The Week 7 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Oct. 25, 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 our Models are built for daily contests, this is an all-purpose fantasy piece with actionable information for all formats.
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Top Running Backs in the FantasyLabs Models
There are four 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 7 fantasy football rankings (as of Wednesday evening).
- Alvin Kamara: No. 1 (PPR) | No. 1 (Half PPR) | No. 1 (Standard)
- Aaron Jones: No. 4 (PPR) | No. 4 (Half PPR) | No. 5 (Standard)
- Kareem Hunt: No. 5 (PPR) | No. 2 (Half PPR) | No. 2 (Standard)
- Todd Gurley: No. 14 (PPR) | No. 13 (Half PPR) | No. 10 (Standard)
UPDATE (Thu. 10/22): The Cardinals-Seahawks game has been moved to Sunday Night Football, and Buccaneers-Raiders has been moved to Sunday afternoon.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
Check in throughout the week as I publish the rest of the positional breakdowns.
Alvin Kamara: New Orleans Saints (-7.5) vs. Carolina Panthers, 51 Over/Under
After putting up “just” 1,330 yards and six touchdowns from scrimmage last year, Kamara now has 676 and seven in five games.
- Week 1 (vs. TB): 23.7 PPR, 18.7 STD | 12-16-1 | 5-51-1, eight targets
- Week 2 (at LV): 38.4 PPR, 29.4 STD | 13-79-2 | 9-95-0, nine targets
- Week 3 (vs. GB): 44.7 PPR, 31.7 STD | 6-58-0 | 13-139-2, 14 targets
- Week 4 (at DET): 20.9 PPR, 17.9 STD | 19-83-1 | 3-36-0, four targets
- Week 5 (vs. LAC): 19.9 PPR, 11.9 STD | 11-45-0 | 8-74-0, 10 targets
In PPR in particular, Kamara has dominated, racking up 0.64 fantasy points per snap and ranking No. 1 among all backs in the scoring format (per Pro Football Focus).
It helps that Kamara is No. 1 at the position with 45 targets overall and 84.8 air yards and yards after the catch (AirYAC) per game.
AirYAC is a leading and simple-to-understand indicator of fantasy output. Thanks to RotoViz for including it in their tools.
What’s great about Kamara isn’t just his workload, which is elite: He’s No. 2 behind only Ezekiel Elliott with 21.6 expected fantasy points per game (per RotoViz NFL Player Statistical Summary).
What’s really great about Kamara is that he has regained his early-career efficiency. In 2017-18, Kamara averaged 6.6 yards per touch, but last year — hampered by knee, ankle and back injuries — he dropped to an average of 5.3. By his own estimation, he played at 75% in 2019.
On 1 leg… At 75%.. but we back to 100 ❤️ https://t.co/dYMblYKNU0
— Alvin Kamara (@A_kamara6) March 10, 2020
In 2020, he has jumped up to 6.8 yards per touch. Kamara indeed is back to 100%, and that’s reflected in the extent to which he has outperformed: Kamara is No. 1 at the position with 7.9 fantasy points over expectation per game.
Add it all together, and it’s not a surprise that Kamara is the No. 1 fantasy back with 29.5 PPR and 21.9 STD points per game. He has been a fantasy RB1 in every game this year (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
For what it’s worth, I’m betting against the Saints. Divisional road dogs tend to outperform against the spread (ATS) early in the year and then underperform in the final weeks. In October, the Panthers are in a position to provide a return on investment (ROI, per our Bet Labs database).
On top of that, Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for his career is an outstanding 15-2 ATS (72.5% ROI) as a road underdog. You can bet on this game at DraftKings.
But I don’t think that matters at all for Kamara because of his three-down skill set, which makes him a script-independent producer.
If the Saints get out to a lead or play in a close game, Kamara could get a lot of ground work against a Panthers team that ranks No. 32 with a 34.0 rush-defense grade (per Pro Football Focus). If the Saints fall behind, Kamara could see increased target volume against a unit that ranks No. 30 with a 26.6% pass-defense DVOA against running backs (per Football Outsiders).
Either way, Kamara has a great matchup.
And the Panthers are dealing with significant injuries on their defense: They are without three starters in edge rusher Yatur Gross-Matos (ankle, IR), defensive tackle Kawann Short (shoulder, IR) and safety Juston Burris (ribs, IR). This subpar defense is likely to be worse than usual.
Opposing backfields are No. 6 in the league against the Panthers with 24.5 fantasy points per game on 128-621-8 rushing and 47-327-1 receiving with a league-high 55 targets.
Additionally, I expect points to be scored at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (a.k.a. the Coors Field of fantasy football).
The over in Saints games w/ QB Drew Brees:
– At home: 68-49-2 ✅
– Off bye week: 18-11 ✅
– Off bye at home: 9-3 ✅✅
I look forward to all the incoming mentions about how this information doesn’t matter.
Data per @Bet_Labs.
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) October 21, 2020
No. 1 wide receiver Michael Thomas (ankle/discipline) should return from his four-game absence, and he’s likely to take opportunities away from Kamara, whose splits without Thomas have been extraordinary (per RotoViz Game Splits App).
But it’s not as if Kamara has been bad with Thomas — and against the Panthers, there should be enough production to go around.
Kamara is a locked-in top-three RB1 in season-long leagues and an elite pay-up cash-game and tournament candidate in DFS.
Kamara is the No. 1 running back in the Bales, CSURAM88, Koerner, Raybon and Freedman Models for DraftKings, where he has position-high median, ceiling and floor projections.
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Aaron Jones: Green Bay Packers (-3.5) at Houston Texans, 57 O/U
Even though the Packers drafted early-down grinder A.J. Dillon in Round 2 this offseason, Jones has maintained his role as the lead back. His snap rate is lower, but his share of team opportunities (carries plus targets) is on par with where it was last year when Jones had 1,558 yards and an NFL-high 19 touchdowns from scrimmage.
- 2019 (16 games): 61% snap rate | 32% opportunity share
- 2020 (five games): 56% snap rate | 34% opportunity share
For 2020, Jones leads the league with seven touchdowns, which he has accompanied with 550 yards. He’s doing it again.
Jones is No. 1 with 0.51 STD points per snap, No. 2 with 48.2 AirYAC per game and No. 5 with 20.4 expected fantasy points per game.
He struggled last week against the tough Buccaneers defense, but even then he still put up fantasy points, and in every game this season, he has 15-plus opportunities.
- Week 1 (at MIN): 17.6 PPR, 13.6 STD | 16-66-1 | 4-10-0, six targets
- Week 2 (vs. DET): 45.6 PPR, 41.6 STD | 18-168-2 | 4-68-1, eight targets
- Week 3 (at NO): 16.6 PPR, 14.6 STD | 16-69-1 | 2-17-0, four targets
- Week 4 (vs. ATL): 22.1 PPR, 17.1 STD | 15-71-0 | 5-40-1, five targets
- Week 5 (at TB): 13.1 PPR, 10.1 STD | 10-15-1 | 3-26-0, five targets
What Jones really has going for him this week is his matchup against the Texans, who are No. 27 with a 48.9 PFF run-defense grade.
Against teams ranked in the bottom half of the league in rush defense, Jones has produced as a lead back.
And the Texans have been quite accommodating this year. Against the Texans, opposing backfields are No. 2 in the league with 27.6 fantasy points per game on a league-high 163-969-8 rushing as well as 24-225-0 receiving.
And to make matters worse for the Texans, they are without top run-stopping off-ball linebacker Benardrick McKinney (shoulder, IR).
The Packers have a slate-high 30.5-point implied Vegas total. Points will abound.
Jones is a high-end RB1 in season-long leagues and a reasonable expensive-but-not-exorbitant alternative to the slate’s highest-priced running backs.
Jones is the No. 1 option in the SportsGeek and Hodge Models for DraftKings, where he has a position-high 11 Pro Trends.
Kareem Hunt: Cleveland Browns (-3) at Cincinnati Bengals, 50 O/U
I can’t pretend that Hunt has been the consummation devoutly to be wished in his almost three games without lead back Nick Chubb (knee, IR).
- Week 4 (at DAL): 19.1 PPR, 19.1 STD | 11-71-2 | 0-0-0, zero targets
- Week 5 (vs. IND): 18.3 PPR, 15.3 STD | 20-72-0 | 3-21-1, four targets
- Week 6 (at PIT): 7.7 PPR, 5.7 STD | 13-40-0 | 2-17-0, three targets
But his recent performance deserves contextualization.
Hunt entered Week 4 with a groin injury that limited him in practice, and the Browns had a large lead for most of the game, so they could afford to lighten the load on Hunt by giving work to backups D’Ernest Johnson and Dontrell Hilliard.
In Week 5, Hunt sat out most of the fourth quarter in a two-score game with a leg cramp.
And in Week 6 he was simply rendered needless in the second half of a 38-7 loss to the Steelers.
And even with all of that, Hunt has been a fantasy RB1 in two of his Chubb-less/limited games.
But this should be the week when Hunt really goes off. The Browns are No. 2 in the league with a 50.1% rush-play rate, they are road favorites and they are coming off a massive loss. If ever there were a game for them to run the ball 35-40 times, it’s this one.
And the matchup is favorable. Against the Bengals, opposing backfields are No. 4 with 119.3 yards rushing per game and 5.2 yards per carry — and that includes Browns running backs.
In Week 2, Chubb and Hunt combined for 32-210-3 rushing against their divisional rivals. Hunt specifically was 10-86-1 rushing, as well as 2-15-1 receiving, which was good for his best performance of the season.
There’s an outside chance the Browns could get back run-blocking all-star right guard Wyatt Teller (calf), and the Bengals are without run-stuffing defensive tackle D.J. Reader (quad, IR).
Everything points to a big game for Hunt. In his 25 career regular-season games with 12-plus carries, he has produced.
I bet he hits the 12-carry threshold in Week 7.
Hunt is a no-doubt fantasy starter as long as Chubb is out, and this week in particular, he’s a top-six RB1 in season-long leagues.
In DFS, Hunt is yet another candidate for cash games and guaranteed prize pools, especially on FanDuel, where he’s projected as the No. 4 but priced as the No. 9 running back.
Hunt is the No. 1 option in the Koerner, Raybon and Freedman Models for FanDuel, where he has a position-high +5.21 Projected Plus/Minus.
Todd Gurley: Atlanta Falcons (-2.5) vs. Detroit Lions, 55.5 O/U
Gurley is having maybe the best possible season anyone could have imagined — and yet the Falcons are 1-5 and without a full-time head coach.
That feels right.
This is the second time in three weeks that Gurley has popped in our Models, and a lot of what I said about him in the Week 5 running back breakdown is still applicable.
I absolutely must assert that there’s nothing special about what Gurley has done this year — other than earning millions of dollars in the NFL. During a pandemic. Despite an arthritic knee.
Other than that, nothing special.
Since last season — when he adopted a stuck-in-molasses running style and stopped doing anything as a receiver — Gurley has been a highly touchdown-dependent producer.
When he gets a rushing score, Gurley is an asset. When he doesn’t, he’s a liability.
Since 2019, Gurley has been a mediocre runner and a catastrophic receiver, averaging a hilariously identical 4.0 yards per carry and target.
It’s time to put this workhorse out to pasture. His days of dependable use are done.
In theory, Gurley should have a run-heavy game script as a home favorite, but I’m skeptical. Should the 1-5 Falcons really be favored? How can they be trusted to win a game against anyone?
Cue Curb Your Enthusiasm music: Having said that, I see why Gurley is popping in our Models: He’s the clear lead back on a dynamic offense favored at home in a game with one of the slate’s highest over/unders.
And of course, there’s the matchup. The Lions have a funnel defense that is No. 12 against the pass (3.3% DVOA) but No. 30 against the run (8.4% DVOA).
I don’t want to play Gurley this weekend, but I’m also a guy who has literally zero exposure to him across my redraft, best ball and dynasty portfolios. I don’t want to play him any weekend.
But of all the times you could play Gurley, this is one of the best, especially with four teams on bye. In his eight games as a home favorite since last year, Gurley has averaged 16.9 FanDuel points and hit salary-based expectations at an 87.5% clip (per our FantasyLabs Trends Tool).
Gurley is on the RB1/2 borderline in season-long leagues and is the No. 1 back in the Bales, CSURAM88, SportsGeek and Hodge Models for FanDuel.
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.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (+1) at Washington Football Team (46 O/U): I’m relatively down on the Cowboys, and the market agrees with me, as the Cowboys have moved from -3 favorites to +1 underdogs. But Elliott is No. 1 at the position with 24.1 expected fantasy points per game, and he could get a lot of usage as the team seeks to hide backup quarterback Andy Dalton.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (-1) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (50.5 O/U): The Steelers are No. 1 with an 82.3 PFF rush-defense grade, but Henry has averaged 21.5 DraftKings and 19.5 FanDuel points across his 20 games as a favorite over the past two-plus seasons. In quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s 15 regular-season starts with the team, the over is 13-2 (71.3% ROI). You can bet on this game at FanDuel.
For the season, Henry is No. 1 in the league with a 42% opportunity share.
Mike Davis, Carolina Panthers (+7.5) at New Orleans Saints (51 O/U): Over the past four games, Davis has played the Christian McCaffrey role to perfection with 63-271-2 rushing and 24-135-2 receiving on 28 targets. For Weeks 3-6, Davis is No. 2 at the position with 21.7 expected fantasy points per game.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (+3) vs. Cleveland Browns (50 O/U): Over the past month, Mixon has an unrivaled 40% market share of his team’s opportunities. He has posted notable home splits in his two-plus years as the lead back.
Mixon is the No. 5 fantasy back with 20.2 PPR and 16.2 STD points per game since Week 3.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5) at Denver Broncos (46.5 O/U): The Broncos are No. 1 against opposing backfields with just 12.1 fantasy points allowed per game, but the first-round rookie has an NFL-high 682 scrimmage yards. What if the Kansas City version of Le’Veon Bell is more LeSean McCoy and less Damien Williams?
David Johnson, Houston Texans (+3.5) vs. Green Bay Packers (57 O/U): With 3.7 yards per carry since 2017, Johnson is almost certainly not good at football, objectively speaking. But he should still be good enough to exploit the Packers, against whom opposing backfields are No. 1 with 28.0 fantasy points per game on 110-527-7 rushing and 34-295-2 receiving.
Joshua Kelley, Los Angeles Chargers (-7.5) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (49.5 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
The next time I write this blurb for whichever running back is facing the Jags, it’s probable that Kelley’s name will be on this list.
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team (-1) vs. Dallas Cowboys (46 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 1,000 scrimmage yards. The Cowboys are No. 30 with a 41.8 PFF rush-defense grade and playing on a short week.
Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers (-7.5) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (49.5 O/U): See Kelley, Joshua. Check out the length of that list.
Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals (+3.5) vs. Seattle Seahawks (56 O/U): For as much as he has disappointed this year, Drake is still 228-1,121-12 rushing and 34-193-0 receiving in 14 games with the Cardinals. In his Week 16 matchup last year with the Seahawks, Drake went off for 33.4 PPR and 30.4 STD points on 24-166-2 rushing and 3-18-0 receiving.
Adrian Peterson, Detroit Lions (+2.5) at Atlanta Falcons (55.5 O/U): The 36-year-old future Hall-of-Famer is having yet another spry middle-aged campaign with a nice 69-285-2 rushing and 5-49-0 receiving in five games. Even with dynamic rookie D’Andre Swift’s Week 6 breakout, Peterson leads the backfield with a 39% snap rate and 25% opportunity share.
Frank Gore, New York Jets (+13) vs. Buffalo Bills (45 O/U): Across his four games this year without former teammate Le’Veon Bell, Gore has averaged 17.25 opportunities.
Gore’s production has been horrible, but if you’re desperate and looking for anything at the position, are you really going to turn your nose up at that kind of usage?
Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers (-3.5) at Houston Texans (57 O/U): Over his past 16 games, Williams has been better than a fantasy RB3 seven times.
Williams has a low floor but high ceiling thanks to his three-down skill set.
JaMycal Hasty, San Francisco 49ers (+2) at New England Patriots (43.5): Top running backs Raheem Mostert (ankle, IR) and Tevin Coleman (knee, IR) are out, and change-of-pace back Jeffery Wilson (calf) is uncertain to play. He might get zero touches — because he’s the No. 5 guy in a Shanahan backfield — but he had 10 opportunities last week, and it’s not unfathomable that he could lead the team in touches this week — because he’s the No. 5 guy in a Shanahan backfield.
Brian Hill, Atlanta Falcons (-2.5) vs. Detroit Lions (55.5 O/U): Opposing backfields are No. 4 against the Lions with 25.4 fantasy points per game on 118-619-5 rushing and 23-212-2 receiving. Hill has gotten 12 opportunities in two games this year, and if the Falcons get out to a big lead as they did last week, Hill could get extended run in the second half.
The Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs, Freedman is commonly called the Oracle & the Labyrinthian.
Pictured above: Todd Gurley.
Photo credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images.