- Derrick Henry (+500), Christian McCaffrey (+850) favorites to lead the NFL in rushing yards in 2020
- Henry led the NFL in rushing a season ago, narrowly topping Nick Chubb
- Ezekiel Elliott is the only player to have accrued 300 or more rushing attempts three times in the last four years
Alabama has been a college football dynasty for the better part of a decade, but not all of their highly-touted prospects have panned out at the next level. Trent Richardson was deemed a “can’t-miss” type of prospect when he came out of college in 2012, but he never averaged better than 3.6 yards per carry in any of his four NFL seasons with the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts.
Remember how good Eddie Lacy was during his time at ‘Bama? Needless to say, it didn’t translate to the NFL. Mark Ingram has enjoyed a fine career for himself, but he’s eclipsed 1,000 yards just three times in nine seasons since being the Saints’ first-round pick back in 2011.
It’s safe to say that the best running back Alabama has produced in the Saban era is Derrick Henry. The Titans nabbed the 6’3″, 250-pound behemoth in the middle of the second round back in 2016. Henry has gone on to average at least 4.2 yards per carry in each of his first four pro campaigns, and he’s topped 1,000 yards in each of the last two years since taking over as the team’s RB1.
Henry Favored to Repeat
After leading the league with 1,540 yards on the ground last season, Henry has emerged as the betting favorite to win the NFL’s rushing title again in 2020. The odds vary from site-to-site, but Henry is a +500 favorite in the latest odds from MyBookie:
|Player||Odds at MyBookie|
Henry’s 1,540 rushing yards topped Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, who finished second with 1,494. Henry led the NFL with 303 carries, two better than Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott. The Titans’ star was the only player in the league to average at least 100 rushing yards per game in 2019.
Henry was dominant late in the season and through the Titans’ first two playoff games. He racked up a season-high 211 rushing yards in the season finale against Houston before rushing for 182 and 195, respectively, in the playoffs against New England and Baltimore. However, he was held to just 69 yards on 19 totes in the AFC title game against the Chiefs.
Still, the Titans found success later in the year as they utilized Henry more frequently. The team got off to a shaky 2-4 start with Marcus Mariota under center, and Henry reached 100 yards just once in those first six games.
Derrick Henry NINETY-NINE (99!!!) YARDS TO THE HOUSE.pic.twitter.com/BlXiuzH7NX
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 7, 2018
In fact, his 100-yard effort against Atlanta in Week 4 was his only 100-yard game until breaking out with a 188-yard performance against Kansas City in the middle of November. From there, he reeled off four straight 100-yard games, and finished the season having eclipsed the century mark in seven of his last nine games (including playoffs).
Will Tennessee actively focus on the ground game to begin 2020 given the success they found with it late in 2019? Or, with opposing defenses likely focusing increasingly on stopping Henry, will Ryan Tannehill’s offense take to the air more often?
If you’re betting on the eventual NFL rushing leader, you obviously want to target teams that roll with run-heavy offenses. You also want to avoid teams that opt for the running back-by-committee method.
While Henry was the individual rushing leader last season, the Titans ranked third as a team overall. The Ravens, led by Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram, led the league with nearly 205 yards per game. The 49ers, who cycled through a rotation of three featured RBs, finished second.
Ingram will still be the featured back in Baltimore, but we know Jackson will get his fair share of the carries. Let’s not forget that Jackson gained nearly 200 more yards than Ingram did a season ago. The Ravens also drafted Ohio State’s JK Dobbins in the second round in April. Dobbins will surely eat into Ingram’s workload a bit.
.@Jkdobbins22 followed RB Ezekiel Elliott's successful Ohio State career with his own…
Now, he hopes to carry that talent over in the jump to the NFL. pic.twitter.com/8M9G5mr4ph
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) May 15, 2020
Raheem Mostert emerged as a star in the playoffs last season, and the Niners did trade Matt Breida to Miami last month. However, the team still has Tevin Coleman on the roster. Coleman and Mostert tied for the team lead with 137 carries apiece, and I’d imagine the 49ers will continue to spread the wealth coming off a Super Bowl appearance.
Chris Carson is coming off a 1,200-yard season in Seattle, but Rashaad Penny and rookie DeeJay Dallas are lurking. The Seahawks have also been rumored to still have interest in bringing back Marshawn Lynch for another go. That makes Carson an inherently risky option at +2800 despite his productive 2019 showing.
Denver also appears primed to go with the committee approach after signing Melvin Gordon away from the Chargers. Gordon will team up with Phillip Lindsay in the Broncos’ backfield in 2020, which essentially takes both off the board as potential rushing champs next season.
Chubb, Zeke, Cook Worthy Targets
Chubb (second), Ezekiel Elliott (fourth) and Dalvin Cook (10th) were all among last season’s rushing leaders. All three check the boxes we want here. They’re clear-cut lead backs in run-heavy offenses. Elliott and Chubb finished second and third in attempts last season, while Cook finished eighth despite missing two games due to injury. Cook finished sixth in attempts per game.
Elliott has been the most-used running back in the game since coming out of college a few years ago, but could the Cowboys opt for a more pass-happy approach in 2020? The team is investing an awful lot in the passing attack, with Amari Cooper having inked a $100 million contract earlier this offseason, as well as the team’s decision to take another receiver in CeeDee Lamb at No. 17 overall. Dak Prescott is also likely to get a lucrative long-term deal at some point this offseason.
No NFL player rushed for more yards from 11 personnel last year than Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott. That grouping should be more prominent next season with CeeDee Lamb’s selection and a less dynamic TE group. https://t.co/JEBQtut21W pic.twitter.com/mur92Kdj5r
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) May 18, 2020
While Zeke is the unquestioned No. 1 back in the Dallas backfield, I would be a little surprised if he wound up eclipsing 300 carries for the fourth time in five seasons next year. The Cowboys will also have an entirely new coaching staff, so I’d expect some changes in offensive philosophy.
Minnesota ran a pass play just 51.7 percent of the time in 2019, which was the fourth-lowest mark in the league. Cleveland ranked 18th in pass plays per game. The Vikings could take a more cautious approach next season considering Cook has dealt with injuries early in his career, but giving him the ball is pretty clearly their preferred offensive strategy.
Cook is basically the only viable back in the Vikings’ backfield, while Chubb has Kareem Hunt backing him up. Hunt played a minor role once he was activated last season, but he’d typically still wind up siphoning between four and nine carries per game.
Of the group of RBs listed at +1000 to win next season’s rushing title, I think Cook looks like the best bet. If he can stay healthy, of course.
Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley have been three of the most productive backs in football over the last three years. Kamara and Barkley won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2017 and 2018, respectively, while McCaffrey was the only player in football last season to top 2,000 all-purpose yards.
While Henry is the favorite to lead the league in yards, Barkley and McCaffrey actually have the highest over/under totals. Both players are listed at over/under 1,249.5 rushing yards in 2020, while Henry is at o/u 1,199.5.
The problem with all three of these young backs is that they get a ton of work in the passing game. The Giants and Panthers ranked third and fourth, respectively, in pass players per game last season. The Saints ranked 13th, and Kamara was having to compete with Latavius Murray for carries. Kamara led the team in attempts with 171, while Murray wasn’t far behind with 146. Taysom Hill and Ty Montgomery are also in the mix out of the backfield.
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) May 15, 2020
Barkley carried the ball 217 times last season, but it’s worth noting he only played 13 games. McCaffrey (287) was the only player in this group to finish in the top-15 in carries a season ago.
It’s easy to see why McCaffrey has the second-best odds to lead the league in rushing next season, but I think Barkley is undervalued at +1200. He finished second behind Elliott in rushing two years ago when he was healthy enough to play in all 16 games. Barkley was the betting favorite to lead the NFL in the category heading into last season, too.
Who Is The Best Bet?
Henry grades out as a strong option to go back-to-back, but the +500 odds don’t offer maximum value. If you want to take a shot on Henry, it probably makes the most sense to wait until the odds get a little more favorable. If he gets off to a slow start, as he did last season, we could see the odds dip. That’s when you should pounce.
As mentioned, I like the value in Cook (+1000) and Barkley (+1200) quite a bit. Both face obvious injury question marks after failing to play full seasons last year, but these are two of the most explosive backs in football. We could see the Giants take a more run-happy approach with former Patriots operative Joe Judge taking over as head coach. It makes all the sense in the world for this team to feed Barkley as often as possible.
You can make the same case for McCaffrey that you can make for Henry. He’s as likely as anyone to accomplish the feat, but taking a shot on a futures bet like this means you’re shooting for upside. +850 is fair, but I’d prefer to get +1000 or higher with a prop like this.
If you want safety, Henry and McCaffrey are fine. If you want better bang for your buck, take a stab at Cook or Barkley.