The 2018 NFL season is still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 24.2 points per game per team. The action continues with a 10-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at five 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
- Saquon Barkley: $9,100 DraftKings; $9,000 FanDuel
- Melvin Gordon: $8,600 DraftKings; $8,900 FanDuel
- James White: $7,400 DraftKings; $7,400 FanDuel
- Marlon Mack: $5,500 DraftKings; $7,000 FanDuel
- Peyton Barber: $3,900 DraftKings; $5,800 FanDuel
Saquon Barkley: New York Giants (+5) at Philadelphia Eagles, 48.5 Over/Under
UPDATE (11/25): Eagles defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (back) is in. Linebacker Jordan Hicks (calf) is out after not practicing all week. Cornerbacks Jalen Mills (foot), Sidney Jones (hamstring) and Avonte Maddox (leg) are out. Cornerback Rasul Douglas (knee) is questionable after practicing limitedly on Friday.
It’s hard to throw shade at Barley just because the Giants were foolish enough to use the No. 2 overall pick on him. He’s just 10 games into his career, so these numbers will regress, but of all backs to play since 2014, Barkley has a position-high 22.1 FanDuel points per game and obscenely high +7.89 Plus/Minus.
Here’s what I said about the rookie phenom in Barkley’s 2018 NFL Draft prospect profile:
Each year Barkley progressed. As a sophomore, he showed that he could handle a full workload, earning 300 touches in a breakout campaign. As a junior he became a bona fide threat in the passing game: He finished just three receptions off the team lead, and he was first among all Football Bowl Subdivision running backs in receiving yardage. Barkley is a complete three-down player, and as his two return touchdowns highlight he has the agility and speed to break long plays whenever he touches the ball.
Barkley as a prospect is no less impressive than the backs selected with top-10 picks in the past few years.
In fact, Barkley is more impressive than all of them: He’s a better receiver than Leonard Fournette and bigger than Christian McCaffrey. Unlike Ezekiel Elliott, he produced as a freshman. Unlike Gurley, he’s not entering the NFL fresh off an ACL tear. And based on his combine performance, he’s the best athlete of the group. With his age, physical profile, and production, Barkley is the best running back prospect of the past decade.
Months later, Barkley hasn’t done anything as a professional to undermine that evaluation. Playing on a team limited by quarterback Eli Manning and an offensive line that can’t pass block (9.3% adjusted sack rate, 27th) or run block (3.72 adjusted line yards, 30th), Barkley has still managed to produce thanks to his red-zone usage (41 opportunities) and big-play ability (five touchdowns of 15-plus yards and three of 50-plus yards).
While Barkley’s average of 15.8 carries per game could be improved upon, he hasn’t had fewer than 10 rush attempts in a game, and his receiving workload more than compensates for his rushing shortfall. He’s second among all backs with 79 targets, 64 receptions and 540 yards receiving.
As impressive as Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey were in the receiving game last season as rookies, no running back in NFL history has gotten more than Barkley’s 64 receptions in his first 10 career games. In fact, Barkley is currently on pace to best Reggie Bush’s rookie records of 121 targets and 88 receptions (2006) and to challenge the all-time records of 137 targets and 102 receptions respectively set by LaDainian Tomlinson (2003) and Matt Forte (2014).
Additionally, Barkley 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.
With all the volume Barkley gets as a receiver, he has at least 18 opportunities in every game this season. When Barkley faced the Eagles in Week 6 on Thursday Night Football, he dominated with 33.4 FanDuel points on 13-130-1 rushing and 9-99-0 receiving. As a game script-independent and matchup-agnostic three-down back seeing 85.2% of his team’s offensive snaps, Barkley should smash against the Eagles defense.
On Sunday morning, I might look to bet the over on Barkey’s total yardage prop. He’s first in the league among all players with 567 yards after the catch, and the Giants could be forced into a pass-heavy game script as road dogs. 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 188-89-8, good for a 66% win rate.
Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Barkley has a position-high median projection on DraftKings and is the No. 1 back on FanDuel in the Levitan Model.
Melvin Gordon: Los Angeles Chargers (-14) vs. Arizona Cardinals, 43.5 O/U
UPDATE (11/25): Gordon (hamstring, knee) is officially questionable after practicing in full on Wednesday and then being downgraded to limited on Thursday and Friday. He is a legitimate game-time decision, and DFS players need to make contingency plans in case he’s ruled inactive. Running back Austin Ekeler (neck) is in. Wide receiver Tyrell Williams (quad) is questionable. Cardinals linebacker Josh Bynes (wrist, hip) is in. Linebacker Deone Bucannon (chest) and safety Rudy Ford (heel) are out. Defensive tackles Corey Peters (heel), Robert Nkemdiche (calf) and Olsen Pierre (ankle) and safety Budda Baker (knee) are questionable after limited practice sessions on Friday.
On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, we talked about Gordon as a potential “Jam ‘Em In” cash-game option for the slate.
Gordon missed the Week 7 game in London with a hamstring injury, but has put up big numbers in spite of it. Since returning after the Week 8 bye, Gordon has racked up 20.8 FanDuel points per game on 444 yards, two touchdowns, 52 carries, 16 targets and 12 receptions in total. He’s in peak form.
On top of that, Gordon has gained a great share of the backfield workload over the past three weeks, delegating Austin Ekeler to a purely change-of-pace role. Since the bye, Ekeler’s per-game usage has been drastically reduced.
- Weeks 1-7: 76.8 yards and 0.43 touchdowns on 7.6 carries, 3.4 targets and 2.7 receptions
- Weeks 9-11: 40.7 yards and zero touchdowns on four carries, 1.3 targets and one reception
What was once a committee has recently become Gordon’s monopoly, and Ekeler (neck) could be limited or inactive this weekend with an injury.
Since his 2016 breakout season, Gordon has averaged 110.2 yards from scrimmage and 0.92 touchdowns per game. As good as some other backs have been this season, Gordon is the only FanDuel back with a 100% Consistency Rating. From a salary-based perspective, Gordon has actually offered more value this season than any other runner: Gordon leads all backs with his +8.25 FanDuel Plus/Minus.
While Gordon is having the best season of his career, averaging 82.3 yards rushing and 49.8 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 season, though, he has dropped to 15.9. Nevertheless, his career-high 6.4 targets and 4.7 receptions per game minimize the impact of his rushing shortfall and make him a strong option in most game scripts.
There’s a chance Gordon could lose significant carries to Ekeler if the Chargers establish a large lead early in the game. They have displayed a willingness not to overwork their lead back, but Gordon is still likely to get his.
In the Ekeler era, only once in 24 games has Gordon had fewer than 16-plus opportunities, and this season he has either scored a touchdown or gained 150 yards from scrimmage every week. One way or another, Gordon is likely to put up points.
Gordon has a mixed matchup. On the one hand, the Cardinals are ninth overall in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA. Even though the defense gets almost no offensive support, the Cardinals have held teams to a middle-of-the-road 24.8 points per game, and they are 15th in rush-defense DVOA with a -9.7% mark. They impressively have Pro Football Focus’ second-highest tackling grade at 89.1.
On the other hand, the Cardinals are 29th with a 67.6 PFF run-defense grade, and they’ve allowed a top-four mark of 27.2 FanDuel points per game to opposing backfields. Of all the games on Sunday, the Chargers-Cardinals game has a top-three run funnel rating. In Week 2, they allowed Rams running back Todd Gurley to pile on 30.8 FanDuel points. As a significant home favorite, Gordon should have ample opportunity to put up points.
Gordon has position-high ceiling and floor projections in our Models, and he leads all backs with his 10 DraftKings and 15 FanDuel Pro Trends. He’s the No. 1 back in the Raybon Model for both DraftKings and FanDuel.
James White: New England Patriots (-10.5) at New York Jets, 46.5 O/U
UPDATE (11/25): Right guard Shaq Mason (calf) and running back Sony Michel (knee) are questionable but tentatively expected to play after practicing (albeit limitedly) all week. Jets safety Marcus Maye (shoulder, thumb) is doubtful after not practicing all week. Defensive end Brandon Copeland (elbow) is questionable after getting in a limited practice on Friday.
White leads all running backs — and the Patriots — with 89 targets, 66 receptions and 562 yards receiving. He’s not especially dynamic on the ground (4.0 yards per carry for his career), but he has chipped in enough as a runner this season with 230 yards on 61 carries, and he easily leads the Pats with 10 touchdowns from scrimmage.
Backfield running mate Sony Michel (knee) returned in Week 10 and should be healthy coming off the Week 11 bye, but given the different ways in which they’re deployed, White should still be able to put up points even if Michel gets a significant portion of the rushing and goal-line work. To this point in the season, the first-round rookie’s presence has certainly had an impact on White’s usage and production, but it’s not as if White hasn’t been productive with Michel in the lineup.
- With Michel (three games): 16.1 FanDuel points, 5.1 carries, 8.6 targets, 6.6 receptions, 77 yards and 0.86 touchdowns from scrimmage
- Without Michel (seven games): 19.8 FanDuel points, 8.3 carries, 9.7 targets, 6.7 receptions, 84.3 yards and 1.33 touchdowns from scrimmage
White has always gotten his production within the confines of a committee, averaging 11.5 FanDuel points per game in quarterback Tom Brady’s 42 starts (including playoffs) since 2016. In that time, White has an average of 16.0 FanDuel points in 20 games with double-digit opportunities, which he has gotten in eight of 10 games this season.
White has a position-high 97% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 back in the CSURAM88 and SportsGeek Models.
Marlon Mack: Indianapolis Colts (-8) vs. Miami Dolphins, 52 O/U
UPDATE (11/25): Center Ryan Kelly (knee) is out, as are tight ends Mo Alie Cox (calf), Erik Swoope (knee) and Ryan Hewitt (ankle), so the Colts will have to wait another week before rolling out their five-tight end set.
Since Week 4, the only opponents not to score 27-plus points against the Dolphins have been the hapless Jets, and the Colts have a slate-high implied Vegas total of 29.25 points. On top of that, they have the week’s most advantageous matchup in situation-neutral pace. As home favorites playing indoors in late November, the Colts have the potential to put up a lot of points.
Mack has been limited by foot, ankle and hamstring injuries for chunks of the season, but since returning in Week 6, he has been the unquestioned lead back for the Colts, averaging 19.8 DraftKings points per game with a +8.97 Plus/Minus over his past five games. Mack has had 20-plus carries just once in his career, but he has 14-plus opportunities in every game since Week 6, and he has averaged 101.6 yards and one touchdown from scrimmage per game in that span.
Mack is the league’s fifth-most effective north/south runner with a 3.27 Efficiency Rating (Next Gen Stats), and the Dolphins have allowed a top-four mark of 31.0 DraftKings points per game to opposing backfields.
Mack is the No. 1 DraftKings back in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner and SportsGeek Models.
Peyton Barber: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2) vs. San Francisco 49ers, 55 O/U
UPDATE (11/25): Right tackle Demar Dotson (knee, shoulder) is in. Center Ryan Jensen (knee, shoulder) is questionable after a limited practice on Friday. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (thumb) is questionable but expected to play after a full Friday practice. Running back Ronald Jones (hamstring) is officially questionable but likely to play after practicing in full all week. 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster (arrested, domestic violence) was taken into custody on Saturday night and seems unlikely to play on Sunday.
I can’t quit Barber.
Despite being the starting running back for an offense averaging 26.7 points per game, Barber has scored 15-plus DraftKings points in just two of 10 games this season. Of all the starting backs in the league, he without question has been the stone-cold worst. His bifurcated production (+2.33 DraftKings Plus/Minus, 40% Consistency Rating) is astounding.
But even with his mediocrity and inconsistency, there is room for optimism with Barber. He has played 55.0% of the team’s offensive snaps and gotten 65.1% of the backfield opportunities. Second-round rookie Ronald Jones (hamstring) is expected to return this week, but he has been remarkably inefficient when active in Weeks 4-8, averaging just 2.2 yards per carry.
In his 15 games since becoming the lead back in Week 13 of last season, Barber has averaged 16.3 opportunities and 10.2 DraftKings points per game. As is the case most weeks, Barber will likely be rosterable at a low ownership rate.
As a home favorite in the game with the slate’s highest over/under, Barber is in a good spot, especially since the 49ers have allowed an NFL-high 7,557 yards and 65 touchdowns rushing since former head coach Jim Harbaugh’s departure in 2015.
Thanks to their magnificent combination of high-scoring offense and unspeakably poor defense (32.9 points per game allowed), the Bucs have an 8-2 over/under record this season, which is the best mark in the league for over bettors (per Bet Labs). I’m betting this game makes it nine.
For maybe the fifth week this season, Barber is the No. 1 DraftKings back in the Freedman Model.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 12 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
Pictured above: Melvin Gordon
Photo credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports