The season is finally here, and the Week 1 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Sep. 13, at 1 p.m. ET.
In this piece, I highlight the running backs who stand out in our large suite of analytical DFS Tools, most specifically our FantasyLabs Models, and I include plenty of actionable analysis relevant to season-long fantasy as well.
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Top Running Backs in the FantasyLabs Models
There are four running backs atop the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
- Josh Jacobs: $6,800 DraftKings, $8,200 FanDuel
- Miles Sanders: $6,300 DraftKings, $6,800 FanDuel
- Jonathan Taylor: $5,700 DraftKings, $5,400 FanDuel
- Mark Ingram: $5,500 DraftKings, $7,000 FanDuel
Odds as of Tuesday evening and via DraftKings. For sports betting, get up to a $1,000 sign-up bonus at DraftKings today. For daily fantasy, sign up now at DraftKings and get free entries to both Thursday’s $2.5M contest and Sunday’s $5M contest for Week 1!
Josh Jacobs: Las Vegas Raiders (-3.5) at Carolina Panthers, 47.5 Over/Under
Jacobs has a delicious matchup against the Panthers, who last year allowed a league-high 31.9 DraftKings points per game to opposing backfields and were easily dead last with a 15.9% run-defense DVOA (per Football Outsiders).
The Panthers have a new coaching staff so maybe they’ll be better against the run, but Carolina enters the year with the No. 29 defensive line (per Pro Football Focus).
The Raiders should be able to run — and that’s almost certainly what they’ll do as road favorites. Although they had a Pythagorean total of just 5.3 wins last year and were outscored by 6.63 points per game, the Raiders were No. 5 with 206 running back carries while leading or tied and No. 4 with a 54% success rate on such attempts (per Sharp Football Stats). When they weren’t trailing in 2019, the Raiders ran the ball, and they ran well.
And there’s little reason to expect them to operate differently in 2020. This offseason the team has repeatedly talked up Jacobs, who flashed last year as a 21-year-old rookie with 1,316 yards and seven touchdowns from scrimmage in 13 games. Given the first-round pick the team invested in him, the Raiders are incentivized to use him.
Last year, Jacobs smashed salary-based expectations in every game the Raiders won, and as a favorite, he could very well end up on the positive side of his win/loss splits (per our FantasyLabs Trends Tool).
- Wins (six games): 22.2 DraftKings points | +9.86 Plus/Minus | 100% Consistency Rating
- Losses (seven games): 10.7 DraftKings points | -2.65 Plus/Minus | 28.6% Consistency Rating
Even if all you do is look at Jacobs’ carry, target and touchdowns totals, his win/loss splits tell a full story (per RotoViz Games Splits App).
If the Raiders beat the Panthers, Jacobs will likely have a heavy hand in the action.
A top-five running back in my dynasty rankings, Jacobs is poised to take a massive step forward in his sophomore season, and that will likely start in Week 1.
Jacobs is a strong option in all daily fantasy formats and a mid-tier RB1 in season-long leagues this week.
The No. 1 back in the Levitan, Koerner and Raybon Models for DraftKings, Jacobs has a position-high +3.71 Projected Plus/Minus on that platform and is also the top running back in the Raybon Model for FanDuel.
For good measure, he’s also the No. 2 RB in the Bales Model for DraftKings.
Miles Sanders: Philadelphia Eagles (-6) at Washington Football Team, 43 O/U
UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Sanders (hamstring) has practiced only on a limited basis this week and is listed as questionable. He seems likely to play, but HC Doug Pederson has said he might scale back Sanders’ workload early in the season. Sanders is now an extremely risk-seeking option for Week 1.
Sanders (hamstring) has been dealing with a soft-tissue injury for most of training camp, but he’s tentatively expected to be ready to go in Week 1.
Although Sanders played behind running backs Jordan Howard and Darren Sproles to start his 2019 rookie campaign, in the second half he emerged as the lead back, averaging 14.4 FanDuel points, 94.9 yards and 0.5 touchdowns on 19 opportunities (carries plus targets) across the final eight games of the regular season.
Eagles HC Doug Pederson has exhibited a penchant for backfield committees throughout his tenure, so it’s possible — maybe even likely — that running backs Boston Scott and Corey Clement will be employed to an annoying degree, but even so, Sanders is talented enough to produce on limited usage.
And his workload shouldn’t be all that limited anyway. After the Week 10 bye last year, Sanders never had fewer than 14 opportunities in a game, and in most contests he easily exceeded that mark. For instance, in a 37-27 road victory against Washington in Week 15, Sanders had a career-best 32.3 FanDuel points on 19-122-1 rushing and 6-50-1 receiving with six targets.
Now once again Sanders is on the road in Washington, and it’s not hard to imagine a big game for the second-year superstar-in-waiting. The Football Team has a good defensive line in theory: Edge defenders Ryan Kerrigan, Chase Young and Montez Sweat and defensive tackles Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne and Matt Ioannidis form an imposing hexad. And new HC Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio seem like the kind of tough-nosed, hard-minded motivators who can get the most out of their players.
But at DraftKings Sportsbook, Washington has the league’s second-lowest win total at 5.0, and it’s likely that the Footballers will gift their opponents with positive, run-friendly game scripts for much of the season. It will be something of a shock if Sanders in Week 1 doesn’t get a multitude of second-half clock-killing carries, some of which could easily be at the goal line.
Last year, opposing backfields ranked No. 3 against Washington with 26.1 FanDuel points per game.
A high-end RB2 with upside in seasonal leagues, Sanders is the No. 1 back in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, SportsGeek and Freedman Models on FanDuel as well as the top option in the SportsGeek Model for DraftKings.
Jonathan Taylor: Indianapolis Colts (-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars, 45 O/U
Taylor is a rookie in a committee with running backs Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines, so it takes a leap of faith to invest in him. He’s best avoided in cash games.
But he’s in play for guaranteed prize pools (GPPs), as it’s easy to imagine him eviscerating the Jaguars defense in his NFL debut.
In his three years at Wisconsin, Taylor proved himself to be one of the most prolific backs in college history.
- 2017 (14 games): 299-1,977-13 rushing | 8-95-0 receiving
- 2018 (13 games): 307-2,194-16 rushing | 8-60-0 receiving
- 2019 (14 games): 320-2,003-21 rushing | 26-252-5 receiving
An athletic marvel, Taylor put up a 99th-percentile 121.7 Speed Score at the combine with his 4.39-second 40-yard dash at 5-foot-10 and 226 pounds (per Player Profiler).
He’s not a good receiver: On 50 catchable targets for his career, he had eight drops. He’s a net negative in the passing game. But that won’t matter in Week 1 given that he’s a big favorite. With positive game script, Taylor won’t be called upon to catch the ball. It will be enough for him simply to run the rock against an overmatched Jags defense.
I’m not being hyperbolic when I say this: Taylor could rush for 150 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday.
When the Colts played the Jags in Week 11 last year, Mack, Hines and Jonathan Williams combined for 30-236-2 rushing and 4-55-0 receiving on five targets in a 33-13 win.
In Week 17 — even in an ugly 38-20 loss — Mack and Hines combined for 22-111-2 rushing and 3-22-0 receiving on six targets.
The Colts have PFF’s No. 1 offensive line, and the Jags were No. 31 with a 9.3% run-defense DVOA last year.
Taylor is a clear top-three back in my dynasty rookie rankings and a low-end RB2 with sky-high upside for Week 1.
He has a position-high 99% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 option in the Koerner Model.
Mark Ingram: Baltimore Ravens (-8) vs. Cleveland Browns, 48.5 O/U
UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Ravens RB Justice Hill (thigh) is out.
Despite scoring 15 touchdowns last year, Ingram was a fantasy RB1 in just 40% of his games (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
That’s what happens when a running back never gets 20 carries or five targets in a game. In 2019, Ingram was a low-volume, touchdown-dependent producer.
But it’s not as if Ingram was a talentless vulture in his first year with the Ravens. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per target in the regular season. He was No. 2 at his position with a 3.34 North/South efficiency rating (per Next Gen Stats) and No. 1 with a 35.2% juke rate (per Player Profiler).
Ingram can still find creases and break tackles. Even with running backs J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill on the roster, Ingram is still the No. 1 back — at least for Week 1.
Say what you want about Ingram, but the guy has cranked out 1,210.8 yards and 9.8 touchdowns over the past half-dozen years, and he’s got an exploitable matchup: The Ravens have a slate-high 27.75-point implied Vegas total, and the Browns were No. 30 with a 56.0 PFF run-defense grade in 2019.
An RB2 with multi-touchdown potential and GPP utility, Ingram has a position-high 89% Bargain Rating on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 back in the Bales, CSURAM88 and Freedman Models.
Upside Running Backs for Guaranteed Prize Pools
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers ($10,000 DK, $10,000 FD): Easily the No. 1 back with 31.0 DraftKings and 25.8 FanDuel points per game, McCaffrey led the league with 2,392 yards and 19 touchdowns from scrimmage, and he hit salary-based expectations in 75% of his games last year. On the positive side of his splits, McCaffrey has averaged 28.9 DraftKings and 23.8 FanDuel points across his 17 games as an underdog since 2018, and he has slate-high marks with his median, ceiling and floor projections for Week 1.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings ($7,900 DK, $8,700 FD): Coming off a triumphant breakout campaign in which he was the No. 2 fantasy back with 22.1 DraftKings points per game, Cook is in a smash spot against a Packers defense that was No. 27 last year with a -0.7% run-defense DVOA. Cook is on the positive side of his splits, having averaged 20.0 DraftKings points in 14 career games as a home favorite.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints ($7,200 DK, $8,300 FD): The Buccaneers were No. 2 last year with 17.1 DraftKings points per game allowed to opposing backfields, so the matchup is tough, but even in a down season, Kamara last year still managed to average 19.6 DraftKings points against them in two divisional matchups on a combined 29-137-0 rushing and 16-89-0 receiving with 17 targets. At the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Coors Field of fantasy football, the Saints-Buccaneers game could shoot out with its slate-high 49.5-point over/under. With quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints home over is an A-graded 66-48-2, good for a 13.5% return on investment (per our Bet Labs database). UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Saints RG Cesar Ruiz (ankle) is out.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers ($7,000 DK, $7,700 FD): In his four games last year without Melvin Gordon III, Ekeler was the No. 2 fantasy back with 27.0 DraftKings points per game on 56-220-3 rushing and 24-270-3 receiving on 25 targets. Ekeler averaged 21.6 DraftKings points last year in his 10 games as a favorite, and he has a great matchup against the Bengals, who have PFF’s No. 30 linebacker unit.
Even without quarterback Philip Rivers funneling him targets, Ekeler should produce: Last year he was No. 1 at the position with 2.74 yards per route and No. 2 with 67.3 air yards and yards after the catch (AirYAC) combined per game (per AirYards.com). UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Chargers C Mike Pouncey (hip) is out, RG Trai Turner (knee) is legitimately questionable after not practicing on Friday and RT Bryan Bulaga (hamstring) is questionable after limited practices on Thursday and Friday. WR Mike Williams (shoulder) is questionable and a game-time decision. Bengals DT Geno Atkins (shoulder) is out.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals ($6,700 DK, $7,300 FD): Even though the Bengals finished 2019 with the NFL’s worst record at 2-14, Mixon was still the No. 6 fantasy back after the Week 9 bye, averaging 19.7 DraftKings points across his final eight games with 177-817-5 rushing and 16-177-0 receiving on 20 targets. And for the entire season, he averaged 16.2 DraftKings points in 13 games as a dog. Given that quarterback Joe Burrow is making his NFL debut against the Chargers, who have PFF’s No. 2 secondary, the offense might final through Mixon in Week 1.
Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals ($6,400 DK, $6,600 FD): After trading for Drake in Week 9 last year, the Cardinals made him an every-down lead back as he put up 814 yards and eight touchdowns on 15.4 carries and 4.4 targets per game in the second half. In his first game with the team, he totaled 31.2 DraftKings points against the 49ers with 15-110-1 rushing and 4-52-0 receiving on four targets. Drake (foot) has been dealing with an injury for most of training camp, but he’s fully expected to play in Week 1.
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks ($6,200 DK, $7,200 FD): The Seahawks travel to the East Coast for an early game, so in theory it’s not a great spot for Carson, but he should still produce. No. 2 back Rashaad Penny (knee) is on the reserve/PUP list, so Carson should get the strong majority of the backfield work, and he has averaged 17.1 DraftKings points, 105.7 yards and 0.72 touchdowns on 19.7 carries and 2.4 targets in his 18 games as a favorite over the past two years.
James White, New England Patriots ($6,000 DK, $5,300 FD): Early-down grinder Sony Michel (foot) is still working his way back into the rotation, and second-year back Damien Harris (hand) is on injured reserve, so White might play as the lead back in Week 1. Over the past two seasons, he has averaged 1,042 yards and nine touchdowns on 109 targets and 80.5 carries per year, so it’s not unreasonable to think he could produce if given the opportunity. Last year, White was No. 3 among all backs with 52.4 AirYAC per game, and the Dolphins were No. 32 with a 55.4% pass-defense DVOA against running backs. UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Patriots WR Gunner Olszewski (foot) is out. TE Dalton Keene (neck) is questionable after limited practices on Thursday and Friday.
Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers ($5,800 DK, $6,200 FD): Nothing is guaranteed to anyone in a Shanahan backfield, but over his past eight games (including playoffs), Mostert has averaged 20.7 DraftKings points, 99.0 yards and 1.5 touchdowns on 14.6 carries and 1.5 targets per game. As a home favorite, Mostert is likely to benefit from positive game script, and the 49ers averaged 32 points per game and 2.81 points per drive in their two divisional matchups with the Cardinals last year (per RotoViz Team Splits App). UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): 49ers WR Deebo Samuel (foot) is out. WR Brandon Aiyuk is questionable but trending toward playing after returning to practice (albeit on a limited basis) on Thursday and Friday.
Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets ($5,600 DK, $6,500 FD): Since his 2014 breakout, Bell is No. 1 among all backs with 25.6 opportunities per game. Undead running back Frank Gore will unfortunately zombie away some carries, but Bell is coming off a 1,250-yard campaign and should still be the backfield leader. He will have low tournament exposure, and in two games last year against the Bills, he averaged 18.0 DraftKings points, 84.5 yards and 0.5 touchdowns on 16.5 carries and seven targets. UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Jets RB La’Mical Perine (ankle) is out.
Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills ($5,400 DK, $6,300 FD): From Week 9 on, Singletary last year as a rookie averaged 97.0 yards on 16.0 carries and 4.0 targets per game — but he scored just two touchdowns. Rookie running back Zack Moss will compete for touches and could be the primary goal-line option, but with a little scoring luck, Singletary could have a big game: In his NFL debut, he had 98 yards on nine touches against the Jets, and in his two lead-back games as a home favorite, he averaged 19.2 DraftKings points with a +8.61 Plus/Minus.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts ($5,300 DK, $6,100 FD): After averaging 1,092 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games over the past two years, Mack will share the load this season with second-round rookie Jonathan Taylor. Gone are the 2018-19 halcyon days with 17.1 carries per game as a favorite, but Mack will still be involved in the game plan, and last year he averaged 19.8 DraftKings points, 93 yards and 1.5 touchdowns on 14.5 carries in two games against the Jaguars, who trailed only the Panthers with 31.4 DraftKings points per game allowed to opposing backfields.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears ($4,900 DK, $5,200 FD): Starting running back David Montgomery (groin) is expected to miss Week 1, so Cohen could lead the backfield in snaps on Sunday. Cohen is coming off a disappointing 2019 campaign, but he had 1,169 yards and eight touchdowns in 2018, and in his four games against HC Matt Patricia’s Lions, the jitterbug back has averaged 14.1 DraftKings points. With an average of 75 receptions over the past two years, Cohen could have a big game with a pass-heavy game script as an underdog against the Lions, who were No. 27 with a 24.6% pass-defense DVOA against running backs in 2019. UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Bears RB David Montgomery (groin) is questionable, but he practiced fully on Thursday and Friday and is likely to play.
Sony Michel, New England Patriots ($4,600 DK, $6,000 FD): A 2018 first-rounder, Michel flashed as a rookie with 280-1,267-12 rushing in 16 games (including playoffs), but he underwhelmed last year with just 3.7 yards per carry, and he offers little in the passing game with just 4.6 yards per target. On top of that, Michel (foot) is still working his way back from injury. But he will likely have a run-friendly positive game script as a home favorite against the Dolphins, who were No. 29 last year with a 0.9% run-defense DVOA. UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Patriots WR Gunner Olszewski (foot) is out. TE Dalton Keene (neck) is questionable after limited practices on Thursday and Friday.
Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills ($4,400 DK, $4,800 FD): The Jets were No. 2 with a -29.4% run-defense DVOA in 2019, so the matchup isn’t good, but Moss is a home favorite, and given his size (5-foot-9, 223 pounds), he could inherit the 11 carries inside the five-yard line racked up by the departed Frank Gore last year. Moss reportedly had a strong training camp and is expected to push Singletary for carries and targets.
Antonio Gibson, Washington Footballers ($4,000 DK, $4,600 FD): Although Gibson had just 33 carries and 38 receptions in his final college season, he put up a hyper-efficient 1,104 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior, and he flashed Jonathan Taylor-esque athleticism at the combine with his size (6-foot, 229 pounds) and speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash). The moment he was drafted, it was predictable that he would end up with significant opportunities sooner rather than later.
RIP: Adrian Peterson & Derrius Guice
Redskins take RB Antonio Gibson at 3.66.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 25, 2020
Projected to be the team’s primary receiving back, Gibson as a dog could have lots of targets in a pass-heavy game script. Thanks to his low salary, Gibson has a position-high +4.36 Projected Plus/Minus on FanDuel.
Chris Thompson, Jacksonville Jaguars ($4,000 DK, $4,900 FD): Before HC Jay Gruden’s Week 6 dismissal last year, Thompson averaged a flex-worthy 11.7 DraftKings points per game with 20-67-0 rushing and 25-268-0 receiving on 35 targets for the 0-5 Washington franchise. Reunited with Gruden in Jacksonville, Thompson is likely to lead the loss-inclined post-Leonard Fournette Jags in backfield snaps and maybe even targets, especially as a big underdog to the Colts, who allowed a league-high 109 receptions to opposing backs last year. UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Jaguars RBs Ryquell Armstead (COVID-19 Reserve) and Devin Ozigbo (hamstring, IR) are both out. The team has signed RB Dare Ogunbowale.
James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars ($4,000 DK, $4,500 FD): An undrafted rookie out of Illinois State, Robinson showed enough at Jags training camp to help make Fournette expendable. With 1,997 yards and 18 touchdowns from scrimmage as a senior, Robinson was a legit (albeit small-school) collegiate producer, and he has NFL-caliber athleticism with his 89th-percentile 127.5 SPARQ-x Score (per Player Profiler). Robinson might not even be the team’s primary early-down grinder, but if you think the Jags have a chance to hang with the Colts, then maybe Robinson is worth a flyer in GPPs (but probably not). UPDATE (Sat. 9/12): Jaguars RBs Ryquell Armstead (COVID-19 Reserve) and Devin Ozigbo (hamstring, IR) are both out. The team has signed RB Dare Ogunbowale.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
Pictured above: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens
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