We are in the final month of the year, and the 2018 NFL season is still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 23.9 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 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.
After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players. Stay ahead of your competition with our industry-leading DFS-focused news feed.
For updates on Vegas spreads and over/unders, check out The Action Network Live Odds page.
>> Sign up for The Action Network’s daily newsletter to get the smartest NFL conversation delivered into your inbox each morning.
Model Running Backs
- Christian McCaffrey: $9,300 DraftKings; $9,100 FanDuel
- Alvin Kamara: $8,100 DraftKings; $8,300 FanDuel
- Jeffery Wilson: $3,800 DraftKings; $5,600 FanDuel
- Jaylen Samuels: $3,700 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
- Peyton Barber: $3,600 DraftKings; $5,800 FanDuel
Christian McCaffrey: Carolina Panthers (PK) at Cleveland Browns, 47.5 Over/Under
UPDATE (12/8): Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (concussion) is out. Cornerback Phillip Gaines (knee) and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (biceps) are officially questionable but likely to play after getting in limited practices on Thursday and Friday.
The Panthers are on a four-game losing streak, but that hasn’t kept McCaffrey from producing. Over the past month, he has averaged 90.3 yards rushing, 71.3 yards receiving and 1.5 touchdowns from scrimmage on 13.5 carries, 8.5 targets and 7.8 receptions per game. He’s McCrushing right now.
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 97.2% of his team’s offensive snaps and is top-five at the position with 21.4 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 (per RotoViz Screener).
- 2018: 5.3 yards per carry, 0.08 fantasy points over expectation per attempt, 0.53 success rate
- 2017: 3.7 yards per carry, -0.05 fantasy points over expectation per attempt, 0.44 success rate
And of course McCaffrey’s ability as a receiver is legendary: He has team-high marks with 92 targets, 80 receptions, 663 yards receiving, 651 yards after the catch and six receiving touchdowns. One way or another McCaffrey is likely to get his production.
McCaffrey has a good matchup against the Browns, who are 31st with a 64.5 Pro Football Focus run-defense grade and dead last with a 40.8 PFF tackling grade. And while the Browns are ninth overall in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA with a -5.2% mark, they are most vulnerable through the air against running backs, ranking 25th with a 12.5% pass DVOA against opposing backfields. The Browns have allowed a top-six mark of 25.3 FanDuel points per game to running backs.
Unsurprisingly, McCaffrey has top-two median, ceiling and floor projections among all backs in our Models. For guaranteed prize pools, use our Lineup Builder to stack McCaffrey with quarterback Cam Newton. If McCaffrey has a big game, it’s possible that a large portion of his production could come as a receiver.
On Sunday morning, I will probably look to bet the over on McCaffrey’s yardage prop. He’s had 110-plus yards in each of the past four games, and quarterback Cam Newton (shoulder) is playing through a lingering injury, which could cause him to hand off and check down more than he usually does.
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 207-92-11, good for a 67% win rate. Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Leading the position with a 98% Bargain Rating on FanDuel and 10 Pro Trends on DraftKings, McCaffrey is the No. 1 back on both sites in the SportsGeek Model.
Alvin Kamara: New Orleans Saints (-10) at Tampa Bay, 54.5 O/U
UPDATE (12/8): Left tackle Terron Armstead (shoulder) is out.
Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle, shoulder) is in. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) is questionable but tentatively expected to play after practicing on a limited basis on Friday. Safety Justin Evans (toe) is out, and cornerback Carlton Davis (knee) is doubtful.
Following their 13-10 Thursday Night Football loss to the Cowboys last week, the Saints offer some Super Bowl 53 betting value, and it’s possible some of the team’s skill-position players offer daily fantasy value as well. In each of the past two games, Kamara has been held scoreless and under 100 yards. As a result, we’re projecting Kamara for an ownership rate lower than he’s typically had on the main slate.
With Kamara, there are two primary concerns. Firstly, the game is not at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (the Coors Field of fantasy football). On the road, the Saints offense might underperform on the whole. Secondly, 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.
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 5-13, eight games): 17.2 FanDuel points, 13.1 carries, 4.6 targets, 3.8 receptions, 85.8 yards and 1.13 touchdowns from scrimmage
Without Ingram, Kamara was one of the most productive backs in the league in the first month of the season. With Ingram, Kamara is still a great back, but one in a timeshare, and it would be unreasonable to expect him to perform as he did earlier in the year, especially since Kamara’s 2018 fantasy production with Ingram is similar to his 2017 production.
But even in a committee, Kamara has the capacity to score 20-plus FanDuel points in any given game: He’s still the most dynamic playmaker on the No. 1 team in The Action Network Power Rankings.
And he has a great matchup this week. Kamara went off in Week 1 for a slate-high 38.6 FanDuel points against the divisional rival Bucs, who are 30th in rush defense (3.6% DVOA) and 23rd in pass defense against running backs (10.3% DVOA). The Bucs have allowed a top-five mark of 26.0 FanDuel points per game to opposing backfields this season.
On top of that, 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). Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle, shoulder) has been limited in practice with lingering injuries, and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) has played limited snaps over the past couple of weeks and is yet to practice this week.
And the the secondary is likely worse off. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (shoulder, IR) is out. Rookie cornerback Carlton Davis (knee) exited Week 12 early, missed Week 13 and is yet to practice this week. Slot corner M.J. Stewart (foot) is practicing fully and expected to play, but he’s been out since Week 9, and the rookie could have a lot of rust.
Strong safety Chris Conte (knee, IR) is out. Free safety Justin Evans (toe) missed Weeks 11-12, tried to play in Week 13 and managed only 35.7% of the defensive snaps: He’s yet to practice this week. And backup free safety Isaiah Johnson (concussion) suffered a head injury last week and is unlikely to play this weekend.
Against such a defense, Kamara could easily have a 120-yard, two-touchdown performance. On the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, Kamara was repeatedly mentioned as a strong candidate for cash games and GPPs, and the Saints have a slate-high implied Vegas total of 32.5 points.
Kamara is tied for the position lead with 13 Pro Trends on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 running back in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner and Freedman Models.
Jeffery Wilson: San Francisco 49ers (+3.5) vs. Denver Broncos, 45 O/U
UPDATE (12/8): Wide receiver Pierre Garcon (knee) is out.
Broncos cornerbacks Chris Harris (leg) and Tramaine Brock (ribs) and outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett (hip) are out. Linebacker Brandon Marshall (knee) is out.
An undrafted fifth-string mid-major rookie with a strong record of college production, Wilson is the stereotypical late-season Kyle Shanahan back. There’s nothing special about his athleticism (4.57-second 40 time), but he has good size (six foot, 210 pounds) and was productive in his two final seasons at North Texas.
- 2017 (11 games): 188 carries, 24 receptions, 1,383 yards, 16 touchdowns
- 2016 (11 games): 169 carries, 29 receptions, 1,183 yards, 15 touchdowns
With Matt Breida (ankle) out and Alfred Morris (age) demoted, Wilson seems likely to play as the lead back this week. He’s been active for only the past two games, but he’s impressed in his limited action, especially as a receiver.
- Week 12 (at Buccaneers): 5.1 DraftKings points, 39.1% offensive snaps, 7-33-0 rushing, 1-8-0 on one target
- Week 13 (at Seahawks): 20.4 DraftKings points, 71.1% offensive snaps, 15-61-0 rushing, 8-73-0 on nine targets
Situationally, this is not a good spot for Wilson. He’s at home, but the 49ers are dogs, and they rank 30th with a 61.6 PFF rushing grade on offense. Third-string quarterback Nick Mullens hasn’t proven himself to be enough of a passing threat to disincentivize the Broncos from stacking the box.
And on defense the Broncos rank third with a 90.7 PFF rush grade. With outside linebackers Von Miller and Nick Chubb supporting the interior play of nose tackle Domata Peko and 3-4 defensive ends Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis, and Shelby Harris, the Broncos are not an easy team to run against.
But Wilson has a few factors in his favor. For one, the 49ers have received some significant sharp investment this week. They opened as +5.5 dogs, but the line has moved toward them by two points. With 38% of the spread bets but 64% of the money as of Friday, the 49ers are on the positive side of reverse line movement.
Additionally, even if the 49ers fall behind and find themselves in a pass-heavy game script, Wilson could put up points via the receiving game. Just last week, Wilson got most of his production as a receiver in a 43-16 loss to the Seahawks. If the 49ers trail for most of the game, that could actually be good for Wilson.
Finally, Wilson is cheap, especially on DraftKings, where he easily has a slate-high projected Plus/Minus. Because of the salary savings he provides, Wilson will likely be popular in both cash games and GPPs this week. Although he doesn’t have a great matchup, the Broncos have allowed a middle-of-the-road 25.4 DraftKings points per game to opposing backfields. If Wilson can get even 60% of that mark, he will provide good value.
Wilson is the No. 1 DraftKings back in the Koerner Model.
Jaylen Samuels: Pittsburgh Steelers (-10) at Oakland Raiders, 51 O/U
UPDATE (12/8): Right tackle Marcus Gilbert (knee) is out. Backup Matt Feiler will continue to fill in at right tackle.
In the words of T. Rex, “Bang a gong.”
I have a lot of irrational excitement for Samuels. Starting running back James Conner (ankle) is out, and it seems that Samuels is likely to lead the backfield committee this week. It’s possible that reception-averse veteran Stevan Ridley could see significant work as a rusher, especially if the Steelers get a big lead against the 2-10 Raiders, but even if that happens, Samuels could still have a big game as an occasional runner, backfield pass-catcher and goal-line grinder.
A lot of people don’t have an idea of who this versatile rookie is. Samuels has the size (five-foot-11, 225 pounds), speed (4.54-second 40) and agility (6.93-second three-cone) of a running back, but in college he lined up all over the field, usually at tight end. Here’s an excerpt from Samuels’ 2018 NFL Draft prospect profile.
A hybrid player, Samuels regularly moved across the formation at NC State and served a variety of functions: Tight end, slot receiver, fullback, H-back, goal-line back and sometimes even wideout. He did it all. A versatile prospect, Samuels is in the mold of Kyle Juszczyk, Charles Clay and Aaron Hernandez as a high-level multidimensional contributor, except he’s built like a lead back and was a more prolific college producer (2,719 yards and 45 touchdowns from scrimmage over his three final years).
A backup as a freshman, Samuels broke out as a sophomore in 2015, serving as the No. 1 receiver for quarterback Jacoby Brissett and leading the Wolfpack with 65 receptions, 597 yards and seven touchdowns. In the two seasons after that he continued to produce, catching 123 passes for 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns. On top of that he was a highly effective and efficient ball carrier throughout his career, rushing for 1,107 yards and 28 touchdowns on a robust 6.1 yards per attempt. As a senior, he culminated his career with a clean 1,000-yard, 16-touchdown campaign on 75 receptions and 78 carries.
A capable short-yardage back and accomplished receiver both in the slot and out of the backfield, Samuels seems up to the task of filling in for Conner. While he hasn’t done much as a runner (12-31-0), he’s flashed in his limited action as a receiver (7-54-2 on nine targets).
And Samuels is in a great spot this week. Although the Steelers have massively underperformed as double-digit favorites with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, it probably doesn’t hurt Samuels’ prospects that his team is significantly favored against the Raiders, who are 31st in run defense (4.1% DVOA). Over the past month, the Raiders have allowed backup-ish running backs Raheem Mostert, Gus Edward and Spencer Ware to put up 14.6, 14.8 and 12.2 DraftKings points.
If there’s something the Raiders are quite good at, it’s allowing ordinary backs to look extraordinary for a day.
It’s possible that the Steelers could use a pass-heavy game plan against the Raiders instead of relying on their backup backfield, but the Raiders are actually first in pass DVOA against No. 1 wide receivers (-26.2%) and fourth in pass DVOA against No. 2 wide receivers (-26.8%).
That doesn’t mean that the Steelers can’t have success throwing to Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster — I mean, it’s not as if Brown is falling off a cliff or anything (he said bitterly as he typed those very words on a small laptop in his mother’s dimly lit basement) — but the Steelers might choose the path of least resistance by giving carries and targets to their backs.
It’s notable that sharp money is backing the Raiders. The spread has dropped three points since opening at -13, and Oakland has gotten 81% of the money despite getting just 55% of the tickets. On top of that, in the All-Pro Antonio era, Steelers road games have a 10-28 over/under record, which is good for a 44.9% return on investment for under bettors (per Bet Labs). In fact, the Steelers have been the most profitable road team for under bettors in that time. Not once over that span has the Steelers road under not had a winning season. We should keep expectations for the Steelers offense in check.
But Samuels is incredibly cheap, especially at DraftKings, where we expect he’ll have an ownership rate in excess of 20%. With the salary savings he affords and the upside he provides, he should be strongly considered in cash games.
Samuels is the No. 1 DraftKings running back in the Raybon Model.
Peyton Barber: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+10) vs. New Orleans Saints, 54.5 O/U
UPDATE (12/8): Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (thumb) is out. Right tackle Demar Dotson (hamstring) is likely to play after practicing in full on Friday.
I still can’t quit Barber.
Despite being the starting running back for an offense averaging 26.5 points per game, Barber has scored 15-plus DraftKings points in just two of 12 games this season. Of all the starting backs in the league, he without question has been the stone-cold worst. His bifurcated production (+2.75 DraftKings Plus/Minus, 50% Consistency Rating) is astounding.
But even with his mediocrity and inconsistency, there is room for optimism with Barber. He has played 55.1% of the team’s offensive snaps and gotten 66.4% of the backfield opportunities. Even with all the playmakers the Bucs have, no player on the team has more touchdowns than Barber with five.
Second-round rookie Ronald Jones returned to action last week, but he’s no threat to Barber. In Week 13, Jones had just four carries, which he turned into two yards. For the season, Jones has an average of just 1.9 yards per carry. Barber hasn’t exhibited a great deal of talent in his NFL career, but of all the backs on the Bucs roster, he’s been the most productive.
In his 17 games since becoming the lead back in Week 13 of last season, Barber has averaged 16.6 opportunities and 10.4 DraftKings points per game. As is the case most weeks, Barber will likely be rosterable at a low ownership rate.
Although the line has dropped, this game still easily has the slate’s highest total, and thanks to their magnificent combination of potent offense and poor defense (29.6 points per game allowed), the Bucs have an 8-4 over/under record this season, yielding a league-best 31.2% return on investment for over bettors this year. In what could be a high-scoring affair, Barber doesn’t have a great matchup — the Saints are third in run defense (-23.2% DVOA) — but he still has the potential to stretch his touchdown streak to four straight games.
For maybe the sixth week this season, Barber is the No. 1 DraftKings back in the Freedman Model.
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 14 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
Pictured above: San Francisco 49ers running back Jeff Wilson (41)
Photo credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports