• Which player should you be running to bet on having more all-purpose yards this season, David Johnson or Todd Gurley?
By Michael Beller
August 13, 2018

One of August’s finest moments is when prop bets start to come into focus. The first raft of prop bets are released earlier in the summer. They’re fine-tuned over the next few weeks. Some are removed, while others are added, with each step working toward that August breakthrough, when everything settles into place. That moment has arrived.

Below are my two favorite player vs. player props via bookmaker William Hill for the 2018 NFL season. These aren’t the only bets I’ll make, but they are the ones on which I’ve trained my focus.

More receiving yards: Odell Beckham (-185) over A.J. Green (+165)

You’re going to have to pay for this one, but it will be worth it. Beckham is a huge moneyline favorite at -185, but it’s with good reason. In his three seasons in which he has played double-digit games, he’s never had fewer than 1,305 yards. He played just four games last year before breaking his ankle, and in one of those he was mostly a decoy while he was still working his way back from a knee injury suffered in the preseason. He had 302 yards in those four games. All told, Beckham has averaged 94.1 yards per game in his career, and his worst mark over a full season was 85.4 yards per game.

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A.J. Green is in the middle of an excellent career, but he’s never been a true yardage monster. He has two seasons with at least 1,350 yards, but the most recent one was back in 2013. He has come up shy of 1,100 yards in three of the last four seasons, averaging 79.6 yards per game in that span. Green has averaged 80.5 yards per game in his career, well short of Beckham’s number.

Consider, too, the offenses these receivers will inhabit. Pat Shurmur brings with him to New York an offense that helped both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs thrive last year. The Vikings ranked 10th in the NFL in passing rate when in negative game script, trailing by eight or more points. The Giants could find themselves in that spot often, which would only add to Beckham’s target total. Thielen racked up a 27.4% target share under Shurmur, and Beckham should match, if not surpass, that mark. In Cincinnati, Bill Lazor will get his first shot at a full season as the Bengals offensive coordinator. He helped lead Green to a 29.3% target share last year, and that’s within reach again this year. Still, Green has had a catch rate of better than 60% just twice in his career, while Beckham’s worst catch rate for a single season has been 59.8%. For four years, Beckham has done more with his targets than Green has with his. That shouldn’t change this year.

If you’re considering paying -185 on a player vs. player prop, the player you’re backing has to be the overwhelming favorite for obvious reasons. That’s the case here. You can trust Beckham.

More yards from scrimmage: David Johnson (+110) over Todd Gurley (-130)

Johnson is just one season removed from a campaign in which he racked up 2,118 total yards that made him appear to be the league’s next big backfield star. A broken wrist suffered not even three quarters into one game last season put that on hold, but it didn’t change the fact that Johnson is the prototypical back for the modern NFL.

Gurley, too, fits that mold, something he proved last year when Sean McVay brought the Rams’ offense into this century. Gurley ran for 1,305 yards and added another 788 through the air, good for 2,093 total. Johnson and Gurley’s monster years rank 40th and 46th, respectively, on the NFL’s single-season yards-from-scrimmage leaderboard.

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Johnson and Gurley are two of the league’s premier dual threats. They, along with Le’Veon Bell, belong in their own class. So why is Johnson the bet here? The reasoning is twofold. First, this is really an even bet, with recency bias at least partially responsible for Gurley being the favorite. You’re getting a 10% boost on your money by backing Johnson when it feels like this should be a -110 line for both players. That alone makes it worthwhile.

There’s more to it than that, though. Mike McCoy, Arizona’s new offensive coordinator, has been his team’s primary play-caller in five of the past eight seasons; he called plays in two years of his first stint as Denver’s offensive coordinator, two out of four years while running the show as head coach in San Diego, and again last year in his return as Broncos offensive coordinator. In none of those five seasons did he have a back anywhere nearly as good as Johnson. He did have Melvin Gordon during his rookie year, but he wasn’t anywhere near the player that he is now, and that still has him a tier or two behind Johnson. As such, McCoy has never given one back a workhorse share. That will change this year.

What McCoy has done at all his previous stops, though, is feature his backfield a great deal. McCoy’s backfield accounted for an average of 59.3% of team touches, and got north of 60% in three of his five seasons as the play-caller. In 2015 when McCoy was calling the plays in San Diego, Danny Woodhead led the Chargers in targets and receptions. McCoy loves his backfields, and he knows how to use a back who doubles as a dangerous receiver. Johnson should approach, if not eclipse, the 413 carries plus targets he got in 2016.

Nothing in the above paragraph, of course, is a knock on Gurley. Team context, however, favors Johnson. Arizona’s usage tree is far narrower than the Rams’. Who on the Cardinals outside of Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald commands a significant number of touches? Christian Kirk? Brice Butler? J.J. Nelson? Ricky Seals-Jones? Forget the 413 opportunities Johnson got two years ago. On this offense, he could approach 450. Gurley is not going to hurt for volume, but the Rams usage tree also includes Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. Johnson is likely to get more touches than Gurley, and when two players are this good and this evenly matched, touches can make all the difference when the bottom line is total yards.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)