I started this week looking at some NFL Draft props on quarterbacks for next week's draft in Chicago. Now let's look at some running back betting options , led by Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you that the NFL is a much more pass-heavy league than it has ever been. Since 2007, a quarterback has won the NFL MVP Award every year but in 2012 when Minnesota's Adrian Peterson did so after having one of the best seasons in NFL history for a running back, nearly breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record. Since 2008, the NFL has seen seven instances of where a quarterback has thrown for at least 5,000 yards. The Saints' Drew Brees has done it four times and Peyton Manning holds the record with 5,477 in 2013. There had been just one 5,000-yard season in league history before that, by Dan Marino in 1984. Back in 1997, Jeff George led the NFL with 3,917 passing yards. In 2015, George would have finished 15th. I mean, Kirk Cousins threw for 4,166 yards!
Now look about 20 years ago to see how much more important running backs were to their teams. Starting in 1997, a running back won or shared the MVP Award five times over the next 10 years. Detroit's Barry Sanders had a 2,000-yard season in 1997 and Denver's Terrell Davis did it the next year. Last year, the Vikings' Peterson led the NFL with only 1,485 yards rushing. That's the lowest total for a league leader since San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson had 1,474 in 2007. Before that, you have to go way back to the Lions' Sanders in 1990 with a lower league-leading total.
My point being that running backs have been somewhat marginalized. Now the top receivers are much more valued by NFL teams -- check out recent contracts for the likes of Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas -- than are workhorse running backs, who tend to have short careers as it is.
So that brings me to the upcoming draft. Teams have largely been shying away from grabbing a running back with a high first-round pick. In 2012, the Cleveland Browns took Alabama's Trent Richardson with the No. 3 overall pick. He proved to be a mega-bust and it seemed to scare teams off from grabbing tailbacks early. In the next two drafts, no running backs at all went in the first round, the first time in league history zero running backs were drafted in the first round in back-to-back years.
But the NFL is also a copycat league, and other teams saw how good Todd Gurley was last year as a rookie with the Rams. They chose him at No. 10 overall despite the fact Gurley was coming off a serious knee injury that ended his collegiate career at Georgia early. Gurley was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and looks like a future superstar along the lines of Peterson.
So does that mean we should expect a first-round run on running backs next week? Ladbrokes lists the first-round total at 1.5 backs taken that round on NFL odds. The 'over' is +250 and the 'under' -350.
There's no question that Ohio State's Elliott is going in the first round. He was the biggest reason the Buckeyes won the national title two seasons ago and then rushed for 1,821 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2015. Elliott is given an 'over/under' draft position of 8.5.
The Dallas Cowboys at No. 4 could be a fit as they clearly missed DeMarco Murray last year. The Baltimore Ravens at No. 6 also have a big need at the position. So do the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 8 after they traded Murray this offseason to Tennessee. I would say those are Elliott's only three chances to go ahead of that 8.5 total. The 'under' is -125 on NFL picks and 'over' at -105.
The only other running back with a shot of going in Round 1 is Alabama's Derrick Henry, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Some scouts are worried about the massive workload he had last season. Plus Henry is not a receiving threat. Most peg him as a second-round choice.
NFL Free Picks: Go 'under' on Elliott as I believe he goes to Baltimore or Philly. Only Elliott goes in Round 1 so 'under' that 1.5 total.