NFL Player Prop Picks: These Players Will Outperform Their Totals

NFL expert Ben Gretch broke down his picks for NFL MVP last week. This week, he's identified player props he think are a bit too low for 2021
Ben Gretch
Sat, August 28, 6:40 AM EDT

NFL Player Prop Picks & Predictions: These Players Will Outperform Their Totals

Player props are always such a blast to look at. There are tons of them, obviously, and being a fantasy football guy I want to take a side on every one.

One obvious note is that injuries play a major role, and it might be said that unders make sense, particularly on the biggest of numbers.

But you’re not here to read about unders. I’ve dug around for some of what I think are the best bets, and I’ve particularly focused on guys I expect to perform over their totals. Let’s jump into it.

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NFL Player Prop Picks

Diontae Johnson — Over 975.5 receiving yards

Chase Claypool — Over 895.5 receiving yards

JuJu Smith-Schuster — Over 790.5 receiving yards

Complete NFL props odds and markets

This one feels easy, because all three of these guys are good, and the biggest thing that limits their props is each other. I think there are reasonable scenarios where you could win all three bets — in my fantasy football projections, I have Johnson and Claypool each within 50 yards of their number, with Smith-Schuster over — but if I were to assume a condition where any of them were to miss their individual number (or miss time), I’d love the bet on the other two.

The other side of this coin, when it comes to something like my projections, is that they assume health in the offense, and are buying into the talk from Pittsburgh that this team might lean more toward the run. Of course, that assumes an effective run game, a healthy Najee Harris throughout, and positive game scripts. When things don’t go as planned, teams air it out — and there’s almost no team that has been willing to switch heavier to the pass than the Steelers over the past few seasons. Setting aside Ben Roethlisberger’s injured 2019 season, the Steelers led the NFL in pass attempts in both 2018 and 2020, and in the playoffs we saw them throw a ridiculous 68 times after falling behind the Browns 28-0 in the first quarter. That type of game won’t likely happen this year, but it argues the point that Pittsburgh is willing to commit to chucking the ball around to get back into games when they trail.

As for the individual numbers, Smith-Schuster played a low-aDOT slot role that had him looking like a possession receiver last year. That looks to be a concern again this year, but it’s worth noting his 5.6 aDOT was more than two-and-a-half yards lower than his previous career low of 8.4 in 2019. That helped cause his yards per reception to drop all the way to 8.6 last year after a previous career low of 12.8. Those figures are due for some regression even if his role doesn’t dramatically improve, and Smith-Schuster has shown far more yardage upside earlier in his career than he did last season. He did catch 97 balls last year though, and in the aforementioned playoff game, for what it’s worth, he had 157 yards on 13 catches, easily a season-high yardage figure. Of course, he already went over his 790.5 last year in just 16 games.

Claypool meanwhile finished with 873 yards in 16 games last year, and he did so while ceding snaps down the stretch as Pittsburgh was concerned about a rookie wall. That he’s looking more like a permanent fixture on the outside this year has been enough of a talking point that fourth-receiver James Washington has asked for a trade. Despite his limited routes, Claypool led all rookies in targets per route run, just beating out Justin Jefferson. With more of a full-time role, he’s a good bet to beat this number even if he doesn’t hit on quite as many explosive plays last year.

And then Johnson had an even better targets per route run figure than Claypool, finishing fifth in the NFL among all WRs. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s a skill to earn targets, and a stable one at that. Johnson’s displayed ability to draw volume and the relative instability of drops — something that plagued Johnson last year and led to a brief benching — should foretell good things.

All three of these guys have strong individual profiles, and we can mitigate the injury risk of betting on just one of them by taking all three, knowing that we’ll be happy winning two. Of course, as I said, a clean sweep wouldn’t surprise me, especially if Pittsburgh winds up throwing more passes on the season than expected.

Rondale Moore — Over 545.5 receiving yards

Complete NFL props odds and markets

Moore is one of my favorite rookies in the 2021 class, a 5-7 bowling ball who famously once squatted 600 pounds at Purdue. The 5-7 might alarm you, but Moore’s profile is otherwise spotless; if he was six feet tall he likely would have been a top-10 pick.

As a true freshman breakout at Purdue, Moore checked an important early production box that tends to predict future NFL success among prospects. He tested extremely well with a 4.3 40-yard dash and a 42.5-inch vertical, among other plus numbers. And then he was drafted onto the Cardinals, a perfect landing spot with Larry Fitzgerald vacating a ton of work near the line of scrimmage. Arizona has tipped their hand throughout the preseason by force-feeding Moore short-area touches, and all Moore needs to average is a little more than 30 receiving yards per game to hit this number. I think he’ll cruise by it.

A.J. Dillon — Over 690.5 rushing yards

Complete NFL props odds and markets

This isn’t necessarily my favorite line, in part because I don’t typically like overs for running backs, but there’s a little juice to the under in some places, and I’m a believer in Dillon. Dillon has seemed to me all offseason like someone whose role was fundamentally misunderstood. An absolute workhorse at Boston College, Dillon goes 247 pounds and ran the 40 just slightly quicker than Derrick Henry did at the same weight. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur actually came over from Tennessee two years ago, after serving one year as Henry’s offensive coordinator, and Green Bay took Dillon in the second round last year before letting Jamaal Williams walk in free agency this offseason.

Aaron Jones is the lead back here, but at just 208 pounds, the Packers have always seen him as in need of a complementary piece. That was Williams previously, and if we go back to 2019 — before Dillon was drafted in 2020 — Jones and Williams handled nearly every carry in this backfield. I expect similar in 2021, except with Jones and Dillon, and for Dillon’s size to be the preferred option late in games when the Packers are salting away leads.

Jones is still going to be a huge part of the offense, and be particularly active early in games and in the passing game, but Dillon will get his rush attempts as a reliable and difficult-to-tackle bruiser. I’m already projecting Dillon close to this number without any shakeups, but late last season the Packers turned a snow game over to Dillon even with Jones active, feeding him 21 carries which he took for 124 yards and two scores. All it takes is one such game this year for Dillon to easily hit this number, which could be the result of Jones missing a game or two or Dillon just having the hot hand.

T.J. Hockenson — Over 770.5 receiving yards

Complete NFL props odds and markets

Hockenson is in a fantastic situation this year as a potential third-year breakout at a position where it typically takes a little time to reach your ceiling. But last year, on 101 targets, Hockenson put up 723 yards, and with a 17th game at his yards per game average, would have been right at this figure.

But this year is different. Hockenson is lighting up camp and has drawn reports that single him out as new-quarterback Jared Goff’s best weapon. His targets per route run figure from 2020 already bests the top season of most of the journeymen wide receivers the Lions brought in. He’s also been somewhat inefficient after drawing targets, gaining just 6.8 yards per target so far in his career, and has some room to improve there.

I have Hockenson in line for 124 targets in this wide open offense, and with a slight bump in efficiency have him going for over 900 yards.

Logan Thomas — Over 600.5 receiving yards

Complete NFL props odds and markets

Thomas saw even more targets than Hockenson last year, and notably dominated the position in his offense. Washington has added some wide receiver depth this year, but in 2020 their secondary tight ends totaled just five targets, while Thomas saw 110. Even with the added competition from the WR position, Thomas should be so clearly the top option from the TE spot that his targets are fairly secure.

Also like Hockenson, Thomas wasn’t very efficient last year. But he gets a quarterback upgrade in Ryan Fitzpatrick, and he’s an athletic guy who already has two catches of more than 20 yards this preseason, both from Fitzpatrick.

2021 NFL Prop Picks

Diontae Johnson — Over 975.5 receiving yards

Chase Claypool — Over 895.5 receiving yards

JuJu Smith-Schuster — Over 790.5 receiving yards

Rondale Moore — Over 545.5 receiving yards

A.J. Dillon — Over 690.5 rushing yards

T.J. Hockenson — Over 770.5 receiving yards

Logan Thomas — Over 600.5 receiving yards

Complete NFL props odds and markets

Ben Gretch
@YardsPerGretch
Ben knows his football. A fantasy football expert who was most recently seen at CBS Sports, he'll be helping bettors find value ahead in the NFL with OddsChecker.
Sep 2021
Record
Wins
7
Losses
8
Push
0
ROI
4.35%
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