3 Season-Long Running Back Player Props to Bet

Jul 16, 2020
3 Season-Long Running Back Player Props to Bet

Many of the 2020 rushing props on DraftKings look to be on the conservative side. Using team usage trends and 4for4 projections, I've highlighted two running backs who should be able to blow away their rushing props, and one who could struggle to go over his yardage prop. Let's get into it.


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Jonathan Taylor over 700.5 rushing yards

4for4 projection: 966 yards

There’s quite a gap between Taylor’s rushing yardage over/under and John Paulsen’s projection. But get this: there’s a chance Paulsen’s projection could be on the conservative side, depending on how good the Colts are in 2020.

As with (almost) any running back, Taylor’s opportunity will largely hinge on game script—whether the Colts’ offense will be in position to do what they want to do: establish the damn run, shorten the game, and humiliate opposing front sevens (because that gives a team more points).

The Colts, despite a lackluster 7-9 season, posted the NFL’s fifth-highest rushing percentage in 2019. They were an outlier: the other run heaviest teams were actually good. That Indy refused to stop establishing in a seven-win season shows us that they’ll probably hammer defenses on the ground as much as possible in 2020. Just look at the Colts’ 32.8 rushing attempts in 2019 victories. They regularly ran more than 30 times in close games too. Indy was pretty good at piling up yards on the ground, averaging 133.1 per game, fifth-highest in the league.

Enter Taylor, drafted by the Colts in the second round. He enters a backfield with last season’s primary back, Marlon Mack, and pass-catching specialist Nyheim Hines. Mack led the Colts with 247 carries, or 52.4% of the team’s rushes. No one else was close (Hines was second among backs at 11%). Then there are the 56 vacated rushes from now-backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

For Taylor to just barely sneak over the 700-yard mark in 2020—and assuming the Colts are basically the same team as they were in 2019—he would need about 156 carries (33% of the team’s rushes) at last year’s team average of 4.5 yards per carry. A markedly less efficient Taylor (something around 4.0 yards per carry) would require 175 carries to go over 700 yards. That would be a 37% rushing share. Both of these scenarios seem, well, reasonable. They’re certainly not Taylor’s best-case scenarios.

Total Taylor backfield domination is clearly in the range of outcomes for 2020. Give the rookie runner a 50% rush share at 4.5 yards a pop and he’s well over 1,000 yards. The same rush share with an even more run-heavy Colts offense and he goes beyond 1,100 yards. If you think Taylor was drafted to spell Mack, you should hammer the under here. If not, go with the over.

Todd Gurley Under 825.5 Rushing Yards

4for4 projection: 794 yards

Taking the rushing yardage over on the primary back in an offense that averaged a stunning 85.1 rushing yards per game last season isn’t fantastic process. It might even be bad process.

The Falcons ran on a league-low 33.3% of their offensive snaps in 2019. That was even lower than the Dolphins’ offense, which seemed to go entire months without logging a rush attempt. Atlanta’s dearth of rushes isn’t isolated to 2019. They ran the ball on 34.7% of their 2018 offensive snaps. In 2017, that number was a middle-of-the-pack 43%. They ran on 42.2% of their plays in 2016.

That the Falcons weren’t able to establish the run in 2019 shouldn’t come as a shock. The team started 1-7 before winning six of their final eight games and ruining their draft position. But even in a decent season like the 2017 campaign—when Atlanta went 10-6—their offense was pass-based. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman largely split the rushing workload that season, with Freeman finishing with 865 rushing yards and Coleman going for 628 on the ground.

Now Gurley enters 2020 as the presumed primary runner for Atlanta—a team that has seemed more than comfortable splitting up carries in recent seasons. Even in 2018, after Freeman was lost for the season in Week 2, Coleman saw a modest 47.1% of the team’s rushes over the season. Hardly a hateful share, it’s not nearly the chunk of carries Coleman might have seen on a team that leaned on one runner.

The most inconvenient fact for those who want to take the over on Gurley’s rushing yardage is the back’s degenerative knee condition, his recent usage, and the unlikeliness Atlanta will deploy Gurley with abandon. Gurley notched 14.7 rushes per game over his final 20 games with the Rams, a far cry from his workhorse ways in 2015 and 2016. The team used Gurley strategically, preserving his chronically injured knee. The Rams were incredibly careful with Gurley in his final season and a half in LA, and there’s not much reason to think the Falcons won’t take the same approach in 2020.

Gurley’s fantasy appeal hasn’t been yardage driven for some time. It’s been about touchdowns, and lots of them. He racked up 42 rushing scores in his final three seasons with the Rams, tacking on 12 receiving touchdowns for good measure. Perhaps most concerning: Gurley’s efficiency fell into the Grand Canyon last year, as he averaged 3.8 yards per carry, a full half a yard less than his career average and 1.1 yard less than this 2018 average.

With Matt Ryan and the Falcons regularly using the running back in the pass game, Gurley could still put up solid fantasy numbers in 2020. Probably he’ll approach 825 rushing yards too, but his 2018-19 usage and Atlanta’s pass-heavy offensive approach says it’s not all that likely he’ll crack that number.

James Conner Over 775.5 Rushing Yards

4for4 projection: 795 yards

The last time James Conner got most of the Steelers’ backfield workload (thirty years ago in 2018) he pushed up on 1,000 yards in 12 starts. Conner did this without posting on outlier yards per carry and without an absurd stretch of big yardage game. So I don’t see much reason to avoid hammering the over on his 2020 rushing yardage prop of 775.5 yards.

Conner in 2018 was the unquestioned alpha back on a pass-heavy team, seeing 62.7% of the Steelers’ carries and accounting for 68% of the team’s rushing yardage. He racked up 973 yards that year. 2018, you might remember, was the last time Ben Roethlisberger played a full season for Pittsburgh. It’s hard to fret about Conner’s yo-yo usage in 2019—he was banged up for most of his final few games (he missed six games) and the Steelers’ offense was rarely in position to deploy a run-heavy game plan as they chased points and their quarterbacks played some of the worst football since the invention of the forward pass.

If Conner posts something close to his career 4.36 yards per carry, he would need around 177 carries to go over his 2020 rushing prop. The numbers say that’s an easy mark to hurdle Conner, who averaged 16.6 carries per game in 2018. That prorates to 265 carries over 16 games. While that sort of rushing opportunity is unlikely, 200 rushes is well within Conner’s range of outcomes, meaning he has wiggle room to post a yards per carry below his career average and still go over 775 rushing yards.

Reaching 775 rushing yards is hardly a feat for a primary runner: 25 running backs rushed for more than 775 yards in 2019. Conner should have the chance to do the same in 2020, and that’s all we can ask for.

Pick Summary

Prop Pick Odds Units
Jonathan Taylor 700.5 Rushing Yards Over -110 1.0 Bet Now!
Todd Gurley 825.5 Rushing Yards Under -110 1.0 Bet Now!
James Conner 775.5 Rushing Yards Over -110 1.0 Bet Now!

Note: All advice in this article is based on odds available on the date of publishing.

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