5 Betting Values to Win the NFL Rushing Title

Every NFL season is unique -- and uniquely unpredictable.

Obviously, each year, teams have slightly different rosters, slightly different coaching staffs, and moderately different schedules, but projecting a season requires some guesswork. More appropriately, projecting a season should work with the underlying assumption that things can go wrong (or right) for teams and players. Variance is real, and range of outcomes matter. Especially when seeking value in props and over/unders.

Rather than rely solely on numberFire's projections -- the most likely outcome for every player this season -- I wanted to dig into the "what-ifs" for every player over a full season.

That helped me find betting value on passing yardage leaders on FanDuel Sportsbook last week. This week, I'm doing the same for rushing yardage leaders.

The Process

It's pretty simple. I simulated the NFL season 10,000 times, using numberFire's projections (and standard deviations) as the basis.

This showed me the probability that a given player would lead the league in rushing yards in 2019.

This should work well to bake in volatility and risk in each player's profile and help us figure out who has the upside to lead the league in rushing yardage. Of course, we shouldn't expect to see too many massive outliers because we need players with huge workloads when seeking bets for rushing title winners.

The Odds

Per FanDuel Sportsbook, Ezekiel Elliott (+300) is the favorite to lead the league in rushing yards, followed closely by Saquon Barkley (+400) before a pretty large drop to the rest of the NFL. At those odds, Zeke needs to be at least 25.0% likely to win the rushing title to find positive value. For Barkley, it's 20.0%.

You can check out every player's odds to lead the league in rushing yardage below or over at FanDuel Sportsbook.

Player Odds Player Odds
Ezekiel Elliott +300 Aaron Jones +3400
Saquon Barkley +400 Dalvin Cook +3400
Chris Carson +1300 Phillip Lindsay +3400
Joe Mixon +1300 Alvin Kamara +4400
Christian McCaffrey +1400 Lamar Miller +4400
Le'Veon Bell +1600 Adrian Peterson +5000
Melvin Gordon +1600 Derrius Guice +5000
Todd Gurley +1800 Josh Jacobs +5000
Derrick Henry +2300 Mark Ingram +5000
Nick Chubb +2500 LeSean McCoy +6500
David Johnson +2600 Tevin Coleman +6500
James Conner +2600 David Montgomery +8000
Marlon Mack +2600 Miles Sanders +8000
Devonta Freeman +3100 Peyton Barber +8000
Lamar Jackson +3100 Kenyan Drake +10000
Leonard Fournette +3100 Dion Lewis +15000
Damien Williams +3200 Frank Gore +15000
Kerryon Johnson +3200 Jordan Howard +15000
Sony Michel +3200


Ezekiel Elliott (+300) - Okay, so we know that Elliott is the betting favorite to lead the league in rushing, and he's also projected to lead the league in yardage, per our algorithm. In fact, it's not really that close. Elliott is projected for 1,519 rushing yards. Barkley is a distant second at 1,354. Then it's Joe Mixon at 1,285. Simulating the season 10,000 times, then, unsurprisingly has Elliott leading the league pretty frequently. With Elliott tied to 326 carries, there's a huge amount of opportunity for him. Nobody else is projected for even 277. So, with a comfortable lead in our algorithm's most-likely outcome and a huge workload, Elliott led the league in just over half of the simulated seasons. Again, we're just projecting Zeke for such a massive workload that it'll be hard for anyone to contend if he does get 50 more carries than any other running back. Even if I pare down his volume to 300 carries at the same efficiency, he'd be projected to lead the league in rushing more than 30.0% of the time, giving us positive expected value on Elliott to lead the NFL in rushing. Without a suspension or injury, it's pretty easy to make the case for Elliott to have the best workload, and that opportunity makes him a strong bet to win the rushing title.

Saquon Barkley (+400) - Barkely led the league in 19.4% of the simulated seasons, and when cutting off 26 carries from Elliott's workload, Barkley led the league in 26.4% of the simulations. He's on the cusp already, but if Elliott were to miss time or cede carries to other backs, Barkley is naturally the go-to candidate to win the rushing title.

Joe Mixon (+1300) - Mixon is one of four backs to be projected for at least 270 carries, and he ranks third in projected rushing yards at 1,284. That workload could easily lead to Mixon as the league's leading rusher in 2019. At +1300, he's 7.1% likely to lead the league in rushing, but he led in 9.4% of the simulated seasons. The margin isn't great, but it's something. When seeking a rushing leader, we can't get too cute. Volume matters. Mixon should have that all locked up. If I ramp up the variance, using two standard deviations, Mixon's value goes up.

Le'Veon Bell (+1600) - Bell's workload (277 carries and 1,246 yards) is on par with Mixon's. He and Mixon are really in a tier of their own behind Elliott and Barkley. Bell is the only other back to have outperformed his sportsbook odds in terms of winning the rushing title in the simulations. Bell led 7.1% of the time. A +1600 line implies a 5.9% probability, so there's value there. Especially if we play the angle that Elliott were to miss any extended time, Barkley, Mixon, and Bell stand out as values to win the title. Similar with Mixon, when introducing more variance into the season simulations, Bell's expected value goes up to lead the league in rushing.

Possible Longshots

Leonard Fournette (+3100) - Fournette's projection of 1,050 rushing yards won't get it done, but he's a high-variance player to project. When upping the variance in the simulations, he was the rushing title winner 4.7% of the time, making him a value at +3100. If Fournette were to stay healthy and Nick Foles were to improve the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense, then Fournette is one of a few values who stand out in the betting market.

Dalvin Cook (+3400) - Like Fournette, Cook's a high-variance option, in part, because of his limited NFL sample (15 games). Cook has averaged 64.6 rushing yards per game in those, a 16-game pace of 1,034 yards. He led the league in just 1.5% of the initial simulations, but that goes up to 4.3% when upping the variance. Cook will have to fend off third-round pick Alexander Mattison, but he's projected to finish 10th in carries, a workload that keeps him in the conversation for rushing title winner.