The running back position has changed and expanded in recent seasons. But good old fashioned rushing yards is still a big stat no matter what era of the NFL it is.
Coming off a tremendous rookie season, Saquon Barkley looks like the favorite to lead the league. But if Ezekiel Elliott comes back from his holdout running angry, he could very well regain his crown.
There are several great running backs to watch and bet over/unders on this season, even with many teams sharing the load between multiple backs.
Today I will be discussing who will and won’t be getting “over” their listed rushing yard marks. These numbers are based on the stat props at MyBookie. I’ll be looking at eight of the more highly-anticipated seasons of 2019, including the comeback of Le’Veon Bell and the continued emergence of Christian McCaffrey.
So let me jump right in with the Panthers running back, and remember you can also check our NFL quarterback props blog here.
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers, Over/Under 1040 ½ Yards
Christian McCaffrey showed off incredible versatility in 2018 season. He compiled 1,098 yards on the ground (5.0 average) and 867 receiving.
He ran comfortably behind this offensive line last season. His elusiveness, however, saved him from quite a few broken plays at the line of scrimmage. With five-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil retiring (and then signing with the Jets), things might be a little tougher between the tackles.
Matt Paradis is a solid replacement, but won’t be filling shoes quite as big as Kalil’s. Picking up Daryl Williams at tackle wasn’t much of a big splash either. On the other side, though, is a potential stud in Greg Little out of Ole Miss. He’s a second-round pick who certainly has a first-round ceiling.
Other running backs shouldn’t take much of the load from McCaffrey. Jordan Scarlett and veteran Cameron Artis-Payne are both SEC guys who are tough to bring down. But this is McCaffrey’s show in and out of the backfield.
If Cam Newton plays a full year, the risk of this RB losing carries is considerable. But with a better equipped receiving unit, the extra respect for the pass-game will open more room on the second-level for McCaffrey.
I have him barely surpassing last year’s total, sneaking over 1,100 yards.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns, Over/Under 1175 ½ Yards
Pro Football Focus had this guy ranked as the best running back for a reason last year.
Yes, he’s probably not going to tally the yards Ezekiel Elliott will. But Chubb is getting more well-rounded as a running back and has one of the league’s better lines in front of him.
Trading Kevin Zeitler away was no joke, as he was considered an elite guard by PFF. But this line is still better equipped end-to-end than two-thirds of NFL teams, at the least.
With the amount of talent they have in the pass-game, it’s a threat to take away carries. But when Kareem Hunt gets back from suspension in the second half, that’s where things will get interesting.
Still, I think by then Chubb will have already been way ahead of the game. In the first eight games, the Browns will be playing only one top ten 2018 defense in terms of efficiency against the run.
Duke Johnson will mostly play passing downs. Hunt will keep Chubb fresh and not take too much of the load. And Chubb himself will reach the “over” after week 15 against Arizona.
Sony Michel, New England Patriots, Over/Under 1120 ½ Yards
With the New England Patriots losing Rob Gronkowski to retirement, they’ll be getting more creative on offense. But this is what they do best, after all.
James White will be the go-to guy out of the backfield for the Pats on passing downs. Michel will be the primary early-down RB though, having racked up 931 rush yards (4.5 a carry) last season.
The latter back was very hit-or-miss at times last season in terms of stats. Some of it had to do with a lighter load and some had to do with production. Michel was held under 60 yards rushing seven of the 13 games he played. But he also had 98 yards or more in five of the other six games.
Given his averages, Michel would’ve run for 1,157 yards last season if he’d played a full slate. And this was as a rookie, mind you.
With a little less pressure being put on Tom Brady and an offensive line that continues to shine, I like Michel to also get over the total.
Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets, Over/Under 1125 ½ Yards
Bell is one of those players this season that you’re whether all in on or all against.
He was an All-Pro in season’s past, considered not only the best back in the league but the most dangerous one out of the backfield as well. Then he sat out all of last year in contract disputes with the Steelers and is a relative mystery heading into 2019.
The Jets paid a boatload to get him. Running backs have been known to come-and-go after a bad injury or time away from suspension. Most of them aren’t All-Pro guys, but many of them have been at least Pro Bowlers.
Even with Kalil at the center now, this offensive line doesn’t come close to comparing to those Bell had in Pittsburgh. Which make me nervous about how his patient, the stand-up running style will transfer to New York.
With a young quarterback trying to grow in front of him and not a lot of perimeter talent taking the load, a lot will be on Le’Veon. He will get an absurd amount of touches. But he’s only played one full season and wasn’t all that impressive (4.0 per attempt) on the ground in 2017.
I think dropping a couple of hundred yards in production with similar carries (321 in 2017) is not out of the question. When Adam Gase puts together a great offense while being head coach, I’ll believe in higher production for Bell. But it may end up being a rough year for him.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings, Over/Under 1065 ½ Yards
At his healthiest, Cook is borderline elite. The only problem is, his healthiest is so rarely exhibited.
If Cook plays 14 games, let alone the full 16, I think he’d come close to this figure. But he’s only started 16 games over the past two seasons.
He didn’t have many injuries at Florida State despite coming to Tallahassee with past shoulder issues. Butt he ACL tear in 2017 set him back and he had a hamstring he continued to aggravate last season.
Cook compiled 615 yards (4.6 average). He’s an every-down back, making plenty of an impact in the passing game. Those averages wouldn’t have gotten him near the over/under mark, though his rushes were diminished quite a bit in-game due to the hamstring.
I’m still not convinced his offensive line is prepared to give him a healthier, more productive season. They lost three guys in free agency who played a lot and have to hope Garrett Bradbury can anchor this unit better as a rookie.
But he’ll have his work cut out for him. This unit was ranked 23rd overall by Football Outsiders, 30th in power rushing (short-yardage), 25th in stuff rate (plays stopped at or behind the line), and 23rd in second-level rushing. Cook’s breakaways (9th in open field rushing) were the only thing that saved them.
I can’t rely on him or his recent string of injuries, so I’m going with the “under” here.
James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers, Over/Under 1065 ½ Yards
Conner proved to be a suitable replacement to Bell last season, a beloved teammate and fan favorite.
He was a Pro Bowler and ran for 978 yards in 13 games. That would’ve given him nearly 1,200 in 16 games based on averages.
Though I don’t see Ben Roethlisberger handing off the rock much more than he did last season, Pittsburgh has to make adjustments offensively. Especially with Antonio Brown gone. And that starts with giving the rock to Conner in more high-leverage situations.
It also involves getting him the ball more, period. This was a guy who had four straight games of over 100 yards, averaging 5.2 yards or higher in three of those contests. After that, the team never let him run it more than 15 times in his other five games.
Pittsburgh has said they’ll delve out carries to other backs more this year. But I don’t believe that for a second. There’s no one on the roster with close to the production or talent as Conner, and you’ll still have Roethlisberger throwing the ball 550+ times, so the RB won’t need that much rest.
He could very well make another Pro Bowl and should reach 1,100 yards with ease if healthy.
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants, Over/Under 1350 ½ Yards
Considered the consensus first pick in fantasy drafts this season, Barkley is coming off a dynamic rookie season. 1,307 rush yards as a first-year guy in this day and age of the NFL is extremely rare.
The Giants offensive line can’t get much worse than it was last season. They finished 29th overall in the Football Outsiders rankings and that was only because they were first in open-field rushing. Which means, when Barkley was able to break away from the poor line, he had absurd success.
Zeitler should be a nice addition at guard, a guy who will fight for Pro Bowl nods year in-and-out. But there was not enough pickups otherwise and not much to develop from the draft.
If Nate Solder can play as he did later in the year at LT, this line might come into decent shape. Will Hernandez really progressed in the run-game late in the season too and will complete one of the better guard duos.
With Odell Beckham Jr. gone, there will be fewer options for New York on offense. This will be good and bad for Barkley. He will get enough touches to wear anyone down but will constantly be targeted by opponents.
He’s a unique talent this game rarely sees though, and that supersedes all the worry I have. Barkley will be banged up by the end of this season, but he’ll likely be banged up with 1,400-1,500 yards to show for it.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys, 1380 ½ Yards
With Elliott not reporting to training camp, this over/under gets a little out of focus.
Given the consistency of his production, you kind of know what you’re getting from Zeke on the field. The continued excellence of the offensive line in the ground game helps too.
Elliot has averaged 1,532 in the two seasons he played 15 games in and would’ve come out to 1,475 if he’d played 15 in 2017, according to his averages. Those numbers are pretty straight across the board and there haven’t been any significant injuries for him yet.
But he is clearly disgruntled over his contract and those frustrations can boil over onto the field. And with the Cowboys picking up his 2020 option, Zeke isn’t exactly running for extra money next year anyway. That is if he plays this season.
So while he can still be considered the best running back in the league, it’s easy to see why he may take a small step back. That’s all it’s going to take for him to finish “under”.