Jacksonville’s Maurice-Jones Drew, Houston’s Arian Foster and
Tennessee’s Chris Johnson have been the past three rushing kings, with MJD
winning the title with 1,606 yards a season ago. That was easily a career high
for the former UCLA star, a Jaguars franchise record and a whopping 242-yard winning margin over the No. 2 back in 2011, Baltimore’s Ray Rice.
Jones-Drew is the co-15-2 third favorite to repeat. One player
has done so this century: San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006-07. The
recently retired Tomlinson won the NFL MVP award in that ’06, the last
non-quarterback to win it.
Jones-Drew has two things possibly working against him in 2012. First, he plays with a young quarterback in Blaine Gabbert who struggled massively as a rookie in
2011, thus allowing teams to focus on stopping MJD. Second, Jones-Drew has yet to
report to the Jaguars, as he is holding out for a new deal. He has two years and
$9.4 million remaining on his contract and management says it has no plans to
make any concessions. So MJD’s holdout could linger into the regular season.
The favorite this season at 9-2 is Foster, who won the rushing
title in 2010 with 1,616 yards. Foster slipped to 1,224 yards a season ago
(fifth in the NFL), but he missed three games. Working somewhat against Foster
is that the Texans have another good back in Ben Tate, who will steal some
carries. Foster took the unusual step, at least for an athlete in a contact
sport, in switching to a vegan diet this offseason. The Texans approved it.
The Titans’ Johnson is the 7-1 second-favorite. He had the
fifth-best rushing season of all-time when he won the rushing title in 2009
with 2,006 yards. Johnson capped that season with 11 consecutive 100-yard
games but hasn’t been the same player since that year,
as his yardage totals and yards-per-carry average has gone down both seasons.
He finished with 1,047 on a career-low 4.0 YPC in 2011.
Baltimore’s Rice is also at 15-2 to win with Jones-Drew. Rice’s 1,364
yards last year were a career high, and he also rushed for a single-game best
204 yards in a December win over Cleveland. The last Raven to win the rushing
title was Jamal Lewis in 2003, when he rushed for 2,066 yards, the second-most
all time. Eric Dickerson continues to hold the single-season mark with 2,105 in
Of the top nine favorites for the 2012 rushing title, only two
come from the NFC: Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy (who checks in with 12-1 odds) and Minnesota’s Adrian
Peterson (lited at 15-1).
McCoy finished fourth in the NFL a year ago with a career-high
1,309 yards, which earned him a big new contract extension this offseason. The
Eagles have yet to have a rushing leader since the 1970 merger. Peterson was
the last rushing champ from the NFC with 1,760 yards in 2008. He was limited to
970 yards in 12 games in 2011 (his first with less than 1,298 yards) after
suffering a serious knee injury. Peterson still isn’t all the way back and won’t
play in this preseason. The Vikings have yet to guarantee that Peterson will be
100 percent ready for the Sept. 9 season opener, but Peterson expects to play.
Meanwhile, there are no Patriots betting options for the 2012 rushing
leader. No New England back has ever led the NFL in rushing although Corey Dillon came close in 2004 when he set a franchise record with 1,635 yards.