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Projecting NFL's 2023 stat leaders: Chiefs, 49ers each boast a pair of potential chart-topping players

It's that time again: NFL training camps are in session and the calendar flipped to August, which means one very important thing ...

It's officially PREDICTIONS SEASON!!

Well, actually, I am a bit of a stickler for calling the output of my models projections, as opposed to predictions. When you refer to something as a prediction, it sounds like speculative judgment is the main factor. But with my models, I strive to eliminate as many biases as possible from the mathematical framework.

Below, you'll find my model's projected league leaders in each of the major individual statistics. It's 2023, so I ran 23,000 simulations for each of the 272 regular-season games (6,256,000 total sims!) to get these results. I've also included some extra nuggets on players who, though they don't necessarily project to rank first, are poised to produce outputs that are interesting for fantasy and/or individual-achievement purposes.

As the preseason plays out and we get closer to the regular season, I'll update my models and these numbers can change. But let me know how you feel about today's projections. Do you agree? What are your predictions? And of course, if you've created a model to project your own stats leaders, please send them to my socials so we can all see your receipts come January! Who doesn't love being right?!

Passing yards (projected NFL-high): 4,850

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · Age: 27

Looking at the last five NFL seasons, we now have enough data to say that the ability to throw accurate off-platform passes (with enough velocity) is correlated with a greater probability of earning first downs and touchdowns. I am not claiming Patrick Mahomes invented that, but he is certainly the archetype. My favorite new computer vision-derived stat about Mahomes is that he has both the biggest arsenal of accurate, different-speed passes when his body is traveling the same speeds, and the most accurate same-speed passes when his body is traveling at different speeds. This is an insane display of body control and strength. The second-best off-platform thrower over the past five seasons is Buffalo's Josh Allen, who comes in at No. 3 in my projection with 4,490 yards this season.

Two more fun projections: First-year New York Jet Aaron Rodgers throws for at least 4,000 yards in 58 percent of simulations, while Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence is sixth in projected passing yards with at least 4,300 yards in 57.5 percent of outcomes.

Passing touchdowns: 40

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · Age: 27

To be fair, my model projected Joe Burrow to have a league-leading 41 passing touchdowns before his calf injury decreased that number. I also want to give some love to Minnesota's Kirk Cousins, who comes in at QB5 with at least 34 touchdowns in 56.8 percent of simulations. And one more in the NFC North: Detroit's Jared Goff eclipses 29 TDs in 56.8 percent of simulations. In terms of total QB touchdowns, Josh Allen leads the pack with 43.

Rushing yards: 1,550

Nick Chubb
Cleveland Browns · Age: 27

I’ve spent a lot of time this summer determining what happens to a running back’s center of gravity upon contact. (I’m also working on close to the same thing for receivers.) It works out that maintaining balance through contact yields almost a full yard more per carry (per 10 carries) on average. Nick Chubb ranks eighth in computer vision's center-of-gravity rating over the last eight seasons, illustrating that he doesn't change his center of gravity when hit. Furthermore, his production doesn’t drop off in the fourth quarter (typically a measure of fatigue).

By the way, Derrick Henry is No. 2 on this list at 1,530 rushing yards, and his center-of-gravity rating over eight seasons is No. 1.

Rushing touchdowns: 12

Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans · Age: 29

Between the center-of-gravity note above, increases to O-line potential and the addition of receiver DeAndre Hopkins (and the defensive space he’ll help create), the red area just became even more exciting for Derrick Henry. Well, not just the red zone, because we've seen what "King Henry" can do from longer distances.

Three interesting players project in the top 12 among running backs with at least eight rushing scores: Seattle's Kenneth Walker III (56.7 percent of sims), Atlanta's Bijan Robinson (58.3 percent) and Jacksonville's Travis Etienne (57.6 percent). Even though QBs aren’t included in this section, Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts earns at least 10 touchdowns in 57.7 percent of sims.

Receptions: 111

Justin Jefferson
Minnesota Vikings · Age: 24

I love tracking Justin Jefferson on the field. He can move in many ways so quickly, changing direction without losing speed at a top-10 rate among wide receivers over the past two seasons. Jefferson’s target volume forecasts to be extremely high to start the season, given the departure of Dalvin Cook and the fact that first-round receiver Jordan Addison could take some time to get integrated into the offense. The quality of catching opportunities figures to increase later in the season for the 2022 Offensive Player of the Year, when Addison and the offense should be able to more fully execute Kevin O’Connell’s scheme.

This season, I have 11 pass catchers (including a tight end) forecast for more than 100 catches, which is the most I have ever had for August projections. 

Receiving yards: 1,400

Justin Jefferson
Minnesota Vikings · Age: 24

Jefferson started off this projection at the top, and recent health developments for Rams wideout Cooper Kupp and Bengals QB Joe Burrow, who is throwing to Ja'Marr Chase, further separated JJ's projection from the pack.

Davante Adams forecasts to record at least 1,200 yards in 55.9 percent of simulations.

Receiving touchdowns: 12

Travis Kelce
Kansas City Chiefs · Age: 33

Last year, Travis Kelce's pre-snap alignment changed more than in any season prior. His ability to turn his hips toward the ball while it is traveling in the air (which is correlated with a greater ability to catch the ball) in the middle third of the field ranks No. 1 among tight ends over the past 15 seasons, according to computer vision. I usually look at eight seasons, but chose to expand the search out of curiosity, and it held up. 

If I were only looking at wide receivers, Davante Adams would claim the top spot here with 11 projected TD grabs.

Total touches: 395

Christian McCaffrey
San Francisco 49ers · Age: 27

Last season, Christian McCaffrey exhibited his fastest burst (speed reached in first 3 yards traveled once the ball is snapped) since his 2017 rookie campaign, per computer vision.

I always look for surprises in this category, and first-year running back Bijan Robinson ranks high on this list. He warrants way-too-early Offensive Rookie of the Year consideration -- if you want to look beyond the always-popular quarterback narratives.

Total touchdowns: 15

Austin Ekeler
Los Angeles Chargers · Age: 28

Computer vision shows Austin Ekeler avoided contact in the red area at the best rate of any running back or pass catcher in 2022. There were only two people who escaped it at a higher clip, and they were both quarterbacks (Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen), which is kind of a different deal. How has Ekeler, who has led the league in total touchdowns in each of the past two seasons, not been to a Pro Bowl yet? 

Sacks: 14

Nick Bosa
San Francisco 49ers · Age: 25

My model’s results for the top four are: Nick Bosa, Micah Parsons, Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt. In general, the results for the NFC are more interesting than I thought, with four more rushers from that conference appearing in the top 15 than the AFC. To me, the strength of in the NFC O-lines will likely be a huge factor, given the amount of elite pass rushers and uncertainty of the conference heading into the season. Both Aidan Hutchinson and Brian Burns amass at least 11 sacks in 57 and 56.8 percent of simulations, respectively. As a team, the Eagles project to rank No. 1 in total sacks (again), with the Niners second.

Interceptions: 6

Vonn Bell
Carolina Panthers · Age: 28

I am not gonna lie: This one even surprised me -- and it’s my model. But when you consider Ejiro Evero’s defensive concepts, the potential for increased pressure up front, Jeremy Chinn's ability to move around and how Bell operated in Cincinnati, this vision starts to come into focus. The Panthers' defense has the potential to be a real problem for opposing QBs, especially in the NFC South, and where Bell forecasts to play puts him in a great spot to snag a number of picks.

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