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NFL Betting Preview – The Value of Running Backs in Pittsburgh at St. Louis

Posted by Matthew Forrester on 9/27/2015 8:03:48 AM

As a rule, I try not to get that excited about rookie running-backs anymore, especially when it comes to NFL betting. Teams tend to treat these guys like scabs that they can pick off and replace at any time. This is one of the most expendable positions in the league because of the workload it requires, and the physical toll it produces.

And to be fully honest, there aren’t many running-backs that have burst on to the scene that have changed the way we view the position either from a statistical standpoint, a value proposition or an NFL betting vantage. Only four running-backs drafted in the last five years have broken in to the top-5 of league rushing. Those are:

2011 Draft – DeMarco Murray (1st in NFL, 2014)

2012 Draft – Doug Martin (5th in NFL, 2012)

2012 Draft – Alfred Morris (4th in NFL , 2013)

2013 Draft – Le’Veon Bell (2nd in NFL, 2014)

It’s insane that Doug Martin is the only rookie running-back to rank in the top-5 of all running backs during his rookie season. That guy had his foot halfway out the door last year. Murray took three years (and Dallas’s offensive line) to become relevant and is back to being a nobody. Who knows what to think of former sixth-round pick Alfred Morris.

The top names in the running game of the NFL include Jamaal Charles (3rd Round – 2008), Matt Forte (2nd Round – 2008), Marshawn Lynch (12th overall – 2007), LeSean McCoy (2nd Round – 2009) and Adrian Peterson (7th overall – 2007).

Look at that list again and think about the impact of those guys for a second. It’s been over a half-decade since all of those guys were drafted, and the only one challenging for the rushing title is Le’Veon Bell, who was drafted 2nd overall in 2013.

You can make cases for guys like Eddie Lacy, Carlos Hyde and others but the idea of those players is sometimes more exciting than the actual product. They’re like a bunch of Vin Diesel’s compared to Dwayne Johnson. Nobody has separated themselves from the rest of the pack like Bell has. He’s arguably the best running back in the game and a huge factor when attacking Pittsburgh’s NFL betting lines.

The train wreck of names that have been taken high in the draft, and haven’t panned out, is too long to mention. You have guys like Trent Richardson, who was a third overall pick and is now out of the league. We have Montee Ball who was starting for the Broncos just last year. We have Bishop Sankey who was the top running back taken in an awful 2014 draft class.

Hype around running-backs diffuses rapidly so it’s impossible to get that pumped up about them. The crazy part? Teams with a top-5 running-back have gone 206-184-10 ATS in the last five years. That’s not a bad return when you consider that there are so many variables to an NFL bet, but it’s not a stable outlier either.

So what am I getting it?

I’m getting to Todd Gurley, who could also make his NFL debut this Sunday against Bell’s Steelers.

Gurley is so talented that the Rams drafted him 10th overall despite the fact that he tore his ACL nine months ago. He was an absolute standout at Georgia, compiling 3,285 yards and 75 touchdowns in a very limited amount of games. Seventy-five touchdowns in the SEC is a mountain when you also consider that he only played in 30 games. That’s an average of 109.5 yards and 2.5 rushing touchdowns per game.

There’s no doubt that Gurley will be a boon to the St. Louis rushing attack, which ranks just 27th in the league so far with 157 total yards. Gurley is a dual threat to a certain extent as well. He’s not a Bell-type pass catcher, who can wreak havoc in the open field, but he’s most certainly a reincarnation of Steven Jackson who was a menace in his prime for St. Louis. Those comparisons have existed for years with Gurley.

Coach Jeff Fisher has been typically coy about how much Gurley will play in his debut, and it’s easy to say that Pittsburgh’s defence is decent against the run when they just limited San Francisco to 3.5 yards per carry after the Niners ran all over Minnesota. But that game was well out of hand by the end of the first half, when Pittsburgh had built a massive 29-3 lead.

Beating St. Louis at home is no easy task, especially at home. St. Louis is 5-2 SU and ATS in their last 7 home games which includes wins over Seattle from Week 1 and dominations of Oakland and Denver in 2014. By contrast, the Steelers are just 5-4 ATS in their last 9 road games in NFL betting.

Because of St. Louis’s ability to play at home, the public and sharps have been slamming them. The introduction of Gurley, even in a limited capacity, changes the outlook of their offense and opens up passing lanes for Nick Foles. Pittsburgh is far from a perfect team, and there’s just as much reason to be pessimistic about Le’Veon Bell’s performance in this game as Gurley’s potential output.

Pittsburgh could very well have one of the most explosive offenses in the league, but everything hinges around an offensive line that will be under siege by a defensive line that touts two of the best in Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald. Roethlisberger will be running for his life, and even the presence of Bell might not help.

St. Louis has routinely seemed like a risky play at home, but they’ve almost always cashed out for their backers. I wouldn’t just bet blindly on the Steelers because of Bell’s incoming return. The Rams can and will make this a game.

If you’re concerned that Gurley won’t have a huge impact, then tuck those fears away. There’s no way that Fisher is going to risk the best running-back prospect in over seven years at home, against Pittsburgh, coming off an ACL injury unless he was absolutely certain.

NFL Week 3 Betting Pick – St. Louis +1.0

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