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Week 2 was better than Week 1, but not by much. Although a higher percentage of games hit the Vegas over in Week 2 (43.8 percent) in comparison to Week 1 (33.3 percent) a comparable percentage of teams (34.4 percent in Week 2; 33.3 in Week 1) still fell short of the implied totals. By and large, teams are failing to score points, and running backs have significantly underperformed their salary-based expectations. Week 3 might not be much better.
For analysis of the Thursday and Monday night games, see Joe Holka’s Thursday Night NFL Breakdown and Justin Bailey’s Prime Time NFL Breakdown (out later this week). For analysis of the Ravens-Jaguars game at Wembley, see my London game Vegas Report.
The Big Three
It’s only Week 3 and already two of the three members of last year’s power triumvirate have been replaced — at least for this slate:
- Le’Veon Bell ($8,800 DraftKings, $8,700 FanDuel)
- Kareem Hunt ($8,000 DraftKings, $8,300 FanDuel)
- Jay Ajayi ($7,700 DraftKings, $8,200 FanDuel)
Bang a gong.
“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 (out of all the runners to play more than two NFL games):
- DraftKings and FanDuel points: 23.97 and 20.15
- Plus/Minus: +5.10 and +4.54
- Consistency Rating (percent): 69.4 and 58.3
- Yards rushing: 91.8
- Carries: 19.5
- Yards receiving: 45.1
- Targets: 6.5
- Catch rate (percent): 80.4
- Touchdowns (scrimmage): 0.64
- Opportunities inside the 10-yard line: 1.4
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).
Although Bell played only 71.7 percent of the snaps in Week 1 after sitting out the preseason due to contractual issues, Bell returned to his workhorse ways in Week 2, playing 91.9 percent of the snaps and getting 31 touches. His production to date downright sucks, as he’s averaged just 10.40 DraftKings and 8.65 FanDuel points per game (PPG) with -14.45 and -8.34 Plus/Minus values — with high ownership in guaranteed prize pools — but he’s in a good spot this week: The Steelers are on the road, where Bell (unlike Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger) doesn’t have any problems producing . . .
- Home (18 games): 23.24 DraftKings and 19.38 FanDuel PPG
- Away (17): 24.69 and 20.92 PPG
. . . and the Steelers are implied for 25.75 points as 7.5-point favorites against the Bears, who last year were 29th against against the run in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) and are without starting inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman and his replacement in Nick Kwiatkoski, both of whom are out with pectoral tears. The Bears are now starting in that spot a third-stringer who literally calls himself “Cheese.” Don’t be surprised if Bell eats him George Costanza-style. Bell has the highest ceiling projections in our Models, and he leads the slate with nine DraftKings and 13 FanDuel Pro Trends.
Kareem the Dream
Last year Kareem was just another big-bodied overproductive running back with pass-catching skills and the word “Toledo” on his jersey — the heir to David Fluellen’s Iron Throne, if you will. And now, one Spencer Ware knee injury and two regular season games later, Hunt leads the league with 355 yards and five touchdowns from scrimmage. Not since Billy Sims put up 445 yards and five touchdowns for the Lions in his 1980 Pro-Bowl, Rookie of the Year-winning campaign has a first-year player started a season with such vim. His league-leading average of 7.6 yards per carry (YPC) is unsustainable, as is his 100 percent catch rate on eight targets, but he now seems like the clear replacement to injured Cardinals running back David Johnson in a #JamEmIn roster-building strategy.
Through two weeks the Chiefs have crushed their average implied total of 22.5 PPG, and Hunt has dominated with a 65.2 percent share of the team’s carries and four touches inside the 10-yard line. This week, the Chiefs are implied for 25.0 points as 3.0-point road favorites against a Chargers team that just let Ajayi go off with a 28/122/0 performance and couldn’t sell out a 27,000-seat repurposed soccer stadium in its home-opening return to Los Angeles. Some people won’t roster Hunt because his price has gone up $2,200 DraftKings and $1,900 FanDuel in two weeks. In another month, they’ll wish they could invest in him at his current salary.
They Choose to Run
Most teams run because they are winning. The Dolphins, though, are winning because they run. Although the teams that pass more frequently tend to have more success on a per-play basis, the Dolphins are best whenever they subordinate their mediocre quarterbacks to their workhorse running back. Before Ajayi’s Week 6 breakout last season, the Dolphins were 1-4. From Week 6 to now (including playoffs), they’re 10-3. Before Week 6, quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a 64.1 percent completion rate and 6.9 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A); from Weeks 6-14, 69.1 percent and 7.6 AY/A. From Week 14 to the Wild Card Round, Matt Moore had a 68.3 percent completion rate and 8.2 AY/A; for his career, he has a 59.3 and 6.4. In his first game with the Dolphins, Jay Cutler had a 72.73 percent completion rate and 7.6 AY/A; for his career, a 62.0 and 6.7. With the team running its offense through Ajayi, the passing game is substantially more efficient.
As long as they can win by limiting the passing game and grinding the clock down with the running game — as they did in Week 2 with their 32/24 run/pass ratio — the Dolphins will likely continue to be among the most run-heavy teams in the league. From Weeks 6-17, Ajayi led the NFL with 229 carries and 1,155 yards rushing. After his Week 1 hurricane-forced bye, Ajayi had an understated yet dominant performance in Week 2, playing on 94.1 percent of the team’s snaps and earning 87.5 percent of the team’s rushes. Last year Ajayi was just the fourth player in NFL history to have three 200-yard rushing performances in a season. This week the Dolphins are 6.0-point road favorites against the 0-2 Jets, who this year have allowed opposing backfields to hit top-three fantasy marks with 37.6 DraftKings and 32.8 FanDuel PPG. Ajayi could be in line for another 200-yard game.
Up the Gut
Melvin Gordon ($7,000 DraftKings, $7,600 FanDuel): “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.” I’ve been writing that sentence for almost a season. He’s not even as efficient as Todd Gurley . . .
- Gurley: 3.9 YPC, 3.32 percent rushing touchdown rate, 6.59 yards per target (YPT), 76.6 percent catch rate
- Gordon: 3.7 YPC, 2.37 percent rushing touchdown rate, 6.49 YPT, 79.6 percent catch rate
. . . but people seem to think Gordon’s good at football. The Chargers are 3.0-point underdogs to the Chiefs, and Gordon tends to do significantly worse as a dog (84.5 scrimmage yards per game) than a favorite (128.1). For what it’s worth, he leads the position with a 98 percent FanDuel Bargain Rating.
Ty Montgomery ($5,800 DraftKings, $6,500 FanDuel): Since mid-October of last year, Montgomery has played in 11 games (including playoffs) with at least 10 opportunities. In those contests, he’s turned 10.2 carries and 6.1 targets per game into 93.0 yards, 4.9 receptions, and 0.73 touchdowns. For the first two weeks of the season he’s played on 88.0 percent of the offensive snaps and earned 67.4 percent of the carries. The Packers are 8.5-point home favorites implied for 26.5 points against the Bengals, who have allowed a league-high 71 carries to opposing backfields this season.
Christian McCaffrey ($6,100 DraftKings, $6,800 FanDuel) and Jonathan Stewart ($4,700 DraftKings, $6,200 FanDuel): The Panthers sucked last week — and now CMC and Stew are more expensive. As Gollum would say, “It burns us.” This week is the second verse of the same song: The Panthers are 6.0-point home favorites implied for 26.5 points against the Saints, who this year have allowed opposing backfields to rack up top-four marks of 38.0 DraftKings and 31.8 FanDuel PPG. No team has allowed more receiving yards to running backs than the Saints (185).
Devonta Freeman ($6,700 DraftKings, $8,200 FanDuel) and Tevin Coleman ($5,300 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel): The Falcons were top-five last year in rushing yards (1,928) and touchdowns (20) and are implied for 26.75 points as 3.0-point road favorites against the Lions, who in 2016 were 29th against running backs in pass DVOA. Given that the Lions have been offensively impressive to date (29.5 PPG), the Falcons could employ a run-heavy game plan supplemented with short passes to the backs to control the ball and keep the Lions offense off the field.
LeSean McCoy ($7,000 DraftKings, $8,100 FanDuel): To quote Doc Holliday, “You’re a daisy if you do.” It’s hard to be down on a high-end back at home who gets double-digit carries and leads his team with a 25.0 percent target share. Of course, the Bills are 3.0-point underdogs implied for only 18.5 points against the Broncos, against whom MG3 and Ezekiel Elliott in Weeks 1-2 were lucky to combine for 12.55 DraftKings and 10.30 FanDuel PPG.
Mike Gillislee ($5,700 DraftKings, $6,800 FanDuel) and James White ($5,400 DraftKings, $5,600 FanDuel): To the surprise of no one, Gillislee is to 2017 what LeGarrette Blount was to 2016. He leads the league with four touchdowns rushing and five carries inside the five-yard line. The Patriots are 13.5-point home favorites, and they lead the slate with a 28.75-point implied total. Gillislee has multi-touchdown upside. As for White, he’s played 17 games with quarterback Tom Brady over the last 12 months. In those games he’s averaged 6.0 targets and 2.7 carries for 52.8 yards, 4.5 receptions, and 0.53 touchdowns per game on 41.7 percent of the offensive snaps. Last year the Texans were 28th in pass DVOA against backs.
Marshawn Lynch ($6,000 DraftKings, $6,700 FanDuel): Lynch hasn’t been spectacular (4.0 YPC), and he’s played on only 43.9 percent of Oakland’s offensive snaps, but his John Riggins/Adrian Peterson-esque yearlong sabbatical seems to have done him good. The Raiders are 3.0-point road favorites implied for 28.5 points against the Redskins in a game with a slate-high over/under of 54.0 points. Washington has already allowed three touchdowns to opposing running backs this year.
Jacquizz Rodgers ($4,600 DraftKings, $6,600 FanDuel): I’m supposed to like ‘Quizz because in the absence of Doug Martin he’s a theoretical workhorse, but he played only 50.0 percent of the offensive snaps last week, and this week the Buccaneers are facing the Vikings, who in Weeks 1-2 held the Saints and Steelers running backs to just 152 yards on a combined 49 carries.
Frank Gore ($4,200 DraftKings, $6,300 FanDuel): The Colts are only 1.5-point underdogs at home against the Browns. If there’s ever a week for Gore to get 20 carries and a touchdown, it’s this one. He leads the slate with a 95 percent DraftKings Bargain Rating.
Ameer Abdullah ($4,700 DraftKings, $6,100 FanDuel) and Theo Riddick ($5,100 DraftKings, $5,600 FanDuel): This is a reminder that last year the Falcons allowed 28.1 DraftKings and 24.0 FanDuel PPG to opposing backfields. This year they’ve allowed 37.0 and 32.2. Last year running backs dominated them as receivers with league-high marks in targets (141), receptions (109), yards (870), and touchdowns (6). This year they already lead the league with allowed targets (26) and receptions (19).
Tarik Cohen ($5,600 DraftKings, $5,600 FanDuel), Darren Sproles ($3,900 DraftKings, $5,200 FanDuel), and Chris Thompson ($4,400 DraftKings, $5,600 FanDuel): If you’re looking for pass-catching savants on home underdogs, these are your guys.
The Model Running Backs
Besides Bell, there’s currently one other running back atop the Pro Models built by Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, and Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek): Isaiah Crowell ($4,800 DraftKings, $6,600 FanDuel).
Although Crow has disappointed with his disgusting 2.6 YPC this season, he’s an investable player this week. The Browns are 1.0-point road favorites against the Colts, whose defense last year was 32nd in run DVOA. For the first time since Week 14 of 2015, the Browns are favored and seem likely to use a run-heavy game plan for the benefit of their rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. With double-digit carries in each week this season, Crow is a potential Week 3 workhorse and the highest-rated DraftKings running back in the Bales, CSURAM88, and SportsGeek Models. As a potential leverage play, Duke Johnson ($4,200 DraftKings, $5,700 FanDuel) also warrants consideration. With wide receiver Corey Coleman out, Johnson could earn a few more targets against a Colts unit that was 31st against running backs in pass DVOA last year. Running routes from the backfield (25), in the slot (33), and even out wide (3), Johnson has the potential for an upside performance as a receiver.
Positional Breakdowns & Tools
Be sure to read the other Week 3 positional breakdowns:
Also, visit our suite of Tools to research all of the slate’s running backs for yourself.
Good luck this week!
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