The bye weeks are over, and 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 13-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at four 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
- Todd Gurley: $9,300 DraftKings; $9,800 FanDuel
- Christian McCaffrey: $8,800 DraftKings; $8,800 FanDuel
- Phillip Lindsay: $5,400 DraftKings; $7,000 FanDuel
- Lamar Miller: $4,600 DraftKings; $6,300 FanDuel
UPDATE (12/1) – Spencer Ware: Kansas City Chiefs (-14) at Oakland Raiders, 55.5 Over/Under
UPDATE: Running back Kareem Hunt (personal conduct) has been waived by the Chiefs and placed on the Commissioner Exempt list following the release of a disturbing TMZ video on Friday. As a result, Ware will now lead the Chiefs backfield. Center Mitch Morse (concussion) will play after practicing in full this week. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (hamstring) is out.
Raiders defensive tackle Maurice Hurst (ankle), defensive end Arden Key (knee) and cornerback Daryl Worley (shoulder) are questionable but tentatively expected to play. Cornerback Leon Hall (back) is out.
Priced at $4,000 on DraftKings and $5,200 on FanDuel, Ware is now a must-play in cash games and will be the slate’s highest-owned player. Check out the quick podcast on Hunt and Ware that I recorded on Friday afternoon with Raybon, who now has Ware as the No. 1 DraftKings back in his Model.
Todd Gurley: Los Angeles Rams (-10) at Detroit Lions, 55 Over/Under
Perhaps not coincidentally, Gurley’s two worst games this year have come against the best teams the Rams have faced.
- Week 9 (at Saints): 16.9 FanDuel points, -4.74 Plus/Minus, 13-68-1 rushing, 6-11-0 receiving on seven targets
- Week 11 (vs. Chiefs): 10.9 FanDuel points, -9.24 Plus/Minus, 12-55-0 rushing, 3-39-0 receiving on three targets
By my count, that’s two significant victories for the “running backs don’t matter” crowd, and the numbers back it up: Gurley is now +3000 to win the MVP award, whereas he was +200 entering Week 9. A lot can change in a month.
But even though Gurley has been recently exposed, he’s still the undisputed lead back on a team that has hit its implied Vegas total in an NFL-high 20 of 27 games under beard model and head coach Sean McVay since last season. The Rams averaged a league-high 29.9 points per game last year, and this season they have improved to 35.4. They will almost certainly regress at some point, but their offense is as good as any unit in the league, and this week they trail only the Chiefs with their implied Vegas total of 32.25 points.
In the McVay era, Gurley has easily been the best running back in football, leading the position with 24.1 FanDuel points per game, 3,577 yards and 36 touchdowns from scrimmage. Gurley has an 84.6% market share of snaps, and he’s the unquestioned alpha on the best team in the league. He has 18-plus opportunities (rushes and targets) in every game with McVay except in Week 11 when he suffered an in-game ankle injury, which limited him even though he played through it.
Coming off the bye, Gurley should be rested and ready: He practiced fully on Wednesday.
Not since Week 5 has Gurley had a main-slate ownership rate of less than 20% in guaranteed prize pools, and we’re once again projecting him to be one of the slate’s most popular players.
Gurley led the league (in 15 games) with 37 opportunities inside the 10-yard line last season, and he’s going to shatter that mark in 2018. Through 11 games, he has 32 carries and six targets inside the 10, and that doesn’t take into account his three successful two-point conversions. With his goal-line opportunities and scoring prowess, Gurley is always in consideration.
The Rams kick off a two-game road trip this week, which is less than ideal, but it’s probably not a reason to downgrade Gurley. While most players tend to struggle on the road, Gurley has significant reverse home/away splits under McVay.
- Home (12 games): 20.6 FanDuel points, 66.7% Consistency Rating
- Away (13 games): 27.4 FanDuel points, 76.9% Consistency Rating
The sample isn’t large, but Gurley’s +11.21 FanDuel Plus/Minus as a visitor is outstanding. Plus, if a team has to be on the road at this time of the year, it’s advantageous to be in a dome.
Based on The Action Network NFL Power Ratings, this might be something of a trap spot for Gurley: The Rams are Week 13’s most overrated team. On top of that, Gurley might have something of a mixed matchup against the Lions. On the one hand, the Lions rank 22nd in Football Outsiders’ rush-defense DVOA with a -3.9% mark. On the other hand, the Lions have been much better on defense (at least against the run) since the addition of nose tackle Damon Harrison in Week 8.
- Without Harrison (six games): 26.3 points allowed, 360.2 scrimmage yards, 139.3 rush yards
- With Harrison (five games): 25.6 points allowed, 349.8 scrimmage yards, 90.4 rush yards
But the matchup probably doesn’t matter for Gurley because of the focused way in which the Rams use him. Of all backs with 10-plus carries per game, Gurley has faced fronts of eight or more defenders on a league-low 8.57% of his runs (Next Gen Stats).
When the box is loaded, the Rams audible to the pass. As a result, Gurley tends to get the ball in matchup-neutralizing situations. If a team is running primarily when it has advantageous fronts, the overall strength of the opposing run defense matters less.
Plus, Gurley is an integral part of the passing game with his 56 targets, 43 receptions, 441 yards receiving, 437 yards after the catch and four receiving touchdowns. As a receiver, Gurley’s in a good spot. For the Lions, linebackers Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones have allowed a combined 83.3% completion rate.
On Sunday morning, I might look to bet the over on Gurley’s rushing touchdown prop. In 26 games with McVay, Gurley has 26 rushing touchdowns. He led the league last season with 13 and currently leads the league with 13. 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 196-91-9, good for a 66% win rate.
Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
With his high usage, three-down ability and multi-touchdown upside, Gurley has position-high median, ceiling and floor projections in our Models and leads the slate with 14 Pro Trends on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 back in the Bales, CSURAM88 and Koerner Models.
Christian McCaffrey: Carolina Panthers (-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 53.5 O/U
UPDATE (12/1): Wide receivers Devin Funchess (back) and Curtis Samuel (hamstring) are fully expected to play after practicing this week.
Bucs linebacker Lavonte David (knee) is questionable but expected to play after practicing in full on Friday. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) will play after a full practice on Friday. Cornerback Brent Grimes (knee) is questionable but seems unlikely to play after a midweek downgrade. Cornerbacks M.J. Stewart (foot) and Carlton Davis (knee) are out.
On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, there was a lot of enthusiasm for McCaffrey, and it’s easy to see why.
Any concerns at the beginning of the season about McCaffrey’s ability to play as a lead back or how he’d perform in offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s system have been allayed by his usage and year-to-date performance. McCaffrey has played on an outrageous 97.0% of his team’s offensive snaps and is top-five at the position with 20.9 FanDuel points per game.
Impressively, McCaffrey’s production has come despite roster issues around him. Continuity is crucial along the offensive line, and three of last season’s starters are not on the field: Left tackle Matt Kalil (knee, injured reserve) was sidelined before the regular season, right tackle Daryl Williams (knee, IR) has missed most of the season and 2017 All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell is on the Jaguars. Even so, McCaffrey has become more efficient as a runner, averaging 4.9 yards per carry this year compared to 3.7 last year.
As was the case when he faced the Bucs in Week 9 and went off for 30.2 FanDuel points, McCaffrey is in a smash spot against the divisional rival Bucs, who are 27th in rush defense (0.8% DVOA) and 20th in pass defense against running backs (7.5% DVOA). With the best explosive rushing matchup on the slate and team-high marks with 82 targets, 71 receptions, 608 yards receiving and five receiving touchdowns, McCaffrey is likely to get his production one way or another against this abysmal Bucs defense.
The Bucs have allowed a top-eight mark of 25.9 FanDuel points per game to opposing backfields this season.
And to make matters worse, Tampa Bay’s entire defense is the walking wounded.
In their front seven, middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (knee, IR) is out, as is backup middle linebacker Jack Cichy (ankle, IR). Weak side linebacker Lavonte David (knee) has sat out the past two games. And defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) exited early last week after attempting to play through a questionable tag.
The secondary might be even worse off than the front seven. Strong safety Chris Conte (knee, IR) and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (shoulder, IR) are out. Slot corner M.J. Stewart (foot) has been out since Week 9. Free safety Justin Evans (toe) has missed the past two games. And outside cornerback Carlton Davis (knee) exited last week early and is uncertain for this week.
Thanks to their magnificent combination of high-scoring offense (26.7 points per game) and basement-level defense (30.7 points per game allowed), the Bucs have an 8-3 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 tournaments, use our Lineup Builder to stack McCaffrey with quarterback Cam Newton. If Newton has a big game a large portion of his production could come via his running back.
McCaffrey is tied for the position lead with 11 Pro Trends on DraftKings and is the No. 1 back on FanDuel in the Levitan and Raybon Models.
Phillip Lindsay: Denver Broncos (-5) at Cincinnati Bengals, 44.5 O/U
UPDATE (12/1): Bengals linebacker Nick Vigil (knee) will play after practicing on a limited basis this week.
The undrafted rookie is having himself a fantastic campaign. Although he opened the season as the scat back in a three-person committee with Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker, the Colorado product has played more than 50% of the offensive snaps in each of the past five games, cementing his status as the committee’s clear leader.
It might not be a coincidence that the Broncos are 3-2 since making Lindsay the lead back, whereas they were 2-4 to open the season. Since Week 7, Lindsay has been a great arbitrage play on the elite, high-salaried backs. On a per-game basis, he’s been dominant.
- 18.8 DraftKings points per game
- +7.69 Plus/Minus
- 80% Consistency Rating
- 14.8 carries
- 2.4 targets
- Two receptions
- 101.6 yards
- One touchdown
Over the past five games, Lindsay hasn’t had fewer than 14 opportunities.
The Broncos might choose not to use Lindsay as a long-term lead back because of his size (5-foot-8, 184 pounds), but his recent usage is encouraging, and he has a number of factors in his favor.
- He has good speed — 4.39-second 40-yard dash at his pro day.
- He was productive in college, averaging 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns from scrimmage per year across his three seasons as a lead back.
- He is a good receiver, earning a 117-1,084-3 pass-catching stat line across his four collegiate seasons.
Most importantly, the Broncos haven’t shied away from giving him carries near the goal line. Despite his size, Lindsay leads the team with 21 red-zone carries and seven attempts inside the five-yard line. With his overall ability, three-down skill set and goal-line usage, Lindsay has a lot of upside against a Bengals defense that has allowed a top-three mark of 33.4 DraftKings points per game to opposing backfields.
Lindsay could especially exploit the Bengals as a receiver: They rank dead last in pass defense against running backs (28.5% DVOA), and they are also without strong side linebacker Nick Vigil, who leads the linebacking unit with a 69.5 Pro Football Focus coverage grade.
Running against fronts with eight-plus defenders on just 15.56% of his carries, Lindsay is the league’s most north/south runner with a 3.15 Efficiency Rating (Next Gen Stats). Few rushers hit the hole as hard as Lindsay does.
With the position’s second-highest projected Plus/Minus, Lindsay is the No. 1 DraftKings back in the Levitan, Raybon and SportsGeek Models.
Lamar Miller: Houston Texans (-5.5) vs. Cleveland Browns, 48 O/U
UPDATE (12/1): Wide receiver Keke Coutee (hamstring) is questionable but tentatively expected to play after practicing on a limited basis all week.
For a player pacing for his fifth straight 1,200-yard campaign, Miller gets almost no respect. Even after his 167-yard performance on Monday Night Football this past week, we’re still projecting him for a single-digit ownership rate, which makes him intriguing as an upside pivot play.
The Texans are riding an eight-game winning streak (as improbable as that might seem), and throughout his Houston tenure Miller has been at his best as a home favorite, averaging 16.7 DraftKings points per game. The Browns rank 30th with a 64.0 PFF run-defense grade and dead last with a 36.8 PFF tackling grade. They have allowed a top-six mark of 30.1 DraftKings points per game to opposing backfields. As a significant home favorite facing a vulnerable defense, Miller is in a good spot.
Miller started the season slowly, doing relatively little for the first month and then missing Week 5 altogether with a chest injury. In his absence, quarterback Deshaun Watson (lung, ribs) suffered a chest injury of his own, and since then the Texans have shifted to a run-heavy offense in an attempt to preserve their second-year savior. Returning to action in Week 6, Miller has clearly benefited from the change on a per-game basis.
- Weeks 1-5 (four games): 10.3 DraftKings points, 14.5 carries, 2.5 targets, two receptions, 69.8 yards and 0.25 touchdowns from scrimmage
- Weeks 6-12 (six games): 16.4 DraftKings points, 16.5 carries, 2.7 targets, 1.5 receptions, 104.3 yards and 0.5 touchdowns from scrimmage
In Weeks 1-5, the Texans had a 57.0% pass rate, and Watson attempted a minimum of 32 passes in each game. Since Week 6, however, the Texans have had a 57.8% rush rate, which would be a league-high mark if extrapolated over the course of the season. In this run-focused offense, Watson is yet to attempt more than 25 passes in any game.
With the position’s third-highest projected Plus/Minus, Miller is the No. 1 DraftKings back in the Bales, CSURAM88, Koerner and Freedman Models.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 13 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
Pictured above: Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller (26)
Photo credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports