We’re in the second half of the 2018 NFL season, and we’re still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 24.0 points per game per team. The action continues with an 11-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at the running backs at the top of the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
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Model Running Backs
This week, there are four running backs at the top of our individual Pro Models.
- Melvin Gordon: $9,000 DraftKings; $8,900 FanDuel
- Alvin Kamara: $8,700 DraftKings; $8,800 FanDuel
- Mark Ingram: $4,500 DraftKings; $6,800 FanDuel
- Austin Ekeler: $4,000 DraftKings; $5,800 FanDuel
Melvin Gordon: Los Angeles Chargers (-10) at Oakland Raiders, 50 Over/Under
Gordon entered his Week 9 matchup in Seattle with lingering concerns about a hamstring injury, but he emerged from the game with a 123-yard, one-touchdown performance against a stout Seahawks defense. Since his 2016 breakout season, Gordon has averaged 107.4 yards and 0.94 touchdowns from scrimmage per game, and as good as Rams running back Todd Gurley has been this year, Gordon is the only FanDuel back with a 100% Consistency Rating.
While he provided value in the past, Gordon has been a top-three salary-adjusted back this year with his +8.85 FanDuel Plus/Minus (compared to his 2016-17 mark of +3.01). In point-per-reception (PPR) scoring, Gordon leads all backs with his 0.59 points per snaps.
While Gordon is having the best season of his career, averaging 82.7 yards rushing and 41.3 yards receiving per game, he has yet to reach 20 carries in any start. In 2016-17, Gordon averaged a robust 18.6 carries per game. This year, though, it has dropped to 15.3.
His career-high 6.6 targets and 4.4 receptions per game minimize the impact of his rushing shortfall and make him a strong option in most game scripts. There’s a chance he could lose significant carries to Ekeler if the Chargers establish a large lead early in the game: They have displayed a willingness this year not to overwork him.
Still, Gordon is likely to get his. In the Ekeler era, just once in 23 games has Gordon had fewer than 16-plus opportunities, and this year he’s had either a touchdown or 150 yards every week. One way or another, Gordon is likely to put up points.
When the Chargers hosted the Raiders in Week 5, they didn’t win in a massive blowout, and Gordon didn’t have a slate-altering performance, but the Chargers did secure a 26-10 victory, and Gordon still had 120 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and four receptions.
Gordon has a great matchup against the Raiders, who are in full rebuild mode. This year, the Raiders have a league-low two wins against the spread, and their -11.1 spread margin is several levels worse than that of any other team (per Bet Labs). Even on the road as double-digit favorites, the Chargers could exceed expectations.
The Raiders rank 25th against the run with a -3.2% mark in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and 31st overall with a 20.2% defensive DVOA. They have been shredded by receiving backs in particular, ranking dead last in pass defense against the position with a 27.8% DVOA. Linebackers Marquel Lee, Tahir Whitehead and Emmanuel Lamur each have a Pro Football Focus (PFF) coverage grade of less than 50.
Collectively, they have allowed an 85.4% catch rate and painful 41-642-8 receiving line on 417 coverage snaps. While it might seem problematic for Gordon that the Raiders have the league’s biggest pass funnel on defense, that could actually serve him well early in the game: Gordon could have an especially big performance as a receiver.
The Raiders have allowed a top-five mark of 26.5 FanDuel points per game to opposing backfields, and in eight games there have been nine backs who scored 10-plus FanDuel points. In the two games since, they unofficially waved the white flag on the season by trading wide receiver Amari Cooper coming out of the Week 7 bye, the Raiders have been dominated by running backs.
- Colts backfield (Week 8): 38.8 FanDuel points, 38-224-2 rushing, 4-24-0 receiving on six targets
- 49ers backfield (Week 9): 21.1 FanDuel points, 26-143-1 rushing, 1-3-0 receiving on one target
The Chargers are one of just three teams on the slate with an implied Vegas total of 30-plus points: Gordon should smash. Among all running backs, Gordon trails only Gurley with his ceiling and floor projections.
Gordon has a position-high 97% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where we’re projecting him to be the slate’s highest-owned back and he’s the No.1 back in the Koerner Model.
Alvin Kamara: New Orleans Saints (-5.5) at Cincinnati Bengals, 54 O/U
UPDATE (11/10): Wide receiver Dez Bryant (Achilles) suffered a season-ending injury in Friday’s practice.
Kamara isn’t the most important player on the Saints: That’s quarterback Drew Brees. He’s also probably not his team’s most dominant player; that’s wide receiver Michael Thomas, but he’s one of the best players in the league.
He’s behind the pace right now, but Kamara has a legitimate shot to be just the third player in NFL history with 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a season. The first person to accomplish that feat was 49ers fullback and should-be Hall-of-Famer Roger Craig. The second was Rams running back and all-time great Marshall Faulk.
Last week, when the Saints knocked the Rams out of the No. 1 spot in The Action Network NFL Power Ratings, Kamara was an absolute tour de force, finishing top-two at the position with 31.6 FanDuel points on 19-82-2 rushing and 4-34-1 receiving. After knocking off the previously undefeated Rams with their seventh win a row, the Saints have seen their odds to win the Super Bowl jump from +700 to +350.
Nevertheless, there are marginal concerns with Kamara. For one, the game is not at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (commonly called the Coors Field of fantasy football). On the road, the Saints offense might underperform on the whole.
Additionally, Kamara is going to lose snaps and touches to Mark Ingram. The question is how many he’ll lose.
Last year, after Adrian Peterson was traded to the Cardinals in Week 6, Kamara played 14 games with Ingram (including the playoffs). For the first four games of this season, Kamara had the backfield to himself, and then Ingram (suspension) returned in Week 5 to split the backfield once again.
The team had a bye in Week 6 and has played three games since returning in Week 7. Kamara’s various opportunity and production splits are telling:
- With Ingram (2017, Weeks 6-19, 14 games): 18.8 FanDuel points, nine carries, 5.9 targets, 4.7 receptions, 104.4 yards and 0.93 touchdowns from scrimmage
- Without Ingram (2018, Weeks 1-4, four games): 29.7 FanDuel points, 14 carries, 11.8 targets, 8.8 receptions, 152.8 yards and 1.5 touchdowns from scrimmage
- With Ingram (2018, Weeks 5-9, four games): 18.7 FanDuel points, 13.8 carries, 4.75 targets, four receptions, 76.5 yards and 1.5 touchdowns from scrimmage
On the one hand, Kamara’s per-game average has plummeted exactly 11 FanDuel points from the first month of the season to the second, and it might be unreasonable for us to expect a rebound, especially since Kamara’s 2018 fantasy production with Ingram is nearly identical to what he did in 2017.
On the other hand, since the Week 6 bye, Kamara’s usage and production have been beyond what we’ve normally seen with Ingram active:
- Kamara with Ingram (2018, Week 5, one game): 5.4 FanDuel points, six carries, four targets, three receptions, 39 yards and no touchdowns from scrimmage
- Kamara with Ingram (2018, Weeks 7-9, three games): 23.1 FanDuel points, 16.3 carries, five targets, 4.3 receptions, 89 yards and two touchdowns from scrimmage
Kamara did little in Ingram’s Week 5 return, but since the bye he’s been the clear lead back in the committee, hitting 18-plus opportunities in each game. In a split backfield, Kamara simply lacks the opportunities necessary to produce as he did in Weeks 1-4, but with his enhanced usage, he has the capacity to score 20-plus FanDuel points in any given game.
The matchup for Kamara is great. The Bengals are 27th in rush defense (-1.0% DVOA) and 28th in pass defense against running backs (18.9% DVOA). Coming out of the Week 9 bye, the Bengals should theoretically be rested and ready, but that doesn’t mean they will be healthy.
Strong side linebacker Nick Vigil (knee) missed Weeks 7-8, and weak side linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hip) missed Week 8. Both were sidelined for practice on Wednesday and Thursday and are legitimately questionable for this weekend. Monitor Vigil and Burfict as the week progresses. If they are inactive, Kamara’s great matchup will be even better.
On Sunday morning, I will probably look to bet the over on Kamara’s touchdown prop. Kamara trails only Gurley with his 23 rushes inside the 10-yard line, and no player (including wide receivers and tight ends) has more than Kamara’s 20 red-zone targets. To find the best bets in the props market, use our Player Props Tool, which is powered by our industry-leading projections. Since Week 1, the props with a bet quality of 10 have gone 174-86-6, good for a 65% win rate.
Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Playing in the game with slate’s highest over/under, Kamara is the No. 1 FanDuel back in all but one of our Pro Models (Koerner).
Mark Ingram: New Orleans Saints (-5.5) at Cincinnati Bengals, 54 O/U
UPDATE (11/10): Wide receiver Dez Bryant (Achilles) suffered a season-ending injury in Friday’s practice.
As noted in my analysis on Kamara, the Bengals could be without two starting linebackers, which could make them more vulnerable in run defense. In fact, the Bengals are one of the most injured teams in the league, which puts them at a distinct disadvantage. If the Saints are able to get ahead early, Ingram could be the beneficiary of a run-heavy game script.
Although he’s played behind Kamara for the past three weeks, Ingram is the No. 14 fantasy running back since 2014 with his 16.4 DraftKings points, 14.4 carries, 3.9 targets, 3.1 receptions, 89 yards and 0.64 touchdowns per game. He’s always gotten his opportunity and production within the confines of a committee.
While it’s suboptimal for Ingram that he’s outside of the Superdome, he’s at least on the positive side of his favorite/underdog and division/non-division splits: Over the past four-plus years, Ingram has averaged 109.2 yards, 0.78 touchdowns and 19.8 DraftKings points per game with a +5.83 Plus/Minus and 70.8% Consistency Rating as a non-divisional favorite.
Since returning in Week 5, he’s averaged 13.7 carries and 2.5 targets per game. That usage has resulted in only 10.9 DraftKings points on 60.8 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game, but against a poor and injured defense, Ingram could do quite a bit with 15 touches. He’s still a key component of this backfield committee, and since Ingram’s return, the Saints have a 53.0% rush rate, which would lead the league if extrapolated over the entire season.
On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, guest Scott Barrett highlighted Ingram as a potential cash-game running back for the week: Ingram hasn’t been as cheap as $4,500 on DraftKings since Week 3 of last season.
Second at the position with nine Pro Trends and a 99% Bargain Rating, Ingram is the No. 1 DraftKings back in all but one Pro Model (Freedman).
Austin Ekeler: Los Angeles Chargers (-10) at Oakland Raiders, 50 O/U
Ekeler has disappointed over the past three games, accumulating just 162 scoreless yards on 22 carries, nine targets and six receptions despite starting in place of an injured Gordon in Week 7. Even so, he’s intriguing in this spot.
In Week 5, he had 12.9 DraftKings points against the Raiders, turning his six carries, three targets and one reception into 59 yards and a touchdown, and as a double-digit favorite, he could see some extended run if the Chargers decide to give Gordon some rest.
And even if he doesn’t see extra action because of game script, Ekeler is still always in play. For the season, he’s fifth among all backs with 0.63 PPR points per opportunity. He’s the only player at his position with a top-six PFF grade as both a runner (80.3) and receiver (85.9). He’s first among all backs with his 12.5% breakaway run rate, third with 5.5 true yards per carry, and fourth with 7.5 yards per touch and his +44.3 Production Premium (per Player Profiler).
The second-year undrafted back is likely to regress in efficiency at some point, but he’s a viable fantasy contributor in every slate, considering his resume:
- College production: 7,072 yards and 63 touchdowns from scrimmage in 40 games
- Physical profile: 5-foot-9, 199 pounds with a 4.43-second 40 time and 6.85-second mark in the three cone
- NFL role: Latter-day Danny Woodhead
Ekeler has at least five opportunities in 15 career games (including every game this year), averaging 11.8 DraftKings points in that situation. For the season, he has hit his salary-based expectations at a 75% rate. With his usage and productivity, Ekeler is a viable tournament play, especially as a contrarian differentiator in lineups with Gordon.
This year, even though they’ve both been productive, Gordon and Ekeler have been rostered together in a low percentage of Millionaire Maker lineups.
- Week 1 (vs. Chiefs): Gordon (14.71%) + Ekeler (0.07%) –> Together in 10 lineups (0.00%)
- Week 2 (at Bills): Gordon (19.21%) + Ekeler (3.20%) –> Together in 881 lineups (0.33%)
- Week 3 (at Rams): Gordon (6.54%) + Ekeler (3.58%) –> Together in 452 lineups (0.18%)
- Week 4 (vs. 49ers): Gordon (21.99%) + Ekeler (4.87%) –> Together in 2,798 lineups (0.59%)
- Week 5 (vs. Raiders): Gordon (27.60%) + Ekeler (5.14%) –> Together in 1,729 lineups (0.73%)
- Week 6 (at Browns): Gordon (15.94%) + Ekeler (2.63%) –> Together in 1,260 lineups (0.29%)
- Week 9 (at Seahawks): Gordon (4.00%) + Ekeler (1.17%) –> Together in 40 lineups (0.02%)
Gordon and Ekeler make for a high-upside, low-owned pairing. Most people will stay away from the MG3-Ekeler stack because of negative backfield correlations, but their inherent upside makes them viable together, and it’s almost a stone-cold lock that their shared ownership rate will be less than 1.0%. Think about using our Lineup Builder to create Gordon-Ekeler rosters.
The Chargers have the week’s best matchup for explosive passing plays, and Ekeler is one of the most dynamic receiving backs in the league. I like his chances of doing damage one way or another.
For I believe the fourth time this year, Ekeler is the No. 1 DraftKings option in the Freedman Model.
What can I say? Ekeler’s simply my kind of back.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 10 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
Pictured above: New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) and running back Alvin Kamara (41)
Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports