Welcome to the playoffs! In this piece, I’ll be discussing the top fantasy running backs in the context of our large suite of analytical fantasy tools, most specifically, our FantasyLabs Player Models.
This piece will be focused on multi-game contests but is actionable for Showdown slates as well. All salaries listed are based on the six-game Saturday-Monday slates.
As news breaks throughout the week and we adjust our projections, player ratings in our Player Models will change. For updates, visit the models directly.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
- Quarterbacks on Tuesday
- Wide receivers on Wednesday
- Tight Ends on Thursday
For more in-depth NFL analysis, check out The Action Network.
High-End Running Backs
Joe Mixon ($6,800 DraftKings, $8,500 FanDuel): Cincinnati Bengals (-5.5) vs. Las Vegas Raiders (49 total)
Mixon is in a great spot on Saturday. He is an old-school-style running back who gets most of his production on the ground. On the season, he ranks third in carries in the NFL but only 28th in targets. That makes him a far better value as a favorite, which bears out in our Trends:
Mixon generally isn’t thought of in those terms – players like Derrick Henry, who we try to avoid as an underdog. Mixon’s ownership is only slightly higher when expected to win. His consistency and upside both jump far more than his popularity.
Of course, Mixon isn’t going to slip under the radar this week, particularly on Saturday’s two-game slate. He leads our models in median and ceiling projections and is an obvious play. Still, attention might be focused on the Bengals’ passing game, which would keep Mixon ownership down.
From a matchup standpoint, nothing really stands out here. Las Vegas has a slightly positive Opponent Plus/Minus Allowed to running backs while ranking 10th in DVOA against the run. While “top 10” sounds a bit intimidating, they’ve allowed six running backs (or teams of running backs) to rack up over 30 DraftKings points this season.
Mixon is hard to avoid this weekend.
Najee Harris ($6,600 DraftKings, $8,000 FanDuel): Pittsburgh Steelers (+12.5) at Kansas City Chiefs (46 total)
Unlike Mixon, Harris isn’t a liability as an underdog. His average score as an underdog is within one point of his average score as a favorite, thanks to his pass game work. He’s cooled off a bit in terms of target share, but Harris still finished the season tied with Austin Ekeler for most targets at the position.
His passing game work will certainly come in handy, with the Steelers as the biggest underdogs of the Wild Card Round. The Chiefs faced the fifth-most running back targets on the season (but only the 10th-most pass attempts overall), so we can project Harris to be involved.
The Chiefs defense also struggles overall, ranking 24th in DVOA. All of this sets up nicely for Harris, who should produce on the ground while the game is still close. Coupling that with his PPR ability, he’s a tremendous DraftKings play. He has a 96% Bargain Rating on DraftKings as well.
He’s a bit thinner on FanDuel, but all of the backs with strong projections are more expensive there.
Josh Jacobs ($6,500 DraftKings, $7,200 FanDuel): Las Vegas Raiders (+5.5) at Cincinnati Bengals (49 total)
Like Mixon, Jacobs has fairly heavy underdog/favorite splits in his career. He scores more than four extra DraftKings points when the Raiders are favored compared to as an underdog. This clearly makes him less appealing than Mixon (at a similar price on DraftKings).
However, the salary gap is much wider on FanDuel, which makes Jacobs interesting. If you think Vegas has a shot at winning this game – or just want to build lineups around that possibility – he is a strong play there. Jacobs’ limited passing-game involvement is also less of a detriment on FanDuel, which features half-point PPR scoring.
Cincinnati is a tough matchup for backs, but he can post a big score on volume alone if the game script breaks right. Two of his past four games resulted in at least 26 carries, so the efficiency doesn’t need to be perfect for him.
Jacobs ranks fifth on the weekend in median projection on both sites. He’s third in DraftKings salary but eighth on FanDuel. That tells you all you need to know about his value.
Mid-Range Running Backs
Leonard Fournette ($5,900 DraftKings, $7,300 FanDuel): Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8.5) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (47 total)
Fournette will be making his return from a three-game absence for the opening round of the playoffs. In the interim, the Bucs signed veteran Le’Veon Bell to complement their backfield, with Bell picking up three carries in each of the last two games (as well as four total targets.)
The combination of rust and Bell’s addition gives some reason for concern with Fournette this week. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Fournette brought back to speed slowly, particularly if the Bucs handle this game as easily as the spread would imply.
Still, Fournette is the best back on the Bucs roster and the most heavily trusted. He emerged as an every-down player through most of the season, finishing third in targets and 20th in rushing attempts on the season. I’d expect Bell to cut more into his carries than his passing game work, so Fournette is still a strong play.
He’s also projecting well, ranking fourth on DraftKings and second on FanDuel in Pts/Sal (second and first among Sunday running backs).
His ceiling projection is also the highest among Sunday backs on both sites.
Elijah Mitchell ($5,500 DraftKings, $7,400 FanDuel): San Francisco 49ers (+3) at Dallas Cowboys (51 total)
Mitchell is vastly underpriced on DraftKings for his usual workload. He has at least 20 carries in five straight games played for the 49ers. That includes the 49ers’ loss in that span, so don’t let the spread scare you away.
Mitchell has one of the better running back matchups on the slate. Dallas ranks 2nd in DVOA against the pass but only 16th against running backs. That should tilt the 49ers (already a run-heavy team) even more heavily towards the ground.
It’s a bit more complicated on FanDuel for Mitchell, where his salary knocks him down the Pts/Sal rankings. Mitchell is the type of back we want to target on FanDuel (with his limited passing involvement), but I’m not sure he’s worth the salary premium there.
Still, there aren’t a ton of options on the smaller slates, so Mitchell deserves consideration on both sites. He projects for a strong workload in the highest-total game on the slate.
Devin Singletary ($5,700 DraftKings, $6,900 FanDuel): Buffalo Bills (-4) vs. New England Patriots
Singletary is particularly interesting this week, given the expected five-degree temperature in Buffalo at game time. Josh Allen has struggled in cold weather in the past, which should shift Buffalo’s focus to the ground.
Singeltary should be the main beneficiary of that shit, as Buffalo seems to have settled on him as their lead back. He is averaging 19 carries per game over the last four contests and an additional 2.5 targets.
Of course, New England features a top-10 rushing defense by DVOA and a middle-of-the-road Opponent Plus/Minus Allowed to the position. The efficiency isn’t likely to be great for Singletary, but he can access a big score through volume and perhaps a touchdown. He has at least five red-zone carries in each of the last four games.
Singeltary is a solid salary-saver for Saturday’s slate, which looks to have fairly tight pricing. With both of the other top running backs (Jacobs and Mixon) playing in the same game (and needing opposite game scripts to have big days), pivoting from one of them to Singletary makes sense here.
Sony Michel ($5,400 DraftKings, $6,700 FanDuel): Los Angeles Rams (-4) vs. Arizona Cardinals (49.5 total)
For anyone playing the full six-game slate, we also have Sony Michel in play. Michel has one of the wider ranges of outcomes this week. Cam Akers returned to the Rams last week after a preseason Achilles injury. Akers only had eight total touches, but three of them were targets. It’s likely that the Rams prefer Akers in the pass game, which hurts Michel here.
Still, expect Michel to be the lead back as Akers eases back into things. He’s averaged 21.5 carries and over three targets over the past six weeks. Even if Akers cuts into those figures, he’s still fairly cheap for his role.
Looking at year-long stats, it’s not a great matchup with the Cardinals. However, they’ve allowed some notable running back scores lately. Rashad Penny and David Montgomery both had big days against the Cardinals defense.
There’s a lot of uncertainty around Michel this week, but that’s a good thing for tournaments. He could have a big day if the game script turns out as expected.