NFL Rushing Leader Predictions: Elijah Mitchell Is A Slam Dunk

Elijah Mitchell #25 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter against the Houston Texans at Levi's Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Santa Clara, California.
Image Credit: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The NFL regular season is nearly upon us, which makes it a great time to dive into some of the season-long prop bets available across the industry. You can bet on who will lead the league in a number of categories, including rushing yards. That’s what this article will look to uncover, as I’ll run through my top NFL rushing leader predictions, sleepers, and best bets.

The NFL gets more pass-heavy each year, but there are still players who can do serious damage on the ground. Derrick Henry rushed for more than 2,000 yards just two years ago, and Jonathan Taylor had more than 1,800 yards last season.

Taylor and Henry are the favorites to lead the league in rushing this season, but that’s only if they stay healthy. Health at running back is fleeting, and the previously indestructible Henry was limited to just eight regular-season games last year.

Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten to the point where we can reliably predict injuries. That said, there are some rules to follow to maximize your chance of hitting this prop.

Rushing Is A Young Man’s Game

The average life span of an NFL running back is slim, and the best players at the position tend to be younger than average.

Over the past 10 years, the average age for the rushing leader was just 24.7 years old, and only two times was the winner greater than 26: Adrian Peterson in 2012 and again in 2015. Peterson may be from outer space – he rushed for more than 2,000 yards less than a year after destroying his knee – so he is the exception that proves the rule.

Among the favorites, Henry (27), Dalvin Cook (27), Nick Chubb (26), and Joe Mixon (26) are all approaching the age where you should proceed with a bit of caution.

Volume > Efficiency

This is not a huge shocker, but you can’t win the rushing title without a combination of health and involvement. Every rushing leader has played at least 15 games over the past 10 years, and Taylor played 17 in 2022. They also averaged nearly 21 carries per game, and each player was near the top of the league in that department.

In fact, only two players managed to lead the league in yards without leading the league in carries: Peterson in 2012 and Kareem Hunt in 2017. Peterson barely counts – Arian Foster led the league with three more carries than Peterson – but Hunt was merely sixth in terms of rushing attempts that season. 2017 was a down year for rushing in general, with Hunt’s 1,327 yards ranking as the lowest total for any winner in the past decade.

Ultimately, if you don’t think a player has a shot at approaching 20 carries per game, they are unlikely to make up the difference through efficiency. That takes players like Javonte Williams, Ezekiel Elliott, and Damien Harris off the board.

NFL Rushing Leader Predictions: Best Bets

San Francisco RB Elijah Mitchell (+3500)

Mitchell is my clear favorite bet to lead the league in rushing. The 49ers already boast one of the most run-heavy attacks in football, and they could skew even heavier towards the run with Trey Lance under center. His passing game remains a major question mark, but he’s a major threat with his legs. His ability to keep defenses honest with his feet should open up massive holes for the 49ers’ running backs.

Mitchell surprisingly won the 49ers’ starting job as a sixth-round rookie and was excellent when healthy. He averaged 18.8 attempts per game and 4.7 yards per attempt, so he could be among the league leaders in both categories in 2022.

Finally, this bet is a massive value when compared to the rest of the industry. Mitchell is as low as +1400 at BetMGM, and he’s priced at +2500 or lower at every other sportsbook. Grab this line now before DraftKings has a chance to adjust.

Where To Bet: Elijah Mitchell as NFL rushing leader | +3500 at DraftKings Sportsbook

Baltimore RB J.K. Dobbins (+3300)

Dobbins’ stock took a bit of a hit on Monday when it was reported that he wouldn’t be ready for the start of the year. However, Dobbins had a differing opinion:

Dobbins will technically share the RB workload with Gus Edwards this season, but he has the potential to earn far more touches. Not only was Dobbins the superior prospect – he was drafted in the second round in 2020 – but he averaged a stellar 6.0 yards per carry as a rookie. If he’s fully recovered from his torn ACL, he should go right back to doing damage for the Ravens’ run game.

The Ravens’ rushing attack is also a good one. Despite losing both of their starting RBs to knee injuries before the start of the year, they still ranked third in rushing yards per game. Of course, part of that is due to the rushing upside of Lamar Jackson, but Jackson’s presence undoubtedly helps his running backs.

Dobbins isn’t quite the same value on PointsBet as Mitchell is on DraftKings, but he’s still listed at +2500 at a few locations across the industry. That makes the +3300 pretty appealing.

Where To Bet: J.K. Dobbins as NFL rushing leader | +3300 at PointsBet

NFL Rushing Leader Predictions: Sleepers

Chicago RB David Montgomery (+6000)

Montgomery checks a lot of boxes that I look for in a rushing leader. He’s young and he’s the Bears clear featured running back. Montgomery also plays with a quarterback that can keep defenses honest with his feet. The team is also reportedly transitioning to a “run-heavy zone scheme,” which should further benefit Montgomery.

Where To Bet: David Montgomery as NFL rushing leader | +6000 at Caesars Sportsbook

Tampa Bay RB Leonard Fournette (+6000) 

Fournette’s conditioning is a question mark at the moment, but I could care less about that. Here’s what I do care about: Ronald Jones is gone, leaving Fournette as the clear No. 1 runner for one of the best offenses in the league. Fournette is also available at +6000 on Caesars despite being roughly +4000 across the rest of the industry. Always shop for the best price!

Where To Bet: Leonard Fournette as NFL rushing leader | +6000 at Caesars Sportsbook

New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley (+5000)

Would you believe me if I told you Barkley was still just 25 years old? The No. 2 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, and he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry last year.

Still, Barkley was arguably the most talented runner in the league before missing most of the 2020 season, and the Giants made some upgrades to their offensive line. If Barkley is healthier in 2022, he’s a prime candidate for a massive bounceback.

Where To Bet: Saquon Barkley as NFL rushing leader | +5000 at FanDuel Sportsbook