The Running Back Breakdown offers data-driven analysis for each week’s main NFL slate. For more of our weekly football content, visit the NFL homepage.
The NFL season rolls on. Teams have significantly underperformed their implied Vegas totals to open the year, but Week 6 looks like a beauty. Even with many desirable quarterbacks unavailable because they are on bye or in games not on the main slate — Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray, Joe Mixon, Frank Gore, Christian McCaffrey, LeGarrette Blount, and others — Week 6 shines with fantasy splendor.
For analysis of the Thursday, Sunday, and Monday night games, see Joe Holka’s Thursday night breakdown and Justin Bailey’s prime time breakdown (out later this week). Although it has wider applicability, this breakdown is explicitly for the 11-game DraftKings and 12-game FanDuel main slates.
The Big Three
Another week, another power triumvirate:
- Le’Veon Bell ($9,600 DraftKings, $9,000 FanDuel)
- Kareem Hunt ($8,200 DraftKings, $9,300 FanDuel)
- Leonard Fournette ($8,000 DraftKings, $8,600 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, averaging 24.14 DraftKings and 20.28 FanDuel points per game (PPG) with +4.99 and +4.61 Plus/Minus values. This year, though, he has struggled to turn his volume into production. Despite leading the league with 129 touches overall and 11 carries inside the 10-yard line, he has just 19.9 DraftKings and 16.6 FanDuel PPG and only one truly dominant game: A 186-yard, two-touchdown performance on 39 touches against the Ravens in Week 4. In his other four games, he has -8.45 DraftKings and -4.34 FanDuel Plus/Minus values on 23.2 and 33.1 percent ownership rates in large-field guaranteed prize pools. That’s horrible. And it doesn’t help him that the Steelers offense as a whole has underperformed this year with a -5.5 Vegas Plus/Minus.
Still, Bell has played 92.8 percent of the snaps over the last four weeks, and he’s second on the team with 33 targets on the season. The Steelers are +4.0 road underdogs against the Chiefs, and while the rest of the offense has historically underperformed as a road dog Bell has actually done well, averaging +7.13 DraftKings and +5.97 FanDuel Plus/Minus values and 71.4 percent Consistency Ratings. Plus, despite their 5-0 record, the Chiefs haven’t been strong in run defense this year, ranking 24th against the rush in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). Bell has the highest median projections in our Models, and he leads the position with a 99 percent Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where we’re expecting him to be the highest-owned running back given that he is still pricey on DraftKings and cheaper than Hunt on FanDuel. On DraftKings, with all of the value at running back, Bell is a pivot play.
Kareem the Dream
From one perspective, Week 5 was Cream’s worst game of the season. Despite getting 29 carries and four targets, he finished with only 116 yards and no touchdowns. From another perspective, though, it was encouraging: The Chiefs had a big lead on the road against a tough Texans defense, and they decided to grind down the clock and control the ball by running their rookie ragged. Discounting the five rushes by quarterback Alex Smith, Hunt had 97.7 percent of the team’s carries. Week 5 showed that even when he’s not playing his best the Chiefs are committed to treating Kareem like a workhorse, which he is, as he leads the league with 609 rushing and 775 scrimmage yards. As a point of comparison, through his first five games Adrian Peterson had 607 rushing and 782 scrimmage yards. With 28.1 DraftKings and 23.9 FanDuel PPG midway into October, Hunt has established himself as a legitimate plug-and-play option.
The Chiefs are -4.0 home favorites against the Steelers, who this year have allowed top-four fantasy marks of 29.9 DraftKings and 25.3 FanDuel PPG to opposing backfields. In their two losses, the Steelers have been ravaged by the backfield duos of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen (Week 3) and Fournette and Chris Ivory (Week 5) for 44.15 DraftKings and 38.15 FanDuel PPG. This could be another 30-touch game for Hunt, who has top-two median and ceiling projections in our Models.
Zeke the Second
If not for Hunt, people would be falling over themselves to heap praise on Fournette, who’s been to 2017 what Zeke was to 2016. Overdrafted with the No. 4 pick to serve as the lead back on a defense-driven ball-control team, Fournette has been all that the Jaguars and fantasy players could’ve hoped he’d be. Jacksonville leads the league with a 55.21 percent run rate and a 13.8 Spread Differential, making the biggest jump in the Bet Labs power rankings. And Fournette leads the league with 109 carries and five rushing touchdowns. On top of that, he’s been an effective receiver out of the backfield, converting 72.7 percent of his 18 targets (third on the team) into receptions. Scoring in each game, Fournette has a ludicrous 50 percent of Jacksonville’s offensive touchdowns.
The Jags are -2.5 home favorites against a Rams team allowing top-four fantasy marks of 29.7 DraftKings and 27.1 FanDuel PPG to opposing backfields. On the Week 6 NFL Daily Fantasy Flex, we discussed Fournette as a possible guy who could be sneakily popular given his matchup and status as a home favorite. Although it seems risky to invest in anyone who’s a part of an offense quarterbacked by Blake Bortles, we’re projecting Fournette to have top-five ownership rates and be especially chalky on FanDuel, where he’s the highest-rated FanDuel running back in the Levitan Model. Through five games last year, Zeke had 109 carries and nine receptions for 627 yards and five touchdowns. Through five games, Fournette has 109 carries and 13 receptions for 594 yards and six touchdowns. Fournette is Zeke II.
Up the Gut
Adrian Peterson ($3,400 DraftKings, $5,000 FanDuel) and Andre Ellington ($5,300 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel): Recently acquired from the Saints, Peterson wasn’t brought in to sit on the bench. That said, the Cardinals are without their starting left tackle and guard in D.J. Humphries and Mike Iupati, and Peterson since last season has 2.39 yards per carry and nine targets. It’s unlikely that Purple Jesus will resurrect in red. Ellington has 37 targets in the last four games, the Cardinals are +1.0 home dogs, and the Buccaneers are 21st in pass DVOA against running backs.
Jerick McKinnon ($4,100 DraftKings, $5,600 FanDuel): The beneficiary of a Monday Night Football discount on DraftKings, McKinnon is projected to be one of the chalkiest players in the slate. The Vikings aren’t in a great spot as +3.0 underdogs to the Packers (especially with quarterback Sam Bradford expected to be out), but McKinnon got 22 touches last week, has a 74.5 percent career catch rate, and is a 100th percentile SPARQ-x athlete (PlayerProfiler). He disappointed as Peterson’s assumed heir in Minnesota, but it wouldn’t be an NFL season if you didn’t let McKinnon destroy your cash game lineup at least once, right?
Todd Gurley ($7,700 DraftKings, $8,400 FanDuel): Gurley disappointed with a 16-touch, 50-yard outing last week, the Rams are +2.5 road dogs, and the Jags defense is first in rush DVOA. As a result, we’re projecting Gurley — a three-down back who leads the league with seven scrimmage touchdowns — for single-digit ownership. Shhh!
Melvin Gordon ($7,800 DraftKings, $8,400 FanDuel): I’m the opposite of an MG3 truther, but since last season in his 17 healthy games he has 325 carries and 83 targets for 1,839 yards, 60 receptions, and 17 touchdowns. Gordon has the highest floor projections in our Models.
Jay Ajayi ($6,600 DraftKings, $7,300 FanDuel): The Dolphins are +11.5 road dogs, Ajayi is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry this year, and his offense has a league-worst -12.31 Vegas Plus/Minus. That said, he’s averaging 21.25 opportunities per game, and the Falcons are 29th in rush DVOA. Ajayi has five 100-yard games in the last 12 months, and we’re projecting Ajayi for less than 5.0 percent ownership.
Lamar Miller ($5,400 DraftKings, $6,800 FanDuel): The Texans are -10.0 home favorites against the Browns and are quarterbacked by perhaps the greatest first-month NFL rookie in the history of the universe. Miller has six touches inside the 10-yard line in the last two weeks and has maintained his position as the lead back in what is now a high-scoring offense. As a home favorite with the Texans, Miller has averaged 18.52 DraftKings and 16.18 FanDuel PPG.
Matt Forte ($4,600 DraftKings, $5,600 FanDuel) and Elijah McGuire ($3,900 DraftKings, $5,700 FanDuel): Bilal Powell (calf) is expected to be out, Forte (toe) is expected to return, and McGuire is likely to continue to get double-digit touches. The Jets are implied for just 19.0 points as +9.5 home dogs, but the Pats have allowed top-two fantasy marks of 31.0 DraftKings and 26.9 FanDuel PPG to opposing backfields.
Devonta Freeman ($7,400 DraftKings, $8,500 FanDuel) and Tevin Coleman ($5,000 DraftKings, $5,900 FanDuel): The Falcons are -11.5 home favorites and implied for a slate-high 28.75 points. The Dolphins defense is second in rush DVOA, so it’s not a great matchup, but in the Dan Quinn era Freeman has 22.35 DraftKings and 19.99 FanDuel PPG as a home favorite with 71.4 percent Consistency Ratings, and in double-digit wins Coleman has averaged 1.15 touchdowns per game. Both have multi-touchdown upside, but neither will have high ownership.
Marshawn Lynch ($5,000 DraftKings, $6,000 FanDuel): Quarterback Derek Carr (back) might return this week, and Lynch is at home against a Chargers defense ranked 26th in rush DVOA. The sample is small, but in each of his home games this year Lynch has scored a touchdown.
Ameer Abdullah ($4,900 DraftKings, $6,400 FanDuel) and Theo Riddick ($4,300 DraftKings, $4,900 FanDuel): The Saints are 30th in rush DVOA and 20th in pass DVOA against running backs. The Lions are +4.5 road dogs with a slate-high 50.0-point over/under. In a shootout scenario, both Abdullah and Riddick have the potential for work.
C.J. Anderson ($6,600 DraftKings, $7,000 FanDuel) and Jamaal Charles ($4,100 DraftKings, $5,400 FanDuel): Available on the FanDuel (but not the DraftKings) main slate, Anderson and Charles are Sunday night hammers. The Broncos are -11.5 home favorites against the Giants, who are in self-destruct mode at 0-5 and ranked 28th in rush DVOA.
Ty Montgomery ($6,700 DraftKings, $7,200 FanDuel) and Aaron Jones ($5,600 DraftKings, $6,800 FanDuel): I’m going to go with what I said in May: Jones is probably a better runner than Montgomery, better receiver than Jamaal Williams, and better athlete than both. He’s likely to cede receiving work to Montgomery, but after his 19/125/1 performance last week Jones has a real chance to lead the Packers in carries for the rest of the season. Montgomery (ribs) has practiced in full this week, but his workload will be reduced from the 19.7 touches per game he got earlier in the year before his injury.
The Model Running Backs
Besides Le’Veon and Zeke, there are currently two other running backs atop the Pro Models built by Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, and Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek):
- James White ($5,200 DraftKings, $5,400 FanDuel)
- Chris Thompson ($5,000 DraftKings, $6,000 FanDuel)
- Samaje Perine ($4,400 DraftKings, $4,900 FanDuel)
- Mark Ingram ($4,400 DraftKings, $5,900 FanDuel)
Even though Mike Gillislee ($5,500 DraftKings, $6,200 FanDuel) leads the Patriots backfield with 69 touches and four rushing touchdowns, White actually leads the running backs with 306 scrimmage yards. In 2015-16 (not counting playoffs) he had a total of 11 touchdowns but this year is yet to score: Progression is coming. Since quarterback Tom Brady returned from his Deflategate suspension in Week 5 of last year, White has averaged 12.9 DraftKings and 10.5 FanDuel PPG across 20 games. The Pats are -9.5 road favorites implied for 28.5 points against the Jets, who are 26th in pass DVOA against running backs. You might want to use our Lineup Builder to stack Brady with White, who is the highest-rated FanDuel back in the CSURAM88 Model. I also like a Gillislee-Pats D/ST stack. Gillislee is tied for fifth in the league with six carries inside the five-yard line, and he’s averaging 13.8 carries per game as the lead back on a team with a top-three mark of 29.6 PPG. Neither White nor Gillislee will have double-digit ownership. Both have multi-touchdown upside.
There’s nothing wrong with Perine and Thompson, but they are circumstantial plays. The Redskins lead the slate with an implied total of 29.75 points as -10.5 home favorites against the 49ers, who have allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing backfields with 29.8 DraftKings and 25.5 FanDuel PPG. Rob Kelley (ankle) is expected not to play, so Perine will likely be the lead back while Thompson serves as the big-play change-of-pace option. The 49ers are 26th in rush DVOA and 22nd in pass DVOA against running backs. Both backs have significant upside. Perine is the highest-rated FanDuel back in the Bales Model. Thompson is the highest-rated back in the SportsGeek Model for both DraftKings and FanDuel, the latter of which he leads with 12 Pro Trends.
There seems to be the perception that Ingram in 2014-16 just randomly fell into 199 carries and 51.3 targets per season for 1,215 yards and 8.3 touchdowns from scrimmage. Coming off a bye, Ingram enters Week 6 pacing for 1,180 scrimmage yards on 256 combined carries and targets — and the team just traded away Peterson. He’s scored no touchdowns this season, but Ingram will likely see progression to his 2014-16 touchdown rate of 3.3 percent. The Saints are -4.5 home favorites at the Coors Field of fantasy football, and Ingram leads the position with 10 Pro Trends on DraftKings, where he’s the highest-rated running back in the Bales, CSURAM88, and Levitan Models. Around Labs, we call that “Going the Full Donkey.” Also, Alvin Kamara ($4,500 DraftKings, $5,800 FanDuel) is intriguing. A pass-catching specialist with rushing ability, Kamara trails only wide receiver Michael Thomas in targets (28) and receptions (20) for the Saints, and the Lions are tied for the fourth-most targets (44) and receptions (32) allowed to running backs. Despite playing just 32.6 percent of the snaps, Kamara averaged 19.4 DraftKings and 16.15 FanDuel PPG in his last two games. Ingram and Kamara are both cheap and will be popular — but if rostered together they could be in many unique lineups.
Positional Breakdowns & Tools
Be sure to research the running backs for yourself with our tools and read the other Week 6 positional breakdowns:
Good luck this week!
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