The NFL is a quarterback league but having a dominant run game can really keep defenses guessing. There are a handful of elite-level running backs in the league that can legitimately go for 1,000 yards, with nine rushers breaking that barrier in 2017.
Most of those names top the favorites to lead the NFL in rushing yards this coming season. Here’s a look at some of the odds for online gambling and a sleeper pick for NFL futures bettors.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (+200)
Elliott rushed for 983 yards last season despite missing six games due to suspension at the end of the year. As a rookie, Zeke mounted 1,631 yards on the ground and has one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the business plowing the road. With losses like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten in the passing game, it should come as no surprise that Dallas will work a run-heavy playbook this season.
The Cowboys called for a run on almost 48 percent of their offensive snaps in 2017, so Elliott is going to get more touches than most running backs and is a primary ball carrier, not sharing the load like a number of rushers.
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs (+500)
Hunt exploded on the scene in his rookie campaign for the Chiefs, opening his pro career with a 148-yard effort against the defending champion Patriots in the Thursday season opener. And that wasn’t even the biggest effort from the shifty back out of Toledo. Hunt posted 172 yards on the ground against the Chargers in Week 3, en route to the 2017 rushing title.
The offense in Kansas City won’t be as dynamic in 2018 and defenses will focus on stopping Hunt first and foremost. The Chiefs are going all in on second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, so expect Hunt to get the lion’s share of the calls as the new starter gets his feet wet. It should also be mentioned that Hunt saw an uptick in his pass-catching duties toward the end of the season, and that could dig into his rushing totals.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams (+750)
Gurley had a bounce-back year for the Rams in 2017, re-energized by new head coach Sean McVay. Los Angeles got 1,305 yards rushing from Gurley, who just a season before posted only 885 yards and an average of just 3.2 yards per carry.
Gurley will get his reps in 2018 but with quarterback Jared Goff blossoming under center, L.A. could start to get away from the run more often. The team rushed the football on more than 44 percent of their offensive snaps last season, but that ticked down to just 35 percent in the final three games. Gurley still managed to total 371 yards on the ground in those final games, so he did make the most of those carries.
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (+900)
Rookies have led the NFL in rushing the past two seasons and Barkley seems primed to follow in the footsteps of Elliott and Hunt. The do-it-all back out of the Penn State combines speed, agility and power and will get the majority of the carries for a Giants team that has lacked a true rushing threat ever since Tiki Barber hung up his cleats in 2006.
Barkley rushed for a total of 3,843 yards in his three years in Happy Valley, averaging a stunning 5.7 yards per carry. He’ll need to do a lot on his own, since New York doesn’t have much of an offensive line, and will likely catch a lot of balls in the backfield as well as get run on special teams returns. Barkley certainly has the chops to lead the league in rushing during his career but it might take some building around him to get him there.