Look for good running backs on good teams to maximize your chances of guessing the league's leading rusher with your NFL picks.
The most important thing you want to look for in an NFL rushing champion isn't the quality of the back, but the quality of the team.
Think about all the carries a back gets as a team tries to grind out a 28-10 win over the Oakland Raiders. The dead zone of NFL games, where we stop really paying attention. Those are the extra 200-300 yards you want as you look to crown a rushing champion. And they factor in to my sleeper NFL picks heavily, as you'll see below.
C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos, +1600 - +2000
A bet on Anderson is a bet on these two sides of the Denver equation: Peyton Manning isn't washed up, and Gary Kubiak will run a ball-control offense.
Given how incredible Denver's defense SHOULD be on paper (i.e. when not coached by Jack Del Rio), I think there's a chance that their games against inferior opponents turn into 20-3 or 27-3 walkovers, which should enable us to get plenty of C.J. Anderson carries. In this exact sort of situation in 2010, with an undrafted back with skill getting his first shot, Gary Kubiak turned Arian Foster into the rushing champion.
It wouldn't surprise me if that happened again.
Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys, +1900 - +3300
The interesting thing about the Randle situation is that his value is almost completely ensconsed in the Dallas offensive line, which has created an interesting stalemate. His average draft position holds steady, because as a talent he seems fairly replaceable. His NFL odds hover low, because nobody knows just how many carries to expect.
To be sure, you can't bet on Randle to lead the league in rushing without feeling like he's going to be Dallas' No. 1 back this year. But that's the reason you're getting him at this price. So far Dallas has shown no indication that they're going after another established back, even with players like Steven Jackson, Chris Johnson, and Ray Rice unsigned at this point.
And behind that line, 300 carries of Randle could very well lead the league if the Dallas Cowboys can even play up to 80% of last year's formula.
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts, +4900 - +6600
If you want to bet on the Indianapolis defense to be much improved with the addition of Trent Cole to bring pass rush without blitzing, Gore is a nice value play to lead the league in rushing. Keep in mind that the Colts defense did improve a lot last season when it wasn't playing the Patriots.
If another step forward can be taken, the Indianapolis Colts will be playing a weak schedule with a great offense. They're predicted as basically co-AFC favorites with the New England Patriots right now. There are a lot of yards for Gore to potentially stumble upon in this scenario.