Welcome to the playoffs! In this piece, I’ll be discussing the top fantasy running backs in the context of our large suite of analytical fantasy tools, most specifically, our FantasyLabs Player Models.
This piece will be focused on the four-game full weekend slate but contains actionable information for any of the Showdown slates as well.
As news breaks throughout the week and we adjust our projections, player ratings in our Player Models will change. For updates, visit the models directly.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
- Quarterbacks on Tuesday
- Wide Receivers on Wednesday
- Tight Ends on Thursday
For more in-depth NFL analysis, check out The Action Network.
High-End Running Backs
Derrick Henry ($7,500 DraftKings, $9,000 FanDuel): Tennessee Titans (-3.5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (47 total)
Henry is a critical decision point this weekend for DFS. On DraftKings especially, his current salary is far below what we’ve grown accustomed to from the big dog. Henry, of course, will be making his first appearance since Halloween against the Bengals on Sunday. DraftKings typically reduces player’s salary every week they’re out of action, leaving them fairly cheap upon their return.
On FanDuel, Henry is closer to his normal salary range. While he was typically in the five figures, he had two regular-season games below his Divisional Round price. If you’re a believer in Henry this week, he’s a better play on DraftKings. (Of course, his ownership is likely to be lower on FanDuel. It’s an interesting game theory consideration – would you worry about the relative savings if Henry drops a 40 bomb?)
Regardless, there are lots of questions around Henry this weekend. His usage is first and foremost. Henry hasn’t played in nearly three months, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a reduced workload, particularly since D’Onta Foreman has played well in Henry’s absence. The two share an identical 4.3 yards per carry mark on the season. If you want to fade Henry this week, rostering Foreman instead is a tremendous leverage spot.
On the other hand, there were reports that Henry may have been ready for Week 18. With the Titans having a bye to open the playoffs, the extra two weeks may have been enough to get him operating at full capacity. If he’s up to it, the Titans would love to unleash him for his standard 27+ rushes per game. (Yes, that is his standard – he averaged 27.6 on the season.)
The other question is Henry’s effectiveness. The Titans could give Henry the requisite carries, but if he doesn’t perform up to (or near) his usual level, that’s not enough. This is my bigger concern. Henry’s usage over his career has been enormous, and it’s not a stretch to think that he’s never the same after a significant foot injury.
Still, the upside is enormous for King Henry. He leads out ceiling projections at 20.1 (FanDuel) points. He beat that number in half of his games played this season. I’ll be overweight the field on Henry this week.
Joe Mixon ($6,600 DraftKings, $7,800 FanDuel) Cincinnati Bengals (+3.5) at Tennessee Titans (47 total)
Mixon is the leader in ceiling projection on DraftKings, where he narrowly edges out Henry. This is thanks to Mixon’s passing game role – he averages roughly one more target per game than Henry.
Mixon and the Bengals are underdogs, with Mixon having pretty significant favored/underdog splits:
The spread is pretty narrow though, so it’s not the biggest concern this week. We should be viewing Mixon as an arbitrage Henry this week. Both players have massive workloads in solid game scripts but somewhat limited involvement when playing from behind. Accordingly, a bet on Mixon is a bet on the Bengals to control this game. Keep that in mind when building lineups, and correlate them appropriately.
It’s a tough matchup for Mixon as the Titans as the stingiest team on the slate in Opponent Plus/Minus Allowed. That figure factors in salary, though (Plus/Minus is a measure of production relative to salary). Mixon is – like Henry – far cheaper than he usually is.
Given their splits, I certainly wouldn’t roster both Mixon and Henry this week. The odds of one or the other being in the winning lineup are fairly high, though. Mixon leads all of our raw projections (floor, median, and ceiling) on DraftKings while trailing only Henry on FanDuel.
Mid-Range Running Backs
Leonard Fournette ($5,700 DraftKings, $7,000 FanDuel): Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3) vs. Los Angeles Rams (48.5 total)
The Bucs are hoping “playoff Lenny” makes a return this season as they take on the Rams in a tough Divisional Round matchup. Fournette was a hero last season, scoring a touchdown in every postseason game of the Bucs Super Bowl run.
It will be tougher for him this week, as he tries to get back on the field for the first time since Week 15. Fournette is also dealing with additional touch competition (depending on the health of Ronald Jones and Giovanni Bernard). Tampa signed Le’Veon Bell, making this backfield a many-headed monster.
Still, the Bucs clearly prefer Fournette to any of their other options. Especially in the pass game. Fournette was third among running backs in targets on the season, despite missing the final three weeks.
It’s his pass game work that makes him such a valuable asset this week, particularly in this matchup. Tampa’s offensive line is missing two starters, which is tough against Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and the Rams pass rush. That makes deep throws a challenge, potentially leading to more check-down looks to Fournette.
Assuming he’s a full go, Fournette is one of the best plays on the slate. He’s the leader in Pts/Sal on DraftKings.
Devin Singletary ($5,900 DraftKings, $7,200 FanDuel): Buffalo Bills (+1.5) at Kansas City Chiefs (54.5 total)
After dealing with touch competition for most of the season, Singletary has emerged as the leader of the Bills’ backfield. He has at least 18 opportunities (targets + carries) in five straight games while beating his salary-based expectations six times in a row.
There’s no reason to believe that won’t continue this week, as the Bills face the Chiefs in the highest total game on the slate. That high total means more scoring opportunities for Singletary, who trails only Fournette in red zone opportunities per game at 3.0.
It’s also a solid matchup, with the Chiefs being the second easiest team for running backs based on Opponent Plus/Minus Allowed. Kansas City faced the fifth-most running back targets of any NFL team this season, which also bodes well for Singletary. He wasn’t used much in the passing game early in the season but is averaging just under four targets per game since Week 14.
Singletary doesn’t have the massive ceiling of some of the other backs, but at his current salary, that’s fine. He scored at least 24 DraftKings points in three straight games, which is four times his current salary. He’s a solid salary-relief option and a solid pivot from Fournette. Singletary ranks second in Pts/Sal behind Lenny.
Elijah Mitchell ($5,700 DraftKings, $7,200 FanDuel): San Francisco 49ers (+6) at Green Bay Packers (54.5 total)
Mitchell is in a great spot on paper this week. He’s the leading running back for the Niners, who run the ball at the fourth-highest rate in the league. He’s also taking on the worst rushing defense (by DVOA) remaining in the playoffs.
To expand on that last point, not only is Green Bay bad against the run (28th), they’re solid against the pass (15th). That further incentivizes opponents to run the ball against them. Not that the 49ers need a further inducement to run the ball.
There are concerns, though. Deebo Samuel continues to line up in the backfield, siphoning touches from Mitchell. More importantly, he’s taking rushing touchdowns. Samuel has eight touchdowns to Mitchell’s five – on roughly a quarter of the carries.
Beyond that, the fairly large spread (by playoff standards) is a bad sign for San Francisco. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, but it will be a challenge to keep Mitchell involved if they fall behind early. He has only 20 targets in 10 starts on the season.
Still, he at least 21 carries in six straight starts, including one loss in that span. That’s generally not the type of back we want to target on DraftKings though. He’s dependent on touchdowns to post big scores – with many of those getting Deebo’d.
Mitchell is a solid play across the board, but with major questions about his ceiling in the likeliest game script. He’s worth a look, though, especially if building lineups around the 49ers keeping this one competitive.
Cam Akers ($5,500 DraftKings, $5,700 FanDuel): Los Angeles Rams (+3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (48.5 total)
Akers made his speedy return from an off-season Achilles tendon injury in Week 18 while looking even better in the Wild Card Round. He handled 17 carries and two targets against the Cardinals last week and showed impressive burst on a 40-yard reception.
This week, he’s taking on the team that faces fewer rushing attempts than any other while still working his way back into the rotation. Los Angeles mixed in Sony Michel for 13 carries last week against the Cardinals. That’s a 57% carry share for Akers – not enough against the Bucs.
However, he’s incredibly cheap on FanDuel this weekend, where he’s tied with Mixon for the best Pts/Sal play. Salary is looser there in general, so the savings may not be as critical. Still, he’s worth a flier based on how good he looked last week. He would only need a couple of big plays (or a touchdown) to pay off his meager salary there.