Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans was running his way to the NFL rushing title with five consecutive 100-yard rushing games that included three games with three rushing touchdowns. A 2,000-yard season and perhaps the chance to become the first running back since Adrian Peterson in 2012 to be named the NFL MVP seemed like distinct possibilities. However, when Henry was sidelined with a foot injury, everything changed.
It actually took a couple of weeks after Henry’s injury for the Tennessee star to fall out of the top spot in the NFL rushing stats, which was an indication of the type of dominant season he was putting together.
Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts became the new leader, according to the Las Vegas odds and he is pulling away in the rushing championship race.
Taking a look at the frontrunners
- Team: Indianapolis Colts (6-6)
- Opening Odds: +1200
- Current Odds: -1200
Taylor, a second-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft, had one 100-yard game as the Indianapolis Colts limped to a 1-4 start. When Indianapolis started feeding the ball to Taylor, its fortunes started to change. He had a three-game stretch where he ran for 473 yards and seven touchdowns
The Colts are 6-0 when he runs for more than 100 yards and 0-6 when he doesn’t so expect to see plenty of Taylor down the stretch run as the Colts look to make a playoff push.
Five players had better NFL odds than Taylor did at +1200 before the season started. Taylor has 1205 yards and with the inactive Henry in second place with 937, it would take something out of the ordinary for somebody else to lead the league in rushing.
There were questions about Taylor’s ability to catch the ball coming out of college since he had only 42 catches in three seasons at Wisconsin but Taylor has caught 36-of-43 targets.
Not that it plays a role in the rushing leader race, but Taylor is the early lead in Pro Bowl voting.
And here are the top-5 vote-getters, led by Colts RB Jonathan Taylor. Brady ranks 5th pic.twitter.com/5Q6zzGTKkE
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 2, 2021
- Team: Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)
- Opening Odds: +2500
- Current Odds: +800
Mixon is coming on strong with 123 yards against the Las Vegas Raiders and a season-best 165 against the Pittsburgh Steelers as Cincinnati’s playoff hopes received a major boost with the back-to-back wins.
However, unless Taylor gets knocked out of the lineup, it is hard to see Mixon making up the 281-yard gap that currently exists as a six-game stretch when averaged only 14 carries per game will likely keep him from chasing down Taylor.
- Team: Cleveland Browns (6-6)
- Opening Odds: +650
- Current Odds: +1800
The case of Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns can go down into the “what might have been” department.
If Chubb hadn’t missed three games and been limited in others, he would likely already be over the 1,000-yard mark and would be viewed as the top challenger according to the scores and odds to Taylor. Instead, he is almost 350 yards behind Taylor. With Kareem Hunt back, the backfield will return to a timeshare and while there are enough carries to go around for both Chubb and Hunt, he may have a hard time overtaking Mixon for the No. 2 spot so his current odds of +1800 will likely be heading in the wrong direction as the season moves along.
The Other Contenders
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (+4000): With talk about managing a banged-up Elliott’s workload down the stretch leaves one to wonder if he’ll top the 1,000-yard mark never mind whatever number Taylor finishes with.
Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers (+4000): Ben Roethlisberger’s days as an MVP candidate are in the rear-view mirror and the offense should be running through Harris, the 232-pound rookie from Alabama. Pittsburgh gave Harris more than 20 carries in five straight games and the Steelers went 4-0-1 in those games. He had just 20 total rushing attempts in the last two games.
Harris has a chance to lead all running backs in receptions but that doesn’t help him in this race.
Darrell Henderson (+4500): Already a long, long, longshot in this race, Henderson has been missing time in practice this week. Without a 100-yard game this season and so many people ahead of him, there isn’t a conceivable avenue for Henderson to be a factor in the rushing race.
NFL Rushing Touchdowns: Taylor Man to Beat
It seems like ages ago when Taylor had 42 carries in the first three games and none resulted in a touchdown. He has scored at least one rushing TD in each of the last nine games and is the leader in this category as well and likely a favorite among those who bet online,
Taylor, Indianapolis Colts (-240): If you just took the games against the Houston Texans, the New York Jets, and Buffalo Bills, he would be among the NFL leaders in rushing touchdowns. As it is, he has 14 touchdowns on the ground which gives him a two-game lead on the closest competitor.
James Conner, Arizona Cardinals (+200): The biggest obstacle standing in Conner’s way lines up in the same backfield. Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray is always a threat to carry the ball in the red zone which could limit some of the touchdown opportunities for Conner.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (+300): It is hard to figure out the Cincinnati Bengals. Some weeks, the offense looks like the St. Louis Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf, and in others, they struggle to get out of their own way. If they play up to their capability, Mixon could have plenty of carries near the end zone and could end up challenging Taylor for the NFL lead.