The Running Back Breakdown offers data-driven analysis for each week’s main NFL slate. For more of our weekly football content, visit the NFL homepage.
Injuries have depleted the running back position all season, and the absence of some of the game’s most electric backs will undoubtedly affect the performance of their respective offenses. Let’s breakdown some of the week’s top options out of the backfield. Be sure to consult our Vegas line and Market Share breakdowns to stay on top of Vegas- and workload-related trends heading into Sunday.
Although it has wider applicability, this breakdown is for the 11-game DraftKings and FanDuel main slates.
The Big One and Two-Headed Monster
DraftKings and FanDuel managed to agree on each of their top-seven running backs this week. All seven are studs in their own right, but our top-two priced backs in Week 15 each have a very solid case as this season’s fantasy MVP:
- Le’Veon Bell ($9,300 DraftKings, $9,400 FanDuel)
- Alvin Kamara ($8,600 DraftKings, $9,100 FanDuel)
- Mark Ingram ($8,200 DraftKings, $8,300 FanDuel)
This week’s top-priced backs are a RB1/WR2 and two RB1s grouped into the same backfield. Anything can happen in 2017.
The funny thing about my back is that it’s located on my Bell
Bell has been scratching fantasy player’s backs all season thanks to an absolutely ridiculous receiving workload. Overall, he’s converted 92 targets into a season-long 75-579-2 line, which would rank him as the 28th-most productive PPR wide receiver before factoring in his rushing numbers. Part of this is due to Bell’s generational rushing/receiving talent, but part is also a shift in the team’s philosophy since their Week 9 bye:
The Steelers have struggled to get a consistent rushing attack going all season despite Bell’s status as the league’s leading rusher, and the loss of right tackle Marcus Gilbert (suspension) in Week 12 didn’t exactly help kick things into gear. Instead of sending Bell into stacked boxes again and again, they’ve utilized Bell, along with their trio of talented receivers, to win on the outside. Ben Roethlisberger had thrown more than 40 passes only once in Weeks 1-10, but he’s met that threshold in each of the past four weeks. Bell has hung 4-65-0 and 10-68-0 receiving lines on the Patriots during his career and will be looking for redemption after being forced to leave last season’s AFC Championship early with a groin injury.
Per our Correlations Dashboard, the average correlation between a quarterback and his RB1 has been a middling 0.09. Bell and Roethlisberger’s fantasy production has a much stronger 0.26 correlation, which makes sense given the running back’s featured pass-game role. Consider using our Lineup Builder to stack Bell with Roethlisberger on Sunday.
Alvin and the ChipMarks
Kamara’s one-drive appearance in Week 14 left a sour taste on the tongues of many fantasy owners, but we must move on and continue to embrace him as one of the best rookie running backs ever. Even with three games remaining, Kamara has already joined an exclusive club of just four backs to gain at least 600 rushing/receiving yards and score 10-plus touchdowns as a rookie. Of course, Kamara has done all this while splitting duties with Ingram since Adrian Peterson was shipped to Arizona after Week 4:
Ingram and Kamara have each produced 21-plus DraftKings points per game. Ingram’s fantasy production has largely been thanks to his effective rushing and goal-line role, while Kamara has efficiently slashed defenses however he’s gotten the ball. They’ll face off against a talented Jets front that has held opponents to the seventh-fewest adjusted line yards per rush this season, but also one that ranks just 17th on runs up the middle – the area where the Saints offensive line has paced the league.
The Jets have allowed an additional 3.3 points per game (PPG) and 22.6 rushing yards on the road since Todd Bowles took over as head coach in 2015. There could be plenty of fantasy-friendly red zone opportunities for both backs, as the Saints will go to work as 16-point favorites at the Coors Field of Fantasy Football.
Up the Gut
LeSean McCoy ($8,400 DraftKings, $8,500 FanDuel): McCoy has balled out in two games with Nathan Peterman (concussion, questionable) under center, but the expected return of Tyrod Taylor (knee, probable) should help given Shady’s positive historical splits with rushing quarterbacks. Also working in McCoy’s favor is a matchup at New Era Field, where he’s averaged an additional 7.3 DraftKings PPG and a +4.8 Plus/Minus since joining the Bills in 2015. The Dolphins’ 14th-ranked defense in rush DVOA has allowed an additional 2.5 points and 21.1 rushing yards per game on the road since the beginning of last season. They’ll take on a Bills offense that hopes to welcome back left tackle Cordy Glenn (foot/ankle, questionable). Be sure to monitor our Injury Dashboard to track all fantasy-relevant injuries and projected game statuses.
Todd Gurley ($8,300 DraftKings, $8,400 FanDuel): Gurley’s MVP campaign could receive a major boost if the Rams can come away with a season-defining win in Seattle. He’s done it all for the offense, ranking among the top-five backs in runs of 15-plus yards, red zone touches, and yards per route run through 14 weeks. This ridiculously fantasy-friendly workload has helped him post a season-long +4.1 Plus/Minus and 62 percent Consistency Rating behind the league’s fourth-ranked offensive line in adjusted yards. Next up is a Seahawks defense he’s failed to gain 55 rushing yards or a touchdown against in three of four meetings, but they could be without linebackers Bobby Wagner (hamstring, questionable) and K.J. Wright (concussion, questionable).
Leonard Fournette ($7,500 DraftKings, $8,000 FanDuel): Fournette (quad, questionable) checks multiple boxes this week via his Vegas outlook, matchup, and workload if he’s ultimately able to suit up:
- The Jaguars are currently implied to score the fourth-most points in Sunday’s main slate and are 11.5-point home favorites.
- The Texans’ sixth-ranked defense in rush DVOA has largely played well, except on runs around right end, where they’ve allowed 7.3 yards per carry (Sharp Football Stats) and rank 32nd in DVOA. The Jaguars have averaged 5.6 yards around right end while ranking 12th in DVOA.
- Fournette’s 260 touches are tied for the fifth-most among all running backs this season, and life in the league’s most run-heavy offense has produced the sixth-most goal-line carries among all running backs.
Jamaal Williams ($6,500 DraftKings, $7,300 FanDuel) and Aaron Jones ($4,200 DraftKings, $5,200 FanDuel): In two weeks post-Ty Montgomery (ribs, IR), Williams has out-touched and out-snapped Jones 45-5 and 98-10. Now he’ll finally benefit from the presence of Aaron Rodgers (collarbone, probable). Overall, the Packers have averaged an additional 8.9 PPG in Rodgers’ five complete starts this season. Williams has the second-highest projected ceiling among all running backs priced $6,500 or under on DraftKings but has a tough matchup against the Panthers’ fifth-ranked defense in rush DVOA that has allowed 4.4 points below salary-based expectations to running backs.
Rex Burkhead ($6,400 DraftKings, $6,500 FanDuel), Dion Lewis ($5,400 DraftKings, $6,300 FanDuel), and James White ($3,600 DraftKings, $4,800 FanDuel): The Patriots backfield has taken form following the team’s Week 9 bye:
White still gets work as the third-down and two-minute back, but Burkhead has received the most fantasy-friendly workload of the group. The Steelers’ 29th-ranked defense in DVOA against receiving running backs wasn’t very well positioned to deal with the Patriots to begin with, and the loss of Ryan Shazier (spine, IR) could be the last straw to break the camel’s back. Overall, the Steelers have allowed 400-plus total yards in 50 percent of their eight games without Shazier since 2015 compared to just 21 percent of their 37 games with him.
Christian McCaffrey ($6,000 DraftKings, $6,900 FanDuel) and Jonathan Stewart ($4,100 DraftKings, $5,800 FanDuel): Stewart’s three-touchdown performance last Sunday has bumped his salary to Week 4 levels on DraftKings, while McCaffrey’s price tag has reached its lowest mark since Week 6. Both backs are set up well against a Packers defense that has allowed 120-plus rushing yards in three consecutive weeks. McCaffrey’s two to four percent projected ownership in our Pro Models is well below his average mark of 9.7 percent on DraftKings. Be sure to check out our Ownership Dashboard shortly after lock to view player ownership levels across various contest sizes.
Kenyan Drake ($5,800 DraftKings, $6,500 FanDuel): Drake’s audition as the Dolphins’ lead back has gone great, as he’s averaged 167 total yards on 28 touches per game over the past two weeks with Damien Williams (shoulder, questionable) sidelined. Only Gurley and Alex Collins have posted a better Elusive Rating over that span, and Drake will look to keep rolling against the Bills’ 24th-ranked defense in rush DVOA. His still-depressed salary on DraftKings and FanDuel alike gives him top-two projected ownership among running backs across the industry with Williams projected out.
Lamar Miller ($5,600 DraftKings, $6,200 FanDuel): Miller’s career-worst campaign in 2017 has consisted of a career-low 3.6 yards per carry and just one rush of 20-plus yards. He hasn’t had much help behind the league’s 23rd-ranked offensive line in adjusted line yards, and the expected return of Alfred Blue (concussion, probable) won’t help. Miller could still receive a plethora of volume if the Texans decide asking T.J. Yates to drop back 30-plus times is a death sentence against the Jaguars’ malicious pass rush and secondary. Either way, Miller will have his work cut out for him against a front seven that hasn’t allowed a non-scat back to gain over 15 DraftKings points since adding run-stuffer Marcell Dareus in Week 9.
DeMarco Murray ($4,700 DraftKings, $6,000 FanDuel) and Derrick Henry ($4,800 DraftKings, $6,200 FanDuel): Henry has a real case as one of the fastest players in the league, and he also offers agility and tackle-breaking ability seldom seen from a 6’3″ and 247-pound beast:
This man is 6'3" 245 pounds: pic.twitter.com/eN64X9nlRL
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 14, 2017
Unfortunately for Henry, the Titans haven’t made feeding their talented second-year back a priority. Murray has averaged 13.8 touches and 44.3 snaps per game since the Titans’ Week 8 bye compared to 10.2 touches and 22 snaps per game from Henry. The Titans have surpassed 24 points just once since September and face an improving 49ers defense that has allowed 90 or fewer rushing yards in three consecutive games. Both Titans backs are plenty capable of going off against the league’s 29th-ranked defense in DVOA, but determining which back will go off is easier said than done – and both backs carry projected floors of 3.4 DraftKings points or lower.
Carlos Hyde ($5,500 DraftKings, $6,900 FanDuel): Hyde’s 14.5 carries per game haven’t gone anywhere with Jimmy Garoppolo under center, but he’s totaled just six targets in two games with Garoppolo – a mark he met or surpassed in five of six games with C.J. Beathard. The positive of having Garoppolo in the fold is the offense has averaged 20.5 PPG after not surpassing 13 points in four of Beathard’s games, and Hyde has accordingly racked up seven red zone rushing attempts since Week 13 after having just six such carries in Weeks 6-12. He’ll take on a Titans defense fresh off allowing their second-highest rushing total of the season in their first game without both Derrick Morgan (knee, questionable) and Daquan Jones (biceps, IR).
Giovani Bernard ($5,300 DraftKings, $5,900 FanDuel): Joe Mixon (concussion, questionable) returned to a limited practice Thursday and should be considered very questionable for Sunday. Bernard gained 130 total yards in his first career game as the Bengals’ featured back, out-snapping and out-touching backup Brian Hill 46-7 and 17-3, respectively. Bernard and the Bengals now have a much tougher matchup on the road against the Vikings’ ninth-ranked defense in DVOA that has held notable receiving backs Bell (4-4-0), Duke Johnson (3-10-0), Kamara (4-20-0), Gurley (3-19-0), and McCaffrey (3-18-0) in check. Bernard’s price tag on DraftKings is as high as it’s been since 2014.
Alex Collins ($5,000 DraftKings, $6,600 FanDuel) and Danny Woodhead ($4,200 DraftKings, $5,000 FanDuel): The Ravens entered their Week 10 bye at 4-5, but they have since worked their way into playoff contention after deciding to run the offense through Collins. Overall, he’s racked up at least 15 carries in four consecutive games, and Collins is one of just 10 running backs to average over 15 DraftKings PPG since November. Woodhead’s return has consisted of fewer than five rush attempts on top of just 4.3 targets per game. They’ll look to cash in on a potential abundance of fantasy-friendly opportunities against the Browns’ 29th-ranked scoring defense behind the league’s sixth-ranked offense line in adjusted line yards.
Jay Ajayi ($5,000 DraftKings, $6,100 FanDuel): Head coach Doug Pederson has notoriously been inconsistent on a week-to-week basis in how he distributes his running back touches. Still, it’d make sense if the team decided to embrace a run-first philosophy in the absence of Carson Wentz (ACL, IR), and we saw the first glimpses of that last week when Ajayi racked up 15 carries and 43 snaps – his most since joining the Eagles. Ajayi has averaged 7.0 yards per carry with the Eagles and may have emerged as the team’s most-effective back for a great matchup against the Giants’ 24th-ranked defense in rush DVOA that has allowed over 100 rushing yards in all but one game this season.
Kerwynn Williams ($4,000 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel): Head coach Bruce Arians admitted he’s not sure if Adrian Peterson (neck, questionable) will play again this season. Williams has worked as the team’s featured back in his absence, out-snapping and out-touching D.J. Foster 69-49 and 37-11, respectively. Still, he may be without guards Earl Watford (ankle, questionable) and Alex Boone (back, questionable) in addition to left tackle Jared Veldheer (ankle, IR). It’s tough to have a ton of hope for the league’s 32nd-ranked offense in rush DVOA on the road, even in a plus matchup against the Redskins’ league-worst defensive line in adjusted line yards allowed per rush.
The Model Running Backs
There are several running backs atop the Pro Models built by Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, and Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek), with the following four backs standing out among multiple models:
- Samaje Perine ($4,800 DraftKings, $6,700 FanDuel)
- Mike Davis ($4,000 DraftKings, $5,800 FanDuel)
- Latavius Murray ($4,900 DraftKings, $6,200 FanDuel)
- Jerick McKinnon ($4,800 DraftKings, $5,900 FanDuel)
Perine’s stranglehold on the Redskins’ backfield only grew tighter with the team’s decision to end Byron Marshall‘s (hamstring, IR) season. Undrafted rookie LeShun Daniels is expected to work as Perine’s backup, a role which gifted Marshall an average of seven touches in two full games without Chris Thompson (leg, IR). Perine’s workload post-Thompson has reflected that of a true three-down back, as he ranks sixth among all running backs in total touches since Week 10.
Despite the massive newfound workload, Perine’s price has sunk by $800 on DraftKings to its lowest mark since before Thompson was injured. His matchup against the Cardinals’ third-ranked defense in rush DVOA isn’t great, although three of four backs to score 20-plus DraftKings points on the Cardinals have done so at home this season. Perine is set up well as a home favorite while carrying the fourth-highest projected floor and highest Projected Plus/Minus among all running backs.
Davis has worked as the Seahawks’ featured back for roughly 10 quarters of football, but he’s shown the ability to consistently make plays on both the ground and through the air. Davis’ ability to utilize jump cuts while reading his blocks is punctuated by an ability to create yards after contact that has been absent from the team’s backfield all season:
45 seconds of Mike Davis doing v athletic things vs. the Jaguars and Eagles: pic.twitter.com/5C0f4pGQOF
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 14, 2017
Davis was limited in practice Wednesday due to a ribs injury, but his status for Sunday is not thought to be in jeopardy. The presence of Duane Brown at left tackle has somewhat stabilized one of the league’s worst offensive lines, and Davis’ average of 4.0 yards per carry this season is well above Eddie Lacy‘s and Thomas Rawls‘ replacement-level averages of 2.6 yards per attempt. J.D. McKissic remains involved as a change-of-pace back but has totaled just 10 total touches over the past two weeks while taking a backseat to Davis. The Rams’ 19th-ranked defense in rush DVOA has allowed at least 110 rushing yards in all six of their road games this season. Davis is an especially great value on DraftKings, where his $4,000 price tag includes an 89 percent Bargain Rating and the second-highest Projected Plus/Minus among all running backs.
Murray and McKinnon have established an efficient committee since losing Dalvin Cook (ACL, IR) in Week 4. Overall, Murray has averaged 11.5 DraftKings PPG on 16.8 touches, including 3.3 red zone carries per game, while McKinnon has racked up 15.0 DraftKings PPG on 16.3 touches, including 3.9 receptions per game. Both backs have proven capable of balling out simultaneously thanks to their split roles, but their outlook would obviously be improved with the presence of left tackle Riley Reiff (ankle, questionable) and/or right tackle Mike Remmers (back, questionable).
A healthy offensive line would be the icing on the cake for both backs, who are currently 11-point home favorites over a Bengals defense that could again be without starters Vontaze Burfict (concussion, questionable), Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion, questionable), Kevin Minter (hamstring, questionable), and Nick Vigil (ankle, IR). Even if the majority of these players wind up suiting up, both backs are set up well against a Bengals defense that has allowed the most DraftKings PPG and highest Plus/Minus to running backs this season.
Positional Breakdowns & Tools
Be sure to research the running backs for yourself with our tools and read the other Week 15 positional breakdowns:
Good luck this week!
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