NFL: Free betting preview and tips for most receiving, rushing and passing yards

Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins

Our NFL expert David John has some big-priced selections for this season's passing, rushing and receiving markets.

Michael Thomas looks a worthwhile wager at a standout 25/1 to build on an excellent rookie season and top the receiving yards category in the NFL.

A product of Ohio State – traditionally one of the strongest programmes in the country – made an immediate impact for the New Orleans Saints in 2016 on the way to catching 92 balls for 1,137 yards in total and nine touchdowns.

It certainly helps a young player with his development when you have future Hall of Famer Drew Brees under centre delivering near-perfect throws in your direction but the chemistry between the pair was obvious from an early stage.

By the time we had reached week 17 of the campaign, Thomas produced his best figures of 10-156-1 and that was more than enough evidence for the Saints to decide No.1 wideout Brandin Cooks could be traded away with Thomas ready to step up to fill the void.

Impressive New Orleans wide receiver Michael Thomas
Impressive New Orleans wide receiver Michael Thomas

The selection has spent the off-season adding 10lb of muscle and now measures up at an impressive 6ft 3in, 220lbs so the trust he has earned from Brees makes him an ideal target to go up for contested balls and make a play.

The obvious issue is one of familiarity in the league – teams have a full season of tape on Thomas to study and he would not be the first player to suffer a downturn in his sophomore year.

But such a polished route runner with tremendous hands, increased physicality and a strong mental approach looks well capable of coping with the increased attention he will attract from rival defences.

"I play with a chip on my shoulder. I’ll never lose it," he said last season having felt somewhat overlooked in the NFL Draft when his name was not called until the third round.

Experts are already dropping big hints that Thomas will be the next elite wide receiver to emerge in the game and I believe we will soon be discussing the nephew of Keyshawn Johnson in the same breath as Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr.

I am going to cast my bread upon the water a little wider when it comes to candidates for must rushing yards and have three suggestions for this market.

Ezekiel Elliott will defend his crown at some stage after an explosive first season in Dallas but a legal showdown with the league over a six-game suspension makes it unclear as to when he will be back on the field.

His odds vary significantly but I am happy to go with a trio against him, headed by Los Angeles Charger Melvin Gordon.

This will be Gordon’s third season in the NFL and after being drafted to a bit of a fanfare, his rookie performance was extremely underwhelming with a paltry 641 yards and no touchdowns.

The light flicked on last year though as he settled into his job much better and had got to 997 yards through week 14 (196 in week nine against Tennessee) and 10 touchdowns before he was sidelined for the final three games with a hip issue.

He seems to be well over that after a strong training camp and pre-season so can build on a breakout campaign where he can expect 20-plus touches per outing in an offense that is predicted to be very productive.

BET NOW ON SKY BET'S NFL PASSING, RUSHING AND RECEIVING MARKETS!

That last statement might apply less in Chicago as they try to get some momentum but one bright spot could well be their running back Jordan Howard.

Like Elliott, he excelled as a rookie and racked up the second-most yards on the ground with 1,313 to earn a ticket to the Pro Bowl.

On paper, Howard has a tough task ahead while the Bears get organised on the back of a 3-13 season with big questions still swirling over who can secure the job at quarterback and then who said quarterback will throw to.

That could see rivals stack the box to stop Chicago’s one true offensive weapon in Howard and you end up with a very flat season similar to Todd Gurley last year in Los Angeles.

But Howard has worked incredibly hard over the summer getting stronger and faster in his running back motions and he is worth a punt to make a significant impact once more.

Dalvin Cook can boost the Minnesota running game
Dalvin Cook can boost the Minnesota running game

My pick from out of left-field is Minnesota rookie Dalvin Cook, who enters an organisation at the ideal time for a young running back.

The Vikings lost the plot for extended spells in 2016 on offense with some insipid displays but a decisive move to get back to a more physical approach and some big improvements to the line give an outstanding college player like Cook, out of Florida State, the chance to be an immediate hit.

It will be a tough ask for him to immediately restore Minnesota’s ability to dominate the line of scrimmage similar to the days of Adrian Peterson in his pomp but Cook has all the qualities to be an elite player in his position at this level.

He has the strength to make yardage in traffic, nimble feet, mental toughness to play through nicks and dings plus that all-important explosive big-play ability to turn three or four yards into a huge gain.

"This guy is pretty good," was head coach Mike Zimmer’s tongue-in-cheek assessment and Cook has already shown enough over the summer to usurp useful acquisition Latavius Murray as the starter.

Last but not least, it is the Blue Riband of passing yards and the ageless Brees will be tough to dislodge from top spot but Washington’s Kirk Cousins has pretty decent claims.

This is an important year in the capital as he enters his sixth season in the league and my hope is that he is going to be boom rather than bust with some real pressure on his shoulders.

Much of it is off the field as the Redskins have used a second franchise tag which will pay Cousins a vast sum of money for one season without the need to offer him a long-term deal.

Cousins will grudgingly play but another good year would mean he could just about write his own cheque with the going rate for quarterbacks now even higher following Matt Stafford’s monster agreement.

He has the receivers available to put up big numbers once more – including exciting new arrival Terrelle Pryor - having just fallen shy of 5,000 yards in 2016 so if Cousins can go out and let it rip, the business side of the NFL will naturally take care of itself.

Recommended bets: NFL yardage

1pt Michael Thomas for most NFL regular season receiving yards at 25/1 - can prove he is an elite player and step up on an excellent rookie season

1pt Melvin Gordon for most NFL regular season rushing yards at 25/1 - excellent season halted by injury but healthy and can go on again

1pt Jordan Howard for most NFL regular season rushing yards at 10/1 - star attraction in Chicago and has improved enough over the summer to counter the extra attention

1pt Dalvin Cook for most NFL regular season rushing yards at 50/1 - exciting rookie who should perform well for a revamped Vikings offense

1pt Kirk Cousins for most NFL regular season passing yards at 14/1 - key season in Washington and a big year will be rewarded

Posted at 0800 BST on 05/09/17.

Coming next: AFC team-by-team guide - Tuesday, 1200 BST

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