We’ve been treated to some fantastic performances through the first two weeks of the NFL regular season, and Week 3 should be no less exciting, gifting us a 13-game main slate on Sunday, Sept. 23, at 1 p.m. ET.
For analysis on the smaller slates, consult Chris Raybon’s premium strategy pieces (released throughout the week).
In writing this piece, I’ve relied primarily on the FantasyLabs Models. This breakdown is less of a comprehensive analysis of each running back and more of an introduction to this week’s players via our large suite of analytic DFS Tools. We’ll start with the two running backs at the top of the salary scale, follow with four rushers at the top of our individual Pro Models and finish with the rest of the slate’s fantasy-relevant backs.
For updates on Vegas spreads and over/unders, check out The Action Network Live Odds page.
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Highest-Priced Running Backs
This week, there is a clear tier of two at the top of the salary scale.
- Alvin Kamara: $9,500 DraftKings; $8,700 FanDuel
- Todd Gurley: $9,200 DraftKings; $9,300 FanDuel
Alvin Kamara: New Orleans Saints (+3) at Atlanta Falcons, 53 O/U
With teammate Mark Ingram serving a four-game suspension, Kamara has more or less done what people expected him to do. He leads the position with 32.0 DraftKings points per game, but his production has been uneven.
- Week 1: 46.1 DraftKings points, +25.73 Plus/Minus, eight rushes for 29 yards, 12 targets for nine receptions and 112 yards, three touchdowns, one two-point conversion
- Week 2: 17.9 DraftKings points, -5.30 Plus/Minus, 13 rushes for 46 yards, six targets for six receptions and 53 yards, zero touchdowns, one two-point conversion
Kamara’s Week 2 performance wasn’t awful on its own — he still finished as a top-12 point-per-reception (PPR) back — but the 31.03-point week-to-week divergence in Plus/Minus is terrifying. After leading the league in 2017 with 6.1 yards per carry, he’s averaging 3.6 this year, albeit with a league-high 8.4 defenders in the box per carry (PlayerProfiler.com).
Even with his rushing inefficiency, Kamara has been productive, especially as a pass-catcher. He has a position-high 57 PPR points through the air and is tied for first with eight missed tackles forced via the receiving game (Pro Football Focus). Kamara also ranks first among pass-catching backs in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement with 80 and fourth in Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) with a 58.5% mark.
Because of his receiving ability, Kamara is a locked-in three-down back with 79.2% of the snaps and 72.2% of the backfield opportunities (carries plus targets), and he’s likely to be used heavily as a receiver against the Falcons. Ever since defensive-minded head coach Dan Quinn joined the Falcons in 2015, they have employed a Cover-3 scheme that funnels receptions to running backs.
- 2015: 118 receptions (most in league)
- 2016: 109 receptions (most in league)
- 2017: 110 receptions (most in league)
And just last week the Falcons allowed 14 receptions and 102 yards receiving to the Panthers’ backfield on 17 targets. Given Kamara’s advantageous matchup against the Falcons and his expected pass-catching workload, Kamara has the highest median and ceiling projections among all DraftKings backs in our Models.
There are, though, a couple of issues with Kamara. With his matchup and recent production, Kamara will have a high ownership rate in guaranteed prize pools, which makes him less attractive, especially since he’s expensive and not playing at the Coors Field of fantasy football. If you’re going to roster Kamara, it’s probably best to do so on FanDuel, where he has a position-high 99% Bargain Rating and is the top-rated back in the Koerner, Raybon and Freedman Models.
Todd Gurley: Los Angeles Rams (-7) vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 48 O/U
We mentioned on the midweek edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast that most DFS players will need to choose between Kamara and Gurley this week, and there are a lot of reasons to like Gurley. Ever since HC Sean McVay showed up in LA, Gurley has easily been the best back in football, leading the position with 27.3 DraftKings points per game, a +7.90 Plus/Minus, and 2,313 yards and 23 touchdowns from scrimmage. Gurley is playing 80.0% of the snaps on the team now favored to win Super Bowl 53 — the Rams jumped over the Patriots to become the No. 1 team in The Action Network NFL Power Rankings — and, barring a mid-game injury, he’s a mortal lock for 18-plus opportunities, a threshold he’s hit in every game in the McVay era.
Last year Gurley led the league (in 15 games) with 37 opportunities inside the 10-yard line, and he’s back at it again in 2018: Through two games, he has nine carries and one target inside the 10 — and that doesn’t take into account his two successful two-point conversions in Week 2. With his goal-line opportunities and scoring prowess, it’s not a surprise that Gurley leads all non-quarterbacks with his +2000 odds to win the 2018 MVP award.
Gurley is a big home favorite, which is normally a good situation for lead backs, but it’s notable that with McVay, Gurley has had significant reverse home/road and favorite/dog splits.
- Home vs. Road: 21.6 DraftKings points vs. 31.2
- Favorite vs. Dog: 26.7 DraftKings points vs. 28.9
- Home Favorite: 20.5 DraftKings points
Even so, Gurley is worth having exposure to in guaranteed prize pools because of his high usage and multi-touchdown upside. For tournaments, use our Lineup Builder to stack Gurley with quarterback Jared Goff. Since 2014, No. 1 backs on average have had a 0.30 correlation with their quarterbacks. With Goff, Gurley has had a robust 0.66 correlation. Goff is projected for low ownership, so he could help differentiate Gurley lineups, especially since some DFS players will want to avoid QB-RB stacks. Last week, Goff and Gurley were rostered together in just 1.46% of Millionaire Maker lineups.
Gurley leads all backs in Pro Trends with nine on DraftKings and 14 on FanDuel, where he has position-high median, ceiling and floor projections.
Model Running Backs
Besides Kamara, there are four running backs atop the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
- Christian McCaffrey: $7,800 DraftKings; $7,900 FanDuel
- Kareem Hunt: $6,000 DraftKings; $7,900 FanDuel
- Dalvin Cook: $7,100 DraftKings; $6,500 FanDuel
- Latavius Murray: $5,800 DraftKings; $5,200 FanDuel
Christian McCaffrey: Carolina Panthers (-3) vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 44 O/U
One season after leading all running backs and also the Panthers with 113 targets, McCaffrey is at it again. Through two games, McCaffrey has a position- and team-high 24 targets (on an astounding 0.34 market share), and he’s second in the league to only Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas with his 20 receptions, which he’s turned into an NFL-high 142 yards after the catch. With just 18 carries, McCaffrey is more of a backfield-based slot-esque receiver than a running back, especially since he’s averaging 34 routes per game, but that’s not to say that McCaffrey’s a part-time player: He’s been on the field for 89.6% of the snaps. He’s gotten just 36% of the team’s total carries, but only the true, big-bodied lead backs have more than his 42 opportunities, which he’s turned into 22.7 DraftKings points per game, a +7.43 Plus/Minus and 100% Consistency Rating.
Although McCaffrey has been used lightly as a rusher, he’s been much more effective this year in that capacity, pushing last year’s 3.7 yards per carry up to 4.8. It helps that 55.6% of his runs have come against light fronts, but that shouldn’t diminish what he’s done with a fractured offensive line: Left tackle Matt Kalil (knee) and right tackle Daryl Williams (knee) are both on injured reserve. Right guard Trai Turner (concussion) missed Week 2 and is questionable for Week 3. 2017 All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell is now on the Jaguars. Center Ryan Kalil hasn’t had a PFF pass-blocking grade above 60 since 2016. That McCaffrey has managed to do anything as a runner is impressive.
Like the Falcons, whom McCaffrey torched last week with a 14-102-0 receiving line on five targets, the Bengals play a Cover-3 defense that exposes them to backfield targets. The Bengals have already allowed 23 targets to a collection of Colts and Bengals backs who don’t have McCaffrey’s pass-catching skills, and over the past few seasons opposing backs have been involved heavily in the receiving game.
- 2015: 131 targets (sixth most)
- 2016: 134 targets (second most)
- 2017: 136 targets (second most)
The Bengals are without their best coverage linebacker in Vontaze Burfict (suspended). On the positive side of his splits as a home favorite, McCaffrey could see double-digit targets for the second game in a row: In his seven favored home games, McCaffrey has averaged 17.5 DraftKings points with a +3.72 Plus/Minus and 71.4% Consistency Rating.
On Sunday morning, I will definitely look for action on McCaffrey’s reception prop. To find the best bets in the props market, use our Player Props Tool, which is powered by our industry-leading projections. Since Week 1, the props with a bet quality of 10 have gone 40-23, good for a 63% win rate. Last week, McCaffrey over 4.5 receptions was one the bets we highlighted. Straight cash, homey.
McCaffrey is the highest-rated FanDuel back in the Levitan Model.
Kareem Hunt: Kansas City Chiefs (-6.5) vs. San Francisco 49ers, 56.5 O/U
Hunt is the highest-rated DraftKings back in all of our Pro Models. Every. Single. One. He’s $900 cheaper on DraftKings than he was to start the season, even though …
- He has played 70.2% of the offensive snaps.
- He has averaged 18 opportunities per game.
- He has gotten two targets and two carries inside the 10-yard line.
Hunt has undoubtedly disappointed to date, averaging just 10.0 DraftKings points per game with a -4.89 Plus/Minus, but he’s still the same guy who last year led the league with a 1,327-yard rushing campaign and had an NFL-high 137 evaded tackles. He’s the lead back on a team averaging 40.0 points per game and led by the league’s most exciting quarterback — and the Chiefs-49ers over/under is approaching record levels.
Through two weeks, the Chiefs have absolutely punished Vegas. On a per-game basis, the Chiefs have drastically outperformed their year-to-date Vegas expectations. Specifically, they have …
- Outscored their implied totals by 16.63 points (No. 2 in league)
- Surpassed their game total by 22 points (No. 1)
- Covered their spreads by 11.25 points (No. 5)
It’s true that, under HC Andy Reid, Arrowhead Stadium has had a league-worst 14-26-0 over/under record: No home team since 2013 has lost over bettors more money (-31% ROI) than the Chiefs. But that was with a different quarterback. Patrick Mahomes is ready to make Arrowhead his … homes.
Since former HC Jim Harbaugh’s departure in 2015, the 49ers have allowed an NFL-high 6,749 yards and 58 touchdowns rushing.
Dalvin Cook & Latavius Murray: Minnesota Vikings (-16.5) vs. Buffalo Bills, 41 O/U
UPDATE (9/22): Cook (hamstring) has been ruled out. Murray will play as the feature back.
Cook is the No. 1 FanDuel back in the Bales Model; Murray, the No. 1 FanDuel back in the CSURAM88 and SportsGeek Models. It’s uncommon for one team to place two backs at the top of our Pro Models, but the Vikings aren’t an ordinary team — and the opposing Bills certainly aren’t. Playing on the road, the Bills opened as historically large September underdogs. From a spread-based perspective, it’s possible that the Bills are the most underrated team of Week 3, but even if that’s the case, they could still lose by 10-plus points, gifting the Vikings a run-heavy game script for much of the contest.
It’s almost impossible to say how bad the Bills have been this year. They’ve allowed a league-high 39.0 points per game to opponents, and they’ve been ravaged by a host of running backs (DraftKings points in parentheses).
- Week 1: Alex Collins (7.9), Javorius Allen (14.2), Kenneth Dixon (10.4)
- Week 2: Melvin Gordon (30.6), Austin Ekeler (12.8)
Given that the Bills last year allowed a league-high 29.1 DraftKings points per game to opposing backfields, their horrid performance this year probably is not a fluke.
Although he played 80.3% of the snaps and had 22 touches in Week 1, Cook (hamstring) was pulled early in Week 2, reportedly because of leg cramps. Cook failed to practice on Wednesday and as of now should be considered questionable to play. To date, Cook has been inefficient as a runner (3.0 yards per carry), but he’s been a strong receiver (9-107-0 on 12 targets). And he’s probably been even better than those numbers suggest, ranking first in the league with 18 missed tackles forced and a 150.3 Elusive Rating (PFF).
But this might be a dangerous spot to start Cook. The matchup is great, but he’s still returning from a knee injury that prematurely ended his 2017 campaign, and the Vikings almost certainly won’t need to rely on their prized back to beat the Bills handily.
Instead, you might want to consider Murray. Just look at what backups have done against the Bills this year, and remember that Murray is not an average backup. Since his 1,000-yard rushing campaign in 2015, Murray has averaged 12.6 DraftKings points on 14.4 carries and 2.4 targets per game. In 2015-17, Murray had 70 carries inside the 10-yard line. In that time, he and Devonta Freeman were the only backs with 20-plus such rushes each year. With his size (6-feet-2, 223 pounds), Murray is built to score goal-line touchdowns.
Murray has just 15 carries on the season, but with the injury to Cook, the advantageous matchup and the expected run-heavy game script, he might see that many in Week 3. Murray is on the positive side of his historical splits as a home favorite, averaging 16.4 PPR points per game in that situation since 2015.
Running Back Rundown
Ezekiel Elliott: Dallas Cowboys (+1.5) at Seattle Seahawks, 41.5 O/U
- $7,700 DraftKings; $8,200 FanDuel
- Zeke has 40 of the backfield’s 41 touches.
Saquon Barkley: New York Giants (+6) at Houston Texans, 42 O/U
- $7,600 DraftKings; $8,000 FanDuel
- Since targets became an official statistic in 1992, no running back has gotten more in their first two career games than Barkley, with 22.
Melvin Gordon & Austin Ekeler: Los Angeles Chargers (+7) at Los Angeles Rams, 48 O/U
- Gordon: $7,400 DraftKings; $8,400 FanDuel
- Ekeler: $4,400 DraftKings; $5,600 FanDuel
- Gordon has had 30-plus DraftKings points in two straight games; Ekeler has had 10-plus touches in each game and leads the position with 0.88 PPR points per opportunity.
David Johnson: Arizona Cardinals (+5.5) vs. Chicago Bears, 38 O/U
- $7,200 DraftKings; $8,200 FanDuel
- The pass-catching savant and former wide receiver has lined up in the slot or out wide on just 5.6% of his snaps this year vs. 20.4% in 2016.
Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon & Corey Grant: Jacksonville Jaguars (no spread) vs. Tennessee Titans, no O/U
UPDATE (9/22): There have been conflicting reports on Fournette (hamstring), whom we are expecting to be highly limited or not to play. Adam Schefter has said that Fournette is expected to play. Ian Rapoport has indicated that Fournette is likely to sit. Yeldon (ankle) is expected to play and will be the lead back in a committee with Grant if Fournette sits. The Jags are favored by 10 points and the over/under is 40.
- Fournette: $6,900 DraftKings; $7,700 FanDuel
- Yeldon: $5,100 DraftKings; $6,100 FanDuel
- Grant: $4,300 DraftKings; $5,600 FanDuel
- Fournette (hamstring) missed most of Week 1 and sat in Week 2 but is expected to play in Week 3; Yeldon (ankle) missed practice on Wednesday but should practice on Thursday and play after starting in Fournette’s place last week; Grant played 42.3% of snaps in Week 3 and had 11 opportunities but has averaged just 4.2 PPR points per game with Fournette active.
Jordan Howard & Tarik Cohen: Chicago Bears (-5.5) at Arizona Cardinals, 38 O/U
- Howard: $6,500 DraftKings; $7,400 FanDuel
- Cohen: $4,700 DraftKings; $5,600 FanDuel
- “Stonehand Howard” has eight receptions on nine targets to go along with his 29 rushes; despite the hype about his increased role entering the season, Cohen has played on 36.0% of snaps vs. 36.4% last year.
Tevin Coleman & Ito Smith: Atlanta Falcons (-3) vs. New Orleans Saints, 53 O/U
- Coleman: $6,400 DraftKings; $7,300 FanDuel
- Smith: $3,000 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel
- Coleman has averaged 15.5 PPR points in his four games without Devonta Freeman (knee); a well-rounded fourth-rounder, Smith had 10 touches last week as Coleman’s backup.
Chris Thompson & Adrian Peterson: Washington Redskins (+3) vs. Green Bay Packers, 45.5 O/U
- Thompson: $6,300 DraftKings; $6,500 FanDuel
- Peterson: $4,900 DraftKings; $6,500 FanDuel
- Thompson leads the team with 21 targets, 19 receptions, 155 yards receiving and 119 yards after the catch; Peterson impresses with the occasional 25-touch performance but has averaged just 3.1 yards per carry since 2016.
Giovani Bernard & Mark Walton: Cincinnati Bengals (+3) at Carolina Panthers, 44 O/U
- Bernard: $5,900 DraftKings; $6,400 FanDuel
- Walton: $3,500 DraftKings; $4,900 FanDuel
- Bernard (knee) was limited in Wednesday’s practice but should lead the backfield with Joe Mixon (knee) out — Bernard averaged 16.2 PPR points in his two Mixon-less games last year; Walton is a 21-year-old fourth-rounder who has yet to play an NFL snap.
Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles & Corey Clement: Philadelphia Eagles (-6.5) vs. Indianapolis Colts, 47.5 O/U
UPDATE (9/22): Ajayi (back) and Sproles (hamstring) have been ruled out. Clement is likely to play as the lead back with Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams in support.
- Ajayi: $5,700 DraftKings; $6,600 FanDuel
- Sproles: $4,400 DraftKings; $5,000 FanDuel
- Clement: $4,300 DraftKings; $5,800 FanDuel
- Ajayi (back) is questionable for Week 3 after missing practice on Wednesday and part of the game in Week 2; Sproles (hamstring) missed Week 2, has yet to practice and will probably sit in Week 3; Clement seems likely to get extensive run in quarterback Carson Wentz’s return.
Kenyan Drake & Frank Gore: Miami Dolphins (-3) vs. Oakland Raiders, 43.5 O/U
- Drake: $5,600 DraftKings; $6,800 FanDuel
- Gore: $3,700 DraftKings; $5,300 FanDuel
- The Raiders’ rush defense is dead last in the league with a 21.7% DVOA.
Matt Breida, Alfred Morris & Kyle Juszczyk: San Francisco 49ers (+6.5) at Kansas City Chiefs, 55.5 O/U
- Breida: $5,400 DraftKings; $6,200 FanDuel
- Morris: $3,700 DraftKings; $5,500 FanDuel
- Juszczyk: $3,100 DraftKings; $4,500 FanDuel
- Breida leads the league with 184 yards rushing but has a troublesome snap rate of just 42.3%; ALF has the same number of opportunities (28) as Breida and a larger snap share (50.0%); Juicy has averaged 3.7 targets and 37.7 receiving yards per game in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s seven starts with the 49ers.
Alex Collins & Javorius Allen: Baltimore Ravens (-5.5) vs. Denver Broncos, 44 O/U
- Collins: $5,200 DraftKings; $6,300 FanDuel
- Allen: $4,600 DraftKings; $4,900 FanDuel
- Collins has just 20 touches on the year and has faced boxes with eight-plus defenders on a league-high 62.5% of his carries (Next Gen Stats); the Sith Lord is a pass-catching, touchdown-stealing menace to Collins backers with 13 targets, two 1-yard scores and a backfield-leading 43.6% of snaps played through two weeks.
LeSean McCoy: Buffalo Bills (+16.5) at Minnesota Vikings, 41 O/U
UPDATE (9/22): McCoy (ribs) is expected not to play. Backfield duties will likely be shared between Chris Ivory and Marcus Murphy.
- $5,100 DraftKings; $6,500 FanDuel
- Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Lamar Miller & Alfred Blue: Houston Texans (-6) vs. New York Giants, 42 O/U
- Miller: $5,000 DraftKings; $6,700 FanDuel
- Blue: $3,600 DraftKings; $5,000 FanDuel
- Miller has averaged 14.2 PPR points per game when the Michael Jordan of fantasy football is the starting quarterback; Blue has carries on 12 of his 27 snaps.
Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin & Jalen Richard: Oakland Raiders (-3) at Miami Dolphins, 43.5 O/U
- Lynch: $4,900 DraftKings; $6,400 FanDuel
- Martin: $3,900 DraftKings; $5,100 FanDuel
- Richard: $3,400 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
- Lynch is the only Raiders back to touch the ball inside the 10-yard line (four carries, two receptions); Martin has played just 25 snaps but has 14 touches; Richard is a game script-dependent back who didn’t touch the ball in Week 2 until the second half.
Jamaal Williams & Ty Montgomery: Green Bay Packers (-3) at Washington Redskins, 45.5 O/U
- Williams: $4,800 DraftKings; $5,900 FanDuel
- Jones: $4,300 DraftKings; $5,500 FanDuel
- Montgomery: $3,500 DraftKings; $5,100 FanDuel
- Williams has had an average of 20.9 opportunities per game since becoming the lead back in Week 10 last year; Jones returns from suspension and enters an uncertain situation despite averaging 14.8 PPR points per game in four starts last year; Montgomery has run routes or pass-blocked on 43-of-50 snaps through two weeks.
Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman & Devontae Booker: Denver Broncos (+5.5) at Baltimore Ravens, 44 O/U
- Lindsay: $4,600 DraftKings; $6,400 FanDuel
- Freeman: $4,200 DraftKings; $6,000 FanDuel
- Booker: $3,500 DraftKings; $5,200 FanDuel
- Lindsay notched 15-plus touches and 100-plus scrimmage yards in each game to open the season and has been the league’s most north/south runner with a 2.72 Efficiency Rating (Next Gen Stats); despite being a top-100 pick, Freeman has been out-touched and outplayed by an undrafted rookie; Booker has seen fewer than 10 snaps in each game.
Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins & Nyheim Hines: Indianapolis Colts (+6.5) at Philadelphia Eagles, 47.5 O/U
UPDATE (9/22): Mack (foot, hamstring) has been ruled out.
- Mack: $3,800 DraftKings; $6,000 FanDuel
- Wilkins: $3,700 DraftKings; $5,600 FanDuel
- Hines: $3,600 DraftKings; $5,500 FanDuel
- Mack (foot, hamstring) got opportunities on 12-of-18 snaps in his Week 2 debut but has yet to practice this week and seems likely to miss Week 3; Wilkins has gotten 28 of his 29 touches on first and second downs; Hines has run routes on 46-of-62 snaps.
Dion Lewis & Derrick Henry: Tennessee Titans (no spread) at Jacksonville Jaguars, no O/U
UPDATE (9/22): Quarterback Marcus Mariota (elbow, questionable) is a theoretical game-time decision but expected not to start. The Jags are favored by 10 points and the over/under is 40.
- Lewis: $4,500 DraftKings; $5,700 FanDuel
- Henry: $4,400 DraftKings; $6,000 FanDuel
- Lewis is the size of Henry’s backpack yet has carried more of the backfield load with 30 carries, nine targets and 64.8% of the snaps; Henry (back) was limited in Wednesday’s practice but is expected to bring his 2.9 yards per carry to the field in Week 3.
Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny & C.J. Prosise: Seattle Seahawks (-1.5) vs. Dallas Cowboys, 41.5 O/U
- Carson: $4,300 DraftKings; $6,400 FanDuel
- Penny: $4,100 DraftKings; $6,100 FanDuel
- Prosise: $3,100 DraftKings; $4,600 FanDuel
- Carson has a position-high 98% DraftKings Bargain Rating but had just one second-half opportunity in Week 2; Penny has had 12 opportunities in both games; Prosise has more snaps on special teams (29) than offense (25).
Positional Breakdowns & News
Be sure to read the other Week 3 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players. Be sure to stay ahead of your competition with our industry-leading DFS-focused news blurbs.
Photo credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Pictured above: Kereem Hunt