With the start of the NFL season just over three weeks away, Thomas Casale, Alex Kolodziej, and C Jackson Cowart go over their favorite bets for who will lead the league in rushing yards. Included are best bets, value plays, and players to avoid.
TC: I'm all in on James Conner. Conner rushed for 973 yards in his first season as a starter, and he should easily exceed that total in 2019. Despite averaging 4.5 yards per attempt and scoring 12 touchdowns, Conner received just 215 carries.
He missed three games, and Pittsburgh fielded a young defense, leading to a lot of shootouts and Ben Roethlisberger topping the NFL in passing yards. The Steelers' defense should be much improved this season, and the offense more balanced. Don't buy into the Jaylen Samuels love. Conner will be a workhorse, so jump all over him at 25-1.
AK: I originally liked Saquon Barkley at a better number, but his odds shortened to 4-1. Next in line for me is Joe Mixon at 10-1.
New Bengals head coach Zac Taylor comes from the Sean McVay coaching tree, and the common belief is that more passing production is coming under his watch. But if Taylor follows his old boss' playbook, he’ll be running almost exclusively 11 personnel with Mixon as the main guy. And remember, the Rams finished among the top 10 in running-play percentage last year. Some people forget that!
There’s a lot to like about last season’s AFC North rushing leader.
TC: I'm on the opposite side with Mixon. Keep reading ...
CJC: I'll keep this AFC North party rolling and sing the praises of Nick Chubb, who will become a household name by the end of the season if that hasn't happened already. Chubb was Pro Football Focus' top back last year, and he ranked fourth in rushing yards (82.3 per game) starting in Week 7, which was the first time he received more than three carries. Thanks, Hue Jackson.
Chubb was on a 1,317-yard pace during those 10 weeks. He should be even better after a full offseason as the team's top back, and with the Browns' explosive passing offense providing wide-open rushing lanes. Chubb is a superior rusher to the suspended Kareem Hunt, and I love his value at 12-1.
AK: Wait, Hue Jackson ruined an offense? That's surprising.
CJC: Baker Mayfield wasn't the only rookie packing Hue's bags on the way out last year.
TC: When Mark Ingram's odds were released at 50-1, I thought it was a mistake. The Ravens will field one of the NFL's top rushing offenses for the second straight year. Quarterback Lamar Jackson's athleticism will partly fuel the team's rushing strength, but don't sleep on the addition of the underrated Ingram.
Last season, Gus Edwards led the Ravens in rushing with 718 yards. Ingram is a major upgrade over "Gus the Bus," and he should be given 250-plus carries in Baltimore's run-first offense. The veteran has topped 1,000 yards in two of his last three seasons. He's a good bet to eclipse that mark again in 2019, and at 50-1, there isn't a better value play on the board.
AK: There’s another running back at 50-1 who’s badly underpriced: the Packers’ Aaron Jones.
Remember when he was the most talented back on Green Bay's roster last year and Mike McCarthy didn’t play him? Good times. All he’s done since is average 5.5 yards per carry despite flip-flopping roles, and now Jones will be the lead back behind an offensive line Pro Football Focus ranks as the No. 8 unit in the league. I know Aaron Rodgers will get his chances, too, but Jones is going to win a lot of bettors and fantasy players money this year.
CJC: I went out of the box with my QB picks, so I'll stay higher on the board here and go with Dalvin Cook at 20-1. The health risk is there, but he's the most talented running back at that price, and the Vikings' offense will feature him much more than it did during his injury-plagued 2018 season.
After Minnesota fired pass-happy offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and installed Kevin Stefanski, Cook averaged 82.7 yards per game, and he was given PFF's third-highest rushing grade. Small sample size alert, I know, but he finished as a top-five back in 2017, too, before tearing his ACL. Under Stefanski and new assistant head coach Gary Kubiak, Cook should receive plenty of opportunities to prove himself in 2019.
TC: The lock of the year was Jackson going with Cook here. I wish I loved anything as much as he loves the Vikings this season.
TC: I have to disagree with Alex on Mixon at 10-1. Mixon is a great back, but he's running behind arguably the NFL's weakest offensive line. The Bengals are also projected to be one of the league's worst teams, with their win total set at 6.5.
Mixon put up 1,168 rushing yards last year on a six-win team. Look for a slight regression from him this season with the Bengals playing from behind often. Hard pass.
AK: Whatever man, I thought we were friends.
Maybe it’s a cop-out, but I want nothing to do with Melvin Gordon at 16-1. He finished just 180 yards shy of the league leader, Le’Veon Bell, back in 2017, which was also his first season playing all 16 games. Given his injury history, price, and still ongoing holdout, I’ll pass on Gordon and go to bed with my mind at peace.
CJC: Derrick Henry at 12-1 may trick some bettors into thinking they're getting in early on the next great back. They aren't.
Let me make something clear: At 240 lbs with 4.54 speed in the 40-yard dash, Henry is a unique talent. But he's an incredibly limited back who's only been successful when presented with open field. And until he improves his receiving and pass protection, Dion Lewis will continue to take snaps away from Henry.
Given Lewis' presence and Henry's lack of versatility, the fourth-year pro shouldn't be one of the favorites to win the rushing crown. Don't let the short odds convince you otherwise.