The Week 9 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Nov. 3, 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 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.
- Dalvin Cook: $9,500 DraftKings; $9,000 FanDuel
- Le’Veon Bell: $7,700 DraftKings; $7,000 FanDuel
- Aaron Jones: $7,000 DraftKings; $7,700 FanDuel
- DeAndre Washington: $3,000 DraftKings; $5,000 FanDuel
Dalvin Cook: Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs (Off the Board)
UPDATE (Nov. 2): WR Adam Thielen (hamstring) is a game-time decision. Chiefs CB Kendall Fuller (thumb) is questionable but seems likely to play after practicing all week on a limited basis.
As of writing, this game is off the board because Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (knee) is questionable. His status should be monitored, but whether he plays or not, Cook deserves serious attention.
Cook entered the season as a concern-laden player. He flashed but failed to sustain his output in two injury-impacted career-opening campaigns. But in his third NFL season, he has been forcefully fantastic through eight games.
- Fantasy production: 22.3 FanDuel points, +8.13 Plus/Minus, 87.5% Consistency Rating
- Football production: 156-823-9 rushing and 29-293-0 receiving on 34 targets
Cook trails only Christian McCaffrey as the No. 2 fantasy back this year, and he has been a strong source of Plus/Minus value. In fact, he is No. 1 among all starting running backs with his Consistency Rating, hitting salary-based expectations in every game this year but one (per our FantasyLabs Trends Tool).
In fact, Cook has hit his average of 22.3 FanDuel points in six of eight games (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
On a weekly basis, Cook has an extremely high floor. He’s No. 3 with 18.4 expected fantasy points per game and No. 2 with 6.1 fantasy points over expectation (per RotoViz Screener). He’s getting his touches and making them count. He leads the league with 13 carries inside opponents’ five-yard line (per Pro Football Focus).
Cook has a touchdown in every game this year but one. And in that isolated instance, he put up 200-plus yards from scrimmage. He’s No. 1 with 346 yards created (per Player Profiler). Straight baller.
With the offseason addition of center Garrett Bradbury and right guard Josh Kline, as well as rushing guru Gary Kubiak as an offensive advisor, the Vikings offensive line has improved significantly. In 2018, the Vikings were No. 23 with 4.09 adjusted line yards per attempt. This year, they are No. 6 with 4.84. In fact, they are top-six in all of Football Outsiders’ rushing offensive line metrics.
Since taking over as the offensive coordinator in Week 15 last year, Kevin Stefanski has overseen an aggressively ground-based system. In Stefanski’s 11 play-calling games, the Vikings have a 52.0% run rate. For this season specifically, they have a 53.4% run rate.
With a better offensive line and a coordinator who leans on the run, it’s no wonder Cook is having a breakout season.
Coming off Thursday Night Football in Week 8, he should be rested and ready with three extra days between games, and Cook has a great matchup against the Chiefs. Last year, the Chiefs were No. 31 with a 65.3 PFF run defense grade. This year, they’ve somehow gotten even worse, ranking No. 32 with a 57.5 mark.
In early-down success rate allowed, the Chiefs are dead last in the league at 58% (per Sharp Football Stats).
Coaches often don’t act rationally, but I expect the Vikings to attack the Chiefs regularly with their ground game, for a number of reasons.
Entering Week 5, the Chiefs looked nearly unbeatable, but since then they have lost three of four games to opponents who funneled touches to their running backs in order to keep the explosive Chiefs offense on the sideline. In a copycat league, the Vikings will likely follow the formula that other teams have successfully used.
Additionally, the Chiefs have a funnel defense that naturally skews opposing offenses to the ground game. The Chiefs are No. 4 against the pass (-7.6% DVOA) but No. 30 against the run (7.3% DVOA, per Football Outsiders). It makes sense for opponents to attack them where they are weakest, and the Chiefs are obviously weak when it comes to stopping the run.
And this weakness is all the more apparent because of the injury issues the Chiefs have. Tackle Chris Jones (groin) and edge Frank Clark (neck) both missed Week 8 and are uncertain for Week 9. The Chiefs could be without the top players on their defensive line.
Just last week, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams combined for 55.2 FanDuel points against the Chiefs, and since Chris Jones was injured in Week 5, the Chiefs have been torn up by Marlon Mack, Carlos Hyde, Royce Freeman and Aaron Jones to the tune of 21.7 FanDuel points per game with an +11.9 Plus/Minus and 100% Consistency Rating.
The Chiefs have allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing backfields with 27.7 FanDuel points per game.
In both cash games and guaranteed prize pools, Cook is a top-tier option, especially on FanDuel, where he is the No. 1 back in the Levitan, SportsGeek and Freedman Models and has a position-high 12 Pro Trends as well as an elite 98% Bargain Rating.
Le’Veon Bell: New York Jets (-3) at Miami Dolphins, 40.5 Over/Under
UPDATE (Nov. 2): LT Kelvin Beachum (ankle) and TE Chris Herndon IV (hamstring) are questionable but still seem unlikely to play. Dolphins CBs Xavien Howard (knee, IR) and Ken Webster (ankle) are out while S Reshad Jones (chest) is doubtful.
I think 1989 Bruce Wayne and 1998 George Costanza have the right approach to Week 9 Le’Veon: “You wanna get nuts? C’mon, LET’S GET NUTS!”
Bell is coming off a scoreless 35-yard performance against the Jaguars, who entered the game No. 27 with a 2.3% run defense DVOA. Ugh.
But I reserve the right to be cautiously optimistic this week. In his five games against teams other than the unfriendly Patriots, Bell has averaged 13.1 FanDuel points with an 80% Consistency Rating.
For the season, he has an elite 91.4% snap rate and is tied for No. 7 with 21.6 opportunities (carries plus targets) per game. And since his 2014 breakout, Bell is No. 1 among all backs with 26.2 opportunities and No. 2 — behind only Saquon Barkley — with 19.6 FanDuel points per game. Although he’s on a sinking 1-6 team, Bell still has upside.
And that’s especially the case this week against the Dolphins, who have allowed the fourth-most FanDuel points to opposing backfields with 27.6 per game. Against the three Bell-similar three-down backs they’ve faced — Ezekiel Elliott, Austin Ekeler and James Conner — the Dolphins allowed 21.4 FanDuel points per game with a +7.79 Plus/Minus.
The Dolphins have had to deal with lots of negative game script, which has inflated their opponent rushing numbers, but this year they’ve allowed a league-high 141.7 yards rushing per game to opposing running backs. Not all of that can be explained away just because they have lost all their games. They’ve lost in part because they can be run on easily.
They are No. 30 in running back rushing success rate allowed with a 57% mark.
And they are even worse in pass defense against running backs, who have a league-high 68% receiving success rate against the Dolphins. No team has allowed more yards per target to opposing backs than the Dolphins have with their mark of 8.3.
Although they have a promising player in Raekwon McMillan, the Dolphins have big issues in the middle of their defense. Collectively, their linebackers have very poor PFF run defense and coverage grades.
- Jerome Baker: 456 snaps, 48.9 run defense, 57.0 coverage
- Sam Eguavoen: 343 snaps, 40.2 run defense, 50.0 coverage
- Raekwon McMillan: 239 snaps, 73.7 run defense, 50.5 coverage
With such a unit, it’s not a surprise that the Dolphins are No. 31 with a 10.8% run defense DVOA and No. 32 with a 55.2% pass defense DVOA against running backs.
This is the first time since Week 1 the Jets have been favored. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Bell had his best performance of the year — 20.2 FanDuel points, 92 yards and a touchdown — in the one game in which the Jets were favored. Since 2014, Bell has had notable splits.
- Favorite (39 games): 21.1 FanDuel points, +3.76 Plus/Minus, 59.0% Consistency Rating
- Underdog (21 games): 16.7 FanDuel points, +1.05 Plus/Minus, 57.1% Consistency Rating
With positive game script and a high-usage role, Bell is in clear consideration for GPPs. He might even deserve a cash-game look: On FanDuel, he leads all backs with his 99% Bargain Rating.
It also probably doesn’t hurt that for once head coach Adam Gase might be motivated by the #RevengeGame into creating and executing a winning game plan against his former team.
Bell is the No. 1 back in the Bales, CSURAM88 and Koerner Models for FanDuel, where he has a position-high +4.13 Projected Plus/Minus.
Aaron Jones: Green Bay Packers (-3.5) at Los Angeles Chargers, 47 O/U
UPDATE (Nov. 2): WR Davante Adams (toe) practiced on a limited basis all week and is tentatively expected to play. Chargers DTs Brandon Mebane (knee) and Justin Jones (shoulder) and safety Roderic Teamer (groin) are doubtful.
I’m the highest on Jones in our Week 9 fantasy football rankings. He might be too risky for cash games — teammate Jamaal Williams is always a threat to steal snaps and touches — but I love Jones for GPPs.
Jones flashed his talent in the first two years of his career with an elite 5.5 yards per carry, but he played in only 12 games each season and did relatively little as a receiver. But through the first eight games of 2019, the third-year Jones has broken out.
- Fantasy production: 23.8 DraftKings points, +9.95 Plus/Minus, 75 Consistency Rating
- Football production: 114-466-8 rushing, 34-355-3 receiving on 42 targets
Everything has trended positively for Jones this season: He’s playing more snaps (60.8%), he’s getting more carries (14.3 per game), he’s seeing way more targets (5.3 per game) and he’s enjoying McCaffrey-like volume around the end zone (10 combined carries inside the five-yard line and end-zone targets).
With his enhanced usage, Jones is a razor-thin No. 2 to Cook with 0.59 DraftKings points per snap.
In Jones’ 22 career games with a snap rate of at least 33%, he’s averaged 19.2 DraftKings points, and his lowest snap rate in any game this year is 39%.
Coming off a slate-leading 44.6-point Sunday Night Football performance last week, Jones is riding high.
I like his matchup against the Chargers, who are No. 24 with a 0.2% run defense DVOA and No. 31 with a 41.1% pass defense DVOA against running backs.
The eight lead backs they’ve faced — Marlon Mack, Kerryon Johnson, Carlos Hyde, Kenyan Drake, Phillip Lindsay, James Conner, Derrick Henry and David Montgomery — averaged 20.9 DraftKings points per game with a +10.2 Plus/Minus and 87.5% Consistency Rating.
Last week, Montgomery had the best game of his young career — a 27-135-1 rushing, 4-12-0 receiving breakout — against the Chargers.
It definitely doesn’t help that the Chargers defense for the past two games has been without starting tackles Brandon Mebane (knee) and Justin Jones (shoulder), both of whom are uncertain for Sunday. Neither of them practiced last week nor seems particularly close to returning.
Jones is the No. 1 back in the Bales, Levitan, Koerner, Raybon, SportsGeek and Freedman Models for DraftKings, where he has a position-high +2.68 Projected Plus/Minus and eight Pro Trends. For good measure, he’s also the top option in the Raybon Model for FanDuel.
DeAndre Washington: Oakland Raiders (-2) vs. Detroit Lions, 50.5 O/U
UPDATE (Nov. 2): Lions CB Darius Slay (hamstring) practiced fully on Friday and seems likely to play.
I don’t want to write a blurb about Washington, but that’s what happens whenever you let CSURAM88 create a DraftKings Model for a thin 10-game Week 8 slate: You get Washington at the top of it. I’m 100% blaming this on Peter.
But Washington does have some factors in his favor this week.
First, starter Josh Jacobs (shoulder) suffered an injury in Week 7 and saw a reduced workload in Week 8. I expect him to play on Sunday, but it’s possible the team could divert some of his usual touches to Washington.
Additionally, over the past four games, Washington has played ahead of Jalen Richard as the No. 2 back, seeing a steady diet of 5-6 carries and 1-3 targets per game.
- DeAndre Washington: 6.5 DraftKings points per game, 23-87-1 rushing, 7-43-0 receiving on eight targets
- Jalen Richard: 3.6 DraftKings points per game, 9-36-0 rushing, 6-48-0 receiving on seven targets
Also, the Raiders are No. 2 on the slate with a 26.25-point implied Vegas total. If the Raiders score enough points, some of those might trickle down to Washington.
And the Lions have allowed the second-most DraftKings points to opposing backfields with 32.5 per game.
Perhaps most importantly, Washington is cheap, especially on DraftKings, where he’s a stone-minimum $3,000 with a 97% Bargain Rating.
If you’re look for a change-of-pace back who might have unexpected production in a good matchup at a nearly nonexistent ownership rate, I suppose that Washington is your guy.
If you don’t like it, take it up with CSURAM88, who has Washington as the No. 1 back in his DraftKings Model.
Upside Running Backs for Guaranteed Prize Pools
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers ($10,000 DK, $9,700 FD): Run CMC is officially priced at an all-time high on DraftKings and FanDuel, but he’s earned the high salaries. McCaffrey is the No. 1 running back in our Week 9 fantasy football rankings. The Titans are No. 1 with an 87.0 PFF run defense grade, but McCaffrey is almost immune to opponents. He’s the No. 1 fantasy back with 31.5 DraftKings and 27.0 FanDuel points per game. McCaffrey has position-high median, ceiling and floor projections in our Models. UPDATE (Nov. 2): QB Cam Newton (foot) and LT Greg Little (concussion) are out. WR Curtis Samuel (shoulder) is officially questionable but expected to play. Titans CB Adoree’ Jackson (foot) is in.
In the video above, I highlight the FantasyLabs Models and the median, ceiling and floor projections we create. Click here to access the FantasyLabs Models.
James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers ($7,600 DK, $7,300 FD): Conner (shoulder) suffered a fourth-quarter injury on Monday Night Football, but HC Mike Tomlin says that he might play this weekend. Conner is coming off a 150-yard performances — his best of the season — and the Colts are No. 31 with a 54.7 PFF run defense grade. UPDATE (Nov. 2): RB James Conner (shoulder) is doubtful and expected not to play. RB Benny Snell (knee) is out. RB Jaylen Samuels (knee) will return to action and be one of the slate’s most popular players. Colts CB Pierre Desir (hamstring) is questionable but has not practiced all week. CB Kenny Moore II (knee) is in. S Malik Hooker is questionable but missed practice on Friday.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns ($7,300 DK, $8,100 FD): Dating back to last season, Chubb has averaged 108.5 yards and 0.82 touchdowns from scrimmage in his 17 games as the Browns’ lead back. For 2019, Chubb is No. 1 with 105.4 rushing yards and No. 4 with 18.3 FanDuel points per game. The Broncos are No. 3 with an 85.2 PFF run defense grade, but the Browns are favored and could have a run-heavy game script against a team giving third-string quarterback Brandon Allen his first career start. As a favored lead back, Chubb has averaged 18.6 FanDuel points per game with a +5.98 Plus/Minus. UPDATE (Nov. 2): Broncos SCB Will Parks (hand) is out.
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks ($7,200 DK, $8,200 FD): Carson is the No. 10 back with 17.4 DraftKings points per game. The Seahawks are No. 1 with a 28.75-point implied Vegas total and No. 4 with a 48.3% run rate. The Seahawks are easily one of the league’s best home teams. Under head coach Pete Carroll (since 2010), the Seahawks are 46-33-3 against the spread at home, good for a 13.7% return on investment (per Bet Labs). The Buccaneers are No. 1 with a -42.5% run defense DVOA, but since becoming the lead back last year, Carson has averaged 14.8 DraftKings points with a +4.28 Plus/Minus in his 13 games as a favorite.
Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders ($6,500 DK, $7,200 FD): The No. 1 player in my dynasty rookie rankings in May, Jacobs has lived up to the hype with 103.1 yards and 0.57 touchdowns from scrimmage per game. Despite having mediocre game script this year, the Raiders are committed to the run, ranking No. 7 with a 45.5% run rate. The five backs comparable to Jacobs in salary to face the Raiders this year — David Johnson, Austin Ekeler, LeSean McCoy, Aaron Jones and Dalvin Cook — averaged 21.4 DraftKings points per game with a +5.87 Plus/Minus. UPDATE (Nov. 2): Lions CB Darius Slay (hamstring) practiced fully on Friday and seems likely to play.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts ($6,300 DK, $6,900 FD): Mack is No. 4 with 19.7 carries per game, and the Colts are No. 5 with a 47.1% run rate. In his 15 career games as a favorite, Mack has averaged 14.5 DraftKings points with a +3.57 Plus/Minus. He has a tough matchup against the Steelers, who are No. 2 with an 85.2 PFF run defense grade, but his ownership rate should be low. UPDATE (Nov. 2): WR T.Y. Hilton (calf) is out. TE Eric Ebron (calf) was not on the Friday injury report, so he’s in.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers ($6,000 DK, $6,500 FD): Even with Melvin Gordon stealing touches over the past month, Danny Woodhead 2.0 has averaged 16.9 DraftKings points over his past four games. In the wake of OC Ken Whisenhunt’s dismissal, it’s possible that Ekeler could enjoy an increased workload. Ekeler has averaged 19.5 DraftKings points across his 17 career games with 10-plus opportunities.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans ($5,700 DK, $6,800 FD): Since becoming a locked-in lead back in Week 14 last year, Henry has averaged 17.8 FanDuel points as well as 109.6 yards and 1.08 touchdowns from scrimmage per game. He could have negative game script as an underdog, but the Titans will likely lean on the ground game as much as they can. The Panthers have a rush-flowing funnel defense that ranks No. 3 in pass defense DVOA (-23.0%) but No. 32 in run defense DVOA (12.3%). UPDATE (Nov. 2): TE Delanie Walker (ankle) is out.
Mark Walton, Miami Dolphins ($4,500 DK, $5,700 FD): The Bengals reject has averaged 62.3 yards on 10.3 carries and 4.3 targets per game since breaking into the starting lineup coming out of the Week 5 bye, and last week, in the team’s first game without former lead back Kenyan Drake (traded), Walton had an outstanding 86.7% snap rate. The similarly priced backs to get eight-plus opportunities against the Jets this year — Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard and James White — averaged 12.6 DraftKings points per game with a +3.06 Plus/Minus and 75% Consistency Rating. UPDATE (Nov. 2): C Daniel Kilgore (knee) is doubtful. Jets LB C.J. Mosley (groin) is out while LB Neville Hewitt (neck, knee) is doubtful. CB Trumaine Johnson (ankle) is out.
Adrian Peterson, Washington Redskins ($4,200 DK, $5,700 FD): In three games under interim HC Bill Callahan, the Redskins have a 53.6% run rate despite owning an average point differential of -6. Even though they are just 1-7, the Redskins are “only” +9.5 road underdogs, and the Bills have a funnel defense that ranks No. 6 in pass defense DVOA (-5.5%) but No. 28 in run defense DVOA (4.8%). Peterson has averaged 20.3 opportunities per game under Callahan, and in his 17 Redskins games with a final margin no worse than -17, Peterson has averaged 14.0 DraftKings points per game. UPDATE (Nov. 2): QB Case Keenum (concussion) is out. QB Dwayne Haskins will start. RB Chris Thompson (toe), TE Vernon Davis (concussion) and LT Trent Williams (holdout) are out.
Jaylen Samuels, Pittsburgh Steelers ($4,000 DK, $5,000 FD): Given that he practiced in full last week, Samuels (knee) was surprisingly inactive on Monday Night Football, but Tomlin has cleared him to return this week, and the Steelers might be without Conner (shoulder) and also No. 3 back Benny Snell (knee). If Conner is inactive for Week 9, Samuels will be in strong consideration for both cash games and tournaments. In his three Conner-less starts last year, Samuels averaged 16.2 DraftKings points, 74.3 yards rushing and 35 yards receiving on 14 carries, four targets and four receptions per game. UPDATE (Nov. 2): RB James Conner (shoulder) is doubtful and expected not to play. RB Benny Snell (knee) is out. RB Jaylen Samuels (knee) will return to action and be one of the slate’s most popular players. Colts CB Pierre Desir (hamstring) is questionable but has not practiced all week. CB Kenny Moore II (knee) is in. S Malik Hooker is questionable but missed practice on Friday.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
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Pictured above: Dalvin Cook
Photo credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports