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The 2017 NFL season begins in earnest next week and all 32 teams are finalising their preparations for the new campaign.
The run game has taken on less significance in recent seasons, but there are still a number of quality backs in the NFL.
Ezekiel Elliott breathed life into the position last season in his rookie term. He ran for over 1,600 yards to ignite the Dallas Cowboys’ offense with Dak Prescott to drive the club to a 13-3 record.
His off-the-field misdemeanours earned him a six-game suspension from the NFL. His absence – unless overturned on appeal – will allow a new man to take the rushing title away from him in the 2017 season.
Fitness issues could play a vital role in deciding the outcome over the course of the season due to the punishment running backs face.
We’ll now break down the leading contenders to claim the rushing crown this season.
The 2016 season ended in heartbreak for Bell as he suffered a knee injury in the AFC Championship game. The issue ruled him out of the contest in the first quarter, leaving him helpless on the sideline as his team crumbled against the New England Patriots.
Bell missed the opening three games of the campaign due to suspension, but he quickly found his rhythm. On his return to the field he destroyed the Kansas City Chiefs by rushing for 144 yards in a dominant win for the Steelers.
The 25-year-old reached the peak of his powers half-way through the term. He rushed for over 100 yards in four consecutive matches, culminating in a 236-yard outing against the Buffalo Bills. Bell even thrived without the presence of Ben Roethlisberger as the quarterback suffered an injury that cost him time.
His patient approach to running through gaps before exploding into life has caused defenses nightmares since he entered the league in 2013. Bell has recorded over 1,000 rushing yards twice in his four seasons in the NFL and due to the number of weapons the Steelers possess this term, expect that to become three.
The quality of Pittsburgh’s passing game with the return of Martavis Bryant and the addition of Juju Smith-Schuster will open holes for Bell. Teams will not be able to crowd the line of scrimmage like they did last season when Roethlisberger went down with his injury.
Therefore the 25-year-old’s production on the ground should most certainly increase.
It would be prudent to back Bell at odds of 13/4 4.25 +325 3.25 3.25 -0.31 with Topbet sportsbook for to claim the rushing crown this season.
Johnson was the bright spot for the Cardinals in an underwhelming season. The club had ambitions of a deep run into the playoffs, having been defeated in the NFC Championship game in 2015.
However, not even Johnson’s brilliance could get them on track as they took a step back, finishing 7-8-1. The 25-year-old was not aided by the performances of quarterback Carson Palmer, who struggled immensely in the 2016 campaign. There were multiple injuries to wide receivers that often left the success of the offense solely in the hands of the running back.
Still Johnson rushed for 1,239 yards along with 16 touchdowns. The back has an incredible agility, which he used to embarrass defenders on multiple occasions last term. Once in the open field he is almost impossible to bring down and has the speed to punish would-be tacklers for missing.
As a result, Johnson is one of the most dangerous players in the NFL. Getting support in and around him would be hugely beneficial to his production to ease the burden. Injuries on the offensive line prevented holes from being opened up through the middle. The majority of his rushing yards came from his own ability to maximise the space he was given by his line.
Should Palmer raise the level of his performances and open up the passing game then there will be more space for Johnson on the ground. Entering his third season in the NFL, the 25-year-old will be desperate to make his mark and carry the Cardinals back to the playoffs.
Therefore backing him at odds of 15/2 8.50 +750 7.50 7.50 -0.13 with TopBet would be a solid option.
The Bears struggle immensely last season, posting a 3-13 record. However, Howard proved to be an excellent addition after the club selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 Draft. The 22-year-old was an immediate success as he filled the void left by Matt Forte.
Howard rushed for 1,313 yards in his rookie campaign, only behind Elliott in the NFL. His achievement was outstanding given the Bears’ issues on offense. Howard had little support from the passing game as Jay Cutler was extremely underwhelming before being released.
Mike Glennon will be the starter this term and he should be able to offer a strong complement, enough to ease the burden from the back’s shoulders.
The offensive line through the middle with Cody Whitehair, Josh Sitton and Kyle Long starting will be able to open up a lot of space for Howard. In his second season in the league, he will have greater recognition of defenses and how to manipulate space in order to get further yardage.
Howard has the power to bounce off most hits as well, although that could cause injuries that may stymie his charge. He missed one match last season therefore it’s important that he recognises when to lower his shoulder in tackles.
The 22-year-old has the ability to become a star for Chicago and his performances will dictate their future under John Fox. He will face stern defenses in the NFC North, but he has the potential to overcome them and the rest of the league. At odds of 10/1 11.00 +1000 10.00 10.00 -0.10 to win the rushing title there is good value with SkyBet.
Le’Veon Bell To Earn Most Rushing Yards
Odds: 7/2 4.50 +350 3.50 3.50 -0.29
David Johnson To Earn Most Rushing Yards
Odds: 15/2 8.50 +750 7.50 7.50 -0.13
Jordan Howard To Earn Most Rushing Yards
Odds: 10/1 11.00 +1000 10.00 10.00 -0.10
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