This is the third installment of our previews of NFL player props available at various books – passing yardage and receiving yardage being the first two – so today let’s look at which player might lead the NFL in rushing this season and who provides the best betting value.
The betting favorite on WagerWeb at +300 for this prop is, to no surprise, the Tennessee Titans’ Chris Johnson. Of course Johnson was electric for the Titans last year, joining Eric Dickerson, Jamal Lewis, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis and O.J. Simpson in the 2,000-yard club by rushing for 2,006 yards on 358 carries – a stellar 5.6 yards-per-carry average – and 14 touchdowns. Johnson had an epic seven touchdown runs of more than 50 yards, including three of 85 yards or more. It was the most explosive season in that regard since Jim Brown scored seven 50-plus-yard TDs in 1963. By comparison, NFL rushing touchdown king Emmitt Smith had six 50-yard-plus TD runs in his career and the legendary Gale Sayers never had a TD run longer than 61 yards in his career.
Johnson finished the season with 11 straight 110-yard games, which is three short of Sanders’ record. His 5.6 yards per carry was fourth all-time among players who had at least 300 carries in a season. And Johnson also set the NFL record for yards from scrimmage in a season with 2,509. So he’s good.
And Johnson wants more. Not only does he want to break Dickerson’s NFL record of 2,105 yards rushing in a season, he wants to put the record out of reach for good.
"Basically just come out here this year, another year, and try to get those 2,500 yards -- make all my fantasy owners proud," Johnson said.
It’s fairly common for a running back to win back-to-back rushing titles: LaDainian Tomlinson did it in 2006-07, Edgerrin James in 1999-2000 and there are several other examples. And the one edge you would have to give Johnson is that the Titans are probably less “pass happy” than most teams with the erratic Vince Young at quarterback. But I would also argue that it’s Young who may stop Johnson from winning the title again – if he can’t stretch defenses -- and he hasn’t really shown he can -- then they will stack eight in the box to stop Johnson and make Young beat them. And while Johnson will only be 25 this season, one has to wonder how 408 touches (including receptions) will take a toll on his small frame: He’s 5-foot-11, 191 pounds.
Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson is next at +350 after rushing for “only” 1,383 yards last year. But obviously you shouldn’t risk a bet on Peterson before Brett Favre makes his decision known. Peterson’s yard-per-carry average has dropped from 5.6 in his rookie season to 4.8 in 2008 to 4.4 last year. However, there’s no Chester Taylor around any longer so Peterson could get a few more touches.
Clearly the key on this bet is to not wager on a guy who will share carries: so steer clear of the likes of the Jets’ Shonn Greene, any Dallas Cowboy, either the Panthers’ DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart, etc.
I believe the best values are the Falcons’ Michael Turner at +800. He was a disappointment last year after rushing for 1,699 yards in his first season as a Falcon. But Turner admitted he wasn’t in great shape and an ankle injury ruined his season. Now he is sleeker and reportedly in tremendous shape. And the Falcons’ offense still revolves around him. The other long shot I would recommend is Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall, who is tremendous value at +1800. Once he took over for Willie Parker last season Mendenhall showed some signs of being a top-flight back. And the Steelers vow to get back to their running roots in 2010.
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