With the kickoff to the 2021 NFL season only a few weeks away, sportsbooks around the country are beginning to open up their extensive betting markets. One of the most popular markets involves predicting who will lead the league in rushing yards - a position that dominates the first round of fantasy football drafts.
As one of the top-ranked season-long fantasy football players in the world, I will admit that I incorporate sportsbook betting projections into my successful fantasy rankings. It has become a vital and integral strategy to building my successful investments year-in and year-out.
Let’s dive into this betting market and break it all down!
RECENT NFL RUSHING YARD LEADERS
Over the past five seasons, two players dominated the rushing leader market: Tennessee’s Derrick Henry and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott. Since 2016, both elite running backs have captured the NFL rushing crown twice, with only Kareem Hunt (1,327) sandwiched between in 2017. Last season, Henry was prolific, leading the NFL with 2,027 rushing yards after earning the top spot as well in 2019 with 1,540 yards. Elliott earned the rushing title in 2018 with 1,434 yards and once again in 2016 with 1,631 yards.
Henry cashed for bettors at healthy odds of +800, while the other top overall betting choices are Elliott (+950), Nick Chubb (+1000), Saquon Barkley (+1100) and Christian McCaffrey (+1700) came up short for bettors. Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook (1,557), who was listed last summer at +2500, came closest in pulling off the big upset finishing second overall—470 yards behind Henry.
FANTASY RB RANKINGS/TIERS
TOP RB TIER
- Christian McCaffrey (+1000)
- Dalvin Cook (+550)
- Alvin Kamara (+4000)
- Derrick Henry (+350)
Christian McCaffrey, who missed 13 games last season due to injuries, was the NFL's best fantasy player in PPR leagues back in 2019. McCaffrey rushed for 1,387 rushing yards while adding 1,005 receiving yards and 19 total touchdowns. Look for McCaffrey to bounce back in 2021 and earn his place back atop the running back position in fantasy football.
McCaffrey (+1000) ran for more than 1,000 yards in two of his first three seasons in the NFL with a steady increase each year (435, 1,098, 1,387) before his injury-plagued production of 225 yards last season. My model has the reliable star being immensely productive once again in 2021, but a player who will find it hard to win the rushing title. McCaffrey should get off to a solid start to the season as Carolina (-4.5) takes on the New York Jets in Week 1, with the total currently sitting at 43.5 on SI Sportsbook.
As we previously alluded to, Minnesota's Dalvin Cook took a major step forward in 2020, and the oddsmakers have made quite an adjustment in 2021. Last season, bettors found Cook in the range of +2500 to lead the league in rushing yards, but after falling only several hundred yards shy of Derrick Henry, they have slashed Cook down to odds of +550 in this year's betting market. In 2020, the rising star improved his rushing production by 422 yards over his previous career-high. Cook is easily the most coveted player in fantasy drafts this season behind McCaffrey, thanks to his immense superb production of 16 touchdowns last season. Cook will be a top DFS target in Week 1 when the Vikings take on Cincinnati in a game listed with a 48 point total on SI Sportsbook.
Alvin Kamara, who accounted for 21 total touchdowns last season, has failed to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark in each of his first four seasons. However, despite the oddsmakers listing his potential of leading the league in rushing yards with massive +4000 odds, fantasy owners should not shy away from this elite option on draft day. Kamara, who has hauled in 81-plus receptions in every season in the NFL, is a player with a tremendous fantasy ceiling every week. Kamara is in line to get off to a solid statistical start as New Orleans is projected to be involved in a high-scoring affair with Green Bay in a Week 1 battle set with a total of 50 on SI Sportsbook.
Derrick Henry is easily the safest fantasy football investment owners can make in the first round of drafts in 2021. After leading the NFL in rushing the past two seasons, oddsmakers have installed Henry as the clear favorite to accomplish the feat for a third consecutive time at odds of +350. Playing in a predominately run-heavy Titans offensive scheme, Henry eclipsed the elusive 2,000-yard mark last season while finding the end zone 17 times. His reliable production makes him a valuable commodity as a player who possesses the safest weekly floor.
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RB TIER 2
- Ezekiel Elliott (+1600)
- Austin Ekeler (+5000)
- Jonathan Taylor (+900)
Ezekiel Elliott, who can be found as high as +1600, is being offered at healthy double-digit odds on the betting board far behind Henry. The Dallas Cowboys, who witnessed Elliott finish as the league’s leading rusher in 2016 and 2018, hope the talented running back can rebound from a career-worst 979 rushing yards in 2020. Fantasy owners are investing in the top of the first round - that a healthy Dak Prescott - will lead to Elliott potentially producing his fourth season of 1350-plus rushing yards in his sixth NFL campaign.
Austin Ekeler’s +5000 odds essentially indicates that the Chargers leading running back has no chance of leading the NFL in rushing in 2021. The elusive running back has never rushed for more than 557 yards on the ground in any of his four seasons in the league. However, his immense fantasy value playing in an offense led by 2020 Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert should not be overlooked come draft day. Ekeler, who only played in 10 games last season, is a talented player who has hauled in 147 receptions and 10 touchdowns via the passing game in his last two seasons. The expectations are that the Los Angeles offense will feature Ekeler as a weekly high-volume player who will pay dividends to fantasy owners who invest in his ability in the first round.
The fantasy and betting communities have fluctuated massively on the projections for Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (+900) after news of the Carson Wentz (foot) and Quenton Nelson (foot) injuries broke. Those key injuries impacted expectations for Taylor’s 2021 output and sent the fantasy community into a frenzy. However, with word now coming out that both players may be ready for Week 1 against Seattle, Taylor finds his way back into the end of the first round of fantasy drafts. In his rookie season, the former Wisconsin standout was sensational, finishing third in rushing with 1,169 yards and 12 total touchdowns. The two-time Doak Award winner is a player worthy of a first-round investment.
ROUNDING OUT THE TOP 10
- Najee Harris (+2800)
- Aaron Jones (+2200)
- Nick Chubb (+700)
Najee Harris (+2800) is a very attractive betting and fantasy option after being drafted by the Pittsburgh to lead their backfield. The former Alabama standout joins a Steelers offense that consists of talented wideouts Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Harris is being targeted by fantasy owners as a solid RB1 who should flourish in his rookie season. In a high-powered offense, expect Harris to burst onto the fantasy scene thanks to his excellent receiving skills and powerful running style near the goal line.
Aaron Jones, who has scored an eye-popping 30 total touchdowns in his last two seasons, is often overlooked in fantasy drafts. Jones, who has increased his rushing output (448, 728, 1,084, 1,104) in each of his four seasons with the Green Bay Packers, is a player who could witness 1,200-plus rushing yards if he continues on his current trajectory. Oddsmakers are being generous with his healthy +2200 odds on an elite running back who no longer has to contend for touches with Jamaal Williams who signed with the Lions in the offseason. Jones will still have to contend with AJ Dillion for snaps, but his expected volume makes him an attractive fantasy option to finish in the top-5 of PPR scoring formats at the running back position for the third consecutive season.
Nick Chubb is being treated as an contender in the overall rushing leader betting market (+700) despite the powerful back rushing for less than 1,100 yards in two of his first three seasons in the NFL. Chubb’s fantasy worth is his nose for the end zone - having produced 30 total touchdowns over that span. The Browns, who also possess Kareem Hunt in the backfield, provide one of the league’s top running tandems.
More Fantasy Football:
- 2021 Fantasy Team Outlooks
- QB Tiers
- RB Tiers
- WR1 & WR2 ADP Breakdown
- Expert PPR Mock Draft
- Fantasy Fallers on Draft Day
You can follow Frankie on Twitter @Frankie_Fantasy for his betting and fantasy insights from Las Vegas.
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