The Brandt Report  


Matt Ryan, Khalil Mack among 2017's predicted stat leaders


Around this time last year, I predicted Drew Brees would lead the NFL in passing yards in the 2016 season.

Not only did Brees oblige me by throwing for a league-high 5,208 yards, but he got within 198 yards of my predicted total (5,010).

While many things can (and will!) change between now and the end of the 2017 NFL season, I thought I'd revisit this exercise and attempt to predict who will finish on top of nine key statistical categories: passing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, sacks, interceptions and tackles.

Below, you can find my predicted leaders, along with a few names of expected contenders, as I see them today:

Passing yards: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

Will finish with: 5,225 passing yards.

2016 rank: No. 2, with 4,944.

Ryan reached a different plane in 2016, setting career highs in yardage and yards per attempt (9.3), along with his first triple-digit passer rating (117.1). The offensive coordinator who helped him reach those numbers, Kyle Shanahan, is now in San Francisco. But I don't see Ryan regressing in his first season under Shanahan's replacement, Steve Sarkisian. First, while some might wonder about Ryan's ability to adjust to Sarkisian, I think Sarkisian will instead adjust to what the Falcons were doing last season. Second, Ryan is a smart guy who will not be thrown off by either the change in play-callers, the notoriety of being the reigning MVP or the painfully fresh memories of Atlanta's Super Bowl LI collapse.

Also considered: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints; Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins; Tom Brady, New England Patriots; Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers; Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions.

Passing touchdowns: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Will finish with: 37 passing touchdowns.

2016 rank: No. 1, with 40.

I think Rodgers' touchdown total will drop a tick. I think the running game will be better, which means Ty Montgomery and Co. should see more of the goal-line opportunities Rodgers was left to convert in the absence of a sure ground option last season. That said, adding Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks to a pass-catching corps that already featured Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams will keep Rodgers scoring with the best of them. Nelson and Adams put up 26 touchdown catches in 2016, the most combined scores for two pass-catchers on the same team in the NFL last season and the best combined single-season mark in Packers history.

Also considered: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints; Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons; Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts.

Rushing yards: Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

Will finish with: 1,510 rushing yards.

2016 rank: No. 5, with 1,268.

To reach 1,268 yards in his suspension-shortened 2016 campaign, Bell racked up ground yardage at a clip of 4.86 per carry and 105 per contest -- the second most in the NFL among players with 200-plus carries. With Bell heading into 2017 healthy, available and looking for a big 2018 payday, it would not be a surprise to see him out-rush the field.

Also considered: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears; DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans; LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills; David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals.

Rushing touchdowns: David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

Will finish with: 17 rushing touchdowns.

2016 ranks: No. 2, with 16.

Johnson is such a threat as both a runner and a receiver that opposing defenses don't know what to do with him when the Cardinals are on the goal line. With his versatility keeping defenses off balance, Johnson should be a familiar presence in the end zone once more.

Also considered: LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles; Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills; Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams; Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars.

Receiving yards: Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

Will finish with: 1,505 receiving yards.

2016 rank: No. 3, with 1,367.

Beckham has climbed steadily up the year-end rankings, from 10th in yardage in 2014 to fifth in 2015 to third last season. He's also one of just five players to have topped 1,000 yards in each of his first three NFL seasons. Also, despite being part of a multi-faceted passing attack, Beckham received 169 targets last season, second only to Mike Evans' 173 -- even with veteran signee Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end Evan Engram siphoning some looks, Beckham should get the ball thrown his way plenty in 2017. Atlanta's Julio Jones is a perennial threat to lead this category, but I'll take Beckham's speed, quickness and overwhelming talent here.

Also considered: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons; Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts; Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers; Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints.

Receiving touchdowns: Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Will finish with: 14 receiving touchdowns.

2016 rank: No. 2 (tie), with 12.

Some might wonder if the additions of O.J. Howard and DeSean Jackson might translate to fewer scoring opportunities for Evans, but I think the moves will help free him up. Evans is a big (6-foot-5, 231 pounds) target. He has 27 touchdown catches in his three years in the league, tied for third-most in that span. With an improved passing game (Jameis Winston, with 8,132 career passing yards, is behind only Andrew Luck's 8,196 over a player's first two NFL seasons) and a better ground attack, Evans should haul in plenty of touchdown grabs.

Also considered: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers; Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers; Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants.

Sacks: Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders

Will finish with: 16 sacks.

2016 rank: No. 8 (tie), with 11.

Mack registered just 11 sacks but 26 quarterback hurries in 2016, tied for second-most in the league. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year has the speed, strength and motor to reach 20 sacks.

Also considered: Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons; Von Miller, Denver Broncos; Markus Golden, Arizona Cardinals; Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers; Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings.

Interceptions: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers

Will finish with: 8 interceptions.

2016 rank: No. 5, with 5.

Clinton-Dix has averaged 1,000-plus defensive snaps over his three NFL seasons, which means he stays healthy and on the field for all three downs. He only had three picks combined in his first two seasons, but in 2016, Clinton-Dix exploded for five in his last nine games. I also wouldn't be surprised to see a rookie win this stat category, as teams like to pick on rookie defenders, and this year provided an exceptionally talented class of defensive backs. Someone could make teams pay for that tendency, a la the picks leader in 2015, Marcus Peters.

Also considered: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants; Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings; Landon Collins, New York Giants; Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs.

Tackles: Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

Will finish with: 165 tackles.

2016 rank: No. 1, with 167.

Wagner has 645 career tackles in five seasons. He's reliable (eight games missed total) and plays every down. Wagner is very active and has a great ability to diagnose. He's also chipped in 14 sacks and five picks.

Also considered: Zach Brown, Washington Redskins; Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys; Kwon Alexander, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.



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