Ezekiel Elliot Still A Lock To Win The NFL Rushing Title This Season?

Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys have been one of the better rushing teams in the NFL ever since they drafted Ezekiel Elliot back in 2016. He has been a workhorse for the team, and the results speak for themselves. In the two seasons he played in 15 games, he won the rushing title, and the team made the playoffs.

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In the one year he only played in ten games, they missed the playoffs (and no rushing title either).

But while having him on the field is clearly in the Cowboys best interest, he is currently holding out. While he is not expected to miss any regular season games, if he does, his quest for a third rushing title in four years could be hampered leaving the title open for another to claim.

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The Candidates

While the passing game is what people come to watch, it is hard to win the Super Bowl without a good ground game—and every team knows this. There are several good running backs in the league, but it will come down to how much of a workload a player gets in some cases.

According to BetOnline.ag, the odds on who will lead the league in rushing are as follows:

  • Ezekiel Elliott  +400
  • Saquon Barkley  +550   
  • Joe Mixon, Nick Chubb  +1000 
  • Derrick Henry, Todd Gurley  +1200
  • Le’ Veon Bell  +1400
  • Christian McCaffrey, Melvin Gordon  +1600
  • Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette  +2000
  • Marlon Mack  +2200
  • David Johnson, James Conner  +2500
  • Chris Carson, Kerryon Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, Sony Michel  +3300
  • Alvin Kamara, Damien Williams, David Montgomery, Derrius Guice, Devonta Freeman, Josh Jacob  +4000
  • Aaron Jones, Jordan Howard, Mark Ingram, Rashaad Penny  +5000
  • Ronald Jones  +6600 
  • Lamar Miller, Latavius Murray, Tevin Coleman  +7500
  • Adrian Peterson, Kenyan Drake   +8000
  • Carlos Hyde, Jerrick McKinnon, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Matt Breida, Miles Sanders, Peyton Barber, Royce Freeman, Tarik Cohen  +10000
  • CJ Anderson  +15000
  • Dion Lewis, Frank Gore, James White  +20000

There are plenty of great candidates, but before picking someone to bet on, let’s narrow down the field a bit.

Workload

With the emphasis on the passing game these days, it is taking less and less for a running back to win the rushing title. When Kareem Hunt won it with the Chiefs in 2017, his 1,327 yards was the lowest by a rushing champion since Barry Sanders won it with 1,304 yards back in 1990.

But while running the ball isn’t a priority for many teams, winning the rushing title will require a pretty hefty workload. Since 2010, the rushing champions have averaged over 327 carries a season. Last season, only one player even cleared 300 (Elliot, 304).

 

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Dallas Cowboys takes hike at Gillette Stadium | Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

For the last four seasons, there has only been one player a season to get 300+ carries. The last time there were more than a couple players with such a load was 2012 (five).

No team had fewer than 333 rushing attempts last season (Green Bay); two had 500+, and 16 had 400+. But with so many teams using the running back by committee approach, even the most active running backs are only getting about 250 carries a season.

Offensive Line

The best running back in the world can carry the ball 400+times, but if he doesn’t have a good offensive line opening holes for him, he is not going to get far. So, before deciding on who to bet on, it may be wise to review the offensive line grades heading into 2019 by ProFootballFocus:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles
  2. Dallas Cowboys
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers
  4. Tennessee Titans
  5. Indianapolis Colts
  6. New England Patriots
  7. New Orleans Saints
  8. Green Bay Packers
  9. Chicago Bears
  10. Carolina Panthers

By the Process Of Elimination

The easiest to eliminate are the quarterbacks, of course. No head coach in his right mind would ever run his quarterback so much that he has a shot to win the rushing title.

It is likely safe to assume that the rushing champion is going to come from a team with one of the better offensive lines in the league and one that will run the ball at least 400 times. Of the teams in the top ten, only the Eagles, Steelers, and Packers did not run the ball that much last season.

That leaves the Cowboys, Titans, Colts, Patriots, Saints, Bears, and Panthers. Of those teams, the Patriots, Titans, and Colts take more of a committee approach to running the ball. The Bears traded their lead back, and the Saints have never had Alvin Kamara carry the bulk of the load before.

Eliminate those teams, and it comes down to whoever runs for the Cowboys and Panthers.

The Prediction

Of those three, the obvious choice is going to be Ezekiel Elliot. Carolina is going to get Christian McCaffrey 300+ touches this season, but 65+ of them will be in the passing game. Assuming Elliot is on the field in Week One, he will be the rushing champ again in 2019.

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However, there is a dark horse worth considering—Le’ Veon Bell at +1400. The Jets ran the ball 410 times last season but had less than adequate backs. Bell is one of the best and will be motivated to show the world he still is after missing last season.