The Running Back Breakdown offers data-driven analysis for each week’s main NFL slate. For more of our weekly football content, visit our NFL Content Dashboard.
Week 1 witnessed a smorgasbord of suckiness: 18 teams failed to surpass the 21-point threshold, and #TeamJamEmIn underwhelmed, averaging 10.98 DraftKings and 8.15 FanDuel points per game (PPG) with -13.38 and -9.35 Plus/Minus values (per our Trends tool). Maybe the best that can be said for Week 1 is that Todd Gurley exceeded his salary-based expectations. For analysis of the Thursday and Monday night games, see Joe Holka’s Thursday Night NFL Breakdown and Prime Time NFL Breakdown (out later this week).
Last year, the four running backs with the most DraftKings and FanDuel PPG hit their salary-adjusted expectations in 71.2 percent of contests. They open Week 2 as the four highest-salaried backs (sort of):
David Johnson ($10,000 DraftKings, $9,300 FanDuel)
- Le’Veon Bell ($9,800 DraftKings, $9,000 FanDuel)
- LeSean McCoy ($8,600 DraftKings, $8,600 FanDuel)
- Ezekiel Elliott ($7,800 DraftKings, $8,700 FanDuel)
Bang a gong.
#TeamJamEmIn, Oct. 2, 2016 – Sep. 10, 2017, RIP
The fantasy gawds giveth and they also taketh. Johnson requires surgery due to a wrist dislocation he suffered in Week 1. He’s been placed on the Injured Reserve list. Expected to be out 2-3 months, Johnson is eligible to return in Week 10, although head coach Bruce Arians has stated that he hopes to have Johnson back by Christmas. With 33 touchdowns in 33 career games, Johnson could be a fresh-legged late-season superstar in the final weeks of 2017 — but don’t count on it.
The Cardinals are expected to use a committee of Kerwynn Williams ($4,800 DraftKings, $6,100 FanDuel), Andre Ellington ($4,000 DraftKings, $4,900 FanDuel), and the re-signed Chris Johnson while DJ is out. Williams is theoretically intriguing with his speed (4.48-second 40) and college production (218/1,512/15 rushing, 45/697/5 receiving as a senior) — but he last played in college a half-decade ago (2012) and doesn’t have workhorse size (5’8″ and 195 lbs.). Nevertheless, he warrants tournament exposure against the Colts, who last year were 32nd against the run in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) and 31st against running backs in pass DVOA. In December 2014 he played as a change-of-pace back after Andre Ellington’s season-ending injury. He never played more than 50 percent of the snaps in a contest, but in 3-of-4 games he had at least 15 opportunities, turning an average of 17 carries and two targets into 84.3 scrimmage yards. For one game, Williams could play like a stud.
“It’s Le’Ve-OH-sa, not Le’Veo-SAH”
Since Bell became his All-Pro self in 2014, he’s been the league’s best back on a per-game basis:
- DraftKings and FanDuel PPG: 24.28 and 20.41
- Plus/Minus: +5.58 and +4.82
- Consistency Rating (percent): 71.4 and 60.0
- Yards rushing: 91.9
- Carries: 19.3
- Yards receiving: 46.3
- Targets: 6.6
- Catch rate (percent): 80.2
- Touchdowns (scrimmage): 0.65
- Opportunities inside the 10-yard line: 1.5
Although Bell isn’t a prolific scorer, his goal-line deficiencies have been overstated, and he compensates for his lack of touchdowns with elite receiving production and backfield market share domination. Last year he was first in the NFL in opportunity share (95.2 percent, PlayerProfiler) and snaps (96.4 percent in 12 games played).
Bell disappointed in Week 1 with only 10 carries and six targets on 71.7 percent of the offensive snaps — but he did have three carries inside the 10-yard line (per the Week 2 Market Share Report). Le’Veon’s usage will likely revert to his 2014-16 averages in the coming weeks. Discounting games he’s exited due to injury, Bell has had as few as 16 opportunities in only one other game since 2014 — and never has he had fewer than 16. We’re unlikely to see in Week 2 what we saw in Week 1.
That said, Bell doesn’t have a great matchup — the Vikings last year allowed the third-fewest yards and sixth-fewest points to opponents — but the Steelers are 5.5-point home favorites implied for a respectable 25.75 points (per our Vegas Dashboard). With an offensive line that was third last year with 4.68 adjusted line yards per carry (FO), the Steelers could have a run-heavy game script in Week 2. Le’Veon has position-high floor and ceiling projections in our Models for DraftKings and FanDuel, the latter of which affords him a slate-high 99 percent Bargain Rating and 13 Pro Trends.
“May I Have Your Attention Please?”
Last week, I was on the right side of McCoy in my player props piece: Over 75.5 rushing yards (110), over 3.5 pass receptions (5), and over 20.5 receiving yards (49). Even though he lost 13 touches, 54 scrimmage yards, and a touchdown to Mike Tolbert, McCoy lived up to expectations, turning 22 carries and six targets into 159 scrimmage yards and five receptions. After tight end Charles Clay, he was Buffalo’s most targeted receiver. Although the Bills have been top-two in carries, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, yards per carry (YPC), and rushing rate each of the last two seasons . . .
- Carries (2015, 2016): 509 (first), 492 (second)
- Yards: 2,432 (first), 2,630 (first)
- Touchdowns: 19 (first), 29 (first)
- YPC: 4.8 (first), 5.3 (first)
- Rushing rate (percent): 50.10 (first), 48.62 (second)
. . . there was speculation that under new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison the team would shift away from the running game. In Week 1, the Bills looked as committed to the run as ever, leading the league with 42 carries and 190 yards rushing. This week the Bills have an unforgiving matchup as 7.5-point road dogs implied for just 17.75 points against the Panthers, who have an imposing front seven led by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (per our NFL Matchups Dashboard), but with a running quarterback in Tyrod Taylor and an effective offensive line (top-two in yards before contact on zone runs last year) the Bills were built to rush the ball. In his 10 games with Buffalo as a road underdog, McCoy has +4.44 DraftKings and +3.91 FanDuel Plus/Minus values with an 80 percent Consistency Rating. His production could take a hit, but he’ll get his touches. If you want to stack him with Taylor, use our Lineup Builder: McCoy’s production is tied to Tyrod’s with a correlation coefficient of 0.33 (per our Correlation Matrix).
As mentioned in this week’s Rotoworld pivot piece, Elliott is a top-tier alternative to Le’Veon and Shady. Zeke didn’t have a poor performance in Week 1, rushing for 104 yards on 24 carries and adding five receptions for 36 yards, but he was neither highly efficient nor explosive with 4.3 YPC and a long run of 10 yards against the Giants. This week Elliott has a top-three positional salary and is on the road in Denver, where the Cowboys are implied for only 21.75 points in a game with a 42-point over/under. Still, this isn’t a horrible spot for Zeke. The Broncos were 21st in run DVOA last year, allowing the fifth-most rushing yards with 2,085, and the Cowboys led the league with a 48.7 percent rush rate.
A top-three fantasy back last year, Elliott had an average ownership rate of 13.3 and 14.9 percent in large-field guaranteed prize pools on DraftKings and FanDuel. Last week he was owned at an average rate of 6.37 and 7.80 percent (per our DFS Ownership Dashboard), and in the DraftKings Millionaire Maker he and the Cowboys defense were stacked in just 0.24 percent of lineups (per our DFS Contests Dashboard). That high-upside stack could be owned at less than 0.1 percent this week.
Up the Gut
Three yards and a cloud of dust.
Ty Montgomery ($5,800 DraftKings, $6,500 FanDuel): Since mid-October of last year, Montgomery has played in 10 games (including playoffs) with at least 10 opportunities. In those contests, he’s turned 10.2 carries and 6.0 targets per game into 91.3 yards, 4.8 receptions, and 0.6 touchdowns. The Packers are 3.0-point road underdogs implied for 25.25 points in a game with the second-highest over/under at 53.5 points. Projected to be the slate’s highest-owned player (26-30 percent), Montgomery faces a Falcons defense that last year was top-five in PPG (28.1 DraftKings, 24.0 FanDuel) allowed to running backs and No. 1 overall in targets (141), receptions (109), yards receiving (870), and touchdowns receiving (6) to opposing backfields. Montgomery got a lot of love on the Week 2 Daily Fantasy Flex.
Devonta Freeman ($7,300 DraftKings, $8,100 FanDuel) and Tevin Coleman ($5,300 DraftKings, $5,700 FanDuel): The Falcons were top-five last year in rushing yards (1,928) and touchdowns (20) and are implied for 28.25 points as 3.0-point home favorites against the Packers. They could employ a run-heavy game plan to control the ball and keep the Packers offense off the field.
Kareem Hunt ($6,800 DraftKings, $7,800 FanDuel): Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson, Jamaal Charles, and now Hunt — Chiefs fans are getting spoiled. After his all-time best 246-yard three-touchdown Week 1 rookie debut, Hunt this week faces an Eagles front seven that was PFF’s third-best unit entering the season. He won’t have another record-breaking week, but Hunt should get a lot of action: The Chiefs are 5.5-point home favorites implied for 26.5 points.
Jay Ajayi ($6,400 DraftKings, $7,900 FanDuel): The Dolphins are 4.5-point road dogs implied for 20.25 points against the Chargers. It looks like a bad spot for Ajayi, but his 2-4 percent projected ownership rate makes him an intriguing GPP play. With Miami looking to control the ball, minimize the negative impact of new quarterback Jay Cutler, and feature Ajayi more as a receiver, he should see a heavy workload. From the time of his Week 6 breakout last year, Ajayi led the league with 229 carries and 1,155 yards rushing.
Christian McCaffrey ($5,600 DraftKings, $6,600 FanDuel) and Jonathan Stewart ($4,400 DraftKings, $5,900 FanDuel): I took a while to come around to McCaffrey and Stew in this matchup, but I’m here. The Panthers are 7.5-point home favorites implied for 25.25 points against a Bills defense that last year was 30th in rush DVOA. Of the two, McCaffrey has the higher upside but Stew has the higher odds of scoring a touchdown: Last game alone he had two carries and one target inside the 10-yard line. Stew could also have one-quarter to one-fifth of McCaffrey’s ownership.
Todd Gurley ($6,800 DraftKings, $7,700 FanDuel): The Rams are 3.0-point home favorites implied for 24.5 points against the Redskins, who last year were top-five in PPG (27.9 DraftKings, 24.4 FanDuel) allowed to opposing backfields. Either you believe or you don’t. Either way, Gurley’s unlikely to have double-digit ownership — and HC Sean McVay is familiar with the Redskins from his time there (2010-16).
Jordan Howard ($5,900 DraftKings, $7,400 FanDuel) and Tarik Cohen ($4,100 DraftKings, $5,400 FanDuel): The Bears are 7.0-point road dogs implied for only 18.0 points against the Bucs. Howard is the lead back, but this seems like a game in which the Bears will funnel targets to their rookie dynamo — and everyone knows it. Cohen’s DraftKings ownership will be high.
C.J. Anderson ($4,700 DraftKings, $7,000 FanDuel): Week 2 salaries were released before Anderson played in Week 1, when he got 20 carries and looked #notbad. He’s one of the cheaper backs on the slate with 20-touch potential, and even so we’re projecting him for less than five percent ownership. He has a position-high 98 percent Bargain Rating on DraftKings.
Mark Ingram ($4,900 DraftKings, $6,200 FanDuel), Adrian Peterson ($4,700 DraftKings, $5,900 FanDuel), and Alvin Kamara ($3,500 DraftKings, $4,700 FanDuel): I hate to state the obvious, but the Patriots were #notgood against the run last week and last year were 22nd in pass DVOA against running backs. One of these guys could have a big game at less than five percent ownership. (I wouldn’t expect it to be the old guy who had six ineffectual Week 1 carries.)
The Model Running Backs
Besides Bell, there are currently four running backs atop the Pro Models built by Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, and Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek):
- Melvin Gordon ($7,000 DraftKings, $7,600 FanDuel)
- Terrance West ($5,100 DraftKings, $6,600 FanDuel)
- Jacquizz Rodgers ($4,400 DraftKings, $6,600 FanDuel)
- James White ($4,000 DraftKings, $5,700 FanDuel)
I’ve been copy/pasting the same sentence about Gordon for almost a year: “Even if you (read: I) think that MG3 is a near-talentless hack who feasts on the soft carbs of massive volume, you still have to appreciate him for what he is.” Allow me this indulgence:
- Player A: 3.9 YPC, 3.23 percent rushing touchdown rate, 6.34 yards per target (YPT), 76.7 percent catch rate
- Player B: 3.7 YPC, 2.19 percent rushing touchdown rate, 6.36 YPT, 79.0 percent catch rate
Question: Which player is Gordon? — and which player is Gurley. Answer: It doesn’t matter. Gordon is a volume hog who’s underpriced at FanDuel, where he’s the top back in the Levitan and SportsGeek Models. He could finish as the No. 1 overall fantasy back this year. That doesn’t mean he’s not the Bizarro Gurley with much higher ownership.
West had the quietest 1,000-yard, six-touchdown campaign of all time last year, and in Week 1 he was outsnapped 33-27 by Javorius Allen ($4,100 DraftKings, $4,900 FanDuel), who actually might be the better player: In his seven games as a workhorse to close 2015, the Sith Lord was a top-10 back with 16.99 DraftKings and 13.63 FanDuel PPG. Nevertheless, in a post-Danny Woodhead offense, West is one of just two backs vying for touches, he had 20 opportunities last week, and he’s the lead back on a Ravens team favored by 8.0 points at home against a Browns team that last year was 30th with 28.3 PPG allowed to opponents. He’s the top DraftKings back in the Levitan and SportsGeek Models.
Rodgers is a longtime favorite of Buccaneers HC Dirk Koetter from their time together (2012-14) in Atlanta. Reuniting with Koetter last year, Rodgers was an injury fill-in workhorse for five games, turning 21.4 carries and 2.2 targets per game into 105.4 yards, 2.0 receptions, and 0.40 touchdowns. Substituting for the suspended Doug Martin, Quizz could crush: The Bears have an underappreciated front seven, but the Bucs are 7.0-point home favorites implied for 25.0 points. Rodgers is the top DraftKings back in the CSURAM88 Model.
The top back in the Bales Model for DraftKings, White is more of a receiver than runner (108 receptions to 80 carries), but in Week 1 he had a career-high 10 carries and led the backfield in snaps played with 53.1 percent. His usage will always be uncertain in New England, but that should keep his ownership low. As evidenced by his 50.9-point DraftKings performance in the Super Bowl, White has significant upside thanks to his receiving ability. Facing a Saints defense that last year allowed the second-most receiving yards (868) to opposing running backs, White could go off. He leads the slate with seven DraftKings Pro Trends. His running mate Mike Gillislee ($5,700 DraftKings, $6,700 FanDuel) is also intriguing. Coming off a three-touchdown performance, Gillislee is slated for 9-12 percent ownership and also has substantial upside. The Patriots are implied for a slate-high 31.25 points as 7.0-point road dogs in a game with an unreal 55.5-point over/under. Gillislee could dominate a Saints defense that last year allowed the third-most PPG (28.2 DraftKings, 25.1 FanDuel) to opposing runners. Priced similarly to Montgomery, Gillislee could be the pivot play of the slate.
Positional Breakdowns & Tools
Be sure to read the other Week 2 positional breakdowns:
• Wide Receivers
• Tight Ends
Also, visit our suite of Tools to research all of the slate’s running backs for yourself.
Good luck this week!
After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players herein mentioned. Be sure to stay ahead of your competition with our NFL news feed: