The Week 14 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Dec. 9, 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.
As news breaks throughout the week and we adjust our projections, where players rate in our Models will change. For updates, visit the Models directly.
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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 14 fantasy football rankings (as of Wednesday afternoon).
- James Robinson: No. 3 (PPR) | No. 4 (Half PPR) | No. 3 (STD)
- Derrick Henry: No. 4 (PPR) | No. 3 (Half PPR) | No. 1 (STD)
- Aaron Jones: No. 6 (PPR) | No. 6 (Half PPR) | No. 8 (STD)
- David Montgomery: No. 9 (PPR) | No. 10 (Half PPR) | No. 12 (STD)
- Ronald Jones: No. 15 (PPR) | No. 14 (Half PPR) | No. 14 (STD)
- Jamaal Williams: No. 35 (PPR) | No. 35 (Half PPR) | No. 35 (STD)
Of these six, the two who stand out most to me are Henry and Aaron Jones. The other guys I will highlight as needed in the section on players with week-winning upside.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
For more in-depth NFL analysis, check out The Action Network.
Derrick Henry: Tennessee Titans (-7) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (53 Over/Under)
In a George Costanza voice: “December! December!”
It’s here: The season for peace and goodwill and massive fantasy production for the Big Dog.
November has also been good to Henry, and January has seen him put up some legendary playoff performances, but December is as good as it gets (per our FantasyLabs Trends Tool).
Derrick Henry fantasy points per game by month since 2018:
– Sep: 13.7
– Oct: 14.6
– Nov: 20.0
– Dec: 25.0
Data from @FantasyLabs Trends Tool
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) December 9, 2020
Especially in the post-DeMarco Murray era, Henry has shined in the second half of the season, and this week against the Jags he should be extraordinarily bright.
The Jags have been dominated by almost every running back to face them since the second half of last year:
- Carlos Hyde (Week 9 of 2019): 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 of 2020): 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
- BYE WEEK (Week 8): Yep, they’re still bad.
- Duke Johnson (Week 9): 15.3 PPR, 11.3 STD | 16-41-1 | 4-32-0, four targets
- Aaron Jones (Week 10): 14.5 PPR, 9.5 STD | 13-46-0 | 5-49-0, six targets
- James Conner (Week 11): 12.9 PPR, 9.9 STD | 13-89-0 | 3-10-0, three targets
- Nick Chubb (Week 12): 26.6 PPR, 23.6 STD | 19-144-1 | 3-32-0, three targets
- Dalvin Cook (Week 13): 23.9 PPR, 17.9 STD | 32-120-0 | 6-59-0, nine targets
Not every back to face the Jags goes off, but almost every back has an above-average performance at worst.
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.
This is a great matchup for Henry, who has dominated the divisional rival Jags throughout his career when getting sufficient usage.
Derrick Henry w/ 10+ carries vs. Jags
– W8, 2016: 16-60-1, 4-37-0 (5 targets)
– W2, 2017: 14-92-1
– W17, 2017: 28-51-0, 1-66-1 (2)
– W3, 2018: 18-57-0, 0-0-0 (1)
– W14, 2018: 17-238-4
– W3, 2019: 17-44-1, 1-2-0 (2)
– W12, 2019: 19-159-2, 1-16-0 (1)
– W2, 2020: 25-84-0, 0-0-0 (2)
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) December 9, 2020
In fact, it was against the Jags exactly two years ago — Week 14 of 2018 — that Henry had his career-defining breakout game on Thursday Night Football with 17-238-4 rushing, including an NFL-record 99-yard touchdown run.
In all 34 games since then, Henry has had no fewer than 16 touches. Over that span, he has averaged 20.4 PPR and 19.2 STD points, 124.6 yards and 1.15 touchdowns on 21.9 carries, 1.7 targets and 1.2 receptions per game (including postseason).
In the 31 regular-season games since his breakout performance, Henry has been a fantasy RB1 in 55% of his games despite his limited pass-catching usage (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
Henry is the NFL’s only player with 1,000-10 campaigns on the ground in each of the past three seasons, and this year he trails only Dalvin Cook with his 40% market share of team opportunities (carries plus targets, per RotoViz NFL Player Statistical Summary).
Henry is the Titans offense.
It’s just an added bonus that he’s on the positive side of the Vegas splits he has exhibited over the past three years.
- Favorite (24 games): 20.0 DraftKings points
- Underdog (21 games): 17.0 DraftKings points
In quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s 22 regular-season starts with the Titans, the over is 18-3-1, good for an 85.7% return on investment, per our Bet Labs database).
Points will be scored, and that’s a wonderful thing for Henry. You can bet on this game at DraftKings.
A locked-in top-five RB1 in season-long leagues, Henry is the No. 1 back in the Koerner Model for DraftKings.
Aaron Jones: Green Bay Packers (-7.5) at Detroit Lions (55 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 opportunity share 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 (10 games): 56% snap rate | 32% opportunity share
For 2020, Jones has 1,033 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing two games and playing through a calf injury in Week 9. Jones is in the top six with 0.51 PPR and 0.42 STD points per snap and 35.7 air yards and yards after the catch (AirYAC) per game.
AirYAC is a leading indicator of fantasy production and can be found in the RotoViz NFL Player Statistical Summary.
He’s doing it again.
Jones has a great matchup against the Lions, who are No. 26 with a 0.8% rush-defense DVOA and No. 32 with a 36.9% pass-defense DVOA against running backs (per Football Outsiders).
For the season, opposing backfields are No. 1 against the Lions with 27.8 fantasy points per game on 294-1,351-16 rushing and 59-582-7 receiving.
In his two career games as the lead back against the Lions, Jones has dominated.
- Week 2, 2020: 45.6 PPR, 14.6 STD | 18-168-2 | 4-68-1, four targets
- Week 17, 2020: 16.3 PPR, 14.3 STD | 25-100-0 | 2-43-0, six targets
Disclosure: I’m betting on the Packers this weekend.
I’m a pretty simple person: I like to bet on quarterbacks who win, and that’s what Aaron Rodgers is. A discount double-check winner.
For his career, he’s 117-82-5 ATS (15% ROI).
And he has been especially dominant against the NFC North. When facing divisional opponents, Rodgers is 45-26 ATS (24.1% ROI). You can bet on this game at FanDuel.
The Packers have a slate-high 31.5-point implied Vegas total. Jones should have the opportunity to put up fantasy points.
Jones is a mid-tier RB1 in season-long leagues and the No. 1 back in the SportsGeek and Hodge Models for FanDuel, where he has a position-high 15 Pro Trends.
For good measure, he’s also the top back in the Bales, CSURAM88, SportsGeek, Hodge and Freedman Models for 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.
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (-3.5) vs. Denver Broncos (46.5 O/U): After missing the past month, McCaffrey (shoulder) is tentatively expected to return to action this week, though he did pickup a new injury (quad) early this week. McCaffrey is No. 1 at the position with 23.7 expected fantasy points per game, and he could see more work in the passing game without No. 1 wide receiver D.J. Moore (ankle/COVID-19).
James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars (+7) vs. Tennessee Titans (53 O/U): Even on a 1-11 team ranking No. 27 with 20.9 points per game, Robinson has been a fantasy RB1 in 58% of his games.
Robinson is No. 4 with a 38% opportunity share, and against the Titans in Week 2 he was 16-102-1 rushing and 3-18-0 receiving. Robinson has a position-high +3.18 Projected Plus/Minus on FanDuel.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers (+2.5) vs. Atlanta Falcons (49.5 O/U): In his three four games with quarterback Justin Herbert, Ekeler has impressed, even with last week’s 45-0 loss to the Patriots.
- Week 2 (vs. KC): 18.8 PPR, 14.8 STD | 16-93-0 | 4-55-0, four targets
- Week 3 (vs. CAR): 31.3 PPR, 20.3 STD | 12-59-1 | 11-84-0, 11 targets
- Week 12 (at BUF): 23.9 PPR, 12.9 STD | 14-44-0 | 11-85-0, 16 targets
- Week 13 (vs. NE): 10.8 PPR, 6.8 STD | 8-36-0 | 4-32-0, nine targets
An elite receiver, Ekeler is No. 4 among all backs with 41.7 AirYAC per game this year, and in his 13 regular-season games with double-digit carries he has done well (per RotoViz Game Splits App).
Ekeler is the No. 1 back in Hayden Winks’ Week 14 Fantasy Usage Model.
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears (+1) vs. Houston Texans (45 O/U): In his eight games without change-of-pace back Tarik Cohen (knee, IR) this season, Montgomery is No. 1 at the position with an 81% snap rate. Opposing backfields are No. 2 against the Texans with 26.1 fantasy points per game on 322-1,677-15 rushing and 60-550-1 receiving.
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-6.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings (51.5 O/U): Imagine fading Jones as a home favorite off the bye right after his coach has said he needs more usage.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Bruce Arians said of getting Ronald Jones more involved. “He needs to have 20 touches.”
Said Jones’ lack of touches this past game were really a result of the Bucs needing their pass catchers on the field as they tried to play catch up.
— Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV) November 30, 2020
Jones trails only Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook and Nick Chubb with his four 100-yard rushing performances this year.
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts (-2.5) at Las Vegas Raiders (51.5 O/U): Over his past two games, Taylor seems to have assumed control of the Colts backfield with 35-181-0 rushing and 7-68-1 receiving. The Raiders are No. 32 with a 6.0% rush-defense DVOA.
Wayne Gallman, New York Giants (+3) vs. Arizona Cardinals (45.5 O/U): Since starter Devonta Freeman (ankle, IR) exited Week 7 early with an injury, Gallman is 94-428-6 rushing and 11-51-0 receiving. In his six games as the lead back, Gallman is No. 12 with 15.1 expected fantasy points per game. The Cardinals are No. 29 with a 45.7 run-defense grade (per Pro Football Focus).
Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins (+7) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (49.5 O/U): Running backs Matt Breida (COVID-19), Salvon Ahmed (shoulder) and DeAndre Washington (hamstring) were out last week, and the Dolphins might be without them again this week. In Gaskin’s return to action last week, he was 21-90-0 rushing and 2-51-0 receiving. The Chiefs are No. 30 with a 2.9% rush-defense DVOA and No. 31 with a 28.4% pass-defense DVOA.
Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals (-3) vs. New York Giants (45.5 O/U): In four games since returning from injury, Drake is 59-256-4 rushing and 10-64-0 receiving on 13 targets. Since joining the Cardinals in Week 9 of 2019, Drake has been at least a fantasy RB2 in 69% of games.
Since Week 10, Drake is No. 8 at the position with 17.0 expected fantasy points per game.
David Johnson, Houston Texans (-1) at Chicago Bears (45 O/U): In his Week 13 return from injury, Johnson was 10-44-1 rushing and 0-0-0 receiving with two targets — so not great. But this week the Texans will be without wide receivers Will Fuller (suspension), Kenny Stills (released), Randall Cobb (toe, IR) and maybe even Brandin Cooks (concussion?), so the Texans could lean more on Johnson as both a runner and receiver.
Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos (+3.5) at Carolina Panthers (46.5 O/U): In only one game this year has Gordon not had 12-plus opportunities, and last week he was 15-131-0 rushing and 1-11-0 receiving on two targets. The Panthers are No. 28 with 40.3 PFF run-defense grade.
Adrian Peterson, Detroit Lions (+7.5) vs. Green Bay Packers (55 O/U): No. 1 back D’Andre Swift (concussion/illness) has been out since Week 11, and in his absence Peterson is 38-130-4 rushing over the past three games. Swift is no lock to return this week, and opposing backfields are No. 3 against the Packers with 23.2 fantasy points per game.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals (+3.5) vs. Dallas Cowboys (43.5 O/U): In the absence of starter Joe Mixon (foot, IR), Bernard hasn’t had difference-making production this year, but he has averaged 10.8 carries and 4.3 targets over the past six weeks. In his 10 games without Mixon since 2017, Bernard has been serviceable at worst.
The Cowboys are No. 31 with a 3.4% rush-defense DVOA and just allowed 294 yards rushing to the Ravens last week.
J.D. McKissic, Washington Football Team (+3.5) vs. San Francisco 49ers (43.5 O/U): No. 1 back Antonio Gibson (toe) exited Week 13 with an injury and seems unlikely to play this week. Thanks to his receiving workload, McKissinc actually leads all Washington backs with 13.7 expected fantasy points per game, and he also is No. 1 with a 54% snap rate. In quarterback Alex Smith’s six games, McKissic has averaged 8.8 targets.
Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons (-2.5) at Los Angeles Chargers (49 O/U): Last week, Gurley was a woeful 8-16-0 rushing and 1-4-0 receiving in his return from injury. He’s a bad player with just 3.6 yards per carry and 3.4 yards per target this year. But the Chargers are No. 29 with a 1.9% rush-defense DVOA, and Gurley has managed to score nine touchdowns in 11 games with the Falcons.
Ty Johnson, New York Jets (+13.5) at Seattle Seahawks (47 O/U): Starter Frank Gore (concussion) exited Week 13 early, and in his place Johnson led the Jets backfield with 22-104-1 rushing and 2-13-0 receiving on two targets. What could go wrong with starting an Adam Gase back who opened the year as a fourth-stringer?
The Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs, Freedman is commonly called the Oracle & the Labyrinthian.
Pictured above: Grown Man Derrick Henry
Photo credit: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images