The Best Running Back Prop Bets to Target Based on numberFire's Projections
People who play fantasy make for the best bettors when it comes to the prop market.
During this time of the summer, many fantasy players are looking at different projections and metrics to prepare themselves for drafts. That same analysis can be leveraged in the player props market. Our ability to project seasonal and weekly can come in handy. The hard work of projection is (mostly) done, so let's use that knowledge and pad our bankroll.
There are a number of different running back props that can be exploited using numberFire's projections. Going off of BetOnline's player prop odds, let's take a take a look at some of the props -- specifically touchdown totals -- that we can take advantage of.
Touchdowns tend to vary year to year, and factors such as usage, influx of new players, random variance or backups taking prominent roles can contribute to that. But using our projections as a guide, here are three prop bets that offer value.
The following bets are for total touchdowns and are not specific to rushing, receiving, or special teams.
Lamar Miller Over 6 Touchdowns
Dating back to his days in Miami, Lamar Miller has scored at least six touchdowns every year in which he's had 250 touches in a given season. The past few years, he has been hitting his floor, but with positive reports out of camp in combination with a few factors, this prop looks juicy for the over.
The Houston Texans should make leaps in offensive production with Deshaun Watson back at the helm, and Miller will be there to benefit from it. Watson had 36 rushing attempts in seven games played and was on pace to be top five at his position. What does Watson's rushing ability do for the offense? Well, our own Joe Redemann has conducted a study that shows running backs paired with a mobile quarterback have a moderate correlation to increased Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP), which you can read more about in our glossary.
Miller also had a better touchdown rate with Watson in the lineup, per the RotoViz game splits app.
With a healthy Watson, the Texans should be more efficient on a per-drive basis and provide plenty of scoring opportunities for Miller. Also supporting Miller's production, the Texans should have a friendly game script as they have a very friendly schedule, per our numbers. With easier opponents, game flow should buoy Miller's usage and work in his favor.
Miller also figures to get all of the red zone touches and opportunity. In 2017, he lead the Texans' backfield with 13 touches within the 10 yard-line, with D'Onta Foreman (3) and Alfred Blue (5) being fairly irrelevant in that regard. If you have any concerns that Foreman will eat into Miller's red-zone touches, then it's time to dismiss them as Foreman is still on the PUP list and his return this season is in question. Even if Foreman gets back at some point, there's no guarantee he walks into meaningful snaps.
In his two seasons in Houston, Miller has scored six touchdowns each year. Given the circumstances, six could be his floor this year as an improved offense gives him a new ceiling.
Christian McCaffrey Under 7.5 Touchdowns
The prop for Christian McCaffrey is an interesting one. On first glance, it looks accurate and aligns with the total he posted last year. Our projections have McCaffrey pegged for 150 rushing attempts and 79 catches, a sizable increase in workload from his rookie campaign. However, there have been a few changes since last year, namely new offensive coordinator Norv Turner and influx of players.
The Panthers signed C.J. Anderson to take on some of their 198 vacated carries and to become McCaffrey's battery mate. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Anderson outcarries McCaffrey, especially in red-zone situations. Analyzing Turner's usage of his primary two running backs, we can see that he heavily skews their red-zone usage via rush attempts, with the primary back getting a majority of the work. (The 2016 campaign is a half season of data as Turner retired midway through the year.)
To note, McCaffrey scored six of his seven touchdowns in the red zone last year. Not displayed in this chart is Cam Newton's tendency to log red-zone rushes as he has averaged 28 such carries per season, thus diminishing the opportunity pie.
The 2018 offense will look much differently than it did the year prior, as the Panthers did not feature a healthy Greg Olsen, Devin Funchess should continue to progress, rookie wideout D.J. Moore joins the fold, and specialist Curtis Samuel will return from his injury. These players may factor into McCaffrey's usage, as well.
For McCaffrey to hit the over on this prop, he will need to create big plays outside of the red zone. He's certainly capable of doing so, but that's not a sustainable way of scoring touchdowns.
David Johnson Over 9 Touchdowns
It wasn't that long ago when we saw David Johnson score 12 touchdowns as a part-time player in in his rookie season, and he followed it up with 20 scores the next year. During the 2016 campaign, he was second in the league in red-zone rush attempts and was third in targets. Coming off a season in which Johnson injured his wrist in the first game of the year, this prop total seems to have forgotten how dynamic of a player Johnson is.
With the Arizona Cardinals effectively running the offense through Johnson, he figures to have minimal competition for running back red-zone touches. The only other running back of significance is rookie fourth-round pick Chase Edmonds, so DJ should be locked in to most of the running back red-zone touches.
Johnson is more than just a talented runner, though. During his rookie season, he saw 57 targets, and he had a whopping 120 the following year. As the current depth chart stands, Johnson's real competition for pass-game volume is with Larry Fitzgerald as J.J. Nelson, Christian Kirk and Brice Butler aren't an intimidating trio.
Although most would say the Cardinals are on a downswing this year, with a projected poor offensive line (ranked 30th by our Jim Sannes) and the quarterback position in flux, the massive workload projected for Johnson should be enough to offset a lot of those worries. Since 2000, 79% of running backs who have carried the rock at least 350 times in a season have scored at least 10 touchdowns.
Our projections show Johnson scoring 13.2 touchdowns this year -- well over the installed total.