The Week 9 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Nov. 8, at 1 p.m. ET.
In this piece, I highlight running backs who stand out in our large suite of analytical fantasy tools, most specifically our FantasyLabs Models. While the Models are built for daily contests, this is an all-purpose fantasy article with actionable information for all formats.
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Top Running Backs in the FantasyLabs Models
There are six running backs atop the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek), Ryan Hodge and I have constructed.
Here’s where they place within our Week 9 fantasy football rankings (as of Wednesday morning).
- Chase Edmonds: No. 4 (PPR) | No. 6 (Half PPR) | No. 7 (STD)
- James Robinson: No. 5 (PPR) | No. 5 (Half PPR) | No. 5 (STD)
- Josh Jacobs: No. 6 (PPR) | No. 4 (Half PPR) | No. 4 (STD)
- David Johnson: No. 10 (PPR) | No. 8 (Half PPR) | No. 9 (STD)
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire: No. 16 (PPR) | No. 16 (Half PPR) | No. 16 (STD)
- Justin Jackson: No. 18 (PPR) | No. 18 (Half PPR) | No. 19 (STD)
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
Check in throughout the week as I publish the rest of the positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis, check out The Action Network. For updates, see our FantasyLabs News Feed.
Odds as of Wednesday morning and via DraftKings Sportsbook, where you can get up to a $1,000 sign-up bonus today.
Chase Edmonds: Arizona Cardinals vs. Miami Dolphins (Off the Board)
As of writing (Tuesday evening for this particular blurb), this game is off the board because the Cardinals are dealing with a COVID-19 situation coming off the Week 8 bye.
Kingsbury confirmed the two positive tests for the Cardinals. No additional positive tests since. “I don’t see this being a problem.” Practice will be “business as usual” today. Contact tracing showed limited interaction with others. But he acknowledged, “you never know.”
— Darren Urban (@Cardschatter) November 2, 2020
But this game is still scheduled to play and when it was posted we saw consensus lines of -4.5 and 47.5.
Before the season started, Edmonds was one of the top players in Koerner’s backup running back rankings, and this week he finally has the opportunity to lead the backfield.
Starter Kenyan Drake (ankle) left Week 7 early with an injury, and although the Cardinals had the bye in Week 8, he seems unlikely to play this weekend.
In Drake’s absence, Edmonds has a real shot to get 20 touches. After him, the Cardinals have a coterie of nonentities.
In case you have nothing else to think about on this random Tuesday evening, here are the running backs beneath Chase Edmonds on the ARI depth chart:
– Jonathan Ward: 3 snaps this year
– Eno Benjamin: No snaps
– D.J. Foster: Practice squad
– Khalfani Muhammad: Practice squad
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) November 4, 2020
The Cardinals are highly incentivized not to let any back other than Edmonds touch the ball.
Despite playing behind Drake this year, Edmonds hasn’t trailed him by much in expected points per game, and he has markedly outperformed Drake in fantasy points over expectation both rushing and receiving (ruFPOE & reFPOE, per RotoViz NFL Player Statistical Summary).
- Kenyan Drake: 13.1 expected points | -0.2 ruFPOE | -0.8 reFPOE
- Chase Edmonds: 9.2 expected points | +1.0 ruFPOE | +1.8 reFPOE
Even as a backup, Edmonds has been at least a fantasy RB2 in over half his games this year (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
Edmonds has a delicious matchup against the Dolphins, who have a funnel defense that ranks No. 3 against the pass (-14.1% DVOA) but No. 32 against the run (9.7%, per Football Outsiders).
In his one game as a lead back last year, Edmonds had 35.0 PPR and 33.0 STD points on 27-126-3 rushing and 2-24-0 receiving with four targets.
Edmonds eatin’ this weekend.
A solid RB1 in season-long leagues, Edmonds is the No. 1 back in the Bales and Koerner Models for FanDuel, where he has a position-high 97% Bargain Rating.
James Robinson: Jacksonville Jaguars (+7) vs. Houston Texans (50 Over/Under)
The recent returns of veterans Chris Thompson (COVID-19) and Devine Ozigbo (hamstring) theoretically cap Robinson’s ceiling — as does the benching of quarterback Gardner Minshew — but Robinson should still see enough work to meet expectations.
Robinson is No. 6 with a 34% market share of his team’s opportunities (carries plus targets). He’s right up there with the top backs in the league in terms of usage.
A two-time Walter Payton Award finalist for FCS player of the year, the undrafted rookie out of Illinois State has impressed as the lead back in Jacksonville.
- Week 1 (vs. IND): 10.0 PPR, 9.0 STD | 16-62-0 | 1-28-0, one target
- Week 2 (at TEN): 21.0 PPR, 18.0 STD | 16-102-1 | 3-18-0, four targets
- Week 3 (vs. MIA): 30.9 PPR, 24.9 STD | 11-46-2 | 6-83-0, six targets
- Week 4 (at CIN): 14.7 PPR, 10.7 STD | 17-75-0 | 4-32-0, four targets
- Week 5 (at HOU): 10.0 PPR, 5.0 STD | 13-48-0 | 5-22-0, seven targets
- Week 6 (vs. DET): 15.3 PPR, 11.0 STD | 12-29-0 | 4-24-1, four targets
- Week 7 (at LAC): 31.7 PPR, 27.7 STD | 22-119-1 | 4-18-1, six targets
That Robinson is on a bad 1-6 team and still averaging 100.9 scrimmage yards per game is incredibly impressive, especially considering that he entered training camp No. 5 on the depth chart.
What catches my eye most about Robinson is that he has been a strong receiver out of the backfield, ranking No. 6 among all backs with 7.0 yards per target, No. 11 with 1.73 yards per route and No. 12 with 32.1 air yards and yards after the catch (AirYAC) per game.
AirYAC is a leading and simple-to-understand indicator of fantasy output. You can find it in the NFL Player Statistical Summary tool at RotoViz.
That Robinson ranks so highly in these metrics suggests that what we’ve seen out of him so far is not a fluke, and with his pass-catching ability, he has the look of a true script-independent producer.
Even on a team ranking No. 26 with 22.0 points per game, Robinson has been a fantasy RB1 in 57% of his games.
He had his worst game of the season against the Texans in Week 5, but his matchup is still almost as good as it gets: Opposing backfields are No. 3 against the Texans with 26.3 fantasy points per game on 187-1,057-9 rushing and 28-262-0 receiving.
Robinson is a mid-range RB1 in season-long leagues and the No. 1 back in the Freedman Model for FanDuel.
Josh Jacobs: Las Vegas Raiders (+1) at Los Angeles Chargers (53 O/U)
Almost all of what I said about Jacobs in the Week 8 running back breakdown is applicable this week.
The Chargers have a middle-of-the-road rush defense (-8.6% DVOA, No. 18), so there’s nothing especially notable about Jacobs’ matchup.
What makes him stand out is the spread: He’s not a prohibitive underdog.
As Hayden Winks points out in his Week 9 Usage Models, Jacobs is a script-dependent back. He has a 55% touch share when leading but 15% touch share when trailing.
Given the relatively close spread, the Raiders should be able to stay in this game for the duration of the contest, and that’s likely to result in an enhanced workload for Jacobs.
And this line is moving toward the Raiders: It opened at +3 and is now at +1 at most sportsbooks. If we look at the moneyline action on the game so far, we see that 39% of the bets but 77% of the money is on the Raiders, which is an extremely bullish market position (per our Action Network Odds page).
And if the Raiders win that would be massive for Jacobs, who has had notable victory-based splits since entering the league (per RotoViz Game Splits App).
Because of his flow-based inconsistency, Jacobs has alienated some fantasy investors.
On the one hand, I get it. On the other hand, I don’t get it at all.
Are people so flush with backfield production that they can afford to be annoyed with a 22-year-old big-bodied second-year first-rounder who has 1,960 yards from scrimmage in 20 games?
Who do these people think they are? Shawn Siegele?
For the season, Jacobs is No. 4 with a 39% opportunity share and No. 7 with 18.1 expected fantasy points per game. In every game but one, Jacobs has had 18 touches. He is getting elite usage, and this looks like a spot in which he could translate touches into touchdowns.
Jacobs is a solid fantasy RB1 in season-long leagues and the No. 1 back in the Bales and Koerner Models for DraftKings.
David Johnson: Houston Texans (-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (50 O/U)
The list of running backs to go off on the Jags since the second half of last year is incredibly long.
- Carlos Hyde (Week 9): 14.0 PPR, 14.0 STD | 19-160-0
- Duke Johnson (Week 9): 19.1 PPR, 14.1 STD | 7-13-1 | 5-68-0, five targets
- BYE WEEK (Week 10): The Jags somehow made their run defense worse during the bye.
- Marlon Mack (Week 11): 16.9 PPR, 16.9 STD | 14-109-1
- Jonathan Williams (Week 11): 15.7 PPR, 14.7 STD | 13-116-0 | 1-31-0, one target
- Nyheim Hines (Week 11): 12.5 PPR, 9.5 STD | 3-11-1 | 3-24-0, four targets
- Derrick Henry (Week 12): 28.5 PPR, 27.5 STD | 19-159-2 | 1-16-0, one target
- Peyton Barber (Week 13): 18.4 PPR, 18.4 STD | 17-44-2
- Austin Ekeler (Week 14): 31.3 PPR, 27.3 STD | 8-101-0 | 4-112-1, five targets
- Melvin Gordon III (Week 14): 19.4 PPR, 14.4 STD | 12-55-1 | 5-29-0, five targets
- Josh Jacobs (Week 15): 12.9 PPR, 10.9 STD | 24-89-0 | 2-20-0, three targets
- Devonta Freeman (Week 16): 33.7 PPR, 24.7 STD | 13-53-1 | 9-74-1, 10 targets
- Brian Hill & Qadree Ollison (Week 16): 12.9 PPR, 12.9 STD | 8-69-1
- Marlon Mack (Week 17): 19.7 PPR, 19.7 STD | 15-77-2 | 0-0-0, one target
- Nyheim Hines (Week 17): 8.6 PPR, 5.6 STD | 7-34-0 | 3-22-0, five targets
- Nyheim Hines (Week 1): 27.3 PPR, 19.3 STD | 7-28-1 | 8-45-1, eight targets
- Jonathan Taylor (Week 1): 14.9 PPR, 8.9 STD | 9-22-0 | 6-67-0 six targets
- Marlon Mack (Week 1, injured): 8.6 PPR, 5.6 STD | 4-26-0 | 3-30-0, three targets
- Derrick Henry (Week 2): 8.4 PPR, 8.4 STD | 25-84-0 | 0-0-0, two targets
- Myles Gaskin & Jordan Howard (Week 3): 20.6 PPR, 15.6 STD | 25-67-1 | 5-29-0, five targets
- Joe Mixon (Week 4): 42.1 PPR, 36.1 STD | 25-151-2 | 6-30-1, six targets
- David Johnson (Week 5): 12.3 PPR, 10.3 STD | 17-96-0 | 2-7-0, four targets
- D’Andre Swift (Week 6): 27.3 PPR, 24.3 STD | 14-116-2 | 3-7-0, four targets
- Adrian Peterson (Week 6): 12.8 PPR, 11.8 STD | 15-40-1 | 1-18-0, one target
- Joshua Kelley (Week 7): 10.3 PPR, 5.3 STD | 12-20-0 | 5-24-0, five targets
- Justin Jackson (Week 7): 10.5 PPR, 5.5 STD | 5-12-0 | 5-43-0, six targets
Not every guy to face the Jags goes off, but almost everyone has an above-average performance at worse.
The Jags are essentially an auto-play matchup. Here’s a flow chart that might help.
- Is this player a running back? If no, stop. If yes, continue.
- Is the player facing the Jaguars? If no, stop. If yes, continue.
- Is the player a guy who gets snaps? If no, stop. If yes, continue.
- Is the player relatively healthy at kickoff? If no, maybe play him. If yes, definitely play him.
Follow the flow chart. Play Johnson.
He is no longer the 2016 All-Pro version of himself. The league-high 2,118 yards and 20 touchdowns he compiled in those halcyon “Jam ‘Em In” days are a distant memory.
But Johnson is 101-392-3 rushing and 16-161-1 receiving on 24 targets through seven games. That’s not terrible. He still looks like the guy who had 1,386 yards and 10 touchdowns two years ago, and that guy is good enough to go off against this Jaguars defense, especially as a favorite.
Johnson is a low-end bye-week RB1 and the No. 1 back in the Freedman Model for DraftKings.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire: Kansas City Chiefs (-10.5) vs. Carolina Panthers (52.5 O/U)
Entering the season, Edwards-Helaire was my No. 1 rookie pick in dynasty leagues, and in the first six games of the season he certainly flashed his potential with 107-505-1 rushing and 21-177-0 receiving on 31 targets.
But he also struggled to convert goal-line touches into touchdowns (seven carries inside the 5-yard line, -3 yards) and targets into yards (6.4 yards per target).
And then the Chiefs added veteran back Le’Veon Bell, a big-bodied pass-catching talent.
In his two games with Bell, Edwards-Helaire has not done at all well.
Sure, there’s some noise in this sample: The Chiefs had 43-16 and 35-9 victories in both games, so Edwards-Helaire wasn’t called upon to do much in either contest. And the sample is only two games.
But it’s certainly not encouraging that Edwards-Helaire has gone from dominating backfield opportunities in Weeks 1-6 to splitting work with Bell in Weeks 7-8.
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire (two games): 14 carries | seven targets
- Le’Veon Bell (two games): 12 carries | three targets
As Bell picks up more of the offense, his role within the game plan could grow.
But this week there are several reasons to be optimistic about Edwards-Helaire.
First, he has at least maintained a large edge over Bell in snaps played over the past two weeks (60 vs. 34). Even though the volume of their opportunities has been similar, their playing time hasn’t, and Edwards-Helaire has also had a clear edge in the quality of his opportunities (8.7 expected fantasy points per game vs. 4.9).
Edwards-Helaire is still the lead back.
Second, he has a great matchup. The Panthers are No. 31 with a 40.3 run-defense grade (per Pro Football Focus). On the season, opposing backfields are No. 4 with 23.1 fantasy points per game on 183-855-9 rushing and 58-410-1 receiving.
The Panthers are a bounceback opponent.
Third, Edwards-Helaire is a double-digit home favorite. Despite his recent usage in blowout wins, Edwards-Helaire checks the situational boxes. This is a highly advantageous spot for him.
Fourth, I think the Panthers can keep this game close enough for Edwards-Helaire to play throughout the entirety of the contest.
I’m betting on the Panthers as road underdogs off a loss. Since 2004 (as far back as our Bet Labs database goes), road dogs off a loss are 762-672-39 against the spread (ATS), good for a 3.4% return on investment (ROI).
A 3.4% ROI might not seem like much, but over a sample this large it’s significant. Within Bet Labs, road dogs off a loss have earned an A- grade.
This looks like an angle we can exploit, especially this year, when home-field advantage has been minimized due to COVID-19 restrictions on attendance.
And if you look at the numbers, it turns out that this year has been the most profitable one for this trend. In 2020, road dogs off a loss are 24-13-0 ATS (25.6% ROI). You can bet on this game at DraftKings.
On top of that, the Panthers have a career ATS dominator in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
- All Situations: 31-11 ATS | 44.6% ROI
- Underdog: 21-5 ATS | 58% ROI
- Visitor: 17-3 ATS | 65.8% ROI
- Road Underdog: 16-2 ATS | 73.6% ROI
The Panthers have a real chance to keep this game close, and that should mean sustained opportunities for Edwards-Helaire.
Finally, the Chiefs have a slate-high 31.75-point implied Vegas total. Points will be scored.
Edwards-Helaire is an upside RB2 in season-long leagues and the No. 1 back in the CSURAM88, SportsGeek and Hodge Models for both DraftKings and FanDuel, where he has position-high marks with eight and 14 Pro Trends.
Justin Jackson: Los Angeles Chargers (-1) vs. Las Vegas Raiders (53 O/U)
In his three full games without starter Austin Ekeler (hamstring, IR), Jackson has emerged as the lead back for the Chargers.
He is still splitting work with rookie Joshua Kelley and the recently emerged Troymaine Pope, but Jackson has consistently shown the most on a per-game basis in Ekeler’s absence since Week 5.
- Justin Jackson (three games): 14.2 expected points | 48% snap rate
- Joshua Kelley (three games): 9.0 expected points | 35% snap rate
- Troymaine Pope (three games): 5.0 expected points | 17% snap rate
Last week, Jackson had his best performance of the season with 17-89-0 rushing and 3-53-0 receiving on five targets, and in each Ekeler-less game he has had double-digit touches thanks in large part to his pass-catching role (five-plus targets in each game).
He has taken advantage of his opportunities to this point, and now he has a good matchup against the Raiders, who rank No. 31 with a 7.1% rush-defense DVOA. Opposing backfields are No. 5 against them with 23.0 fantasy points per game on 136-656-8 rushing and 45-392-1 receiving.
Jackson is a solid bye-week RB2 in season-long leagues and the top back in the Raybon Models for DFS, where he has a position-high +4.39 Projected Plus/Minus on DraftKings.
Running Backs With Week-Winning Upside
In this section, I highlight some running backs I think will outperform expectations and whom I especially like as upside season-long and DFS tournament plays.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (-4) vs. Detroit Lions (52.5 O/U): Dating back to last year, Cook has 2,589 yards and 26 touchdowns from scrimmage in 22 games (including postseason). Opposing backfields are No. 2 against the Lions with 27.3 fantasy points per game on 179-804-8 rushing and 34-345-4 receiving. Cook leads all running backs in our Models with his median, ceiling and floor projections.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (-5.5) vs. Chicago Bears (46.5 O/U): The Big Dog has averaged 21.2 DraftKings and 19.1 FanDuel points across his 22 games as a favorite over the past two-plus seasons (per our FantasyLabs Trends Tool). In quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s 17 regular-season starts with the Titans, the over is 14-2-1 (69.0% ROI). You can bet on this game at FanDuel.
For the season, Henry is No. 2 in the league with a 41% opportunity share.
James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers (-13.5) at Dallas Cowboys (41.5 O/U): After his injury-impacted Week 1, Conner is 104-489-5 rushing and 16-117-0 receiving on 19 targets over the past six games. The Cowboys are No. 29 with a 43.7 PFF rush-defense grade. Over the past two-plus years, Conner has averaged 19.7 DraftKings and 16.8 FanDuel points across 20 games as a favorite.
Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons (-3.5) vs. Denver Broncos (50 O/U): I don’t care who you are — you can’t make me write a blurb highlighting the fact that Gurley’s reanimated corpse has 608 yards and eight touchdowns from scrimmage. I won’t do it, you hear?
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team (-3) vs. New York Giants (42 O/U): In every game except his NFL debut, Gibson has had 12-18 opportunities, and despite his inconsistency, the athletic third-round rookie is still pacing for almost 1,200 scrimmage yards. In Week 7, Gibson had his first 20-carry, 100-yard rushing performance, and coming out of the Week 8 bye he might be ready to transition into more of a leading role.
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears (+5.5) at Tennessee Titans (46.5 O/U): In his past five games without change-of-pace back Tarik Cohen (knee, IR), Montgomery is No. 1 at the position with an 84% snap rate and 78% market share of carries. I can’t come up with anything else good to say about him.
D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions (+4) at Minnesota Vikings (52.5 O/U): With the exception of his six-snap Week 3, Swift has flashed in limited action.
Even with his limited usage, Swift has eight-plus opportunities in each of his non-Week 3 games, and since the Week 5 bye he has averaged 9.7 carries and 4.3 targets per game.
J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens (-2.5) at Indianapolis Colts (45.5 O/U): Lead back Mark Ingram (ankle) neither practiced nor played last week and is uncertain for this weekend. In his absence, Dobbins had a career-best 121-yard performance on 15 carries and two targets. Dobbins leads all backs with his 4.20 yards after contact per carry.
Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens (-2.5) at Indianapolis Colts (45.5 O/U): Without No. 1 back Mark Ingram (ankle), Edwards was an effective 16-87-1 rushing last week, and he has 5.2 yards per carry on 334 career attempts. Since entering the league, Edwards has been the NFL’s most no-nonsense North/South runner based on his Efficiency metric (per Next Gen Stats).
Gus Edwards – league-wide rank among RBs in Efficiency each year of his career via @NextGenStats:
– 2020: 3.09 (2nd)
– 2019: 2.93 (1st)
– 2018: 2.78 (1st)
J.K. Dobbins is the better back, but Edwards is still good.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) November 4, 2020
In his 15 career games with double-digit carries, Edwards has averaged 79.3 yards rushing.
Matt Breida, Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals (Off the Board): No. 1 back Myles Gaskin (knee) is expected to be out, so Breida has a shot to operate as the backfield leader. In his 21 career games with 10-plus carries, he has been reasonably productive.
The Cardinals are No. 26 with a 50.5 PFF rush-defense grade.
Adrian Peterson, Detroit Lions (+4) at Minnesota Vikings (52.5 O/U): Searching … searching … here it is.
How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more. …
My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!
Duke Johnson, Houston Texans (-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (50 O/U): See Johnson, David. Check out the length of that list.
Brian Hill, Atlanta Falcons (-3.5) vs. Denver Broncos (50 O/U): More than anything else, this is a reminder that Todd Gurley is not the best running back on his team. Hill has 4.7 yards rushing for his career and saw a season-high 11 carries last week.
Matthew Freedman is 728-572-28 (56.0%) overall betting on the NFL. You can follow him in our free app.
The Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs, Freedman is commonly called the Oracle & the Labyrinthian.
Pictured above: Running back Chase Edmonds #29 of the Arizona Cardinals
Photo credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images