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NFL Draft

Best Longshot Bet To Lead NFL In Rushing Yards

  • The Draft Network
  • July 18, 2020
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Derrick Henry caught the last-minute extension at the franchise tag deadline this past Wednesday, and of course, the conversation around running back value was resurrected. Whether or not you think Henry deserved the contract, the indisputable truth is that Henry led the league in rushing last year—not an easy thing to do—and is favored to lead the league in rushing again in 2020.

Bet him if you want—but I like dark horse bets that pay out big when they hit. So I looked beyond the frontrunners at Bovada, whose odds are listed below, to see if I could tag the best bet for the NFL’s rushing leader next season.

  • Tennessee RB Derrick Henry (+700)
  • Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott (+750)
  • Cleveland RB Nick Chubb (+800)
  • New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley (+850)
  • Minnesota RB Dalvin Cook (+1400)
  • Las Vegas RB Josh Jacobs (+1400)
  • Philadelphia RB Miles Sanders (+2000)
  • San Francisco RB Raheem Mostert (+2000)
  • Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson (+2200)
  • Seattle RB Chris Carson (+2200)
  • Cincinnati RB Joe Mixon (+2200)
  • Arizona RB Kenyan Drake (+2200)
  • Green Bay RB Aaron Jones (+2500)
  • New Orleans RB Alvin Kamara (+3300)
  • Atlanta RB Todd Gurley (+3300)
  • Jacksonville RB Leonard Fournette (+3500)
  • New York Jets RB Le’Veon Bell (+3500)
  • Houston RB David Johnson (+3500)

Across the last 10 seasons, eight runners have brought home the award. Adrian Pederson and Ezekiel Elliott were the two who doubled, with Elliott bringing home the award in two of the last four seasons. Shockingly, Elliott led the league in both total rushing attempts and total rushing yards in both 2016, his rookie year, and 2018, while failing to play in all 16 games in both seasons.

Elliott’s record-winning years being in his rookie contract is a fairly important note. Five of the last six seasons have seen the rushing yards leader come from a rookie contract player, with Adrian Peterson’s 2015 season the lone outlier. Peterson beat out runner-up Doug Martin by only 83 yards—Martin was, at the time, on the final year of his rookie deal.

We are looking for young running backs, with plenty of tread on their tires. We’re also looking for at least 300 rushing attempts, as only Kareem Hunt in 2017 brought home the award without that much volume, and of course, we’re hunting availability as well: you need to play at least 15 games in the season in order to have a fighting chance at this award. The benchmark for production is about 4.5 yards per carry, producing, at the very least, 1,300 yards.

As such, let’s winnow down our list, first focusing on players who are still on their rookie deals:

  • Cleveland RB Nick Chubb (+800)
  • New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley (+850)
  • Minnesota RB Dalvin Cook (+1400)
  • Las Vegas RB Josh Jacobs (+1400)
  • Philadelphia RB Miles Sanders (+2000)
  • Seattle RB Chris Carson (+2200)
  • Cincinnati RB Joe Mixon (+2200)
  • Green Bay RB Aaron Jones (+2500)
  • New Orleans RB Alvin Kamara (+3300)
  • Jacksonville RB Leonard Fournette (+3500)

We don’t have any big availability concerns here, but there are a couple that are just too risky. Leonard Fournette has never played a full season, and he’s also never crested 4.3 yards per carry, which at 300 carries next year—a number he has never hit—would only total 1,290 yards. Chris Carson has also never put together a full season, and though he has been climbing to bell-cow usage over the last two seasons in a very run-heavy offense, he’s in a crowded backfield. So we’ll drop him as well.

  • Cleveland RB Nick Chubb (+800)
  • New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley (+850)
  • Minnesota RB Dalvin Cook (+1400)
  • Las Vegas RB Josh Jacobs (+1400)
  • Philadelphia RB Miles Sanders (+2000)
  • Cincinnati RB Joe Mixon (+2200)
  • Green Bay RB Aaron Jones (+2500)
  • New Orleans RB Alvin Kamara (+3300)

Of course, we are hunting a longshot bet here, so let’s drop Chubb, Barkley, Jacobs, and Cook, all of whom had top-five odds before we began our winnowing. This gives us a nice subset to target.

  • Philadelphia RB Miles Sanders (+2000)
  • Cincinnati RB Joe Mixon (+2200)
  • Green Bay RB Aaron Jones (+2500)
  • New Orleans RB Alvin Kamara (+3300)

Initially, Miles Sanders looks like a great bet, as he’s expected to garner a ton of attention in the Eagles’ backfield. But even across the Jordan Howard stretch of injury in which he was the clear lead back in Philadelphia, he only averaged 14.7 carries per game (235 across a season) for 1,102 yards over 16 games. That’s not going to cut the mustard.

Joe Mixon labored behind one of the worst offensive lines in football last year, seeing his volume jump but efficacy drop as the Bengals couldn’t buy a running lane. Unfortunately, the Bengals are relying on Jonah Williams bouncing back from injury, journeyman backup Xavier Su'a-Filo, and Day-3 pick Hakeem Adeniji to bring the competition they need to improve the offensive line. With the passing offense likely ramping up with the acquisition of Joe Burrow and return of A.J. Green, I’m still avoiding Mixon.

Aaron Jones? Here’s a live option. In his first full season as a starter, Jones saw his efficacy tail off a bit, but he remained ripping off 4.6 yards per run, finishing the year strong in a run-centric offense under head coach Matt LaFleur. In the last seven games of the season, Jones rushed for 5.2 yards per tote on 16 carries per game, which would get him over our 1,300 rushing yard mark even without huge volume. Given the clear offseason signal that the Packers are going to continue prioritizing their running game, it is reasonable to expect Jones to get even more volume in 2020, despite the draft addition of A.J. Dillon

Last is Alvin Kamara, who hasn’t played a 16-game season since his rookie year, and struggled to play at his athletic height in 2019. Kamara has always been a reception-heavy back, never breaking 200 carries across his career. The volume simply isn’t there for him.

Jones is the best longshot bet we have for rushing leader, and I’m not sure it’s close. You can go after Mixon if you really believe in that offensive turnaround, but I’ll buy LaFleur’s obsession with running the football and Jones’ superior supporting cast, as well as career efficacy, over Mixon.

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