Continuing our series of NFL Futures, we’re moving on to running backs. Today, we’ll check out our writers’ favorite bets to lead the league in rushing yards in 2019.
First, let’s check out the odds courtesy FanDuel:
What is your favorite bet to lead the NFL in rushing in 2019?
David Johnson (ARI): +2600
The probable answer is Ezekiel Elliott, but if we include betting value the answer is David Johnson at +2600. It is easy to forget that Johnson ranked third in the NFL with 258 carries last season. Despite playing behind the worst offensive line in the league in 2018 as per Pro Football Focus, Johnson still ranked ninth with 940 rushing yards. In 2016, Johnson finished seventh with 1,239 rushing yards, while leading the NFL with 2,118 yards from scrimmage. The Cardinals are looking to set an NFL record in offensive plays run under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, meaning Johnson will likely see a career-high in carries. Arizona added veteran linemen J.R. Sweezy and Marcus Gilbert, and it’s reasonable to assume better health for their injury-ravaged 2018 offensive line. An injury (or suspension) to Elliott makes this a wide-open battle, and as a true bell-cow in the Cardinals’ “Air Raid” offense, David Johnson will see more opportunities than every running back on this list.
– Mike Randle (@RandleRant)
If your looking for the most likely player to claim the crown, Ezekiel Elliott is probably the answer. He led the league in rushing yards two of the last three seasons while playing 15 games in each of those seasons. The year he didn’t lead the league, he only played 10 games. In that season he was still top 10 in rushing yards. If you’re looking for value, however, look no further than David Johnson (+2600). If this offense takes the dramatic leap forward many expect with a new coaching staff and Kyler Murray under center, Johnson should see plenty of opportunities. The last time this offense had this much potential was 2016 when Johnson eclipsed 1,200 yards and was in the top 10. He will be also two years removed from the injury that cost him basically all of 2017. If you’re looking for an impressive ROI look no further than Johnson.
– Kyle Robert (@NotoriousKRO)
Ezekiel Elliott (DAL): +300
Don’t overthink this. The answer is Zeke. He has led the league in rushing in both full seasons he played. The only season Elliott did not win the rushing title was in 2017 when he was suspended six games for domestic violence. That year, Elliott still managed to finish 10th in rushing yards and first in attempts per game. Elliott is as durable as they come, never missing a game due to injury (sat out Week 17 in 2016 and 2018). The development of Dak Prescott and the presence of Amari Cooper takes away the threat of a stacked box. Ezekiel Elliott is a young bell-cow on a competitive team, running behind a really good offensive line. When predicting who will lead the NFL in rushing, that is the safest formula there is.
– Mike Spector (@MikeSpector01)
While there are so many great running backs in the league right now, I’m going with the obvious pick for this category and that is Ezekiel Elliott. Since entering the league in 2016, Elliott has won the rushing title in two out of his first three seasons. The only exception came in 2017 after he was suspended for six games involving a domestic abuse case. Elliott was averaging about 98.0 yards per game in 2017 and had his season not been cut short, he was on pace for over 1,500 yards. This would have been better than the league leader Kareem Hunt’s (1,327) that year. So in essence, Elliott may very well have won a third rushing title had his season not been derailed by a suspension, but we will never know. Elliott is still operating behind one of the more dominant offensive lines in all of football, and with Travis Frederick set to return this year, it just makes Elliott that much more explosive. Lastly, Elliott is a volume machine in terms of carries, as he is averaging 21.7 totes per game for his career. More carries mean more opportunities for yards. Elliott is a true workhorse back and is definitely the favorite to take home his third rushing crown in just four seasons.
– Matthew Catalano (@MatthewCatala16)
Dalvin Cook (MIN): +3400
With 21.7 carries per game for his career, it’s no surprise Ezekiel Elliott’s the favorite. He’s averaged a rock solid 4.7 YPC. If I’m searching for a long shot, I’ll take Dalvin Cook. Health is the obvious concern, but he turns just 24 in August and owns 4.6 YPC on his first 207 attempts. Minnesota’s O-line improved over the offseason, while their run rate should grow under OC Kevin Stefanski and assistant Gary Kubiak. Cook’s backup — Boise State rookie Alexander Mattison — is a major wildcard.
– Kevin English (@DraftSharks)
I went into this thinking that Joe Mixon would be my pick. My true strategy is to group a few of the players with good odds together in an attempt to hedge my bet. The players I would opt for are Joe Mixon at +1200, David Johnson at +2600, Dalvin Cook at +3400, and Josh Jacobs at +5000 at one unit apiece. I would even do a quarter unit a piece just for some action. Since that answer is not in the spirit of the question, however, I opt for Dalvin Cook. Process of elimination is what I used. The first two names are the popular ones with Ezekiel Elliott being the obvious favorite. However, +300 on this type of bet offers negative value. Joe Mixon is a very strong bet, but they added two very talented running backs to a depth chart that already had Giovani Bernard behind Mixon. And then there are the game flow-based concerns. These concerns also eliminate Josh Jacobs and David Johnson as they play for what project to be teams that will have a negative game script this upcoming season. Thus, we’re left with Dalvin Cook. He has Alexander Mattison behind him, but I believe Mattison will keep him fresh rather than steal carries. There are plenty of touches to go around with the Vikings promising to focus on opening up the passing game via the run. Cook is as good a bet as any on the board and does not come with the game flow concerns of the majority of the names ahead of him.
– Raju Byfield (@FantasyContext)
Saquon Barkley (NYG): +360
Barkley put up 1,307 rushing yards in his rookie campaign on his way to shattering many records. In his first season for the Giants, Saquon totaled an amazing 2,028 scrimmage yards — the most in the NFL. Now that Odell Beckham Jr. is no longer in the picture for the Giants’ offense, Saquon’s usage is bound to skyrocket even more. The big-play potential for Saquon is tremendous, as he had nine plays of over 40 yards last year. Only two RBs in the last 28 years have ever had more than eight plays of over 40 yards in one season. What is even more compelling is the fact that the Giants offensive line is perhaps the strongest it’s been in several years. They acquired veteran guard Kevin Zeitler in the offseason, and this should help stabilize the right side of the line. Now, 37 percent of the Giants salary cap has been used on the offensive line — the most in years.
– Nic Turner (@sportzbandit)
Joe Mixon (CIN): +1200
As Mike says, the most probable answer is Ezekiel Elliott. However, given the odds, I’m not sure if I would take the bet because I think there is a decent chance of injury (just based on running back injury rates). I think taking price into account I would likely opt to back Mixon. The Bengals’ offense should be more effective this season under new coaching, and that means Mixon is going to be given the ball a lot more this season. Furthermore, there isn’t a real competitor for touches in the backfield.
– Richard King (@RichKingFF)
Christian McCaffrey (CAR): +1400
Our projections at RotoExperts.com, which are done from a team-level down, have McCaffrey projected for the third most rushing yards in the NFL. Granted, we have him significantly behind Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley (over 200 yards worse than Elliott). However, in the game of handicapping, price is the most important element to consider. Considering the attrition rates at running back and how CMC is used in space, it seems reasonable to suggest he is a little less susceptible to normal RB injuries than Elliott or Barkley. Getting McCaffrey, who led all running backs in snaps played in 2018, at the fifth-deepest odds to lead in rushing yards is a solid wager.
– Davis Mattek (@DavisMattek)
Marlon Mack (IND): +2600
The safe play here is absolutely Ezekiel Elliott. He had over 300 rushing attempts last season, which is considerable given the fact that the next-closest running back had 40 fewer rushing attempts than Zeke. The volume is hard to ignore, no question. But 3/1 does not offer a ton of value for a running back that has seen an exorbitant amount of work since entering the league in 2016 (averaging 290 rushing attempts per season). And once you factor in the chance of a running back getting hurt that touches the ball that many times in a season, for multiple seasons in a row, 3/1 does not make a whole lot of sense to me. Marlon Mack offers a massive amount of upside given his price. He handled big workloads down the stretch for Indianapolis in 2018 and dominated while doing so, averaging over five yards per carry in games where he received more than 20 carries. He has received nothing but praise from the Colts coaching staff this offseason and has been labeled as a ‘true three-down running back’ by many around the organization, which sounds a lot like he will have full reign in 2019. It also does not hurt that he is running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. If you are looking for safe, go with Elliott, but Mack’s workload and production down the stretch in 2018 lead me to believe he can at least be in the mix for the rushing crown in 2019.
– Shane Davies (@sbdavies7)
Sony Michel (NE): +3200
Michel compiled 336 rushing yards in three postseason games last year and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Patriots used him more in the regular season. He entered his rookie season with injury issues, yet he still was the best between-the-tackles rusher on the team. He played in 13 games with New England’s next best options being James White and Cordarrelle Patterson. Throw in 40 more carries and that’s 200 more yards. The question is how much the Patriots want to run their first-round pick into the ground, but they knew he had knee injuries so it’s likely they’re only expecting a few great years out of him. If he can enter the season healthy, Michel can be a top-five back in yardage and these odds are too good to pass up.
– Adam Zdroik (@RotoZdroik)
Here are each of our 2019 NFL futures bets: