The Week 12 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Nov. 29, at 1 p.m. ET.
In this piece, I highlight running backs who stand out in our large suite of analytical fantasy tools, most specifically our FantasyLabs Models. While the Models are built for daily 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, where players rate in our Models will change. For updates, visit the Models directly.
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Top Running Backs in the FantasyLabs Models
There are six running backs atop the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek), Ryan Hodge and I have constructed.
Here’s where they place within our Week 12 fantasy football rankings (as of Wednesday evening).
- Dalvin Cook: No. 1 (PPR) | No. 1 (Half PPR) | No. 1 (STD)
- James Robinson: No. 2 (PPR) | No. 3 (Half PPR) | No. 3 (STD)
- Kalen Ballage: No. 10 (PPR) | No. 12 (Half PPR) | No. 15 (STD)
- Kareem Hunt: No. 13 (PPR) | No. 13 (Half PPR) | No. 14 (STD)
- Salvon Ahmed: No. 16 (PPR) | No. 16 (Half PPR) | No. 16 (STD)
- Jonathan Taylor: No. 24 (PPR) | No. 23 (Half PPR) | No. 24 (STD)
Of these six, the two who stand out most to me are Cook and Taylor. The other guys I will highlight as needed in the subsequent section on players with week-winning upside.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
Check in throughout the week as I publish the rest of the positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis, check out The Action Network.
Dalvin Cook: Minnesota Vikings (-3.5) vs. Carolina Panthers (51 Over/Under)
I’m literally copying, pasting and tweaking my Cook analysis from last week, because …
- It still applies.
- It was correct.
- It saves time.
Cook has enjoyed über-elite usage since returning from injury out of the bye.
- Week 8 (at GB): 48.6 PPR, 46.6 STD | 30-163-3 | 2-63-1, three targets
- Week 9 (vs. DET): 39.2 PPR, 37.2 STD | 22-206-2 | 2-46-0, two targets
- Week 10 (at CHI): 15.2 PPR, 11.2 STD | 30-96-0 | 4-16-0, four targets
- Week 11 (vs. DAL): 25.0 PPR, 20.0 STD | 27-115-1 | 5-45-0, five targets
Despite leaving Week 5 early with a groin injury and missing Week 6, Cook leads the league with 1,303 yards and 14 touchdowns from scrimmage. He’s a volume monster.
It’s no surprise that Cook is No. 1 with 0.60 PPR and 0.53 STD points per snap (per Pro Football Focus).
As great as he was last year with 1,654 yards and 13 touchdowns in 14 games, he has been even better in 2020.
Cook has a great matchup against the Panthers, who are No. 31 with a 43.4 PFF run-defense grade.
Opposing backfields are No. 6 in the league against the Panthers with 20.6 fantasy points per game on 236-1,123-10 rushing and 68-466-2 receiving.
Assuming that Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (knee) will be out for this #RevengeGame, I’m betting on the Vikings, who are 66-39-1 against the spread (ATS) in the regular season under head coach Mike Zimmer, good for an A-graded 22.2% return on investment (ROI, per our Bet Labs database).
And as you might expect with an ATS record that good, Zimmer has exhibited all sorts of regular-season edges throughout his tenure.
- At home: 34-18-1 ATS | 27.2% ROI
- As favorite: 38-22-1 | 23.4% ROI
- Outside of division: 45-20-1 | 34.0% ROI
These trends make sense within the context of who Zimmer is as a coach and what kind of team the Vikings have historically been under him: Zimmer is a focused, no-nonsense, risk-averse, process-oriented, defense-directed “manager” (for lack of a better word), and the Vikings have been a disciplined team that doesn’t often make big mistakes.
The Vikings don’t waste the natural advantage they have at home. They don’t play down to the level of their underdog opponents. They don’t present a known and easy challenge to teams that aren’t familiar with them.
This week, they’re are in a “solar eclipse” spot with all of Zimmer’s historical edges lining up.
As non-divisional home favorites, the Vikings are 19-6-1 ATS (46.8% ROI). You can bet on this game at DraftKings.
This is a total onslaught spot, and Cook is on the positive side of his career-long home/away splits (per our FantasyLabs Trends Tool).
- Home (18 games): 22.3 DraftKings points | 66.7% Consistency Rating
- Away (22 games): 19.5 DraftKings points | 45.5% Consistency Rating
A locked-in top-three RB1 in season-long leagues, Cook is the No. 1 back in the Freedman Model for DraftKings, where he has a position-high nine Pro Trends.
Jonathan Taylor: Indianapolis Colts (-3) vs. Tennessee Titans (51.5 O/U)
One week ago, I kicked off my Taylor analysis with Depeche Mode’s “Policy of Truth” and had to tell multiple people in my Twitter AMAs not to drop him.
We’re in a better spot now.
Although Taylor underwhelmed before the Week 7 bye, he was at least a fantasy RB2 at worst in every game but one (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
But Weeks 8-11 were dark days for Taylor, who was terrifyingly outperformed by committee members Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins (per RotoViz NFL Player Statistical Summary).
- Nyheim Hines (three games): 36% snap rate | 19-96-1 | 10-119-3, 14 targets
- Jordan Wilkins (three games): 35% snap rate | 39-156-1 | 3-23-0, four targets
- Jonathan Taylor (three games): 30% snap rate | 24-61-1 | 6-41-0, seven targets
In Week 11, though, Taylor seemed to seize control of the backfield with a 22-90-0 rushing and 4-24-0 receiving performance. For the week, he was No. 4 in the entire NFL with a 37% opportunity share, trailing only established high-volume backs Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry and James Robinson.
In Week 10, Taylor was just 7-12-0 rushing and 2-25-0 receiving on two targets against the Titans, so it’s not unthinkable for him to disappoint in this game. But opposing backfields are No. 5 in the league against the Titans with 20.9 fantasy points per game on 222-969-9 rushing and 41-321-5 receiving.
And Taylor is on the positive side of his rushing splits as a home favorite (per RotoViz Game Splits App).
Taylor is an upside RB2 in season-long leagues and the No. 1 back in the Bales, CSURAM88, Hodge and Freedman Models for FanDuel.
Running Backs With Week-Winning Upside
In this section, I highlight some running backs I think will outperform expectations and whom I especially like as upside season-long and DFS tournament plays.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints (-6) vs. Denver Broncos (43.5 O/U): With Taysom Hill at quarterback last week, Kamara had zero receptions for literally the first time in his career, so there are reasons to be pessimistic. But he’s still No. 3 at the position with 20.0 expected fantasy points per game.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (+3) at Indianapolis Colts (51.5 O/U): Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (COVID-19) seems unlikely to play for the Colts, so Henry will have an easier matchup. In quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s 20 regular-season starts with the Titans, the over is 16-3-1 (62.7% ROI). You can bet on this game at FanDuel.
For the season, Henry is No. 2 in the league with a 41% opportunity share.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars (Off the Board): Since returning from injury in Week 10, Chubb is 39-240-1 rushing (albeit with just one target). The Jags have been dominated by almost every running back to face them since the second half of last year:
- Carlos Hyde (Week 9 of 2019): 14.0 PPR, 14.0 STD | 19-160-0
- Duke Johnson (Week 9): 19.1 PPR, 14.1 STD | 7-13-1 | 5-68-0, five targets
- BYE WEEK (Week 10): The Jags somehow made their run defense worse during the bye.
- Marlon Mack (Week 11): 16.9 PPR, 16.9 STD | 14-109-1
- Jonathan Williams (Week 11): 15.7 PPR, 14.7 STD | 13-116-0 | 1-31-0, one target
- Nyheim Hines (Week 11): 12.5 PPR, 9.5 STD | 3-11-1 | 3-24-0, four targets
- Derrick Henry (Week 12): 28.5 PPR, 27.5 STD | 19-159-2 | 1-16-0, one target
- Peyton Barber (Week 13): 18.4 PPR, 18.4 STD | 17-44-2
- Austin Ekeler (Week 14): 31.3 PPR, 27.3 STD | 8-101-0 | 4-112-1, five targets
- Melvin Gordon III (Week 14): 19.4 PPR, 14.4 STD | 12-55-1 | 5-29-0, five targets
- Josh Jacobs (Week 15): 12.9 PPR, 10.9 STD | 24-89-0 | 2-20-0, three targets
- Devonta Freeman (Week 16): 33.7 PPR, 24.7 STD | 13-53-1 | 9-74-1, 10 targets
- Brian Hill & Qadree Ollison (Week 16): 12.9 PPR, 12.9 STD | 8-69-1
- Marlon Mack (Week 17): 19.7 PPR, 19.7 STD | 15-77-2 | 0-0-0, one target
- Nyheim Hines (Week 17): 8.6 PPR, 5.6 STD | 7-34-0 | 3-22-0, five targets
- Nyheim Hines (Week 1 of 2020): 27.3 PPR, 19.3 STD | 7-28-1 | 8-45-1, eight targets
- Jonathan Taylor (Week 1): 14.9 PPR, 8.9 STD | 9-22-0 | 6-67-0 six targets
- Marlon Mack (Week 1, injured): 8.6 PPR, 5.6 STD | 4-26-0 | 3-30-0, three targets
- Derrick Henry (Week 2): 8.4 PPR, 8.4 STD | 25-84-0 | 0-0-0, two targets
- Myles Gaskin & Jordan Howard (Week 3): 20.6 PPR, 15.6 STD | 25-67-1 | 5-29-0, five targets
- Joe Mixon (Week 4): 42.1 PPR, 36.1 STD | 25-151-2 | 6-30-1, six targets
- David Johnson (Week 5): 12.3 PPR, 10.3 STD | 17-96-0 | 2-7-0, four targets
- D’Andre Swift (Week 6): 27.3 PPR, 24.3 STD | 14-116-2 | 3-7-0, four targets
- Adrian Peterson (Week 6): 12.8 PPR, 11.8 STD | 15-40-1 | 1-18-0, one target
- Joshua Kelley (Week 7): 10.3 PPR, 5.3 STD | 12-20-0 | 5-24-0, five targets
- Justin Jackson (Week 7): 10.5 PPR, 5.5 STD | 5-12-0 | 5-43-0, six targets
- BYE WEEK (Week 8): Yep, they’re still bad.
- Duke Johnson (Week 9): 15.3 PPR, 11.3 STD | 16-41-1 | 4-32-0, four targets
- Aaron Jones (Week 10): 14.5 PPR, 9.5 STD | 13-46-0 | 5-49-0, six targets
- James Conner (Week 11): 12.9 PPR, 9.9 STD | 13-89-0 | 3-10-0, three targets
Not every back to face the Jags goes off, but almost every back has an above-average performance at worst.
James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Cleveland Browns (Off the Board): Even on a 1-9 team ranking No. 28 with 20.2 points per game, Robinson has been a fantasy RB1 in 50% of his games.
Robinson is No. 5 with a 37% market share of his team’s opportunities, and without change-of-pace back Chris Thompson (back, IR) over the past two weeks Robinson has had literally 100% of his team’s carries. Robinson has a position-high +3.24 Projected Plus/Minus on DraftKings.
Kalen Ballage, Los Angeles Chargers (+5.5) at Buffalo Bills (52.5 O/U): In his three games with the Chargers, Ballage leads the backfield with a 59% snap rate, 49-181-1 rushing and 14-76-0 receiving on 18 targets. He’s the No. 2 back in Hayden Winks’ Week 12 fantasy usage model, and the Bills are No. 32 with a 33.4 PFF run-defense grade.
Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars (Off the Board): See Chubb, Nick. The Jags are essentially an auto-play matchup. Follow the flow chart:
- Is this player a running back? If no, stop. If yes, continue.
- Is the player facing the Jaguars? If no, stop. If yes, continue.
- Is the player a guy who gets snaps? If no, stop. If yes, continue.
- Is the player relatively healthy at kickoff? If no, maybe play him. If yes, definitely play him.
In the two weeks since Chubb returned from injury, Hunt is 32-115-1 rushing and 4-38-0 receiving on five targets.
Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons (+3) vs. Las Vegas Raiders (54 O/U): Despite being a game script-dependent and touchdown-reliant producer, Gurley has been no worse than a fantasy RB in all but two games this season.
The Raiders are No. 32 with a 3.1% rush-defense DVOA (per Football Outsiders).
Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals (-2.5) at New England Patriots (49.5 O/U): Since returning from injury in Week 10, Drake is a manageable 27-129-1 rushing and 5-40-0 receiving on six targets. The Patriots are No. 28 with a 1.0% rush-defense DVOA and No. 31 with a 24.4% pass-defense DVOA against running backs.
Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens (+4) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (45 O/U): If you say something early enough and often enough …
So today I woke up at 3 AM because my dog jumped off the bed & just looked at me like, “It’s time man,” so I got out of bed, went downstairs, opened the door, walked into the cold MN morning and, while my dog peed on some rocks, I said:
“Gus Edwards is the RB1 in Baltimore.”
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) November 16, 2020
… there’s a chance it will eventually become true.
In his three NFL seasons, Edwards has been one of the league’s most no-nonsense North/South runners based on his Efficiency metric (per Next Gen Stats).
- 2018: 2.78 (first)
- 2019: 2.93 (first)
- 2020: 3.33 (fifth)
The Steelers are No. 1 with a 79.1 PFF run defense grade, but Edwards has 5.1 yards per carry on 355 career attempts, he looks locked-in as the lead back with Mark Ingram (COVID-19) and J.K. Dobbins (COVID-19) presumed out, and Edwards was 16-87-1 rushing against the Steelers in Week 8.
Salvon Ahmed, Miami Dolphins (-7) at New York Jets (44.5 O/U): No. 1 back Myles Gaskin (knee, IR) seems unlikely to suit up, so Ahmed could get one more week as the backfield leader. In his three games active, Ahmed has a 62% snap rate and is a respectable 40-166-1 rushing and 6-36-0 receiving on seven targets.
Wayne Gallman, New York Giants (-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (43 O/U): Since teammate Devonta Freeman (ankle, IR) suffered an injury in Week 7, Gallman is 54-199-5 rushing and 8-54-0 receiving on 10 targets in four games. The Giants should be fresh off the Week 11 bye, Gallman could benefit from a run-heavy game script as a favorite and the Bengals are No. 26 with a 48.6 PFF run-defense grade.
Frank Gore, New York Jets (+7) vs. Miami Dolphins (44.5 O/U): With rookie La’Mical Perine (ankle, IR) out, head coach Adam Gase seems likely to give Gore a full workload in a #RevengeGame for both men. The Dolphins are No. 29 with a 1.1% rush-defense DVOA. I’m going to burn the clothes I’m wearing and shower for hours after writing this blurb.
The Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs, Freedman is commonly called the Oracle & the Labyrinthian.
Pictured above: Dalvin Cook
Photo credit: Getty Images