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Predicting NFL stat leaders: Top passers, rushers, more

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Kareem Hunt looks like a great fantasy pick (0:51)

Matthew Berry and Darren Woodson both agree that Kansas City Chiefs rookie RB Kareem Hunt is going to be a big fantasy threat this year. (0:51)

We asked three of our NFL Insiders to predict the 2017 stat leaders in 20 categories. Here are their projections for the top passer, rusher, receiver and more:


Which QB will have the most passing yards?

Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Drew Brees, Saints. He will have competition from Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. But the smart money is on Brees to top the 5,000-yard mark once again

Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Drew Brees, Saints. Tier 1 QB + stat-conscious coach + subpar defense = lots of passing yardage.

Field Yates, NFL Insider: Drew Brees, Saints. I'll play the numbers here: Brees has led the NFL in passing yards seven times, including each of the past three seasons.

Which QB will have the most touchdown passes?

Bowen: Aaron Rodgers, Packers. Between the talent at the skill positions in Green Bay and the West Coast concepts that consistently pop up in their red zone game plan, Rodgers should toss more than 40 touchdown passes.

Sando: Aaron Rodgers, Packers. He has the ability, obviously. He also should get plenty of chances down near the goal line.

Yates: Tom Brady, Patriots. A number approaching 50 would not surprise me. He has weapons to attack all levels of the passing game.

Which QB will throw the most interceptions?

Bowen: DeShone Kizer, Browns. Kizer will make some rookie mistakes, and NFL defenses will set some traps for him with late safety rotations and cornerbacks lying in the weeds. That's part of the learning curve at the position.

Sando: Jameis Winston, Buccaneers. He edges out Philip Rivers. Both will start all 16 games, and both risk the football.

Yates: DeShone Kizer, Browns. But that's OK. Rookie growing pains are important to push through, and Cleveland appears committed to starting him all season.

Which QB will be sacked the most?

Bowen: Carson Palmer, Cardinals. He was sacked 40 times last season. His lack of mobility behind an inconsistent offensive line remains a concern.

Sando: Carson Palmer, Cardinals. He came close last season despite missing a game. Palmer should be back near the top again.

Yates: Trevor Siemian, Broncos. The Broncos' offensive line has improved but remains a work in progress.

How many rookie QBs will be starting by Week 8?

Bowen: Three. DeShone Kizer, Browns; Mitchell Trubisky, Bears; Deshaun Watson, Texans. By Week 8, Trubisky and Watson will join Kizer. Both add another dimension to their offenses that will be needed this season.

Sando: Three. DeShone Kizer, Browns; Mitchell Trubisky, Bears; Deshaun Watson, Texans. Kizer, Trubisky and Watson should all be in their teams' lineups by then, barring injuries.

Yates: Two. DeShone Kizer, Browns; Mitchell Trubisky, Bears. Trubisky will join Kizer in Week 10, following the Bears' bye.

Who will be the NFL's leading rusher?

Bowen: Jordan Howard, Bears. Chicago lacks true wide receiver threats and the QBs are unproven. The answer? Run the rock.

Sando: LeSean McCoy, Bills. He edges Howard in a battle between backs with defense-minded coaches looking to protect limited quarterbacks.

Yates: Melvin Gordon, Chargers. Los Angeles is committed to him as a workhorse, and he's fully healthy.

Who will be the leading rookie rusher?

Bowen: Kareem Hunt, Chiefs. The Toledo product has the power to push the ball between the tackles and the lower-body balance to make defenders miss in the open field. Hunt could have a breakout season as a rookie in Andy Reid's offense.

Sando: Dalvin Cook, Vikings. He gets my vote over Leonard Fournette. The Jaguars' coaching staff will feel pressure to get Fournette rolling, but Cook could be the more creative and well-rounded back out of the gates.

Yates: Leonard Fournette, Jaguars. He has a unique physical skill set, and Jacksonville will likely try to run the ball close to 30 times a game.

Who will lead the league in rushing touchdowns?

Bowen: David Johnson, Cardinals. He'll get goal-line carries, and he has the 4.5 40 speed and body control to make house calls on explosive runs.

Sando: David Johnson, Cardinals. He had 16 last season and should be right back in the mix.

Yates: David Johnson, Cardinals. Johnson is a steady bet for goal-line work and can rip off a long run at any time.

Which RB will have the most catches?

Bowen: David Johnson, Cardinals. Le'Veon Bell is in the mix here because of his rare route-running skills and lateral speed, but Johnson is coming off an 80-catch season. And he once again will be the focal point of the Cardinals' game plan.

Sando: David Johnson, Cardinals. He caught 80 passes last season and is still ascending at this point in his career.

Yates: Le'Veon Bell, Steelers. If Bell wore No. 86 instead of No. 26, he could be a Pro Bowl wide receiver.

Which player will have the most total touchdowns?

Bowen: David Johnson, Cardinals. Johnson's versatility is the reason here. He produced 20 total touchdowns last season, and he should be featured consistently in both the running and passing games.

Sando: David Johnson, Cardinals. His ability as a runner and receiver makes him a good choice. He also has not missed a game through two seasons.

Yates: David Johnson, Cardinals. Arizona seems prepared to get him to 1,000 rushing and receiving yards. The touchdowns will follow.

Which WR will have the most catches?

Bowen: Antonio Brown, Steelers. Brown is the safe pick here, but I wouldn't count out Brandin Cooks. He could catch 100 passes this season in the Patriots' system.

Sando: Antonio Brown, Steelers. He's so exceptional. Brown rarely misses games, and the Steelers will feed the ball to him no matter what.

Yates: Antonio Brown, Steelers. Picking anyone other than Brown feels like going against the grain. Business will be boomin' in 2017.

Which WR will have the most targets?

Bowen: Antonio Brown, Steelers. Even when Brown aligns at the top of the numbers -- telling everyone in the stadium he is running an out route -- he's still being targeted by Ben Roethlisberger.

Sando: Antonio Brown, Steelers. Brown was the player I had catching the most passes. It's not shocking he's my choice for having the most targets as well.

Yates: DeAndre Hopkins, Texans. I think Hopkins will challenge for 180 targets.

Which WR will have the most receiving touchdowns?

Bowen: Mike Evans, Buccaneers. New teammate DeSean Jackson will steal some deep-ball targets from Evans, but I expect Tampa to throw the heck out of the ball. And Evans is a beast at the point of attack inside of the red zone. Just give him a chance to make a play.

Sando: Jordy Nelson, Packers. He's the No. 1 receiver on the team with the quarterback I projected would lead the league in passing touchdowns. Martellus Bennett could steal some TD catches from Nelson, just as Antonio Brown could lose some to Martavis Bryant.

Yates: Odell Beckham Jr., Giants. Especially if he's healthy for Week 1. Beckham's dynamic skills are incredible in space.

Which TE will be the most productive, factoring in yards, catches and touchdowns?

Bowen: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots. If Gronk stays healthy for 16 games, there isn't a tougher matchup in the NFL.

Sando: Travis Kelce, Chiefs. He's my choice over Martellus Bennett, who isn't as reliable, and Rob Gronkowski, whose injury risk is always high.

Yates: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots. He is poised to challenge for one of the best tight end seasons in league history.

Which defender will lead the league in sacks?

Bowen: Khalil Mack, Raiders. Von Miller will be close, but I look at Mack's ability to convert speed to power. This guy is ridiculous on the edge.

Sando: Joey Bosa, Chargers. He gets my vote even though he could realistically finish third in the AFC West behind Mack and Miller. I'll steer clear of J.J. Watt until we see how his back holds up.

Yates: Von Miller, Broncos. He wants 30 sacks in a season. I could see him pushing 20.

Which team will lead the league in sacks?

Bowen: Seattle. Adding Sheldon Richardson gives the Seahawks a front four that can consistently hunt down opposing QBs. Ball better come out quick when you line up against Pete Carroll's defense.

Sando: Seattle. The Seahawks get my vote after adding Richardson to a rotation that was already formidable. He had 8.0 sacks in 2014 and could regain that form now that he's surrounded by so much talent.

Yates: Seattle. How is an offense supposed to account for all the pass-rushers? Give me the Seahawks.

Which defender will lead the league in interceptions?

Bowen: Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars. Playing opposite A.J. Bouye, Ramsey will get more opportunities to make plays on the ball. And his skill set is off the charts.

Sando: Landon Collins, Giants. He had five in his breakout 2016 season and should pick up where he left off.

Yates: Marcus Peters, Chiefs. The cornerback is fearless and instinctive at the point of catch. He has 14 interceptions in two NFL seasons.

Which team will lead the league in points per game?

Bowen: Patriots. New England will score points in bunches. And they can do it in a variety of ways. Good luck setting a defensive game plan.

Sando: Patriots. This is New England, with Tom Brady scheduled to play all 16 games. The Patriots were right there with Atlanta over their final 12 games last season.

Yates: Patriots. They could push for a 500-point regular season.

Which team will have the league's worst defense in points allowed?

Bowen: Jets. New York's limited offense will put the Jets' defense in negative field position too often. And that translates to points.

Sando: Jets. Their offense should be weak and prone to turnovers, putting the defense in tough situations.

Yates: Colts. They made defensive strides this season, but there's a lot of work left to do and the offense is going to struggle out of the gate until Andrew Luck returns.

Which team will lead the league in point differential?

Bowen: Patriots. Yes, they are going to score a ton of points this season on offense, but don't forget about that defense. They have the secondary to dictate the flow of the game.

Sando: Patriots. Their combination of talent and scheming make them the best choice.

Yates: Patriots. I picked them to lead the league in points scored, while they were No. 1 in scoring defense last season, too.