This is the third piece in a series of positional analysis of individual player props. Previously, we’ve looked at quarterbacks and wide receivers. Today I dig into some running back player props.

Unless otherwise noted, the props listed are sourced from the DraftKings Sportsbook. Remember, it is always important to shop around to the different sportsbooks that offer these props in order to find the best odds.

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Saquon Barkley over 11 Rushing Touchdowns

Last season, Saquon Barkley rushed for 11 touchdowns en route to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. At first glance, it would be hard to think Barkley could top that rushing total. But when you dig a little deeper, he may have left some touchdowns on the field last season. 

Last year, Barkley scored three touchdowns of 50 yards+ and showed the explosiveness that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. That breakaway capability will always be there but where he and the Giants have plenty of room to improve is inside the 10-yard line. Last season, there were 33 running backs with at least 11 carries inside the 10-yard line. Barkley ranked 25th among the 33 running backs with only 20 percent of those carries turned into touchdowns. He did this while ranking third in the NFL with 30 attempts. Only Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley had more attempts inside the 10-yard line. The average running back scores on approximately 30 percent of their attempts inside the 10 and if you just apply that average percentage to the 30 carries, Barkley would have added three more touchdowns to his total last year. What will also help is an improved offensive line with the acquisition of one of the best guards in the NFL in Kevin Zeitler. Zeitler along with, hopefully, a healthy season from a rising star at center in Jon Halapio and the Giants offensive line should allow Barkley to be more consistent this season.

If you look at a couple of very similar cases in the past two seasons, you will see that an upwards touchdown regression is most likely coming for Barkley. In 2016, Mark Ingram was 12th in the NFL in carries inside the 10 but ranked 35th out of 39 running backs in touchdown rate. The next season, Ingram doubled his overall rushing touchdown total from six to 12. His touchdown rate went from 18 percent in 2016 from inside the 10-yard line to 42 percent, which ranked first among all running backs in 2017. Another case of touchdown regression came from Melvin Gordon last season. In 2017, Gordon had the third-highest number of attempts inside the 10 but only scored on 22 percent of those attempts, 26th out of 34 running backs. Gordon ended up scoring eight touchdowns on the ground in 16 games in 2017. Fast forward to 2018 and Gordon scored on 50 percent of his attempts inside the 10, which was the highest rate in the NFL. He scored 10 rushing touchdowns in only 12 games, a big improvement from the prior season. 

Another reason to like Barkley over 11 rushing touchdowns is due to an easier set of rushing defenses he will get to face this season. Overall, the Giants faced the second toughest set of run defenses in the NFL last season, according to DVOA rankings. Last season, Barkley faced six opponents ranked in the top five in run defense DVOA. In those six games, Barkley averaged 4.3 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns. In the other 10 games, Barkley averaged 5.4 yards per carry with seven rushing touchdowns. This season, the Giants opponent rushing schedule eases up, ranking 20th in the NFL. Barkley will only have three games against top five run defenses. 

Longshot NFL Rushing Touchdown Winners

Sony Michel 22-1 (Sourced via 5Dimes)

Similar to the Barkley analysis, Sony Michel should be able to score more touchdowns purely based on statistical regression. Michel only played 13 games last season and scored six rushing touchdowns. But where Michel struggled the most was inside the 10-yard line, where he had 27 carries in those 13 games. He was only able to convert 19 percent of those carries into touchdowns, which ranked 28th out of 33 running backs. If Michel had played all 16 games and just converted 30 percent of those attempts (the average percentage by the 33 running backs), Michel would have scored 11 rushing touchdowns.  

It didn’t take long to see upward regression for Michel. In last year’s playoffs, he scored five rushing touchdowns out of nine attempts inside the 10-yard line, in only three games. There is a good case to be made that between a full season, with a higher touchdown rate, that Michel is a dark horse to lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns. However, I wouldn’t recommend taking Michel until it is known that his knee is ok to start the season.

Devonta Freeman 40-1 (Sourced via 5Dimes)

Last season Devonta Freeman missed 14 games due to injury. In the prior three seasons, Freeman scored 7, 11 and 11 rushing touchdowns and tied for the NFL lead in 2015. Tevin Coleman took over as the starting running back last year, but he is now gone to San Francisco. Ito Smith was the backup, but he was atrocious, especially inside the 10-yard line. He had eight carries for minus-3 total yards and two touchdowns inside the 10 yard-line. Take away his two carries that resulted in touchdowns and here are the results of his other six runs: minus-4, minus-3 (and a fumble), 0, minus-2, 3, minus-6. So, in eight carries inside the 10 yard-line, Smith had five carries that resulted in either no gain or negative yards. Safe to say the last player Atlanta wants to give the ball to inside the 10 will be Smith.

 That presents a great opportunity for Freeman to hog much of the available red zone carries with a potential top-five offense in the Falcons. The last four seasons, Atlanta has averaged 39 rushing attempts from inside the 10. Bell cow running backs without a running typically receive around 70 of their team’s total red zone carries. Freeman should see around 27 attempts inside the 10 and with an average touchdown conversion rate, he should be looking at over eight rushing touchdowns. If Freeman were to convert at a touchdown rate near the upper quartile of running backs last season, he could see between 11-13 touchdowns. 

Based on the offseason acquisitions of Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary in the first round of the draft in addition to the signing of free agent guard James Carpenter, it’s clear that the Falcons are putting a strong emphasis on an improved offensive line. Freeman should benefit from the vast improvement most likely coming up front.