2014 Over/Under Predictions for NFL's Defending Offensive Stats Leaders

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2014

2014 Over/Under Predictions for NFL's Defending Offensive Stats Leaders

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Offensively speaking, the winds of change continue to blow in the NFL.

    Very much a copycat league, innovators like Chip Kelly continue to lead the way in new trends that annually leave defensive coordinators with countless sleepless nights, defenses attempting to adapt in the offseason and constantly on their heels during the season.

    While Kelly innovates, Marc Trestman and Mike McCoy breathe new lives into veterans under center. Jay Gruden puts personal touches on a classic approach. Darrell Bevell keeps a dying breed of running-centric offenses alive in a rather emphatic manner.

    Pair these great minds with an ageless wonder like Peyton Manning. A comeback story like Philip Rivers. The downright sheer talent of a LeSean McCoy. The pure genetic makeup of a Jimmy Graham, who alters the game as we know it.

    What we are left with is a league that laughs in the face of defending stat leaders from prior seasons, if not the record book itself. Last year provided a season of firsts and video game-esque outputs, but the thrones of those who led the way in critical categories are very much in danger as the evolution continues.

    Let's take a look at the players who sat alone at the top of each pertinent statistical category by season's end last year and whether they'll be able to retain the crown in 2014.

     

    Note: All statistics courtesy of ESPN.

Pass Attempts

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    Ed Andrieski/Associated Press

    2013 Leader: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos, 659 attempts

    2014 Prediction: Under 659 attempts

     

    Both sides of the fence are rather easy to understand in regard to Peyton Manning's volume of work next season.

    One side is basic—Manning threw an exorbitant amount of passes last season, and the Broncos led the league in points per game (37.9), yards per game (457.3) and first downs (435). If it ain't broke, don't fix it and other such cliche things.

    But the other side scoffs at the notion. Do the Broncos really need to throw that many times again? Why put the 38-year-old's health at risk? Rewriting the record books is nice, but surely the team can come up with a more balanced attack next season in an effort to preserve the laser-rocket arm for future years and still make the postseason. From there, have at it.

    ESPN's Jeff Legwold concurs with the notion:

    Manning himself might be asked to throw less so the offense can be more. To face the realities of age and four neck surgeries and use his remember-when mind to help diversify the team’s attack, not only to help give it a plan B but endorse it in what he calls at the line scrimmage if things don’t go right on another important football afternoon.

    It's a shame Knowshon Moreno has moved on, but Manning does have a fresh, talented back by the name of Montee Ball who is more than capable of taking some of the stress off his arm.

     

    Full 2014 Stat Projection: 385 completions on 610 attempts, 4,300 yards, 35 touchdowns, 8 interceptions

Completion Percentage

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    2013 Leader: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers, 69.5 (minimum 14 attempts per team's games played)

    2014 Prediction: Over 69.5 completion percentage

     

    While Marc Trestman soaks up a ton of praise as something of a quarterback whisperer, Mike McCoy should get an equal amount, if not more.

    While Jay Cutler's renaissance and the Josh McCown reckoning last season in Chicago had Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett to work with, Philip Rivers had one quietly very talented rookie and the battered remains of Antonio Gates. 

    Rivers was so great last season on his way to Comeback Player of the Year hardware and 4,478 yards, 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions that Frank Reich and Ken Whisenhunt cashed in on promotions as a result.

    To expect Rivers to perform ever better in this specific category next season is not ridiculous. While a nice supporting cast with Vincent Brown, Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal is solid, the real meat that ensures his success is a sophomore improvement from Keenan Allen, the continued sure hands of back Danny Woodhead and—most importantly—increased reliance on tight end Ladarius Green.

     

    Full 2014 Stat Projection: 425 completions on 600 attempts, 4,450 yards, 33 touchdowns, 11 interceptions

Passing Yards

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    JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

    2013 Leader: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos, 5,477 yards

    2014 Prediction: Under 5,477 passing yards

     

    With the aforementioned lower attempts in mind for Peyton Manning next season, it only makes sense that his record-setting 5,477 yards from last year at the age of 37 take a dip too.

    Manning has an ungodly amount of weapons at his disposal, yes. Julius Thomas is one of the brightest young tight ends in the game and a behemoth at that, standing at 6'5" and 250 pounds.

    There's slippery Wes Welker who can sneak underneath and move the chains counteracted by the deep speed of Emmanuel Sanders. Yards-after-catch monster Demaryius Thomas—who led the league in that regard with 706 last season, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—can take a screen to the house from any point on the field or climb the ladder to reel in deep heaves.

    Heck, tight ends Jacob Tamme and Virgil Green don't get enough credit, and rookie Cody Latimer is quite an intriguing prospect.

    But it's a simple law of numbers that Manning's yardage will reduce next season if his attempts start the domino effect. Better bets to rule the NFL in this department or perhaps even break the record would be Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford, two talented quarterbacks with a wealth of new weapons in pass-happy schemes.

     

    Full 2014 Stat Projection: 385 completions on 610 attempts, 4,300 yards, 35 touchdowns, 8 interceptions

Passing Touchdowns

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    JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

    2013 Leader: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos, 55 touchdowns

    2014 Prediction: Under 55 passing touchdowns

     

    As great a story it would make, Peyton Manning won't be rewriting this record again either.

    That said, he will be getting the required 18 to pass Brett Favre for the most in NFL history.

    Call it a compromise.

    Last year Knowshon Moreno still tallied 10 scores on the ground, production and then some that will go to the duo of Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. The Broncos have been a major fan of the latter for quite some time, and the former is obviously a talented Wisconsin product skilled enough to replace Moreno's production if not outright surpass it.

    Manning can rest easy as he still gets a record, but watch for names such as Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Nick Foles to make a strong push for the top slot in this category.

     

    Full 2014 Stat Projection: 385 completions on 610 attempts, 4,300 yards, 35 touchdowns, 8 interceptions

Interceptions

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    2013 Leader: Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles, two interceptions (minimum 300 attempts)

    2014 Prediction: Over two interceptions 

     

    Story time—Eli Manning completed 317 passes a year ago. Across the NFC East, Nick Foles attempted 317. One threw 27 interceptions and reigned supreme in the particular skill. The other wound up at the very bottom with two interceptions.

    It wasn't the veteran who won that battle. Foles, under the watchful eye of Chip Kelly, inherited the starting gig last year and just squeaked out enough attempts in 13 appearances to qualify.

    As fun as it would be, let's not examine whether Manning can top his nightmare of a season (in short, he won't). Instead, let's focus on Foles.

    Simple mathematics suggests that if Foles appears in a full season he'll throw more than two picks, but he can probably come closer than we think to at least matching the number. After all, as a rookie, Robert Griffin III attempted just shy of 400 passes and threw just five picks.

    In Philadelphia, Foles has about a year of experience under his belt in the newest offense the league has to offer. It's a quick-trigger affair for the most part with safe throws. 

    So Foles getting oh so close to throwing just two again is not that outlandish, especially with DeSean Jackson gone, Jeremy Maclin healthy and a back by the name of Darren Sproles in the fold. 

     

    Full 2014 Stat Projection: 265 completions on 395 attempts, 3,500 yards, 32 touchdowns, 4 interceptions

Rushing Attempts

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    2013 Leader: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles, 314 attempts

    2014 Prediction: Over 314 rushing attempts

     

    Last season under first-year coach Chip Kelly, LeSean McCoy was arguably the biggest beneficiary of his quick approach, easily registering the highest amount of totes in a season on his career by quite a wide margin.

    It's funny because we live in a time when more than 300 carries is considered a death wish for backs. As the league trends toward a committee approach, Shady stood alone at the top as one of two backs over that number (the other being Marshawn Lynch).

    He'll continue to do so too. It'd be an interesting test case to examine just how banged up McCoy is getting, as the quick pace of Philadelphia's offense has him constantly attacking backpedaling defenses. When he's not being taken down, he's going to the ground after a big gain or ripping off a massive run.

    Perhaps the wear and tear in this particular offense won't be as damning. Either way, McCoy's opportunities aren't going anywhere, as fellow back Darren Sproles will be used exclusively in passing situations.

    Oh, and if Kelly truly plans to run even faster in the second year of his offense, in the neighborhood 360 totes for McCoy isn't out of the question.

     

    Full 2014 Stat Projection: 360 attempts, 1,875 yards, 5.2 average, 12 touchdowns

Rushing Yards

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Leader: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles, 1,607 yards

    2014 Prediction: Over 1,607 rushing yards

     

    In this case, it's almost like the strict fantasy football rule at the position—volume equals production.

    Unless another back pulls a ridiculous average out of his hat (and we could see the next guy on this list do just that if given the chance), the speed and potency of Philadelphia's offensive attack will see LeSean McCoy lead the league in rushing once again.

    The only back who could realistically make a charge for this top slot next year is Jamaal Charles, who took just 259 totes last season and wound up in third place. But even he could be subjected to a bit of a committee look next year if Knile Davis can emerge as effective.

    McCoy is a rare breed both in his complete solo act at the spot and his usage numbers. Pair that with an offense many will eventually mimic but none will perfect to such a degree, and McCoy is set to get the "and still..." treatment in this category.

     

    Full 2014 Stat Projection: 360 attempts, 1,875 yards, 5.2 average, 12 touchdowns

Yards-Per-Carry Average

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    Darryl Webb/Associated Press

    2013 Leader: Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals, 5.5 average (minimum 6.25 attempts per team's games played)

    2014 Prediction: Over 5.5. yards per carry

     

    It's scary to think what Andre Ellington could have accomplished a year ago if Bruce Arians had not coddled him, but it's even scarier to think what he can do in 2014 with the training wheels discarded.

    The Clemson product saw a ceiling of 15 carries just twice last season, a number that is set to see a significant uptick, according to USA Today's Kent Somers:

    Last year, the Cardinals limited how much they gave Andre Ellington the ball. They weren't sure the 5-9, 199-pound rookie could take a pounding. But he was more durable than they thought and as explosive as they expected. With the retirement of Rashard Mendenhall, Ellington becomes the featured back. Arians said he would like to get Ellington the ball 25 times a game. That's a bit exaggerated, but you get the idea. Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer are the main backups.

    There isn't a back on the roster who will steal carries from Ellington, and if it helps ease the mind, he has even added eight to 10 pounds of muscle this offseason, per general manager Steve Keim, via Fox Sports' Mike Jurecki.

    It's a risk to think that Ellington can repeat as champ in this area if his usage numbers go up, but only LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray were serious threats at the spot last season, and that will more likely than not hold true once more.

     

    Full 2014 Stat Projection: 245 attempts, 1,298 yards, 5.3 average, 9 touchdowns

Rushing Touchdowns

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    2013 Leader: Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks and Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs, 12 touchdowns

    2014 Prediction: Under 12 rushing touchdowns for both

     

    Don't expect to see either of the above two on top in terms of rushing touchdowns next season.

    For Marshawn Lynch the logic is simple. The Seahawks have absolutely run him into the ground the past three seasons, which has seen him tally a minimum of 285 carrier per. He's durable, sure, but at some point the wheels fall off for a 28-year-old back.

    This is especially the case with talented players such as Robert Turbin and Christine Michael behind him, with the latter being an especially interesting case who may push for a major uptick in playing time.

    For Jamaal Charles, it comes down to basics too. In terms of finding the end zone, last season was very much an anomaly for the Texas product. He now has seven or more touchdowns in two of his six years as a pro, with another two being five-touchdown outputs and yet another two being a steaming goose egg (but let's be fair, one was his rookie year, the other he played just two games).

    Charles will continue to see the same amount of work and per-carry numbers, but the presence of Knile Davis, the crafty De'Anthony Thomas and major red-zone threats such as Dwayne Bowe and Travis Kelce ensure he'll be closer to the seven than the 12.

    Want perhaps the shoo-in to win this category next season? Look no further than the Green Bay Packers' Eddie Lacy, who rumbled for 1,178 yards and 11 scores on 284 totes as a rookie—with Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines for seven games and defenses stacking the box.

     

    Full 2014 Stat Projection: Marshawn Lynch: 265 carries, 1,100 yards, 4.1 average, 10 touchdowns; Jamaal Charles: 260 carries, 1,400 yards, 5.3 average, 9 touchdowns

Receptions

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    2013 Leader: Pierre Garcon, Washington, 113 receptions

    2014 Prediction: Under 113 receptions

     

    At first pass, this seems a no-brainer, as the addition of the pass-happy Jay Gruden will see Robert Griffin III taking to the air more than ever.

    One problem with that line of thinking, though—DeSean Jackson is now in the fold too.

    Last year Garcon was able to rack up such ridiculous totals because he was targeted a jaw-dropping 184 times. No other Washington receiver was targeted more than 80 times, and no other player brought in more than 45 receptions.

    Suffice it to say, that's going to change with Jackson on board. He's not known for a boatload of receptions, but his presence is enough to alter the numbers.

    That also goes without taking into account Gruden's affinity for two-tight end sets, and he has two very talented players there to utilize in Jordan Reed and Logan Paulsen.

    Last year was very much an anomaly for Garcon, who had previously in five seasons caught a career-high 70. He's not going to sniff the total again as things get back to normal and alter slightly with a new captain at the helm.

     

    Full 2014 Stat Projection: 75 receptions, 1,025 yards, 7 touchdowns

Receiving Yards

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    2013 Leader: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1,499 yards

    2014 Prediction: Over 1,499 receiving yards

     

    When one thinks of the top dog in terms of receiving, few will bring up Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown and for good reason, as the Central Michigan product entered his 2013 campaign with just a single 1,000-yard season under his belt.

    Still, kudos to Brown for seizing the opportunity with Mike Wallace out of the picture. At just 26 years old, he's a pleasant surprise at a position typically ruled by familiar faces. According to receivers coach Richard Mann, who was brought on last offseason and a major part of Brown's turnaround, the four-year pro continues to grow at an impressive pace, via the Steelers' website:

    I think he’s done a lot of things really well. He doesn’t really look like the same guy. He’s made a transition. He’s very confident. He’s matured. He understands the concepts. He’s smoother. His body language is different. He’s just a different guy. He’s matured a lot.

    Don't expect Brown's production to taper off in 2014. Gone are Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, which leaves a 113-reception hole on the offense that Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore won't fill on their own.

    Brown is very much a No. 1 receiver and an elite one at that. He was third behind just Josh Gordon and DeSean Jackson in terms of catches of 20 or more yards last season, so it's not like he won't continue to get deep looks. His role and production are secure.

     

    Full 2014 Stat Projection: 95 receptions, 1,550 yards, 6 touchdowns

     

    Note: Josh Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards last season with 1,646 yards but is currently suspended for the year.

Yards-Per-Catch Average

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    2013 Leader: Kenny Stills, New Orleans Saints, 20.0 yards per catch

    2014 Prediction: Over 20.0 yards-per-catch average

     

    Kenny Stills exploded onto the scene as a rookie a year ago, and his production was not all that shocking when one combined his excellent collegiate production on a run-first offense, his 4.38 40-yard dash at the combine and the highly combustible offense in New Orleans.

    Stills was far and away quarterback Drew Brees' favorite target last season despite only being targeted the sixth-most times on the team. Per Pro Football Focus, Brees' rating when gunning for Stills was a league-leading 139.9.

    Don't expect anything to change next season.

    Stills is actually due for an uptick in production thanks to the departures of Darren Sproles and Lance Moore, meaning a 108-reception and 143-target void has been created in the NFL's most pass-happy attack.

    Count on Stills as the new No. 2 receiver—and perhaps the No. 1 with Marques Colston on the downswing—to reel in plenty of deep passes on his way to a breakout year, regardless of the presence of rookie Brandin Cooks.

     

    Full 2014 Stat Projection: 55 receptions, 1,150 yards, 8 touchdowns

Receiving Touchdowns

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    MARCO GARCIA/Associated Press

    2013 Leader: Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints, 16 touchdowns

    2014 Prediction: Over 16 receiving touchdowns

     

    Nobody would suggest that Jimmy Graham is on his way to shattering Randy Moss' single-season record of 23 touchdowns, but how about matching the No. 3 player on that list with 18 scores, Sterling Sharpe?

    At the age of 29 back in 1994, Sharpe reeled in 94 balls for 1,119 yards and 18 scores, a line that does not seem all that far-fetched at this point for Graham as he heads into his fifth season.

    One can incite the Brett Favre-Drew Brees debate all day, but the bottom line is that Graham has the look of a player who rises above quarterback issues should they arise.

    With the aforementioned losses this offseason in New Orleans, Graham will see more attention than ever, especially in the red zone. The only real thing holding him back from further eye-popping stat lines is his health.

     

    Full 2014 Stat Projection: 95 receptions, 1,350 yards, 18 touchdowns

     

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