Predicting the NFL stat leaders for the 2020 season

With Week 1 upon us, Cole Thompson takes a stab at predicting the 2020 NFL stat leaders.

The NFL season is officially back, returning in a year that feels a bit more special. Anything is possible as the league kicked off in stellar style with two MVP favorites meeting on the gridiron at Arrowhead Stadium. As we learned in 2019, being a stat leader does not always translate into winning the most important trophy in the NFL. 

Jameis Winston might have been the first quarterback to go 30-and-30, but he also led the league in passing yards with 5,109. Aaron Jones impressed in a breakout year with 19 total touchdowns and a league-high of 16 on the ground. Meanwhile, Shaquil Barrett finally showed his potential in his sixth season by claiming the sack title with 19.5.

From newcomers and aging stars, all have their chance to add massive numbers to their resumes as breakout candidates or future Canton callers. Pro Football Network released its season predictions and award winners, but the stats leaders are still up for grabs. 

Predicting the 2020 NFL stat leaders

Passing Yards: Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

Prescott is already playing for a massive extension entering the season. It shouldn’t be far-fetched to see the Cowboys starter claim this crown as the 27-year-old finished second behind Winston last season in yards with 4,902. Throw in the arsenal that only improved in April, and the No.2 passing offense should command the stat lines all season long.

The Cowboys already featured two 1,000-yard targets in Amari Cooper and Micheal Gallup. That duo is now a trio with the emergence of Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb in the slot. Tony Pollard could benefit from Mike McCarthy’s offensive scheme and see his numbers increase in the passing game. And don’t forget about Ezekiel Elliott, who has finished three of his four seasons with over 30 catches for 350-plus yards. 

He won’t break Peyton Manning’s single-season passing yard record, but Prescott should enter the 5,000-yard territory before Week 17.

Prediction: 5,185 yards 

Runner Up: Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan (4,988)

Passing Touchdowns: Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes 

What more is there to say about Kansas City’s offense? Complete with speed, power, and consistency, the Chiefs should see Mahomes shine in another year through the air. And while he might not lead the league in yards, that doesn’t mean the touchdown machine of 2018 won’t be wreaking havoc in the AFC once more.

Mahomes will have speed in Mecole Hardman and Tyreek Hill for deep shots down the field. Travis Kelce has finished the last four seasons with over 1,000 yards and scored at least four touchdowns. Clyde Edwards-Helaire showed his ability as a pass-catcher with LSU, closing his final season with 453 yards and a score. Sprinkle in Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins, Mahomes should come close to his 50-touchdown mark by the end of the year. 

Prediction: 42 touchdowns  

Runner Up: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tom Brady (37)

Rushing Yards: Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs 

It was a close one between Saquon Barkley and Jacobs. Ultimately, it’s best to trust the offensive line, and Las Vegas’ unit is much more ready to help their team contend. Jacobs should build off his rookie campaign where he finished with 1,150 yards, seven touchdowns, and averaged 4.8 yards per run. 

The Raiders don’t have a quality second option at running back entering the year. The verdict is still out on Derek Carr if he can be the franchise quarterback in a prove-it season. Jacobs, behind the 13th-ranked rushing offense, might be the only consistency entering Sin City to begin a new era. Even if Carr flourishes, the Alabama product’s rookie season showed potentials of greatness as one of the more impactful players at his regressing position. He’s a home run hitter and is ready to show the NFL it’s best not to sleep on him.

Prediction: 1,345 yards  

Runner Up: New York Giants Saquon Barkley (1,292 yards)

Rushing Touchdowns: Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb 

Much like the race between Barkley and Jacobs, this was a close call between Chubb and Derrick Henry. Even if Ryan Tannehill regresses from his 34.36 Offensive Share Metric score, Henry still should be in line to succeed in the red zone. The ultimate determining factor was the departure of Jack Conklin in the Music City and his arrival in the City of Rock. 

Chubb was neck and neck with Henry for the rushing title last season. In Kevin Stefanski’s new run-heavy scheme, the Browns will rely heavily on Chubb’s power and Kareem Hunt’s speed to take the pressure of Baker Mayfield in the passing game. The third-year runner logged six of his eight touchdowns from inside the opponents’ 20 and should see those numbers increase if Mayfield regresses in the slightest.

Prediction: 13 touchdowns  

Runner Up: Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry (11)

Receptions: Detroit Lions WR Kenny Golladay

Lost somewhere between the tiers of top targets is where Golladay lies. Even after a season where he led the NFL in touchdowns (11) despite having Matthew Stafford for eight games should speak volume of his upside in the Motor City. If that wasn’t enough to make him a top-10 receiver, maybe leading the league in catches will. 

Golladay finished seventh in receiving yards (1,190) with only 65 catches in 2019. A healthy Stafford and a must-win season for the Lions staff could have the team trusting the passing attack more than the run game. Kerryon Johnson has been inconsistent due to injury, and D’Andre Swift is vastly unproven. All that adds to a positive outlook for Golladay’s production as he enters a contract year. 

Prediction: 105 catches 

Runner Up: Arizona Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins (99) 

Continue for the rest of the NFL stat leaders for 2020.

Receiving Yards: Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones 

Jones is the fine wine of the NFL: always getting better with age. Finishing in the top 10 for receptions (99) and receiving yards (1,394) in 2019, there’s a reason even at 31, people consider him the top target in the league. For the Falcons, expect Jones and Calvin Ridley to see passes often as the team looks to end their sub .500 losing streak.

Atlanta added Todd Gurley to their run game and Hayden Hurst as Austin Hooper’s replacement. Gurley might be limited due to a lingering knee issue while Hurst, a former first-round pick, hasn’t collected more than 30 catches in a season. Jones still is playing at superstar form, finishing with seven of his nine years over the 1,100-yard marker. Ridley might eat into his targets, but Jones’ athletic ability will allow him to do more after the catch. 

Prediction: 1,597 yards

Runner-Up: New Orleans Saints Michael Thomas (1,390)  

Receiving Touchdowns: Green Bay Packers Devante Adams 

If a tight end took home the honors in 2020, it wouldn’t be shocking. It also wouldn’t be crazy to say a wide receiver from a roster with limited weapons could be the prime target. Enter Adams, who is looking to give Aaron Rodgers another chance at a Super Bowl before ultimately seeing Jordan Love do to him what he did to Brett Favre. 

Adams has been a top-tier weapon for the Packers even before the departures of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. From 2016-18, the 27-year-old finished with 35 career touchdowns, closing each year with at least ten scores. Matt LaFleur might be looking for a more run-first system in the future, but Adams’s ability to win in man coverage makes the offense dangerous towards the red zone. Expect nothing less than him to finish top-three in touchdowns.

Prediction: 14 touchdowns

Runner-Up: Baltimore Ravens’ Mark Andrews (11)

Total Yards: New Orleans Saints RB Alvin Kamara 

Christian McCaffery received a $64 million extension this offseason thanks to finishing top-five in rushing attempts (287), yards (1,387), touchdowns (15), and catches (116). The only player who could even come close to those numbers on average would be Kamara. And even if the Saints won’t extend him, that won’t stop him from earning near a McCaffery-like payday on the open market.

Last season, Kamara’s explosion took a hit due to a torn MCL in Week 6. He played the remainder of the year without proper healing, missing just two games. Now at full-strength, he’ll be looking to show off his ability to make defenders miss at the line as a runner or in the open field as a receiving threat. Joe Mixon in Cincinnati might be a close second or third, but Kamara has something to prove along to the franchise that looks to be going for it all before an unsettling free agency. 

Prediction: 1,882 yards

Runner-Up: Carolina Panthers’ Christian McCaffery (1,777)

Tackles: Dallas Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch 

One of the more sneaky transitions this offseason that people aren’t talking about is Dallas’ move of Vander Esch. Initially playing the “WILL” backer role, Mike Nolan moved him inside and the original “MIKE” backer Jaylon Smith outside. If you haven’t watched clips from camp, it’s going to benefit the linebacker coming off an injured sophomore campaign more than you know. 

Vander Esch finished third in tackles during his rookie season with 140 total stops. Inside, he’ll take on more run duties and become an enforcer in stopping the players in their tracks. One of the cleanest tacklers in the league, the switch up the middle should only add to his numbers on a defense that features one of the league’s top front sevens. 

Prediction: 162 total tackles 

Runner-Up: Indianapolis Colts Darius Leonard (152)

Sacks: Pittsburgh Steelers OLB T.J. Watt 

Move over, J.J., it’s the little brother’s turn to take control as the league’s top pass rusher. Chandler Jones, Cameron Jordan, and Barrett all are going to be close, but Watt’s third season showed he’s ready to become the face of the Steel Curtain defense.

Watt nearly doubled his sacks from 2017-18 before finishing with 14.5 last season. His speed can show his ability to rush the backfield as he’s tallied 70 QB hits in three years. If Bud Dupree and Cameron Heyward can handle rushing duties, it will leave Watt free of double teams to add immediate pressure on signal-callers. Good luck to quarterbacks in the AFC this season against this viable Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Prediction: 18.5 sacks 

Runner-Up: Arizona Cardinals Chandler Jones (16.5)

Interceptions: Baltimore Ravens CB Marcus Peters  

Last year with the Rams, Peters seemed out of place and liability in coverage. After a trade midseason to the Ravens, he immensely rebounded on the outside. In Wink Martindale’s system, Peters finished with ten pass breakups, three interceptions, and two returned for touchdowns. Who’s to say that’s not building off something special? 

During his stay with the Chiefs, Peters was considered the rising star at cornerback. With 55 pass deflections, 19 interceptions, and five forced fumbles, the 27-year-old was one of the more consistent defenders in the league. Playing in perhaps the best secondary in football, opposing quarterbacks better think twice before throwing in his direction now with a full year to learn the scheme. 

Prediction: Six interceptions 

Runner-Up: Buffalo Bills Tre’Davious White (five)

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