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.
Years from now, people will year T-shirts that say, “I survived Week 8 of the 2017 NFL season.” The Rams, Packers, Jaguars, Titans, Cardinals, and Giants are on bye. The Ravens and Dolphins (Thursday night), Vikings and Browns (London), and Chiefs and Broncos (Monday night) are absent from the main slate, as are the Steelers and Lions (Sunday night) on DraftKings. As Thomas Paine once said, “These are the slate’s that grind men’s and women’s souls.”
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 nine-game DraftKings and 10-game FanDuel main slates.
The Big Two (or Three)
The small slate is made even smaller by the exclusion of the Steelers-Lions game from the DraftKings main slate. Keep in mind that the construction of lineups will vary across sites based on the absence or presence of Steelers skill position players. Regardless, this is a week for #TeamJamEmIn.
- Le’Veon Bell ($9,300 DraftKings, $9,400 FanDuel)
- Ezekiel Elliott ($9,200 DraftKings, $9,000 FanDuel)
- LeSean McCoy ($8,700 DraftKings, $8,400 FanDuel)
Bang a gong.
“It’s Le’Ve-OH-sa, not Le’Veo-SAH”
Available on the FanDuel (but not the DraftKings) main slate, Bell has been the best back in the league since his 2014 All-Pro breakout campaign, averaging 24.34 DraftKings and 20.45 FanDuel points per game (PPG) with +4.97 and +4.68 Plus/Minus values. He’s had some subpar performances throughout the season, but over the last five games he has 760 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage for 27.0 DraftKings and 22.6 FanDuel PPG with +4.03 and +5.73 Plus/Minus values. In the last month, he has 86.7 percent of the Steelers’ non-quarterback carries, a wide receiver-like 18.8 percent of their targets, and 90.6 percent of offensive snaps played. He’s a market share behemoth. Even though Pittsburgh’s offense has underperformed expectations with its -3.29 Vegas Plus/Minus, Bell still leads the league with 202 touches overall and 17 carries inside the 10-yard line.
On top of that, Bell has a good matchup this week: The Lions have allowed top-eight marks of 27.9 DraftKings and 22.8 FanDuel PPG to opposing backfields, and they’ve been especially friendly to pass-catching backs, allowing an NFL-high 6.8 receptions per game to the position. The Steelers are implied for just 23.75 points as -2.5 road favorites, but regardless of game script Bell will be involved. Bell has the highest median and ceiling projections in our Models and is the highest-rated FanDuel back in the Levitan Model.
A strong #TeamJamEmIn candidate, Zeke is once again going to play after a lot of legal sound and fury, signifying nothing. It’s possible this could be the last game before Zeke’s six-game suspension (re)commences, as he has an injunction hearing on Monday, Oct. 30. Not that he needs any extra motivation, but he has it. Zeke’s been Le’Veon-esque this season: He’s played an impressive 83.5 percent of the offensive snaps, and after a slow-ish start (14.10 DraftKings and 10.35 FanDuel PPG in Weeks 1-2) he’s smashed in his last four games, turning 98 carries and nine receptions into 584 yards and six touchdowns. His efficiency has taken a hit (5.1 yards per carry in 2016; 4.1 in 2017), but he’s getting even more opportunities per game than he got last year: 25.8 vs. 24.1.
In addition to having high volume and desirable recent form, Zeke is in a good spot. The Cowboys are implied for 26.25 points as -2.0 road favorites against the divisional rival Redskins. Although Washington is 10th against the run in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), the Redskins have also allowed established lead backs in Kareem Hunt, Todd Gurley, and Carlos Hyde to average 23.73 DraftKings and 20.40 FanDuel PPG with +5.51 and +6.87 Plus/Minus values. Zeke has at least 25 touches in every game this year except for his Week 2 debacle in Denver and is locked in as the every-down back on account of his increased role in the passing game (2.6 targets per game last year; 4.0 this year). Given Zeke’s abundant volume and scoring prowess — he has 22 touchdowns in 21 career games — he has the slate’s highest floor projections as well as a position-high 12 Pro Trends on FanDuel.
“May I Have Your Attention Please?”
Here’s what I wrote about McCoy in last week’s Running Back Breakdown:
McCoy’s rushing efficiency is down (3.2 yards per carry; 5.4 last year) as is his scoring (zero touchdowns; 14 in 15 games last year), but he is getting more per-game opportunities (23.8; 19.4 last year) and should progress toward his 3.49 percent 2015-16 touchdown rate: He’s averaging one carry inside the 10-yard line per game. The Bills are second in the league with a 50.6 percent rushing rate, and McCoy leads the team with 32 targets and 27 receptions. At some point Shady will run to daylight.
Twenty-three carries, five receptions, 122 yards, two touchdowns, and a mouthful of chalk later, McCoy is once again strongly in play for cash games. The Bills are -2.5 home favorites against the Raiders, whose defense is 20th in rush DVOA and 25th against running backs in pass DVOA. McCoy leads the position with a 99 percent Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where we’re projecting him to have a slate-high ownership rate above 25 percent.
Up the Gut
Devonta Freeman ($7,200 DraftKings, $8,000 FanDuel) and Tevin Coleman ($5,000 DraftKings, $6,000 FanDuel): Given that Atlanta has lost three straight games and is last in the league with a -6.54 Vegas Plus/Minus it’s easy to overlook Freeman, but he has 87.3 yards and 0.83 touchdowns from scrimmage per game this year. Since he entered the league in 2014, no running back has scored more touchdowns than Freeman’s 34. The Falcons are implied for 25.0 points as -4.0 road favorites against the Jets. Since his 2015 breakout, Freeman has exhibited stark win/loss splits, averaging 109.5 yards and 1.18 touchdowns per win compared to 86.2 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per loss. Since last season Coleman has also had big win/loss splits: 73 yards and 0.91 touchdowns per win, 64.7 yards and 0.29 touchdowns per loss. Even though the Falcons are 3-3, they need to win this game.
DeAndre Washington ($4,100 DraftKings, $5,700 FanDuel) and Jalen Richard ($4,300 DraftKings, $5,300 FanDuel): The Raiders are without Marshawn Lynch (suspension), and Washington and Richard are expected to split the workload, just as they did last year in Weeks 5-6 when Latavius Murray was out. In those games Washington had 9.5 carries and 3.5 targets per game; Richard, six and five. On the one hand, the prospect of 13 and 11 opportunities isn’t too exciting against the Bills defense, which is seventh in rush DVOA. On the other hand, Washington and Richard are cheap, and Washington has averaged 67 yards and 0.67 touchdowns per game in his three contests with at least 10 carries; Richard has never had 10 carries in a game.
Melvin Gordon ($8,100 DraftKings, $7,900 FanDuel): Gordon was his usual inefficient self last week — except he didn’t score a touchdown or catch more than one pass. That said, he still got 22 opportunities. Cheaper than the top-tier backs and likely to have lower ownership, Gordon since the beginning of last season has turned 19.4 carries and 5.2 targets into 107 yards, 3.7 receptions, and one touchdown per game (minus an injury-shortened, eight-snap Week 14 outing last year). The Chargers are +7.5 road dogs against the Patriots, who have allowed top-five marks of 27.8 DraftKings and 23.8 FanDuel PPG to opposing backfields.
Lamar Miller ($5,200 DraftKings, $6,400 FanDuel) and D’Onta Foreman ($4,000 DraftKings, $5,200 FanDuel): Miller and Foreman are projected for almost nonexistent ownership, but the Texans are facing the Seahawks, who have a run-flowing funnel defense ranked fifth against the pass and 23rd against the rush in DVOA. The Texans are coming off a bye and have had ample time to prepare for this road game. Quarterback Deshaun Watson might be the greatest rookie in the history of the universe, and the Texans have a league-high +9.21 Vegas Plus/Minus. Miller is averaging 19.4 opportunities per game in Watson’s five starts; Foreman, 10.6.
Jordan Howard ($6,800 DraftKings, $6,900 FanDuel) and Tarik Cohen ($4,600 DraftKings, $5,800 FanDuel): The Bears are at the Coors Field of fantasy football, so naturally they’re going to lay down lots of bunts. With ‘quarterback’ Mitchell Trubisky serving as the conduit through which the ball gets from the center to the running back — he’s the NFL equivalent of a dystopian handmaid — Howard has averaged 25.7 opportunities per game; Cohen, nine. The Saints defense has improved, but it’s still a run-flowing unit that is sixth against the pass and 29th against the rush in DVOA.
Eddie Lacy ($3,500 DraftKings, $5,400 FanDuel) and Thomas Rawls ($3,600 DraftKings, $5,400 FanDuel): The Seahawks are implied for 25.75 points as -5.5 home favorites against the Texans. On the one hand, the Texans have held opposing backfield to bottom-four marks of 19.9 DraftKings and 16.7 FanDuel PPG. On the other hand, every Seattle runner is projected for no more than 1.0 percent ownership, Lacy leads the position with a 92 percent DraftKings Bargain Rating, and Rawls has a backfield-best 42.4 percent snap share over the last two weeks. One of them might fall into the end zone while carrying the ball.
Jonathan Stewart ($3,600 DraftKings, $5,200 FanDuel) and Christian McCaffrey ($6,200 DraftKings, $6,300 FanDuel): Stewart has just 3.0 yards per carry and one touchdown, but he is averaging 15.7 opportunities per game, and as long as he gets carries his current touchdown rate of 0.91 percent seems likely to progress toward his 2014-16 mark of 2.82 percent. McCaffrey looks lost as a runner, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry, but he easily leads the Panthers and all running backs with 59 targets and 44 receptions.
Chris Thompson ($5,800 DraftKings, $6,000 FanDuel) and Rob Kelley ($4,100 DraftKings, $5,700 FanDuel): The Redskins are +2.0 home dogs against the Cowboys, who are 31st in run DVOA and 30th in pass DVOA against running backs. The Dallas-Washington game has a slate-high over/under of 50.5 points. Harry: “But I am the chosen one.” For more on Thompson and Kelley, see our piece on NFL workhorses and backfield committees.
Mark Ingram ($7,400 DraftKings, $7,200 FanDuel) and Alvin Kamara ($5,900 DraftKings, $6,400 FanDuel): In 2014-16, Ingram turned 14.6 carries and 3.8 targets per game into 88.9 yards, 3.0 receptions, and 0.61 touchdowns for 16.23 DraftKings and 14.28 FanDuel PPG. Even with his slow start to the season, he’s averaging 14.8 carries, 5.3 targets, 92.5 yards, four receptions, 0.5 touchdowns, and 17.08 DraftKings and 13.92 FanDuel PPG. It’s just another year of low-end RB1 production for Ingram, who leads the position with eight DraftKings and 12 FanDuel Pro Trends. Get it. As for Kamara, he showed in his Week 4 London performance the degree to which Adrian Peterson was expendable, averaging eight carries and 6.7 targets per game for 17.67 DraftKings and 14.67 FanDuel PPG since then. As I mention on the Week 8 Daily Fantasy Flex, the Saints are committing to the run with a rush rate of 42.46 percent — the team’s highest mark since its Super Bowl-winning 2009 campaign. Both Ingram and Kamara will be popular. Use our Lineup Builder to roster them together for a low-owned high-upside stack.
The Model Running Backs
Besides Bell, there are three other running backs atop the Pro Models built by Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, and Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek):
- LeGarrette Blount ($5,100 DraftKings, $6,100 FanDuel)
- Joe Mixon ($4,700 DraftKings, $5,900 FanDuel)
- James White ($4,900 DraftKings, $4,900 FanDuel)
The Eagles lead the league with an implied total of 30.0 points as slate-best -13.0 home favorites against the 49ers, who have allowed the most fantasy points to opposing backfields this season with 34.4 DraftKings and 29.6 FanDuel PPG. Going back to 2015, the 49ers have allowed 57 touchdowns to running backs in 39 games. Blount is yet to play even 50 percent of the snaps in any game, has just one rushing touchdown on the year, and doesn’t contribute as a receiver — but that’s why Blount is a pivot play. He’s enjoying one of the most efficient seasons of his career (5.0 yards per carry), averaging 14 carries per game (excluding his Week 2 benching), and likely to see his 1.19 percent touchdown rate progress toward his pre-2017 average of 4.20 percent, especially since he’s tied for second in the league with eight carries inside the five-yard line. Throughout his eight-year career, Blount has averaged 83.6 yards and 1.14 touchdowns per game whenever he’s been comparably favored at home. It hurts that left tackle Jason Peters (knee) suffered a season-ending injury in Week 7 and that Wendell Smallwood ($4,900 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel) is a threat to steal touches and snaps, but this is a #SmashSpot for Blount, who’s the highest-rated FanDuel back in the Bales and SportsGeek Models.
If ever there were a week for the Mixon breakout, it’s this one. The Bengals are -10.5 home favorites against the Colts, who have allowed top-eight marks of 27.1 DraftKings and 24.0 FanDuel PPG to opposing backfields. In the four games since Bill Lazor assumed play-calling duties, Mixon has led the Bengals backs with a 50.8 percent snap share, averaging 14.25 carries and 2.5 receptions per game. No team has allowed more rushing touchdowns (1.0 per game) or total touchdowns (1.29) to backs than the Colts, who are last in the league with 31.71 PPG allowed and a -7.93 Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus. The Colts have allowed a few change-of-pace backs in Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon, and Malcolm Brown to score touchdowns, so Giovani Bernard ($3,700 DraftKings, $5,100 FanDuel) and Jeremy Hill ($3,300 DraftKings, $5,100 FanDuel) are in play, but Mixon is the primary consideration. Every running back with at least 16 touches against the Colts has scored a touchdown. How many touches do you think Mixon will have? Mixon is the consensus top DraftKings back in the Pro Models.
While Dion Lewis ($4,600 DraftKings, $5,400 FanDuel), Mike Gillislee ($4,200 DraftKings, $5,400 FanDuel), and now Rex Burkhead ($3,600 DraftKings, $4,700 FanDuel) battle each other for snaps and carries, White leads the backfield with 398 scrimmage yards and a 46.2 percent snap share, and he leads the team with 47 targets and 38 receptions. Since quarterback Tom Brady returned from his Deflategate suspension in Week 5 of last year, White has averaged 12.85 DraftKings and 10.50 FanDuel PPG across 22 games (including playoffs). The Pats are -7.5 home favorites implied for 27.75 points. Given how strong the Chargers are against the deep passing game — Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram both have top-10 edge defender grades at Pro Football Focus, and no defensive back in the nickel package has a PFF grade lower than 74.9 — the Pats could use a short passing attack that highlights White. Also, since the Chargers have a run-flowing funnel defense that ranks eighth against the pass and 27th against the rush in DVOA, Lewis and Gillislee could be in play. Either way, no New England back is projected for even 5.0 percent ownership. White is the highest-rated FanDuel back in the CSURAM88 Model.
Positional Breakdowns & Tools
Be sure to research the running backs for yourself with our tools and read the other Week 8 positional breakdowns:
Good luck this week!
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