Predicting the NFL Leader in Every Major Statistical Category in 2014
While football isn't dominated by statistical minutia the way baseball is, there is plenty of detail to geek out about each year.
We're not going to get bogged down in the small stats, though; we only want to talk about the big things.
So if you're looking for something small like yards per carry on a Thursday, look elsewhere.
With that out of the way, who will we see topping the major and vital NFL categories we all know and love?
Let's take a look.
Total Running Back Yards: Jamaal Charles
This was a tough choice.
In the end, though, I lean toward Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, who finally has a legitimate offense in front of him. While he saw a decrease in carries last season (down to 259 from 285 the year before), he looked better overall. Another season in this offense is only going to help.
I expect his yards-per-carry average to go back up toward his 5.6 career mark (it was down to 5.0 last year) and for him to end up with more carries as well this season.
I believe Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy is going to end up coming back down to earth, as many 300-carry backs do the following season. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, while having a good campaign, will fall just short of Charles in total yards.
Running Back Touchdowns: Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson’s 10 touchdowns in 2013 were actually below his career average of 12. I expect him to bounce back to that total this year, whether it’s Matt Cassel or Teddy Bridgewater under center for the Vikings.
The fact of the matter is that Peterson’s touchdown total shouldn’t be hampered at all by the progress of the rest of the offense. In fact, if it is effective, his opportunities for success will be greater, as the offense will get closer to the red zone more often.
Quarterback Passing Yards: Drew Brees
This is always a tricky one, as there are several quarterbacks who routinely have high yardage totals by year’s end.
That’s right, Brees.
Brees will always get a huge total of attempts, and with the weapons the Saints have, it’s awfully hard to stop him.
That will be proven true again this coming season.
Quarterback Touchdowns: Drew Brees
When Brees throws for the most yards, he tends to also have the most touchdowns. This is another list he’s topped more often than not over the last decade. In fact, he has dominated the category over the last six years, topping the list four times.
He was second to Manning last year as well. I expect Manning to fall short of his 55 touchdowns from last season, and Brees to see his total back in the 40 range as it had been the previous two campaigns.
This should be a close one, but I see Brees coming out on top.
Receiving Yards: Calvin Johnson
With Cleveland's Josh Gordon—who is appealing a suspension following a failed drug test—gone for at least some of the year, that leaves the way clear for Detroit's Calvin Johnson to reclaim his title as the league's most prolific receiver, which he has been for two out of the last three seasons.
While Matt Stafford won’t top the list of quarterback passing yards, the Lions signal-caller's total will go back up after a year of struggle. When that happens, Megatron will see most of the yards.
Sure, they brought in Golden Tate and drafted Eric Ebron, but that’s actually a good thing. It’s going to draw coverage off Johnson, which means he'll have more room to catch the ball and then do some damage with it, since he won’t have three guys draped on him.
ESPN NFL reporter Field Yates put Calvin Johnson atop his list of the top 10 offensive matchup nightmares in the league (subscription required). Yates called Johnson, "The most physically dominant offensive player regardless of position ... an impossible cover."
It should be another big year for one of the best receivers playing the game today.
Receiving Touchdowns: Rob Gronkowski
But since the 25-year-old Patriot was cleared for practice before training camp, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Gronkowski is my guy.
Always Tom Brady’s favorite weapon, Gronkowski will get plenty of opportunities from his quarterback now that he’s back, and we know just how hard he is to stop in the red zone.
Adam Pfeifer of Rant Sports noted that Gronkowski has played 50 regular-season games in his career and has 42 career receiving touchdowns.
Expect Brady to take advantage of the return of his favorite toy and throw him a lot of touchdown passes to make up for last season.
Receptions: Victor Cruz
The offense the Giants are installing, which new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo brought from Green Bay, is perfect for a receiver coming out of the slot.
It has made Green Bay's Randall Cobb very productive, and Cruz is a much better receiver than Cobb—and that’s coming from a huge Cobb fan.
As Cruz told me last week at camp, "I want the ball in my hands so I can make big-time moves, make people miss and get in that end zone, which is one of the things I feel I do best."
He and QB Eli Manning hook up early and often in the practices I have observed, and Manning knows Cruz is his best weapon.
He’s going to shower Cruz with targets, and it will lead to some career-high totals for the receiver.
Sacks: J.J. Watt
2013 was not as impressive as 2012 had been for Houston's J.J. Watt, but that’s what happens when the defense collapses around you.
While they left the quarterback position up in the air in the draft, the Houston Texans actually got more help for Watt in the form of No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.
With Clowney, a now-healthy Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus, there are too many guys opposing offenses have to keep track of to keep both eyes on Watt.
I’m not sure I would go so far as to call 20-plus sacks for Watt again, but he should easily be in the high teens again, and that should put him on top of the list.
Interceptions: Richard Sherman
I don’t know if Seattle's Richard Sherman is the best cornerback in the NFL or not—if you think about it, we have an awful lot of guys who can legitimately vie for the title (sit back down, Dee Milliner).
However, he is in a nice position to repeat his label as "the guy with the most interceptions."
The Seattle Seahawks defense doesn’t look like it has lost a step, and Sherman has a great secondary around him, which forces quarterbacks to look in his direction more than some of the other corners you can name.
Naming the defender with the most interceptions is always a bit of a crapshoot, as the names change year to year, but Sherman loves to be aggressive with the ball and comes up big when he goes for it.
So I’ll stick with the guy nobody is calling humble anytime soon.
Tackles: Vontaze Burfict
The player with the most combined tackles in a season tends to shift year to year, but I'm calling for back-to-back titles for Cincinnati's Vontaze Burfict, who is even more vital to the Bengals defense with Michael Johnson gone.
Remember when he went undrafted? Man, does that look insane now, but it seemed like a good idea at the time, I suppose.
Now he's a linchpin for the Cincinnati defense and will be called upon to pursue the ball-carrier all over the field and seal the edge as well.
Burfict has gone from undrafted question mark to one of the most productive linebackers in the NFL, and we'll see his progress again this coming season.