Welcome back for another Props special. This week, we are going over the first player props released for the 2021 season. It may be slim pickings for now, but we have to be patient with the oddsmakers so they can gather as much intel as possible (and then we pounce!).
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In 2020, we had five props for player yardage over/under. We went 4-2 on them, winning the Under on Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs and losing the Mims and Reagor overs. We also won the overs for Jonathan Taylor and Justin Jefferson. All four of those other guys went under (something we’ll bring up later).
What’s interesting is that we picked Mims and Reagor to go over but both got hurt (Mims only played 9 games). Over a full season at his yardage per game rate, Mims would’ve covered. The point here is that there is always a lot of hype with rookies (especially receivers) but the perfect time to bet the under is when these lines come out amidst all the summer hype.
That being said, it’s time to look at the first player prop lines for the NFL regular season in 2021.
Jonathan Taylor over 1250 rushing yards
We were very high on Jonathan Taylor last season but tempered that with the expectation Marlon Mack would be likely still involved. As it turns out, Marlon Mack was the lead back, spelled by Taylor infrequently early on, with Nyheim Hines picking up a great deal of the third-down snaps. Following the season-ending injury to Mack, Taylor and Hines split touches until Week 14.
At that moment, Taylor grabbed the reins on the lead role, scoring seven touchdowns and rushing for 560 yards in the final four weeks. This season has flipped. Marlon Mack is now the firm backup who will come into the season highly questionable, following his Achilles injury.
Forget about the recency bias you may have in understanding Achilles’ injuries with what happened to Kevin Durant. No player, in football, comes back from an Achilles injury looking anything like their former selves. For a running back, it could be a career-ending injury. In 2020, Taylor carried the ball just 232 times for a whopping 5.04 yards per carry (1169 yards).
This season, it’s reasonable to expect the Colts to limit his workload. We may not see the 30 carries we saw in Week 17, but rather the 18 carries we saw Weeks 14-16. I’m not sure the Colts and Frank Reich believe in the concept of a workhorse back — at least from what we’ve seen thus far — but 16 carries a week at a modest 4.6 YPC comes out to 1,251 yards across the season. If Taylor can average 16 or more carries per week behind this stellar offensive line, he should be able to get to 1,250 yards.
Derrick Henry under 1600 rushing yards
Derrick Henry is the modern exception to the rule about running back mileage in the NFL. Henry is 26 years old and coming off consecutive 300-carry seasons. Last season, Henry ran the ball 378 times and only appeared to get stronger as the season went on, slimly missing the single-season rushing record.
For Derrick Henry, this seems like a low number to hit. For two consecutive seasons now, Henry has surpassed 1,500 yards. Had he played the full 16 in 2019, he’d have gone over. All this being said, Henry’s workload has to drop this season. No one is breathing down his neck in the backfield, but sustaining such production in the NFL has proven to be too difficult for 98% of the running backs in the NFL.
Following his 2,000 yard season, Adrian Peterson failed to break 1,300 yards the following season. The same is true for Eric Dickerson. Only Barry Sanders has three consecutive seasons of 1,500+ yards and Sanders had four. Following a 2,000-yard season, no player has rushed for more than 1,500 yards. I don’t think Henry is any different there.
Christian McCaffrey over/under 1025 rushing yards
This one is purely based on injury speculation. It’s a tempting line for the betting public and equally so for us. This line, regardless of the outcome, is going to have you saying, “If McCaffrey had (or hadn’t) gotten hurt, I’d have won this bet.”
That’s exactly what all of us who take on this bet will say at the end of the season. Following a healthy first three seasons, McCaffrey suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 3 of 2020 and then returned only to injure his shoulder and miss the remainder of the 2020 season.
McCaffrey was trending in the right direction when heading into the 2020 season after rushing for 1,098 yards in 2018 and 1,387 yards in 2019. Now, McCaffrey has 17 games to get just 1,025 yards. It’s not only very doable, it’s very much a certainty if McCaffrey can stay healthy. Keep in mind, McCaffrey ran for nearly 1,400 yards before Matt Rhule even got there.
Rhule is a creative offensive mind and the Panthers have a decent amount of weapons to possibly free up more space for McCaffrey. They also added Chuba Hubbard in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. Hubbard is decent between the tackles but features great top-end speed.
He’s still recovering from an injury-filled season, but Hubbard should take some weight off McCaffrey in the run game. This prop is actually pretty simple.
If you think McCaffrey can stay healthy for 12 games, go ahead and take the over.