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Week 12 NFL DFS RB Breakdown: Can Austin Ekeler Repeat his Big Performance?

In this piece, I highlight running backs who stand out in our large suite of analytical fantasy tools, most specifically, our FantasyLabs Player Models. While the models are built for DFS contests, this is an all-purpose fantasy article with actionable information for all formats.

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.

And don’t forget to check out our Lineup Builder if you like to hand build your lineups or our Lineup Optimizer for those of you that like to enter multiple lineups into tournaments.

Top Running Backs in the FantasyLabs Models

There are five running backs atop the individual Pro Models that Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, and Ryan Hodge have constructed, as well as our proprietary Cash Game and Tournament Models

Here’s where they place within our Week 12 Fantasy Rankings (as of Friday):

  • Austin Ekeler (4th)
  • James Robinson (11th)
  • Darrel Henderson (12th)
  • Myles Gaskin (14th)
  • Elijah Mitchell (20th)

We’ll discuss why these five are popping in our models, as well as take a look at some other backs who could help you take down a tournament.

FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns

  • Quarterbacks on Thursday/Friday
  • Wide Receivers on Thursday/Friday
  • Tight Ends on Thursday/Friday

For more in-depth NFL analysis, check out The Action Network.

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Real-time DFS models

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Top Model Running Backs

Austin Ekeler ($8,400 DraftKings, $8,400 FanDuel): Los Angeles Chargers (-2.5) at Denver Broncos (48 total)

Ekeler has moved up the fantasy scoring ranks after last week’s blowup game, trailing only Jonathon Taylor in points on the season. Ekeler has the perfect role in the Chargers offense from a fantasy standpoint. He mixes in tons of high-value targets (5.8 per game) with plenty of red-zone opportunities (3.81 per game, behind only Taylor and Dalvin Cook on the Week 12 main slate).

That combination makes Ekeler a solid play in almost any game script. While he doesn’t get a ton of overall carries, his goal-line work is valuable when the Chargers are controlling games. On the other hand, his passing game work keeps him relevant in negative game scripts.

There’s no reason to expect anything different this week. The Broncos rank 28th in DVOA against the run. The Chargers also have a solid 25.3 point Vegas total, third-best (among 20 teams) on the main slate. Ekeler’s scoring correlates very well with the Chargers team total:

(I picked a 24.5 threshold for this Trend because it represented roughly half of Ekeler’s games over the past three seasons. It’s important to not “over-fit” trends to a specific scenario. My goal here was to be directionally correct. Ekeler averages only 13.74 FanDuel points with a total of 24.4 or less. More on using our Trends Tool for research can be found here.)

It’s also fortunate that Ekeler’s four-touchdown performance last week happened after Week 12 salaries were released — his price is only $200 more on FanDuel and $500 more on DraftKings, despite a 38.5/41.5 point performance last week. Ekeler leads four of our Pro Models overall — three on FanDuel.

James Robinson ($6,200 DraftKings, $7,600 FanDuel): Jacksonville Jaguars (+2) vs. Atlanta Falcons (46 total)

It’s been a while since Robinson’s name was listed at the top of any of our models, but he sneaks in with one on DraftKings this week. Robinson has had a lot to overcome this year. Backup Carlos Hyde has (ineffectually) mixed in for six carries and a couple of targets a game. (Though that number is bolstered by Robinson missing most of the two games.)

Jacksonville’s struggling overall offense (15.9 points per game, third-worst in the league) does him no favors either. Despite all of that — and the two games missed — Robinson is the 13th best back in PPR scoring on the year.

Fortunately for Robinson, the Jaguars have one of their best matchups on the season, against the 30th-ranked Falcons defense. More important than the Falcons defensive struggles is the ineptitude of the Falcons offense, which has scored a total of three points over the past two games. Facing a bad opposing offense means more time with the ball for Jacksonville and a greater likelihood of positive game scripts.

It’s also conceivable that the Jaguars will play more run-heavy in general this week. Wide receiver Jamal Agnew has joined DJ Chark among the players done for the season, leaving the passing attack with very little weaponry. Even if they are forced — or choose — to be more pass-heavy, more of those could go to Robinson. He’s been solid as a receiver, with nearly four targets per game this season.

Robinson is also cheap this week — at least on DraftKings. His $6,200 salary is the lowest it’s been since Week 4, despite the above-average matchup. Accordingly, Robinson is fourth in Pts/Sal on DraftKings this week.

Darrel Henderson ($5,800 DraftKings, $7,300 FanDuel): Los Angeles Rams (-2) at Green Bay Packers (47 total)

Henderson’s price stands out on DraftKings this week, where he has a 97% Bargain Rating in our models. Backs in the middle of the price range with excellent Bargain Ratings have done well historically:

(If you were to build this trend yourself, you’d see that most of the backs in the “current matches” tab are among our model’s highest-rated.)

Similar to Ekeler, Henderson has a solid combination of receiving work (almost four targets per game) and red-zone role (top-10 among main slate running backs). While he’s not quite at Ekeler levels in either category — or in talent — the discount in his salary on DraftKings more than accommodates for that.

This game stands out for Henderson regardless of pricing, though. The Packers have struggled against the run this season, ranking 26th in DVOA. They’ve been much tougher against the pass, ranking 12th. The Rams already have four games this year with 32 or fewer pass attempts; we could be in for another this week, particularly if they get off to an early lead.

This game’s wide receivers will be getting most of the attention, but the backfield holds a ton of value as well. If either team gets ahead early, expect them to attempt to keep the opposing offense off the field with ball control football. The Rams are favored by two here, meaning they’re the likelier team to do so.

Henderson is the top choice this week in our DraftKings Cash Game model.

Myles Gaskin ($5,600 DraftKings, $6,200 FanDuel): Miami Dolphins (+2) vs. Carolina Panthers (42 total)

Gaskin has been heavily involved for the Dolphins over their three-game winning streak. Since Week 9, he’s carried the ball 57 times (19 per game) and drawn 12 targets (four per game). The carry count stands out as well over his rate in the first half of the season (8.25 per game.) The winning causes the carries, of course, not the other way around. That’s still encouraging this week, with the Dolphins as only slight underdogs at home against the Panthers.

The Panthers defense is strong overall but has struggled a bit against the run. They rank 20th in DVOA. Opposing offenses have adjusted, throwing the ball at the third-lowest rate in the league against the Panthers defense. (Some of that is due to game script, with the 5-6 Panthers rarely forcing opponents to play catch up. It’s still notable, though, as we’d expect the Panthers to be near the middle of the pack based on record.)

Even if they don’t run the ball more than usual, Gaskin is a solid receiver. His 52 targets on the year ranks sixth among backs. He still likely needs a positive game script for a big game, but he can have a reasonable price-considered day even with the Dolphins trailing.

Gaskin is the stronger play on FanDuel, where leads one of our Pro Models. He’s tied for the slate lead in Pts/Sal there.

Elijah Mitchell ($5,400 DraftKings, $6,800 FanDuel): San Francisco 49ers (-3.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings (49 total)

Mitchell is clearly head coach Kyle Shanahan’s favorite back. He’s led the team in carries in each of his healthy games, despite being drafted three rounds behind fellow running back Trey Sermon. Shanahan‘s backfields are always frustrating, with Mitchell having a high snap rate on the season of 68%. Still, he’s the lead back for a team that runs the ball at the fourth-highest rate in the league.

The 49ers are also implied for the second-highest total on the slate. The combination of rush rate and total means Vegas is expecting plenty of production on the ground for San Fran.  He’s been effective with his opportunities as well, ranking tenth in the league in yards per rush.

He’s facing a Vikings team that’s been susceptible to the run as well. The Vikings allow the fifth-highest rushing yards per game and second-most yards per attempt. That will come in handy for Mitchell, who doesn’t have much of a receiving role. He has only nine targets in seven games.

That lack of receiving production makes Mitchell a tougher play on DraftKings, where he’s relatively cheaper (97% Bargain Rating). The pricing got it right this week, with Mitchell being priced up where he’s more valuable. Even so, he’s one of the best values on the slate, leading (or tying for the lead) both sites in Pts/Sal. He leads one of our Pro Models on each of the sites.

Other Running Backs With Week-Winning Upside

Jonathon Taylor ($9,100 DraftKings, $9,800 FanDuel): Indianapolis Colts (+3) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (53 total)

Taylor has been doing his best Derrick Henry impression as of late, posting monster scores despite a limited receiving role. (His 40 targets are in the top 10 for running backs, but a far cry from players like Christian McCaffrey on a per-game basis. CMC has 40 targets in five fewer games.)

That hasn’t stopped him from breaking numerous slates this season, with four games over 30 DraftKings points. This game sets up poorly for Taylor. The Colts are underdogs, and Tampa has a top-five rush defense. All of that could’ve been said last week, right before he scored five total touchdowns and scored 56.4 DraftKings points. Taylor shouldn’t be a good play this week based on his usage and game environment. He still is, though, with a slate-breaking ceiling on a weekly basis.

Christian McCaffrey ($9,000 DraftKings, $9,700 FanDuel): Carolina Panthers (-2) at Miami Dolphins (42 total)

Speaking of slate breakers, CMC trails only Taylor in Median and Ceiling Projections this week. McCaffrey hasn’t had any of his trademark monster games in limited action this season, with his best score being “only” 26.1 DraftKings points. He’s been remarkably consistent, though, scoring at least 24.7 in every game he’s played at least half of the snaps in.

He looks to have his old role back, too, playing 90% of the snaps last week. Seemingly fully recovered from injury, we’re likely to see a huge game at some point if he can stay healthy. His receiving role gives him a better floor than Taylor, too, at least on DraftKings. That makes McCaffrey the safer cash game play. He also has a better matchup and game script against a considerably worse Dolphins defense — making him the better play in tournaments on paper. (Ownership Projections notwithstanding.)

Dalvin Cook ($8,100 DraftKings, $8,100 FanDuel): Minnesota Vikings (+3.5) at San Francisco 49ers (49 total)

Cook’s FanDuel price is noteworthy this week, where he offers a significant discount over the other top running backs. He trails only McCaffrey and Taylor in Ceiling Projections, albeit in a tough matchup against the 49ers. Cook has only 2.6 catches per game this season — a career-low — so he’ll need to do it on the ground to post a big score. That, coupled with his relative price, makes him a far better play on FanDuel.

Aaron Jones ($6,000 DraftKings, $7,000 FanDuel) and AJ Dillon ($5,900 DraftKings, $6,900 FanDuel): Green Bay Packers (+2) vs. Los Angeles Rams (47 total)

After missing the past two weeks, Jones reportedly has “a chance” to return on Sunday against the Rams. I’d guess that the backfield is more of a 50/50 split if Jones is back, making neither player a strong play against the Rams. However, Dillon is in a great spot of Jones misses again. He handled 16 carries and four targets per game in Jones’ absence. This one will likely come down to a game-time decision. The Packers play in the late slot on Sunday, so have late-swap plans in order if you’re waiting on Jones’ status.

Editor’s note: Jones was listed as questionable on Friday. 

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In this piece, I highlight running backs who stand out in our large suite of analytical fantasy tools, most specifically, our FantasyLabs Player Models. While the models are built for DFS contests, this is an all-purpose fantasy article with actionable information for all formats.

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.

And don’t forget to check out our Lineup Builder if you like to hand build your lineups or our Lineup Optimizer for those of you that like to enter multiple lineups into tournaments.

Top Running Backs in the FantasyLabs Models

There are five running backs atop the individual Pro Models that Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, and Ryan Hodge have constructed, as well as our proprietary Cash Game and Tournament Models

Here’s where they place within our Week 12 Fantasy Rankings (as of Friday):

  • Austin Ekeler (4th)
  • James Robinson (11th)
  • Darrel Henderson (12th)
  • Myles Gaskin (14th)
  • Elijah Mitchell (20th)

We’ll discuss why these five are popping in our models, as well as take a look at some other backs who could help you take down a tournament.

FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns

  • Quarterbacks on Thursday/Friday
  • Wide Receivers on Thursday/Friday
  • Tight Ends on Thursday/Friday

For more in-depth NFL analysis, check out The Action Network.

Get 85% OFF FantasyLabs PRO

Lineup builder and optimizer

Real-time DFS models

Data-driven analysis & tutorials

Top Model Running Backs

Austin Ekeler ($8,400 DraftKings, $8,400 FanDuel): Los Angeles Chargers (-2.5) at Denver Broncos (48 total)

Ekeler has moved up the fantasy scoring ranks after last week’s blowup game, trailing only Jonathon Taylor in points on the season. Ekeler has the perfect role in the Chargers offense from a fantasy standpoint. He mixes in tons of high-value targets (5.8 per game) with plenty of red-zone opportunities (3.81 per game, behind only Taylor and Dalvin Cook on the Week 12 main slate).

That combination makes Ekeler a solid play in almost any game script. While he doesn’t get a ton of overall carries, his goal-line work is valuable when the Chargers are controlling games. On the other hand, his passing game work keeps him relevant in negative game scripts.

There’s no reason to expect anything different this week. The Broncos rank 28th in DVOA against the run. The Chargers also have a solid 25.3 point Vegas total, third-best (among 20 teams) on the main slate. Ekeler’s scoring correlates very well with the Chargers team total:

(I picked a 24.5 threshold for this Trend because it represented roughly half of Ekeler’s games over the past three seasons. It’s important to not “over-fit” trends to a specific scenario. My goal here was to be directionally correct. Ekeler averages only 13.74 FanDuel points with a total of 24.4 or less. More on using our Trends Tool for research can be found here.)

It’s also fortunate that Ekeler’s four-touchdown performance last week happened after Week 12 salaries were released — his price is only $200 more on FanDuel and $500 more on DraftKings, despite a 38.5/41.5 point performance last week. Ekeler leads four of our Pro Models overall — three on FanDuel.

James Robinson ($6,200 DraftKings, $7,600 FanDuel): Jacksonville Jaguars (+2) vs. Atlanta Falcons (46 total)

It’s been a while since Robinson’s name was listed at the top of any of our models, but he sneaks in with one on DraftKings this week. Robinson has had a lot to overcome this year. Backup Carlos Hyde has (ineffectually) mixed in for six carries and a couple of targets a game. (Though that number is bolstered by Robinson missing most of the two games.)

Jacksonville’s struggling overall offense (15.9 points per game, third-worst in the league) does him no favors either. Despite all of that — and the two games missed — Robinson is the 13th best back in PPR scoring on the year.

Fortunately for Robinson, the Jaguars have one of their best matchups on the season, against the 30th-ranked Falcons defense. More important than the Falcons defensive struggles is the ineptitude of the Falcons offense, which has scored a total of three points over the past two games. Facing a bad opposing offense means more time with the ball for Jacksonville and a greater likelihood of positive game scripts.

It’s also conceivable that the Jaguars will play more run-heavy in general this week. Wide receiver Jamal Agnew has joined DJ Chark among the players done for the season, leaving the passing attack with very little weaponry. Even if they are forced — or choose — to be more pass-heavy, more of those could go to Robinson. He’s been solid as a receiver, with nearly four targets per game this season.

Robinson is also cheap this week — at least on DraftKings. His $6,200 salary is the lowest it’s been since Week 4, despite the above-average matchup. Accordingly, Robinson is fourth in Pts/Sal on DraftKings this week.

Darrel Henderson ($5,800 DraftKings, $7,300 FanDuel): Los Angeles Rams (-2) at Green Bay Packers (47 total)

Henderson’s price stands out on DraftKings this week, where he has a 97% Bargain Rating in our models. Backs in the middle of the price range with excellent Bargain Ratings have done well historically:

(If you were to build this trend yourself, you’d see that most of the backs in the “current matches” tab are among our model’s highest-rated.)

Similar to Ekeler, Henderson has a solid combination of receiving work (almost four targets per game) and red-zone role (top-10 among main slate running backs). While he’s not quite at Ekeler levels in either category — or in talent — the discount in his salary on DraftKings more than accommodates for that.

This game stands out for Henderson regardless of pricing, though. The Packers have struggled against the run this season, ranking 26th in DVOA. They’ve been much tougher against the pass, ranking 12th. The Rams already have four games this year with 32 or fewer pass attempts; we could be in for another this week, particularly if they get off to an early lead.

This game’s wide receivers will be getting most of the attention, but the backfield holds a ton of value as well. If either team gets ahead early, expect them to attempt to keep the opposing offense off the field with ball control football. The Rams are favored by two here, meaning they’re the likelier team to do so.

Henderson is the top choice this week in our DraftKings Cash Game model.

Myles Gaskin ($5,600 DraftKings, $6,200 FanDuel): Miami Dolphins (+2) vs. Carolina Panthers (42 total)

Gaskin has been heavily involved for the Dolphins over their three-game winning streak. Since Week 9, he’s carried the ball 57 times (19 per game) and drawn 12 targets (four per game). The carry count stands out as well over his rate in the first half of the season (8.25 per game.) The winning causes the carries, of course, not the other way around. That’s still encouraging this week, with the Dolphins as only slight underdogs at home against the Panthers.

The Panthers defense is strong overall but has struggled a bit against the run. They rank 20th in DVOA. Opposing offenses have adjusted, throwing the ball at the third-lowest rate in the league against the Panthers defense. (Some of that is due to game script, with the 5-6 Panthers rarely forcing opponents to play catch up. It’s still notable, though, as we’d expect the Panthers to be near the middle of the pack based on record.)

Even if they don’t run the ball more than usual, Gaskin is a solid receiver. His 52 targets on the year ranks sixth among backs. He still likely needs a positive game script for a big game, but he can have a reasonable price-considered day even with the Dolphins trailing.

Gaskin is the stronger play on FanDuel, where leads one of our Pro Models. He’s tied for the slate lead in Pts/Sal there.

Elijah Mitchell ($5,400 DraftKings, $6,800 FanDuel): San Francisco 49ers (-3.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings (49 total)

Mitchell is clearly head coach Kyle Shanahan’s favorite back. He’s led the team in carries in each of his healthy games, despite being drafted three rounds behind fellow running back Trey Sermon. Shanahan‘s backfields are always frustrating, with Mitchell having a high snap rate on the season of 68%. Still, he’s the lead back for a team that runs the ball at the fourth-highest rate in the league.

The 49ers are also implied for the second-highest total on the slate. The combination of rush rate and total means Vegas is expecting plenty of production on the ground for San Fran.  He’s been effective with his opportunities as well, ranking tenth in the league in yards per rush.

He’s facing a Vikings team that’s been susceptible to the run as well. The Vikings allow the fifth-highest rushing yards per game and second-most yards per attempt. That will come in handy for Mitchell, who doesn’t have much of a receiving role. He has only nine targets in seven games.

That lack of receiving production makes Mitchell a tougher play on DraftKings, where he’s relatively cheaper (97% Bargain Rating). The pricing got it right this week, with Mitchell being priced up where he’s more valuable. Even so, he’s one of the best values on the slate, leading (or tying for the lead) both sites in Pts/Sal. He leads one of our Pro Models on each of the sites.

Other Running Backs With Week-Winning Upside

Jonathon Taylor ($9,100 DraftKings, $9,800 FanDuel): Indianapolis Colts (+3) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (53 total)

Taylor has been doing his best Derrick Henry impression as of late, posting monster scores despite a limited receiving role. (His 40 targets are in the top 10 for running backs, but a far cry from players like Christian McCaffrey on a per-game basis. CMC has 40 targets in five fewer games.)

That hasn’t stopped him from breaking numerous slates this season, with four games over 30 DraftKings points. This game sets up poorly for Taylor. The Colts are underdogs, and Tampa has a top-five rush defense. All of that could’ve been said last week, right before he scored five total touchdowns and scored 56.4 DraftKings points. Taylor shouldn’t be a good play this week based on his usage and game environment. He still is, though, with a slate-breaking ceiling on a weekly basis.

Christian McCaffrey ($9,000 DraftKings, $9,700 FanDuel): Carolina Panthers (-2) at Miami Dolphins (42 total)

Speaking of slate breakers, CMC trails only Taylor in Median and Ceiling Projections this week. McCaffrey hasn’t had any of his trademark monster games in limited action this season, with his best score being “only” 26.1 DraftKings points. He’s been remarkably consistent, though, scoring at least 24.7 in every game he’s played at least half of the snaps in.

He looks to have his old role back, too, playing 90% of the snaps last week. Seemingly fully recovered from injury, we’re likely to see a huge game at some point if he can stay healthy. His receiving role gives him a better floor than Taylor, too, at least on DraftKings. That makes McCaffrey the safer cash game play. He also has a better matchup and game script against a considerably worse Dolphins defense — making him the better play in tournaments on paper. (Ownership Projections notwithstanding.)

Dalvin Cook ($8,100 DraftKings, $8,100 FanDuel): Minnesota Vikings (+3.5) at San Francisco 49ers (49 total)

Cook’s FanDuel price is noteworthy this week, where he offers a significant discount over the other top running backs. He trails only McCaffrey and Taylor in Ceiling Projections, albeit in a tough matchup against the 49ers. Cook has only 2.6 catches per game this season — a career-low — so he’ll need to do it on the ground to post a big score. That, coupled with his relative price, makes him a far better play on FanDuel.

Aaron Jones ($6,000 DraftKings, $7,000 FanDuel) and AJ Dillon ($5,900 DraftKings, $6,900 FanDuel): Green Bay Packers (+2) vs. Los Angeles Rams (47 total)

After missing the past two weeks, Jones reportedly has “a chance” to return on Sunday against the Rams. I’d guess that the backfield is more of a 50/50 split if Jones is back, making neither player a strong play against the Rams. However, Dillon is in a great spot of Jones misses again. He handled 16 carries and four targets per game in Jones’ absence. This one will likely come down to a game-time decision. The Packers play in the late slot on Sunday, so have late-swap plans in order if you’re waiting on Jones’ status.

Editor’s note: Jones was listed as questionable on Friday. 

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