Jeremy Fowler, an NFL writer at ESPN, published a top ten rankings for running backs for the upcoming season. This incorporated the opinions of “league executives, coaches, scouts and players” (July 14th, 2023; <sic>).

These kinds of lists always provide some food for thought. For our purposes here, we’ll compare the list from ESPN to betting odds to see if there are any potential inefficiencies in the market that need to be discussed.

ESPN’s Top Ten as per Jeremy Fowler’s article

  1. Nick Chubb
  2. Christian McCaffrey
  3. Josh Jacobs
  4. Saquon Barkley
  5. Derrick Henry
  6. Jonathan Taylor
  7. Alvin Kamara
  8. Dalvin Cook
  9. Tony Pollard
  10. Austin Ekeler

Betting Favorites to Lead the NFL in Rushing Yards (bet365 and Unibet)

  1. Nick Chubb +700 (Unibet)
  2. Derrick Henry +900 (Unibet)
  3. Jonathan Taylor +900 (Unibet)
  4. Bijan Robinson +1500 (Unibet)
  5. Josh Jacobs +1500 (Unibet)
  6. Travis Etienne +1500 (Unibet)
  7. Saquon Barkley +2000 (Unibet)
  8. Tony Pollard +2000 (bet365)
  9. Rhamondre Stevenson +2000 (bet365)
  10. Najee Harris +2000 (Unibet)

Top Running Backs…for betting purposes

There is a lot to say about how DIFFERENT these two lists are. Leading the NFL in rushing does not make you the best running back automatically. Running backs are receivers, they are blockers, and they are occasionally passers. Furthermore, there are running backs that are short-yardage specialists or red-zone specialists. This kind of running back will never lead the NFL in rushing, yet their ability to push back the first tackler factors into the team’s success in a big way.

Team strategy is also important. The rushing yards leader is often someone who is overly relied on. This could be because of a lack of depth in the team’s offense. For instance, if Ezekiel Elliott doesn’t sign with Dallas, then you could see how Tony Pollard becomes a more relied-on running back in the upcoming season. This could pad his stats without an increase in talent.

Christian McCaffrey needs to be looked at

However, the glaring difference between the two lists comes near the top. Christian McCaffrey is Fowler’s No. 2. He, McCaffrey, hasn’t taken in hardly any bets as he doesn’t appear in the top ten betting favorites. McCaffrey is 40 to 1 with Unibet to have the most rushing yards this regular season. He is about the 20th favorite with Unibet in the market.

Right there, you could see a possible market inefficiency. Should McCaffrey be taken at 40 to 1?

The answer is “no” because a big part of McCaffrey’s game is receiving yards. Furthermore, San Francisco, his team, has a good passing QB in Brock Purdy. That could limit McCaffrey’s rushing attempts. Additionally, the 49ers have strong receivers, which could limit McCaffrey’s rushing attempts as well.

No one wanted to include Bijan Robinson?

But another glaring contrast between the two lists is Bijan Robinson. He is the fourth favorite by betting odds but does not appear on the ESPN list. Furthermore, he doesn’t appear among the players that received votes in the ESPN list.

The explanation may be as simple as this: Robinson is a rookie. Rookies are often off the radar. Other times, maybe no one wants to list an unproven rookie as a top talent because that would be going out on a limb. If he ends up being a draft bust, then you lose credibility. If he ends up being a surprise, then you lose nothing because no one else said anything about him either.

Breece Hall at 25 to 1 is our recommendation

Last year, there were some solid rushing rookies. Kenneth Walker III and Breece Hall were two standout rookie running backs last season. However, neither logged the entire set of games that needed to be logged in order to compete for the rushing title.

Hall is worth taking a poke at in this market. He is at +2500 with Unibet. Last season, he only appeared in seven games. In some of those games, he was scarcely used. However, there were three games where he was a central player in NYJ’s offense. He had 279 yards rushing in these games. With improvement, a dangerous offense that will keep defenses guessing, and a full season of good health, Breece Hall could emerge as a favorite down the road. Him at 25 to 1 is our recommendation right now.

Bettors should beware of Alving Kamara. He was involved in that legal matter last week. When it was last covered, there was some concern that he may face an NFL suspension. Any kind of missed action and your chances to lead the NFL in any category involving totals (as opposed to averages) goes way down. There simply aren’t enough games in the season to miss even just one.

Bettors should also beware of Dalvin Cook and Saquon Barkley. The former is a free agent. The latter may not be happy with being tagged. It’s possible that one or both sit a little bit. You would not want to back them until their contract situations are settled.