The Week 8 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Oct. 27, 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 the industry-leading FantasyLabs Models.
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Top Running Backs in the FantasyLabs Models
There are five 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.
- Saquon Barkley: $8,900 DraftKings; $8,600 FanDuel
- Leonard Fournette: $7,800 DraftKings; $7,700 FanDuel
- Todd Gurley: $7,400 DraftKings; $7,400 FanDuel
- Latavius Murray: $5,800 DraftKings; $6,200 FanDuel
- Sony Michel: $5,200 DraftKings; $6,500 FanDuel
Saquon Barkley: New York Giants (+7) at Detroit Lions, 49 Over/Under
UPDATE (Oct. 26): WR Sterling Shepard (concussion) is out. Lions DT Damon Harrison (thigh) and Da’Shawn Hand (elbow) are in. Lions DT Mike Daniels (foot) and CB Darius Slay (hamstring) are out.
Barkley’s second season has been a circumstantial disappointment. In Weeks 1-2, he predictably crushed with 29-227-1 rushing and 7-47-0 receiving performances, but early in Week 3 he suffered an in-game ankle injury, which caused him to miss the next three weeks.
While Barkley wasn’t horrible in his Week 7 return (18-72-1 rushing, 3-8-0 receiving), he was hardly transcendent. If you played him in cash games, you probably lost money. Despite regularly having one of the highest salaries across the industry, Barkley has yet to have a top-three fantasy finish this year.
But Barkley’s 2019 performance needs to be considered within the larger context of his career, throughout which he has consistently exhibited an incredibly high floor (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
Barkley has been no worse than a high-end RB2 in 17 of his 20 career games.
Since last year, only Christian McCaffrey has averaged more than Barkley’s 19.9 FanDuel points per game (per our FantasyLabs Trends Tool). He has hit salary-based expectations in 75% of his games. He’s been a strong source of value with his +4.80 Plus/Minus.
With his steady and dual-phase workload (15.8 carries and 7.2 targets per game), Barkley is a true script-independent back. Regardless of whether the Giants win or lose, Saquon is going to get his.
In full disclosure, I have some concerns this week. Saquon is on the negative side of his splits. He’s been at his worst in his nine games as a road underdog, averaging 18.5 FanDuel points. For someone at his worst, that’s amazing — but I’d still rather not roster Saquon in a suboptimal spot.
And I can’t ignore Saquon’s splits without wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Even when we remove Saquon’s injury-shortened Week 3, his OBJ-less decline is notable.
- Without Beckham (seven games): 18.0 FanDuel points per game, 16.1 carries, 6.9 targets, 3.9 receptions, 118.0 yards and 0.71 touchdowns from scrimmage
- With Beckham (12 games): 22.2 FanDuel points per game, 16.3 carries, 7.6 targets, 6.2 receptions, 129.7 yards and one touchdown from scrimmage
With OBJ gone, opposing defenses are much freer to focus their attention on stopping Barkley.
Even so, Barkley is in play, because he always has a high floor, and he has a great matchup. The Lions rank No. 27 with a 62.3 run-defense grade (per Pro Football Focus), and they have allowed the third-most FanDuel points to opposing backfields this year with 28.4 per game.
On top of that, the Lions are dealing with some defensive line injuries. Run-stuffing defensive tackle Damon Harrison (thigh) suffered an in-game injury last week and is uncertain for Week 8. Defensive tackle Mike Daniels (foot) has missed the past month and has yet to return to practice. And defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand (elbow) hasn’t played this season. If Snacks Harrison is unable to play, the Lions will be incredibly thin on the interior of their line.
The two backs to face the Lions this year with similar talent and salaries — Dalvin Cook and David Johnson — averaged 25.0 FanDuel points with a +10.89 Plus/Minus.
In roster constructions that allow for a high-priced back, Barkley is an option for both cash games and guaranteed prize pools.
Barkley is the No. 1 back in the CSURAM88 and Levitan Models for FanDuel, where he has a position-high 98% Bargain Rating.
Leonard Fournette: Jacksonville Jaguars (-6) vs. New York Jets, 41.5 O/U
UPDATE (Oct. 26): WR Marqise Lee (foot) is in. WR Dede Westbrook (neck, shoulder) is questionable but seems likely to play. Jets LB C.J. Mosley (groin) is out.
Remember when Fournette entered the league three years ago and people assumed he was just an early-down grinder?
This season, he’s No. 7 at the position with 15.7 FanDuel points per game and No. 9 with 8.2 expected receiving fantasy points per game (per RotoViz Screener). With 38 targets, Fournette is a significant part of the passing attack.
Here’s what’s intriguing to me about Fournette: There seems to be this perception that he’s finally starting to break out. While he’s having a good season, it’s not as if he’s doing more than he did in his first two seasons.
- 2019 (seven games): 15.7 FanDuel points, +4.45 Plus/Minus, 71.4% Consistency Rating
- 2017-18 (24 games): 15.7 FanDuel points, +2.08 Plus/Minus, 62.5% Consistency Rating
The big difference with Fournette isn’t that he’s scoring more points. It’s that he’s significantly cheaper now than he was previously, so his outperformance is magnified and all the more valuable.
Then again, in backup rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew’s six starts, Fournette actually has seen a pretty significant increase in production.
- Fantasy production: 16.7 FanDuel points, +5.57 Plus/Minus, 83.3% Consistency Rating
- Football production: 131-649-1 rushing, 24-175-0 receiving on 32 targets
If there’s one problem with Fournette, it’s his efficiency — or lack thereof.
Fournette has one of the most disproportionate production profiles imaginable: On a per-game basis, he’s No. 2 with 19.8 expected fantasy points but No. 123 with -1.9 fantasy points over expectation.
In terms of NFL production, he’s like a giant with child-sized feet.
The main issue is that Fournette hasn’t gotten into the end zone: He has just one touchdown this year. But with all his usage and yardage, the touchdowns should come, especially since he’s top-10 in the league with 11 carries inside the opponent 10-yard line. At some point, Fournette will enjoy positive scoring regression and grow into his big-boy cleats.
On the negative side, I’m not a fan of Fournette’s spot: He’s on the wrong side of his career reverse splits.
- Away (18 games): 17.7 FanDuel points, +4.70 Plus/Minus, 72.5% Consistency Rating
- Home (12 games): 12.8 FanDuel points, -0.58 Plus/Minus, 50% Consistency Rating
- Underdog (16 games): 18.0 FanDuel points, +5.80 Plus/Minus, 81.3% Consistency Rating
- Favorite (15 games): 13.3 FanDuel points, -0.79 Plus/Minus, 46.7% Consistency Rating
Amazingly — and this truly is amazing — Fournette has been his stone-cold worst as a home favorite, averaging 12.2 FanDuel points per game with a -1.95 Plus/Minus and 37.5% Consistency Rating. To me, this fact highlights just how dependent Fournette is on his receiving workload and how inefficient the Jags have been at lining up and running the ball when the defense expects a run. The Jags are No. 27 with a 62.7 PFF run-blocking grade.
On the plus side, Fournette faces the 1-5 Jets, who have allowed the sixth-most FanDuel points to opposing backfields with 24.8 per game. If a back has had at least 12 carries against the Jets, he’s had success.
- Nick Chubb (Week 2): 17.8 FanDuel points, 18-62-1 rushing, 4-36-0 receiving on four targets
- Jordan Howard (Week 5): 12.2 FanDuel points, 13-62-1 rushing, zero targets
- Ezekiel Elliott (Week 6): 23.8 FanDuel points, 28-105-1 rushing, 5-48-0 receiving on six targets
- Sony Michel (Week 7): 21.9 FanDuel points, 19-42-3 rushing, -8 receiving yards on one reception, two targets
Not once this year has Fournette had fewer than 13 carries in a game. And over the past month he’s had no fewer than 20. Lenny is going to get his action.
Fournette has been a fantasy RB1 in each of the past four weeks, and since entering the league in 2017, Fournette trails only Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott with 23.5 opportunities per game.
Fournette is the No. 1 back in the Freedman Model for FanDuel, where he has a position-high 12 Pro Trends.
Todd Gurley: Los Angeles Rams (-13) vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 48 O/U
UPDATE (Oct. 26): RB Malcolm Brown (ankle) is out. Bengals CBs Dre Kirkpatrick (knee) and Darqueze Dennard (hamstring) are out. Bengals CB William Jackson III (shoulder) is in.
The concerns that investors had about Gurley entering the season were definitely warranted. His per-game usage and yardage splits are beyond concerning.
- 2017-18 (33 games): 17.5 carries, 5.6 targets, 127.3 scrimmage yards
- 2019 (six games): 13.7 carries, 3.8 targets, 65.3 scrimmage yards
After having a season-high 93% snap rate in Week 5, Gurley had to sit out Week 6 with a thigh injury, and in Week 7 he had a season-low 61% snap rate. The Rams clearly know they have to limit Gurley’s exposure in the regular season, and that’s going to diminish his upside.
And since Week 1, Gurley’s efficiency has cratered. His yardage per opportunity is Joe Mixon-esque.
- Week 1: 6.73
- Week 2: 3.35
- Week 3: 2.87
- Week 4: 4.38
- Week 5: 2.85
- Week 6: Out
- Week 7: 2.84
But Gurley has been at least a fantasy RB2 in five of six games this year.
As his dismal Week 3 performance indicates, Gurley has a basement-level floor, which makes him wholly untouchable in cash games.
But for GPPs, Gurley has two big factors in his favor.
First, he’s still the team’s primary scorer with six touchdowns in six games. That’s not as impressive as the 42 he had in his first 33 games with head coach Sean McVay (including playoffs), but only Christian McCaffrey (1.5), Aaron Jones (1.29) and Dalvin Cook (1.14) have more touchdowns per game than Gurley does this year.
In any given game, Gurley has multi-touchdown upside. He’s top-eight in the league with 12 carries inside the opponent 10-yard line.
Additionally, Gurley faces the 0-7 Bengals. Last year, they allowed the second-most production to opposing backfields with 27.4 FanDuel points per game. This year, they have somehow gotten worse, bumping that number up to a league-high 29.7.
The onslaught has been relentless. If a back has gotten double-digit carries against the Bengals, he’s given them the Johnny Sack treatment.
Fantasy scoring for every RB with 10+ carries vs. Bengals:
W1: Carson – 21.1
W2: Mostert – 22.6, Wilson – 15.4, Breida – 13.7
W3: Gore – 15.9
W4: Conner – 22.5, Samuels – 19.5
W5: Johnson – 17.1
W6: Ingram – 14.4
W6: Fournette – 15.5
Gurley vs. Bengals in London in Week 8.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) October 23, 2019
Even with his reduced workload, I like Gurley’s odds of getting to 10 carries.
Linebackers Nick Vigil and Preston Brown are especially to blame for the Bengals’ generosity to opposing backs. They have both been exposed on the ground and in coverage.
The Bengals are fortunate to be only No. 28 with a 4.1% run defense DVOA (per Football Outsiders). They’re at their worst in the intermediate range of the field, where they rank No. 32 with 1.55 second-level yards allowed per run: Once opposing backs get 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage, the Bengals linebackers have been incapable of limiting yardage.
To make matters worse, the Bengals are No. 28 against running backs with a 30.2% pass defense DVOA. Last year, they were No. 31 with a 22.0% mark.
On the ground or through the air, they can’t stop anyone.
Vigil and Brown specifically have been among the worst defenders on the team, and that’s reflected in their PFF grades.
- Nick Vigil: 47.8 overall, 43.9 run defense, 55.5 coverage
- Preston Brown: 42.0 overall, 37.7 run defense, 52.6 coverage
The Rams are laying lots of points, and London favorites are 26-12-2 against the spread, good for a 31.9% return on investment (per Bet Labs). With positive game script and a great matchup, Gurley could have a top-three fantasy day with 100 yards and multiple touchdowns.
It helps that the Rams have a slate-high 30.5-point implied Vegas total.
And Gurley should be available at low ownership: Not once this year has Gurley had a double-digit main-slate ownership rate.
Gurley is the No. 1 back in the SportsGeek Model for FanDuel, where he has a 97% Bargain Rating.
Latavius Murray: New Orleans Saints (-9.5) vs. Arizona Cardinals, 48 O/U
UPDATE (Oct. 26): QB Drew Brees (thumb) will START. RB Alvin Kamara (knee, ankle) is technically questionable but seems unlikely ahead of the Week 9 bye. WR Tre’Quan Smith (ankle) and TE Jared Cook (ankle) are out.
The investment thesis for Murray is pretty straightforward: Starter Alvin Kamara (knee, ankle) missed last week and the Saints have a bye in Week 9, so they might give him another week of rest so he can be at full strength for the season-ending stretch run.
Although Murray did little in his first six games with the Saints (32-138-1 rushing, 9-67-0 receiving), he dominated in Week 7, finishing as the No. 2 fantasy back with 29.5 FanDuel points on 27-119-2 rushing and 5-31-0 receiving.
He had a season-high 83% snap rate last week without Kamara, and if he’s out again, I’d expect Murray to have similar usage. Since his 2015 breakout season, Murray is No. 3 in the league with 35 rushing touchdowns.
In his 53 career games with 10-plus carries (including playoffs), Murray has averaged a respectable 13.0 FanDuel points with 81.0 yards and 0.66 touchdowns on 16.4 carries, 2.7 targets and 2.0 receptions per game.
Murray’s matchup with the Cardinals is good. They rank No. 26 with a 0.6% run defense DVOA and No. 31 against running backs with a 51.1% pass defense DVOA. The seven lead backs to face them — Kerryon Johnson, Mark Ingram, Christian McCaffrey, Chris Carson, Joe Mixon, Devonta Freeman and Saquon Barkley — have averaged 15.8 FanDuel points per game.
If Kamara is out, Murray will be a strong option for cash games and GPPs and easily one of the slate’s most popular players. He leads all backs with his Projected Plus/Minus values on both DraftKings and FanDuel.
Murray is the No. 1 back in the Bales, Koerner and Raybon Models for FanDuel as well as the top option in the Raybon Model for DraftKings.
Sony Michel: New England Patriots (-13) vs. Cleveland Browns, 46 O/U
UPDATE (Oct. 26): TEs Matt LaCosse (knee) and Ryan Izzo (concussion) are out. WR Phillip Dorsett (hamstring) is in. Browns CBs Denzel Ward (hamstring) and Greedy Williams (hamstring) are in. Browns FS Damarious Randall (hamstring) is out.
It seems like every week there’s at least one player who comes with a significant Monday Night Football discount, and this week, that guy is Michel. Week 8 pricing was set before the Pats’ Week 7 MNF matchup with the Jets, so Michel’s salary doesn’t take into account his recent usage and production.
Given that Michel was the No. 6 fantasy back on the week with 22.4 DraftKings points on 20 touches — six of which were carries inside the opponent 10-yard line — his Week 7 numbers seem relevant to Week 8.
Hence, the MNF discount.
I want to be clear: I don’t think Michel is a great player. In his usage and skill set, he’s basically small LeGarrette Blount. I still believe the Patriots overpaid in drafting him.
No. 31: Pats select Sony Michel. That was the worst pick of the first round. By far. Not. Even. Close.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) April 27, 2018
But in all fairness to Michel, maybe he wasn’t actually the worst 2018 first-round selection. In his 23 career games (including playoffs), Michel has averaged 4.2 yards per carry and 76.8 yards and 0.78 touchdowns from scrimmage per game. He has just one target per game for his career, and his pass-catching skills are suspect, but he’s not a net negative.
His 2019 production has been problematic.
His rushing inefficiency (3.3 yards per carry) and receiving shortcomings (1.3 targets per game) make him incredibly risky in cash games.
His production is almost entirely driven by his goal-line usage and rushing volume. Michel leads the league with 19 carries inside the 10-yard line and 10 carries inside the five. He’s tied for No. 5 with Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott with six rushing touchdowns, five of which were of the short-yardage variety.
And in six of his seven games he’s had 15-plus carries. If not for that volume, Michel would be dust.
And that’s important because in the Patriots backfield, goal-line usage and rushing volume can be fickle.
Michel’s touchdown and volume splits are unsurprisingly stark.
- Touchdown (12 games): 21.0 DraftKings points, 20.2 carries, 94 yards rushing, 1.5 touchdowns
- No touchdown (11 games): 5.7 DraftKings points, 14.3 carries, 48.1 yards rushing, zero touchdowns
- 15-plus carries (16 games): 17.4 DraftKings points, 20.3 carries, 87.5 yards rushing, 1.06 touchdowns
- 14 or fewer carries (seven games): 5.1 DraftKings points, 10.7 carries, 36.7 yards rushing, 0.14 touchdowns
If Michel gets Belichicked and fails to score a touchdown or get his required carries, he could sabotage a lineup all by himself.
But the 7-0 Pats have a per-game differential of +25 points and ATS margin of +9.7 points. With that kind of weekly dominance, it’s not hard to imagine them blowing out the Browns and giving 20-plus carries and some goal-line opportunities to Michel.
And that means Michel is worthy of GPP investment, especially if teammate Rex Burkhead (foot) is out. Sexy Rexy has missed the past three weeks, and in his absence Michel has seen extra work, most notably as a receiver.
Over the past three weeks, Michel has averaged 19.0 DraftKings points, 73 yards rushing and 17 yards receiving on 19 carries, 2.7 targets and two receptions per game. His career Burkhead-based splits are notable.
- Without Burkhead (nine games): 17.0 DraftKings points, 17.8 carries, 1.4 targets, 1.1 receptions, 89.9 yards and 1.0 touchdowns from scrimmage
- With Burkhead (14 games): 11.6 DraftKings points, 17.1 carries, 0.8 targets, 0.3 receptions, 68.4 yards and 0.64 touchdowns from scrimmage
If Burkhead is out, Michel could go off. In his 10 games as a home favorite, Michel has averaged 15.5 DraftKings points with a +3.92 Plus/Minus.
The Browns are No. 31 with a 55.9 PFF run-blocking grade, and against the seven backs to whom they’ve allowed double-digit carries — Derrick Henry, Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, Mark Ingram, Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and Chris Carson — the Browns have yielded 20.0 DraftKings points per game with a +6.55 Plus/Minus.
Michel has yet to have a double-digit main-slate ownership rate this year, so he could be rosterable at a value.
Michel is the No. 1 back in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner, SportsGeek and Freedman Models for DraftKings.
Upside Running Backs for Guaranteed Prize Pools
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers ($9,200 DK, $9,600 FD): Run CMC has a tough matchup against the 49ers, who have held opposing backfields to a league-low 12.7 DraftKings points per game, but McCaffrey is almost immune to opponents. He’s the No. 1 fantasy back this year with 31.7 DraftKings points per game and a +10.41 Plus/Minus. McCaffrey has position-high median and ceiling projections in our Models. UPDATE (Oct. 26): RG Trai Turner (ankle) is in.
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks ($7,000 DK, $8,000 FD): Carson is the No. 10 DraftKings back with 17.7 points per game. The Seahawks are No. 4 with a 46.9% run rate. Since becoming the lead back last year, Carson has averaged 17.4 DraftKings points with a +5.71 Plus/Minus in his 12 games as a favorite. Carson has 15-plus carries in each game. The four salary-similar backs to face the Falcons — Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, David Johnson and Todd Gurley — went off for 21.1 DraftKings points per game and a +6.19 Plus/Minus. Carson has a position-high floor projection on DraftKings. UPDATE (Oct. 26): Falcons CB Desmond Trufant (toe) is out.
Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets ($6,900 DK, $7,000 FD): Since his 2014 breakout, Bell is No. 1 among all backs with 26.3 opportunities per game. In his four games against teams other than the Patriots, Bell has averaged 18.3 DraftKings points. The Jaguars are No. 27 with a 2.3% run defense DVOA. UPDATE (Oct. 26): LT Kelvin Beachum (ankle) is out. LG Kelechi Osemele (shoulder, knee) and TE Chris Herndon IV (hamstring) are technically doubtful, but neither will play.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns ($6,600 DK, $7,700 FD): Dating back to last season, Chubb has averaged 106.7 yards and 0.88 touchdowns in his 16 games as the Browns’ lead back. For 2019, Chubb is the No. 3 FanDuel back with 19.6 points per game, but he has a tough matchup. The Patriots have held opposing backfields to a league-low 10.4 FanDuel points per game. But at least Chubb is likely to have low ownership, and coming off the bye, the Browns might be able to stay competitive with the Pats.
Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals ($6,200 DK, $6,100 FD): Starter David Johnson (ankle, back) is dealing with multiple injuries, and he played only three snaps last week. In his stead, Edmonds had a slate-leading day with 38 DraftKings points on 27-126-3 rushing and 2-24-0 receiving. The Cardinals have recently signed retreads Alfred Morris and Zach Zenner, suggesting Johnson will be out this weekend. Neither ALF nor ZZ should be a threat to Edmonds’ workload. Edmonds isn’t a lock to get 20-plus opportunities against the Saints, but the three backs to hit that threshold against them — Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley — averaged 17 DraftKings points per game. UPDATE (Oct. 26): RB David Johnson (ankle, back) and WR Christian Kirk (ankle) are still uncertain to play. Saints CB Patrick Robinson (hamstring) is out.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts ($6,100 DK, $6,800 FD): Mack is No. 4 with 19.8 carries per game, and the Colts are No. 5 with a 46.4% run rate. In his 14 career games as a favorite, Mack has averaged 14.5 DraftKings points with a +3.65 Plus/Minus. He has a tough matchup against the Broncos, who are No. 1 with an 85.9 PFF run-defense grade, but his ownership rate should be low. UPDATE (Oct. 26): Broncos SCB/FS Will Parks (hand) is out.
Ty Johnson, Detroit Lions ($4,900 DK, $5,200 FD): Starter Kerryon Johnson (knee, injured reserve) is out, so Johnson the Younger will presumably play as the lead back. Following Kerryon’s in-game injury last week, TYJ led the Lions with a 10-29-0 rushing, 4-28-0 receiving performance. The sixth-round rookie is raw, but he reportedly ran an unofficial 4.26-second 40-yard dash at his pro day and has big-play potential. Johnson could benefit from a run-heavy game script as a big home favorite, and the Giants have allowed opposing backfields to score the fifth-most FanDuel points with 25.2 per game.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
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Pictured above: Latavius Murray
Photo credit: USA Today-Sports