Player Props: Best NFL Running Back Touchdown Totals to Bet
Quarantine life soldiers on, and hopefully you're finding creative ways to fill the void left by no live sports.
At the very least, FanDuel Sportsbook has all sorts of NFL player props you can dabble in. Previously, I've highlighted some of the best yardage props for quarterbacks, running backs, and pass-catchers.
Now, let's move over to some touchdown props, starting with the combined rushing/receiving scores for running backs. You simply pick whether a specific player will go over or under the listed number for their regular season rushing-plus-receiving touchdowns. Teams must play a full 16-game schedule for bets to stand.
Using numberFire Editor-in-Chief JJ Zacharasian's player projections as a guide, let's see which props we should target.
Christian McCaffrey (15.5 touchdowns)
Following a historic 2019 campaign in which he became the third player to record 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season, Christian McCaffrey just signed a historic extension to become the highest-paid running back in NFL history. We know how quickly a running back's peak can rise and fall, but he turns just 24 years old in June and figures to be the number one overall pick in fantasy drafts this coming season.
But much like his yardage prop, I'm dubious of this lofty touchdown total. Below is a list of all the running backs who have exceeded 15 total touchdowns over the past 10 seasons.
|Year||Number of RBs||Names|
|2019||3||Christian McCaffrey, Aaron Jones, Derrick Henry|
|2018||2||Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara|
|2016||3||David Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, Ezekiel Elliott|
Over this span, only Todd Gurley and Arian Foster pop up more than once, and no more than three different players accomplished the feat in any given season. You have to go back to 2006 to find the last year where over three running backs hit this mark (six), and even then, four of them barely made the cut with 16 scores.
Now, McCaffrey easily surpassed 15 touchdowns last year (19), and based on his massive workload last season (league-high 403 touches), no one is better equipped to go back-to-back. But history shows that this is an incredibly difficult achievement, and in an era of running back committees, teams are more and more reluctant to commit to a single workhorse back.
McCaffrey has health and youth on his side, but the Panthers have a new coaching regime in place, and after busting out the checkbook for the star back, they might be more careful with their investment moving forward. That doesn't mean McCaffrey won't remain a focal point of this offense -- we just may not see him blowing away everyone else at the position in touches and snaps as we did in 2019.
JJ's projections put McCaffrey at 13.1 touchdowns, putting him short of this over/under. That number comes with McCaffrey getting 356.6 touches, which may seem like a fairly big drop-off, but that would still have been the most touches in the league last season.
McCaffrey is a unique talent, so it's entirely possible he exceeds this projection, but history is largely against him. Although you can take the over at +100 odds, that's not enough to sway me from taking the under.
Pick: Under 15.5 touchdowns (-128)
Alvin Kamara (10.5 touchdowns)
But as we know, that hasn't prevented Kamara from being a dynamic playmaker, scoring 13 times his rookie season and then 18 times in 2018. However, he took a step back in that department last season, dropping down to just six touchdowns.
Was that dip due to some bad luck? Kamara may have lost opportunities here and there to Murray, but he still averaged 12.2 rushes and 6.9 targets per game. That's a very respectable 19.1 opportunities and only a smidge lower than his 19.9 the prior season. Plus, that 2018 mark included a four-game stretch where Kamara was utilized as a workhorse back while Ingram was suspended.
But what about red zone opportunities? In 2018, Kamara's final numbers clearly benefited from that aforementioned Ingram suspension, as he would go on to rank third overall in red zone carries (55) and second in red zone targets (29), per Sharp Football Stats. Six of his 18 touchdowns would come in two of those four games.
However, if we look at the 11 games when Kamara and Ingram were both active, they split the red zone work pretty evenly, with Kamara getting a slight 30-26 advantage. Ingram also tallied more attempts inside the five-yard line, out-carrying Kamara 14-10. Kamara still saw 10 red zone targets in those games (behind Michael Thomas' 14), but overall, it's fair to assume Kamara would've seen a drop in scores had Ingram been available all year.
At first glance, Kamara's red zone usage alongside Ingram's replacement, Latavius Murray, remained about the same in 2019. According to Sharp Football Stats, Kamara divided red zone carries down the middle with Murray, edging him out 28-24. Kamara also saw 12 red zone targets, second-most on the team behind Thomas, but as expected, his red zone opportunities dropped dramatically.
Except we have to remember that Kamara missed two games with a midseason ankle injury, and Murray was treated as a workhorse back in those weeks. If we eliminate those games (Weeks 7 and 8), the distribution looks far different, as Kamara owned a 28-11 advantage over the 14 games the two played together.
Although his raw opportunities dropped, the reality is that Kamara was the clear red zone back in 2019, and it's possible that a fully healthy season would've resulted in more scores -- particularly with Kamara himself suggesting he played below 100% following the injury.
A drop from 18 touchdowns was to be expected entering last year, but the pendulum may have swung too far in the other direction. Kamara's overall volume remained high, his red zone usage actually improved, and an ankle injury may have hindered him down the stretch. There's plenty of reason to be optimistic that he can get back to double-digit scores in 2020.
JJ's projections reflect this, pegging Kamara for right around 13.0 total touchdowns. Best of all, at +102 odds, you're also getting better value on the under.
Pick: Over 10.5 touchdowns (+102)
Le'Veon Bell (7.5 touchdowns)
After sitting out the 2018 NFL season, Le'Veon Bell didn't exactly return with a bang as the Jets' new workhorse back. Volume typically leads to results, but Bell's were more of the empty variety, ranking 8th in touches and 5th in snaps among running backs, yet coming away just 19th in yards from scrimmage (1,250) with a middling five touchdowns.
That obviously doesn't inspire much confidence, but Bell ran behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. The Jets' O-line was 28th in Pro Football Focus' final 2019 rankings and 31st in Football Outsiders' adjusted line yards. Clearly, not all the blame falls on Bells' shoulders.
Not surprisingly, the offensive line has been a big focus in free agency, and the Jets could also address the position with the 11th pick in the NFL draft. Things can only go up from here, which could help Bell become more efficient.
Just as importantly, he has little competition on the Jets, so volume should once again come his way. Bell led the team with 20 red zone rushes and no other back had more than 5. He was also second in red zone targets (nine) behind only Jamison Crowder.
While Bell is no longer at the peak of his powers, this isn't a terribly high bar he needs to surpass, and it's the lowest running back touchdown total presently offered on FanDuel Sportsbook. JJ's projections have Bell's touchdowns at just under 10.0, and even if the Jets use an early draft pick on a wideout as many expect, it shouldn't have a detrimental effect on his scoring potential.
Pick: Over 7.5 touchdowns (-126)