NFL Betting Props: Bell Leading Elliott on Rushing Yards Odds

Predicting the NFL yearly passing yardage leader over the past decade or so has been rather easy: New Orleans’ Drew Brees, a lock eventual first-ballot Hall of Famer, has dominated that category. Projecting the annual NFL rushing leader has been much more challenging. Since 2010, it has been won by six different backs. The only one to win it twice is former Viking Adrian Peterson.

The NFL betting favorite for 2017 is Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell at +300. Bell is holding out from Steelers training camp as of this writing but that was expected after he and the team couldn’t agree on a long-term deal and with Bell set to play on the franchise tag this season. Because Bell isn’t technically under contract until he signs that franchise tender, the Steelers have no leverage to make him report to camp.

Frankly, they likely prefer he hold out for a while and save some wear-and-tear. Bell has said he only needs a few practices and maybe one preseason game to be ready for the season. Thus look for him to report the week before the third preseason game as that’s when starters get their most action in the exhibition season.

Bell turned down Pittsburgh’s offer of a three-year, $42 million offer and will earn $12.2 million guaranteed in 2017 on the tag. Bell is basically betting on himself to stay healthy and have a big season when he can hit free agency again in 2018. He also believes he should be paid like a No. 1 running back and a team’s No. 2 receiver. Last year in 12 games, Bell rushed for 1,268 yards and caught 75 passes for 616 yards, the latter two both second on the team.

Running backs generally aren’t paid as well as top receivers these days in the NFL so you can see why Bell wants to be considered a hybrid. Bell’s career high in rushing was 1,361 yards in 2014, the only season he has played all 16 games. He has been a bit injury-prone and in some off-field trouble leading to suspensions. No Steeler has won the rushing title since Bill Dudley in 1946.

The Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott (+350) set the franchise rookie record with 1,631 yards last year in leading the NFL despite not playing a meaningless Week 17 game. Zeke’s 322 rush attempts were first in the NFL. He also has the advantage of playing behind arguably the league’s best offensive line. However, most expect Elliott to be suspended for a game or two to start 2017 due to some off-field issues. The last time an NFL rushing leader played fewer than 15 games was the Cowboys’ Emmitt Smith in 1993.

Arizona’s David Johnson (+1000), Chicago’s Jordan Howard (+1200) and Tennessee’s DeMarco Murray (+1200) round out the favorites at NFL betting sites. Johnson might be the most electrifying tailback in the league and has said he wants to rush for 1,000 yards this year and catch 1,000 yards worth of balls. Only two players have done that in a single season: Marshall Faulk in 1999 and Roger Craig in 1985. Johnson had 1,239 yards on the ground in 2016 and 879 through the air.

The Bears’ Howard would have won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in many other seasons as he was second in the league to Elliott with 1,313 yards on 70 fewer carries. Howard, a fifth-round pick, barely saw the ball early in the season as a backup. The Titans’ Murray, the 2014 rushing champion while with Dallas, finished third last year with 1,287 yards. He might lose a few more carries in 2017 to second-year Derrick Henry, the former Heisman winner from Alabama.

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