The Week 13 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Dec. 6, 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 seven 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 13 fantasy football rankings (as of Wednesday afternoon).
- Dalvin Cook: No. 1 (PPR) | No. 1 (Half PPR) | No. 1 (STD)
- James Robinson: No. 3 (PPR) | No. 3 (Half PPR) | No. 3 (STD)
- Austin Ekeler: No. 4 (PPR) | No. 4 (Half PPR) | No. 5 (STD)
- David Montgomery: No. 11 (PPR) | No. 12 (Half PPR) | No. 13 (STD)
- Nyheim Hines: No. 13 (PPR) | No. 16 (Half PPR) | No. 21 (STD)
- Chris Carson: No. 17 (PPR) | No. 18 (Half PPR) | No. 19 (STD)
- Myles Gaskin: No. 23 (PPR) | No. 24 (Half PPR) | No. 23 (STD)
Of these seven, the two who stand out most to me are Cook and Ekeler. The other guys I will highlight as needed in the section on players with week-winning upside.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
For more in-depth NFL analysis, check out The Action Network.
Dalvin Cook: Minnesota Vikings (-9.5) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (52 Over/Under)
As I did last week, I’m copying, pasting and tweaking my Cook analysis from previous breakdowns, 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
- Week 12 (vs. CAR): 10.2 PPR, 6.2 STD | 18-61-0 | 4-21-0, four targets
Despite leaving Week 5 early with a groin injury and missing Week 6, Cook leads the league with 1,385 yards and 14 touchdowns from scrimmage. He’s a volume monster.
It’s no surprise that Cook is Nos. 1 and 2 with 0.56 PPR and 0.50 standard points per snap (per Pro Football Focus).
As great as he was last season with 1,654 yards and 13 touchdowns in 14 games, he has been even better in 2020: Since returning to action in Week 8, Cook is No. 1 at the position with 23.0 expected fantasy points per game (minimum two games played, per RotoViz NFL Player Statistical Summary).
Cook (ankle) is dealing with an injury, which resulted in a reduced snap rate of 63% last week, but he doesn’t seem to be in danger of missing Week 13, although I do expect him to miss some practice.
#Vikings Gary Kubiak on KFAN on Dalvin Cook “He’s just beat up He’s been hit pretty hard the last couple of weeks taking some poundings .. It’s at that point of the season so we’ve got to get him freshened up this week & get him back to being himself .. He’s just kind of beat up”
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) December 1, 2020
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
- Nick Chubb (Week 12): 26.6 PPR, 23.6 STD | 19-144-1 | 3-32-0, three targets
Not every back to face the Jags goes off, but almost every back has an above-average performance (at worst).
The Jags are essentially an auto-play matchup. Here’s a flow chart that might help:
- 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.
Follow the flow chart. The Vikings have a slate-high 30.5-point implied Vegas total.
Full disclosure: This weekend I’m betting on the Vikings, who are 66-40-1 against the spread (ATS) in the regular season under head coach Mike Zimmer, good for an A-graded 21.1% 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: 34-19-1 ATS | 24.8% ROI
- As favorite: 38-23-1 | 21.4% ROI
- Outside of division: 45-21-1 | 32% 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 19-7-1 ATS (41.4% 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 (19 games): 21.8 DraftKings points | 63.2% 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 Hodge Model for DraftKings, where he has a position-high nine Pro Trends.
Austin Ekeler: Los Angeles Chargers (-1) vs. New England Patriots (47 O/U)
Of all the late-first-round/second-round running backs selected in 2020 redraft leagues, Ekeler was my clear favorite entering the season.
Of all the guys in that RB tier, Ekeler I believe has the most projectable role.
He has a high floor already and a McCaffrey-esque ceiling if he gets a far larger share of the rushing workload.
If I take a RB in Round 2, it will be Austin Ekeler. (5/22)
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) September 4, 2020
It’s unfortunate that a hamstring injury in Week 4 sidelined him for almost two months, but in his three full games with quarterback Justin Herbert, Ekeler has flashed the playmaking ability that made me so enthusiastic about him in the preseason.
- Week 2 (vs. KC): 18.8 PPR, 14.8 STD | 16-93-0 | 4-55-0, four targets
- Week 3 (vs. CAR): 31.3 PPR, 20.3 STD | 12-59-1 | 11-84-0, 11 targets
- Week 4 (at BUF): 23.9 PPR, 12.9 STD | 14-44-0 | 11-85-0, 16 targets
In his return to action last week, Ekeler had an outrageous team-high 31% market share of targets. And in each full game with Herbert, Ekeler has surpassed the 10-carry threshold.
Without Justin Jackson (knee, IR) and Kalen Ballage (ankle/calf), the Chargers are thin at running back, so any concerns they may have had about giving Ekeler a full workload seem to have been pushed aside. Ekeler is the locked-in lead back.
For the year, Ekeler is No. 3 at the position with 46.4 air yards and yards after the catch (AirYAC) per game. With his work as a receiver, Ekeler has an elevated floor.
AirYAC is a leading indicator of fantasy production and can be found in the RotoViz NFL Player Statistical Summary.
Ekeler is about as good of a bet as any back right now to get 10 rushing attempts this week, and in his 13 regular-season games with double-digit carries he has done well (per RotoViz Game Splits App).
As for the matchup, it couldn’t be much better: The Patriots are No. 28 with a 0.5% rush-defense DVOA and No. 25 with a 13.8% pass-defense DVOA against running backs. They are exploitable.
Ekeler is a solid RB1 in season-long leagues and the No. 1 back in the Bales Model 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.
Derrick Henry, Titans (-6) vs. Browns (54 O/U): In his 30 games since breaking out in Week 14 of 2018, Henry has averaged 130.1 yards and 1.2 touchdowns on 22.1 carries and 1.7 targets per game (including playoffs). In Ryan Tannehill’s 21 regular-season starts with the Titans, the over is 17-3-1 (64.3% ROI). You can bet on this game at FanDuel.
For the season, Henry is No. 2 in the league with a 41% opportunity share.
James Robinson, Jaguars (+9.5) at Vikings (52 O/U): Even on a 1-10 team ranking No. 28 with 20.6 points per game, Robinson has been a fantasy RB1 in 55% of his games (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
Robinson is No. 4 with a 38% market share of his team’s opportunities, and without change-of-pace back Chris Thompson (back, IR) over the past three weeks, Robinson has had 95% of his team’s carries. Robinson has a position-high +3.92 Projected Plus/Minus on DraftKings.
Alvin Kamara, Saints (-3) at Falcons (46 O/U): With Taysom Hill at quarterback over the past two weeks, Kamara has had literally -2 yards receiving on three targets, so there are reasons to be pessimistic. Against the Falcons in Week 11, he was just 13-45-1 rushing and 0-0-0 receiving. But Kamara is still No. 1 at the position with 60 AirYAC and No. 3 with 18.9 expected fantasy points per game.
Latavius Murray, Saints (-3) at Falcons (46 O/U): In Hill’s two starts, Murray is 31-173-1 rushing and 3-38-0 receiving and perhaps a better fit than Kamara in the Saints’ Hill-specific run-heavy scheme. Of the two backs, Murray has had the higher snap rate since Week 11 (50% vs. 48%).
Myles Gaskin, Dolphins (-11.5) vs. Bengals (42 O/U): Out for the past month, Gaskin (knee, IR) is tentatively expected to return to action. In his three games without since-released early-down grinder Jordan Howard (gameday inactive, Weeks 5-8), Gaskin was 52-195-2 rushing and 12-85-0 receiving on 15 targets, ranking No. 2 at the position with a 42% opportunity share. The Bengals are No. 29 with a 46.6 PFF run-defense grade.
Duke Johnson, Texans (+3.5) vs. Colts (51 O/U): Ever since starter David Johnson (concussion, IR) exited Week 9 early, Duke Johnson has failed to impress with just 242 yards from scrimmage, but he has at least chipped in two touchdowns, and his underlying metrics have been strong. Over the past month, Johnson leads all running backs with his 84% snap rate, which he has leveraged into 12.3 carries and 3.5 targets per game.
Kenyan Drake, Cardinals (+3) vs. Rams (48.5 O/U): In three games since returning from injury, Drake is 49-207-3 rushing and 8-55-0 receiving on 10 targets. Since joining the Cardinals in Week 9 of 2019, Drake has been at least a fantasy RB2 in 67% of games.
Since Week 10, Drake is No. 5 at the position with 18.2 expected fantasy points per game.
Wayne Gallman, Giants (+10) at Seahawks (47.5 O/U): Since starter Devonta Freeman (ankle, IR) exited Week 7 early with an injury, Gallman is 78-293-6 rushing and 11-51-0 receiving. In his five games as the lead back, Gallman is No. 8 with 16.6 expected fantasy points per game. Last week he had season-high marks with 24 carries and five targets.
David Montgomery, Bears (-3) vs. Lions (44 O/U): In his seven games without change-of-pace back Tarik Cohen (knee, IR) this season, Montgomery is No. 1 at the position with an 80% snap rate and No. 2 with a 76% market share of carries. Opposing backfields are No. 1 against the Lions with 28.2 fantasy points per game. Montgomery had a season-best 11-103-0 rushing and 5-40-1 receiving performance last week in his return from injury.
Nyheim Hines, Colts (-3.5) at Texans (51 O/U): Even with the expected return of sometime lead back Jonathan Taylor (COVID-19), Hines should still have a Week 13 role given that he has averaged 5.5 carries and five targets per game this year. Opposing backfields are No. 2 against the Texans with 298-1,564-14 rushing and 52-478-0 receiving.
Damien Harris, Patriots (+1) at Chargers (47 O/U): Utility back Rex Burkhead (knee, IR) is out, and former No. 1 back Sony Michel played just one snap last week in his return from injury. Harris is a respectable 110-561-2 rushing in eight games, and the Chargers are No. 31 with a 3.7% rush-defense DVOA.
Giovani Bernard, Bengals (+11.5) at Dolphins (42 O/U): In the absence of starter Joe Mixon (foot, IR) this season, Bernard hasn’t had difference-making production, but he has averaged 10.6 carries and 4.8 targets over the past five weeks. In his nine games without Mixon since 2017, Bernard has done well.
The Dolphins rank No. 25 with a -0.5% rush-defense DVOA and No. 27 with a 15.1% pass-defense DVOA against running backs.
Cam Akers, Rams (-3) at Cardinals (48.5 O/U): Since the Week 9 bye, Akers is a team-best 24-137-1 rushing and has chipped in a receiving touchdown. He’s still in an annoying committee with Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, but head coach Sean McVay might decide to ride the hot hand of Akers, and the Cardinals are No. 28 with a 46.7 PFF run-defense grade.
CAM AKERS AUTOTWEET 🚀🚀🚀 pic.twitter.com/0SnTZ5tRqz
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) December 2, 2020
Especially in high-leverage situations, I’d rather be a week early firing rockets than a week late.
Frank Gore, Jets (+7.5) vs. Raiders (47 O/U): Without rookie La’Mical Perine (ankle, IR), Gore was 18-74-0 rushing and 3-12-0 receiving on three targets last week, and in his nine games without released lead back Le’Veon Bell this season, Gore has averaged 14.0 carries and 1.8 targets. Opposing backfields are No. 4 against the Raiders with 22.3 fantasy points per game on 226-1,030-13 rushing and 64-508-2 receiving.
The Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs, Freedman is commonly called the Oracle & the Labyrinthian.
Pictured above: Dalvin Cook
Photo credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images