for an even 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. He got even better as a sophomore, racking up 108 receptions for 1,616 yards and 10 scores. Jefferson ranked second in the NFL in yardage and fourth in both targets and catches.

The only player who ranked higher than him in each one of those categories was Cooper Kupp, and Jefferson may be primed to have a Kupp-like season of his own this fall.

The Vikings surprised everyone when they decided to mostly run it back in the offseason, largely keeping the roster intact instead of moving on from Kirk Cousins and hitting the reset button. The one big change Minnesota did make was bringing in an entirely new coaching staff to rejuvenate things.

Kevin O’Connell enters as the second-youngest head coach in the NFL, the newest prodigy from the Sean McVay tree. O’Connell was the Rams‘ offensive coordinator the last two seasons. That means he’s coming off a Super Bowl victory, and it gives us a pretty good insight as to how he’ll scheme up this Minnesota offense.

The Rams used a barrage of pre-snap motion and movement to confuse the defense before the snap and reveal opponent tendencies. That motion tends to freeze opposing linebackers and stop them from flowing, and it gives the quarterback a clean read and receivers cleaner ground to run their routes in.

That’s a perfect scenario for Kirk Cousins, a QB who notoriously breaks down when the play goes awry but who is pretty darn good when he can just stand in there, make reads, and be accurate.

O’Connell and the Rams had an especially elite route runner in Kupp, a player who could run out of the slot or play outside, so they moved him all over the field and fed him relentlessly. Kupp’s 191 targets last season set an NFL record, and Jefferson could push for that record this fall.

Jefferson has played mostly outside in the NFL, but he was an elite slot receiver at LSU playing with Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase (yes, seriously). Jefferson racked up 111 catches for 1,540 yards and 18 TDs, much of it out of the slot. He’s already shown he can be a deep threat down the sidelines in the NFL, but he ran the inside routes and devastated opponents out of the slot in college too.

Expect O’Connell to treat Jefferson like Kupp this season and move him all over the field, both before and after the snap. Jefferson brings a deep ball threat Kupp can’t match, but he can also snap off those inside and midrange routes, and he has more size and speed than Kupp too.

Jefferson already tallied 167 targets last fall, nearly 10 per game. If he even gets two more targets per game, that would push him over 200, ahead of Kupp. Jefferson’s catch rate last season was 64.7%, down from 70.4% his rookie season.

O’Connell’s offense maximizes efficiency. If Jefferson really hit 200 targets and caught the same percent as last season, he’d hit 130 catches. Even if he doesn’t increase in targets but returns to his rookie catch rate, he’d tally 118 receptions.

Most scenarios in that range put Jefferson at 125 catches or more, and that’s our magic number. I project him at 130 receptions. That’s not even a high-end outcome for him, but it’s still tied for highest on my board with St. Brown.

If you’re only looking to bet Jefferson for one season-leader bet, I prefer his yardage prop where he has identical odds, because Jefferson is also a YPR and ADOT monster and has even greater a margin for victory. But he could very well make like Kupp and take home both crowns.

After all, why bet on last year’s Cooper Kupp when you can bet on this year’s instead?

Verdict: Jefferson is the new Cooper Kupp, and he should be the receptions favorite in 2022, not Kupp. Get your money in.

Receptions Verdict

Justin Jefferson should be the favorite, and we get him at +1000. But Amon-Ra St. Brown has just as much upside, so he’s a must-bet long shot at +4000.

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