In this piece, I highlight running backs who stand out in our large suite of analytical fantasy tools, most specifically, our FantasyLabs Player Models. While the models are built for DFS 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 (powered by Sean Koerner), player ratings in our Player Models will change. For updates, visit the models directly.
Top NFL DFS Running Back Picks in the FantasyLabs Models
On DraftKings, there are three running backs who rank near the top of the individual Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Cash Game, and Tournament Player Models.
- Saquon Barkley
- Javonte Williams
- Darrell Henderson Jr.
We’ll discuss why these are popping in our models, as well as take a look at some other running backs.
Top Model NFL DFS Running Back Picks
Saquon Barkley ($7,300 DraftKings, $8,800 FanDuel): New York Giants (-2) vs. Carolina Panthers (43.5 total)
After missing pretty much all of 2020 with an ACL injury and being plagued by an ankle injury for most of 2021, watching Saquon Barkley run with so much explosiveness and power against Tennessee was quite a sight. The fantasy football world is better with Barkley healthy, so let’s hope he stays that way.
Barkley was the engine that completely drove New York’s offense. He had 18 carries for 164 yards and a touchdown. Barkley also ran a route on 74% of pass plays and saw seven targets, good for a 33% target share on the week. It’s unlikely he continues to see 1/3 of the team’s targets, but with the Giants wide receiver room in flux, Barkley will still be a focal point in the passing game.
Carolina got absolutely shredded on the ground by Cleveland, surrendering 187 rushing yards and a touchdown on 33 carries by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Jacoby Brissett averaged 4.3 yards per attempt against Carolina and never really posed a threat with his arm. Despite being one-dimensional, Carolina still couldn’t stop Cleveland on the ground, In their home opener, Saquon and the Giants should have similar success.
The Giants offensive line got pushed around a little bit against Tennessee. Still, through volume and explosiveness, Barkley should put up another solid performance to follow up his 34.4 DraftKings point performance in Week 1.
Barkley leads our Cash Game Model on DraftKings.
Javonte Williams ($6,400 DraftKings, $7,300 FanDuel): Denver Broncos (-10) vs. Houston Texans (46 total)
Melvin Gordon’s demise and Javonte Williams’ stranglehold over Denver’s backfield were certainly exaggerated. Williams out-snapped Gordon 38 to 27 yet saw only seven carries to Gordon’s 12. This was because Williams was heavily featured in the passing game. He saw 12 targets, gaining 65 yards through the air on 11 catches. He was also very efficient on the ground, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He had a solid 20.8-point DraftKings day, even with a lost fumble on the goal line.
Gordon definitely isn’t going to disappear, and we’ll likely see a near 50:50 split in work on the ground between the two. Williams seems to have a stranglehold on passing work, though, with 29 of his 38 snaps coming on pass plays, compared to merely 13 for Gordon.
The Texans got decimated by the Colts’ running backs in Week 1, giving up 165 yards and a touchdown on the ground on 34 carries.
They also allowed 10 receptions to Indy’s running backs, showing some pass-catching ceiling in this matchup for Williams.
Williams is one of our top-rated players in Pts/Sal, and he leads our Tournament Model this week.
Darrell Henderson Jr. ($5,800 DraftKings, $6,200 FanDuel): Los Angeles Rams (-10) vs. Atlanta Falcons (46.5)
To the surprise of many, Darrell Henderson Jr. out-touched Cam Akers 18 to 3 in the Rams opener against Buffalo. Akers also struggled in pass protection last week, and Sean McVay called out his poor performance in his press conference. For now, it’s likely that Henderson Jr. continues his lead role in this backfield.
The lead running back role in Sean McVay’s offense is a plentiful role, as a Rams’ running back had 70+ rushing yards in 13-of-17 regular-season games last year. This Falcons defense is unimposing, as 14 running backs had 75+ yards against them in 2021. They also allowed a touchdown to opposing running backs in 12-of-17 games last year while ranking 30th in rush defense DVOA.
Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram combined for only 69 yards in last week’s contest, but Taysom Hill exploded for long runs and punched in a touchdown. This is still the same old porous Falcons’ run defense that we’re used to.
Henderson Jr. totaling 18 touches in a blowout is pretty impressive, and we should expect a similar, if not greater, touch number from him this week. The Rams sit as 10-point favorites currently, and it’s likely they’re spending a good chunk of the second half salting the game away on the ground.
Henderson Jr. also leads both of our Pro Models this week on DraftKings, and he is a bargain on FanDuel as well.
Other Notable NFL DFS Running Back Picks
Christian McCaffrey ($8,900 DraftKings, $9,000 FanDuel): Carolina Panthers (+2) at New York Giants (43.5 total)
It was a disappointing Week 1 performance for Christian McCaffrey, totaling just 15.7 DraftKings points. He did still see 81% of the snaps, 77% of the running back carries, as well as a 19% target share. The lack of production was likely due to the Panthers struggling as a whole, running only 50 offensive snaps. Last week seems like a floor game performance from McCaffrey, and it’s likely we see him return to his former self sooner rather than later.
This week’s matchup isn’t necessarily better than last week’s, as the Giants defense swallowed up Derrick Henry, allowing a mere 3.9 yards per carry. Still, McCaffrey is a very talented player, and a common theme in these articles all season long will be to bet on talent. At discounted ownership due to a Week 1 disappointment, McCaffrey looks like a solid Week 2 target, especially in tournaments.
Joe Mixon ($7,200 DraftKings, $8,300 FanDuel): Cincinnati Bengals (-7) at Dallas Cowboys (41.5 total)
We don’t want to put too much stock into Week 1, especially in Cincinnati, where they ran a whopping 100 plays on offense. However, it was promising to see Joe Mixon post career highs in routes run with 38, targets with nine, and total a monster 34 touches. It’s been agonizing to watch Mixon lose out on passing-game work in years past, so maybe this is finally the year that the Bengals appease us (probably not).
The Cowboys defense got carved up by Leonard Fournette for 6.0 yards per carry on 21 attempts on Sunday Night. The Bucs’ offensive line is banged up, yet they still pushed around Dallas’ front. Mixon should be in for a big day. The Bengals also sit as touchdown favorites at the moment, and when Cincinnati is favored by 4.0 points or more, Mixon averages 19.5 fantasy points per game, as opposed to 14.8 points per game when not in this split.
James Conner ($6,900 DraftKings, $7,600 FanDuel): Arizona Cardinals (+5.5) at Las Vegas Raiders (51.5 total)
With Chase Edmonds out of the picture, James Conner dominated the snaps and touches out of the Arizona backfield. Eno Benjamin took some work late, but that was with the game out of reach. Conner had 10 carries and a touchdown out of the backfield and saw six targets as well. Hopefully, the Cardinals put up more of a fight this week, and Conner can stay in the game longer.
The Las Vegas run defense was stout last week, giving up 69 yards on the ground on 25 carries to Chargers’ running backs. This matchup isn’t anything special, but with how much potential work Conner could see in the highest total game of the weekend, it’s hard not to see the appeal in James Conner in DFS.
Josh Jacobs ($5,800 DraftKings, $6,600 FanDuel):Las Vegas Raiders (-5.5) at Arizona Cardinals (51.5 total)
Josh Jacobs played on 60% of the snaps in Week 1 and had 57 yards on the ground on 10 carries. He also got a target out of the backfield, but it appears that Brandon Bolden is going to eat up the passing-down work. The Raiders also only ran the ball on 23% of their plays, which is an insanely low rate, especially in a close game. Especially as favorites against a battered Cardinals defense, we should see more of an attachment to the run game out of Las Vegas.
The Cardinals gave up 128 yards and a touchdown on the ground to Kansas City last week, as well as two touchdowns through the air to Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Especially with Derek Carr and the Raiders’ pass-catchers expecting to see some ownership, Josh Jacobs looks like a tremendous tournament play in a positive game script.