Last week, we took a look at the QB props heading into the 2023 NFL season, and this week we’re diving into the running backs. No position has been talked about more this offseason than running back.
While the contract disputes featuring Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Taylor and Josh Jacobs have taken some uncomfortably public turns, we here at ESPN Fantasy are big fans of the players making their living between the trenches. And what better way to show some love than look at the best of the best and discuss their dominance?
Can Nick Chubb top 1,200 rushing yards for the third consecutive season? Can Tony Pollard eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in his first year as a full-time starter? Will Austin Ekeler see the touchdown regression we were all expecting last year? Vegas has thoughts. We have answers.
Here are five preseason RB props that pop.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns O/U 1,200.5 rushing yards
Daniel: Chubb is just different. The dude exudes old-school running back. You know, the guys who just put their head down and run through people? Yeah, that’s Chubb. He has averaged over 5.0 yards per carry in all five seasons of his career, in spite of the fact that he sees stacked boxes more than almost any other running back in the game. But can he hit 1,200.5 rushing yards in a new offense centered around Deshaun Watson? In years past, this would seem like a pretty easy one. Chubb has hit 1,200 rushing yards in three of the past four seasons but with some increased passing game work and a greater focus on letting the QB air it out, I’m going to take the UNDER on 1,200.5 rushing yards.
Liz: Nick Chubb is different, DD! And so is the Browns’ offense heading into 2023. Assuming Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt opens up the passing game to better utilize Watson’s arm (remember, he threw for over 4,800 yards and managed a 8.9 YPA back in 2020) and the team’s above average receiving corps … well then taking the UNDER on 1,200.5 rushing yards makes loads of sense.
Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons O/U 1,050.5 rushing yards
Liz: What makes less sense is not being on Robinson in the first round of drafts because he’s a rookie. Teams — especially ones that led the league in rush attempts seven months ago — don’t just select a player No. 8 overall unless they plan to use him. Giving off Baby Barkley vibes, Robinson’s speed, vision and tackle-busting prowess (he led the FBS with 201 forced missed tackles over the past three seasons) figure to make him an immediate impact player. Expecting over 1,000 rushing yards is a high bar … for a player with a high standard. The only way Robinson isn’t hitting the OVER is if he doesn’t play 17 games. Give me the optimism (and the OVER).
Daniel: It’s impossible to not be excited about Robinson this year. Liz, you mentioned his ability to force missed tackles. Here’s another fun one: Over the past three years, nobody had more yards after contact (2,185) than Robinson. He forces missed tackles, he carries tacklers for extra yards and he plays for one of the run-heaviest offenses in the NFL. I’m riding that optimistic wave right along with you. I’m taking the OVER.
Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys O/U 975.5 rushing yards
Daniel: Now that Pollard has finally been freed from splitting touches with Ezekiel Elliott, what can we expect from the 26-year old running back? Or more specifically, can we expect 975.5 rushing yards from Pollard in his first full year as a starter? It’s hard not to feel optimistic. Pollard has been one of the more efficient backs in the NFL. Last year, while splitting time with Elliot, Pollard was only 21st among running backs in touches. In spite of that limited volume, he was 12th in rushing yards with 1,007 on the season. With little competition behind him that scares me, I’m taking the OVER on 975.5 rushing yards.
Liz: I don’t want to take the OVER on Pollard’s line because it seems like a trap. But the fact that he pulled off a 1,000-yard rushing campaign last season is proof that he’s up to the task. Still, that was with less work near the goal line where so much contact is key. While I have Pollard ranked inside my top-10 RBs, this line is just too close. I’ll take the UNDER and hope I’m wrong.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers O/U 8.5 rushing TDs
Liz: What I’m certainly not wrong about, however, is Ekeler’s prowess in the red zone. The man has led the league in TDs for two straight seasons. And he has managed double-digit rushing scores in back-to-back efforts. So then why does this line seem too aggressive? I’m anticipating his targets will regress a bit with new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore attempting to stretch the field and better utilize Justin Herbert‘s arm. But that shouldn’t affect Austin’s rushing production, right? Here’s the thing, though: The Chargers have one of the most difficult schedules and will likely have to battle through some tight matchups. That means more passing, not more rushing. While I think Ekeler should be good for 8-10 rushing scores, I just don’t like this bet and will, once again, hedge in favor of the UNDER.
Daniel: I’m sorry, Liz. I know that wasn’t easy. Austin’s a friend … or, at least he used to be a friend before he read that you took the UNDER on his rushing touchdowns! You make some great points about the potential changes coming to his offense. Nobody here is questioning his talent or ability on the field, but he has been over-producing in the touchdown department the past two years, and I’m expecting that regression to kick in this year. Just like you, Liz, I don’t love the bet, so I’m taking the UNDER.
David Montgomery, Detroit Lions O/U 6.5 rushing TDs
Daniel: Last year, mostly thanks to Jamaal Williams, the Detroit Lions had 23 rushing TDs from their running backs, most in the NFL. In fact, their running backs were pretty good. They also led the league in touchdowns per rush attempt. Oh, they also led the league in goal-to-go rushes and goal-to-go touchdowns. Are you sensing a theme here? This season, Williams is out of town and Montgomery is bringing his short-yardage game to the Motor City. Montgomery has seen more than 15 goal line carries every single year of his career and has exceeded 6.5 touchdowns in two of the past three season. I’m very much expecting him to crush this mark. I’m taking the OVER on 6.5 rushing touchdowns.
Liz: I saw a pro-Lions POV and was worried for a second that we wouldn’t be able to end this week’s column in agreement. Then I saw the line on Montgomery’s rushing scores and sent out all the virtual first bumps. I’m with you on the OVER on this one, friend. The North’s most beloved Eagle Scout (fun fact, right?) is diving into the end zone for 8 TDs in 2023.
POST AUTHOR: Daniel Dopp and Liz Loza