The Week 17 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Jan. 3, 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.
Week 17 is heavy on news: Within the overall playoff picture, some teams are highly motivated while other teams are likely to rest starters. It’s probable that some players at the top of our Models and rankings early in the week will be much lower by the weekend.
As news breaks 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 eight 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 17 fantasy football rankings (as of Wednesday afternoon).
- Dalvin Cook: No. 1 (PPR) | No. 4 (Half PPR) | No. 4 (STD)
- Alvin Kamara: No. 2 (PPR) | No. 6 (Half PPR) | No. 7 (STD)
- Josh Jacobs: No. 9 (PPR) | No. 8 (Half PPR) | No. 10 (STD)
- Chris Carson: No. 11 (PPR) | No. 22 (Half PPR) | No. 21 (STD)
- Ezekiel Elliott: No. 15 (PPR) | No. 22 (Half PPR) | No. 21 (STD)
- Malcolm Brown: No. 18 (PPR) | No. 32 (Half PPR) | No. 33 (STD)
- Nyheim Hines: No. 25 (PPR) | No. 32 (Half PPR) | No. 33 (STD)
- Latavius Murray: No. 35 (PPR) | No. 32 (Half PPR) | No. 33 (STD)
Of these eight, the two who stand out most to me are Cook and Kamara. (Yes, I like eating chalk. Why do you ask?) 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.
Dalvin Cook: Minnesota Vikings (-7) at Detroit Lions (54.5 Over/Under)
UPDATE (Sat. 1/2): Cook (personal) is out. Life — it’s not always easy.
We might as well change the name of this weekly piece to the “Dalvin Cook breakdown.” Almost every week, this guy warrants words. Side note: I’m 100% copying, pasting and tweaking my Cook analysis from previous breakdowns, because …
- It still applies.
- It is correct.
- It saves time.
Cook has enjoyed über-elite usage since returning from injury out of the bye.
- Week 8 (at GB): 48.6 PPR, 46.6 STD | 30-163-3 | 2-63-1, three targets
- Week 9 (vs. DET): 39.2 PPR, 37.2 STD | 22-206-2 | 2-46-0, two targets
- Week 10 (at CHI): 15.2 PPR, 11.2 STD | 30-96-0 | 4-16-0, four targets
- Week 11 (vs. DAL): 25.0 PPR, 20.0 STD | 27-115-1 | 5-45-0, five targets
- Week 12 (vs. CAR): 10.2 PPR, 6.2 STD | 18-61-0 | 4-21-0, four targets
- Week 13 (vs. JAX): 23.9 PPR, 17.9 STD | 32-120-0 | 6-59-0, nine targets
- Week 14 (at TB): 19.0 PPR, 17.0 STD | 22-102-1 | 2-8-0, four targets
- Week 15 (vs. CHI): 26.9 PPR, 21.9 STD | 24-132-1 | 5-27-0, five targets
- Week 16 (at NO): 16.5 PPR, 14.5 STD | 15-73-1 | 2-12-0, two targets
Despite leaving Week 5 early with a groin injury and missing Week 6, Cook leads the league with 1,918 yards from scrimmage, to which he has added 17 touchdowns. He’s a volume monster.
It’s no surprise that Cook is a top-three producer with 0.50 PPR and 0.44 STD points per snap (per Pro Football Focus).
As great as he was last season with 1,654 yards and 13 touchdowns in 14 games, he has been even better in 2020. Since returning to action in Week 8, Cook is No. 1 at the position with 23.0 expected fantasy points per game (minimum two games played, per RotoViz NFL Player Statistical Summary).
The Lions have allowed a league-high 26.7 fantasy points to opposing backfields with 375-1,731-18 rushing and 71-669-8 receiving.
Against the Lions in Week 9, Cook had a career-high 252 yards from scrimmage.
And he enters Week 17 with two extra days of rest because the Vikings played last week on Christmas.
Excluding his injury-shortened Week 15 last year, Cook has been no worse than a fantasy RB2 in every game since 2019 (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
A player extremely unlikely to bust, Cook leads all running backs in our Models with his floor projections and is the No. 1 option in the Hodge and Freedman Models for DraftKings, where he has a position-high nine Pro Trends.
Alvin Kamara: New Orleans Saints (-6.5) at Carolina Panthers (47.5 O/U)
UPDATE (Sat. 1/2): Kamara (COVID-19) is out. Are you kidding me?
Last week, the Camaro had one of the most clutch fantasy performances we’ve ever seen in Week 16. By the way …
- Did you see what I did there with the clever nickname? Kamara, Camaro. Get it? IT’S CLEVER.
- Get the Camaro/clutch pun? Because he’s car? … and a car has a clutch? Again, clever — but in a super subtle way.
- In using the word “clutch” as a superlative adjective, I think “clutchest” is preferable to “most clutch.” Right? I’m glad we agree on this.
Anyway, after last week’s 172-yard, six-touchdown performance, Camaro’s engine is humming.
As great as Kamara’s career has been, this season has clearly seen him at his best: He’s No. 1 in the league with 21 touchdowns and No. 3 with 1,688 yards from scrimmage. He’s a top-two back with 0.57 PPR and 0.44 STD points per snap.
With his rushing efficiency (5.0 yards per carry), goal-line role (15 carries inside the 5-yard line) and especially his receiving workload — Kamara has a position-high 53.5 air yards and yards after catch (AirYAC) per game — he is a game script-independent three-down back with an almost unmatched floor/ceiling combination.
AirYAC is a leading indicator of fantasy output. You can find it in the RotoViz NFL Player Statistical Summary.
For the year, Kamara is No. 1 in Hayden Winks’ fantasy usage model.
This week, Kamara has several factors in his favor.
First, he enters Week 17 with two extra days of rest because the Saints played last week on Christmas instead of Sunday.
Second, he has a great matchup against the Panthers, who are Nos. 28 & 29 with a 43.5 PFF run-defense grade and 20.3% pass-defense DVOA against running backs. Against them in Week 7 he was an efficient 14-83-0 rushing and 8-65-0 receiving on eight targets.
Third, he will be without wide receiver Michael Thomas (ankle, IR) and maybe also slot receiver Tre’Quan Smith (ankle). Without Thomas, the Saints could lean more on the running game, resulting in more carries for Kamara, who should also see more work as a receiver. In his eight Thomas-less games this year, Kamara has enjoyed a surge in rushing and receiving volume, which has predictably led to outsized fantasy production (per RotoViz Game Splits App).
Fourth, Kamara is on the positive side of his favorite/underdog splits (per our FantasyLabs Trends Tool).
- Favorite (50 games): 19.4 FanDuel points | +4.94 Plus/Minus | 66% Consistency Rating
- Underdog (15 games): 16.2 FanDuel points | +3.14 Plus/Minus | 60% Consistency Rating
Plus/Minus is a proprietary FantasyLabs metric that measures production adjusted for daily fantasy salary. Consistency Rating measures the percentage of games in which a player meets salary-based expectations.
If you factor out Taysom Hill’s four starts at quarterback in Weeks 11-14 and Drew Brees’ rusty return to action in Week 15, Kamara has been a fantasy RB1 in every game this year but one.
Kamara is the No. 1 back in the Hodge and Freedman 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.
Derrick Henry, Titans (-7.5) at Texans (56 O/U): Over the past three seasons, Henry is the only player in the league with at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing each year. The Titans have a slate-high 32-point implied Vegas total, and in quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s 25 regular-season starts with the Titans, the over is 20-4-1, good for a 61.5% return on investment (ROI, per our Bet Labs database). You can bet on this game at DraftKings.
For the season, Henry is No. 2 in the league with a 41% opportunity share. Henry leads all backs in our Models with his median and ceiling projections.
David Montgomery, Bears (+5) vs. Packers (52 O/U): In his 11 games without change-of-pace back Tarik Cohen (knee, IR) this season, Montgomery is No. 1 at the position with an 80% snap rate. Since returning from injury in Week 12, Montgomery is the No. 1 back with 25.2 PPR and 22.2 STD points per game. Opposing backfields are No. 5 against the Packers with 21.5 fantasy points per game on 312-1,397-13 rushing and 81-701-5 receiving.
Austin Ekeler, Chargers (-3.5) at Chiefs (44 O/U): The Chiefs plan to rest key starters, so Ekeler might face backups for much of the game. In his seven full games with quarterback Justin Herbert, Ekeler has impressed overall.
- 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
- Week 14 (vs. ATL): 23.6 PPR, 14.6 STD | 15-79-0 | 9-67-0, nine targets
- Week 15 (at LV): 11.9 PPR, 7.9 STD | 13-60-0 | 4-19-0, four targets
- Week 16 (vs. DEN): 15.8 PPR, 12.8 STD | 10-45-0 | 3-23-1, three targets
In his 16 regular-season games with double-digit carries, Ekeler has outperformed.
The Chiefs are Nos. 29 & 31 with a 1.9% rush-defense DVOA and 31.5% pass-defense DVOA against running backs.
Jonathan Taylor, Colts (-14) vs. Jaguars (49.5 O/U): Over his past five games, Taylor has seized control of the Colts backfield with 89-488-5 rushing and 13-95-1 receiving on 15 targets. The Jags have been wrecked by almost every running back to face them since the second half of last year. Here’s the full list for dramatic effect.
- 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
- Derrick Henry (Week 14): 36.2 PPR, 34.2 STD | 26-215-2 | 2-7-0, two targets
- J.K. Dobbins (Week 15): 15.1 PPR, 14.1 STD | 14-64-1 | 1-17-0, one target
- David Montgomery (Week 16): 20.1 PPR, 18.1 STD | 23-95-1 | 2-26-0, two targets
Not every back to face the Jags goes off, but almost every back has an above-average performance at worst.
Aaron Jones, Packers (-5) at Bears (52 O/U): Although Jones (hip) is dealing with an injury, he’s likely to play as the lead back. Against the NFC North, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is 45-27 against the spread (ATS, 22.4% ROI). You know I’m betting on the Packers this weekend.
You can bet on this game at FanDuel. Even though Jones hasn’t quite matched last year’s production (1,558 yards, 19 touchdowns vs. 1,374 yards, 10 touchdowns), he still has an identical 32% opportunity share this year.
Chris Carson, Seahawks (-5.5) at 49ers (46 O/U): In his four games since fully returning to action in Week 13, Carson is 56-273-1 rushing and 11-83-1 receiving with a backfield-high 57% snap rate and 31% opportunity share. The 49ers are without edge rushers Nick Bosa (knee, IR), Dee Ford (back, IR) and Ziggy Ansah (arm, IR) and defensive tackle Solomon Thomas (knee, IR). Carson is on the positive side of his splits with 16.5 DraftKings and 14.3 FanDuel points per game as a favorite in his three years as a lead back.
Josh Jacobs, Raiders (-2) at Broncos (50 O/U): Fantasy investors would have liked to see more from Jacobs this year, but I find such naysayers shallow and pedantic.
I am a young RB with 1,214 yards and 10 TDs entering Week 17.
People act like I’m a disappointment — but have you seen how few 1,000-10 RBs there actually are in the NFL?
I will be massively undervalued in 2021 fantasy drafts.
Who am I?
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) December 30, 2020
Against the Broncos in Week 10, Jacobs was 21-112-2 rushing and 4-24-0 receiving on four targets.
Jeff Wilson, 49ers (+5.5) vs. Seahawks (46 O/U): No. 1 back Raheem Mostert (ankle, IR) is out, as are wide receivers Deebo Samuel (hamstring) and Brandon Aiyuk (ankle). In the words of Lana Del Rey, “Dis is my show.” In his 10 career games with 10-plus carries, Wilson has balled out.
Without Mostert, Wilson was an electric 22-183-0 rushing and 1-21-1 receiving.
Melvin Gordon, Broncos (+2) vs. Raiders (50 O/U): No. 2 back Phillip Lindsay (hip, IR) is out, and in four games since the unfortunate Week 12 “Kendall Hinton” incident, Gordon is a pseudo-dominant 55-339-2 rushing and 8-54-0 receiving. The Raiders are No. 31 with a 2.2% rush-defense DVOA.
Giovani Bernard, Bengals (+13) vs. Ravens (43.5 O/U): In the absence of starter Joe Mixon (foot, IR), Bernard has had to split work with backups Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams, but he has averaged 12.1 carries and 4.2 targets since Week 7. In his 13 games without Mixon since 2017, Bernard has been serviceable at worst.
A strong receiving back, Bernard could benefit from a pass-heavy game script as a double-digit underdog.
Kenyan Drake, Cardinals (-1) at Rams (38.5 O/U): In seven games since returning from injury, Drake is 110-407-6 rushing and 15-93-0 receiving on 18 targets. Since joining the Cardinals in Week 9 of 2019, Drake has been at least a fantasy RB2 in 68% of games.
No. 2 back Chase Edmonds (hip) played hardly at all last week because of injury and is uncertain to suit up this week.
Gus Edwards, Ravens (-13) at Bengals (44.5 O/U): No. 1 back J.K. Dobbins (chest) exited Week 16 with an injury and is uncertain for Week 17. The dream lives on.
So today I woke up at 3 AM because my dog jumped off the bed & just looked at me like, “It’s time man,” so I got out of bed, went downstairs, opened the door, walked into the cold MN morning and, while my dog peed on some rocks, I said:
“Gus Edwards is the RB1 in Baltimore.”
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) November 16, 2020
Even if Dobbins plays, Edwards is likely to produce: Since Dobbins returned to action in Week 13, Edwards has held his own as a runner (38-277-2 vs. 49-265-4) and receiver (5-77-0 vs. 1-17-0). In his three NFL seasons, Edwards has been one of the league’s most no-nonsense North/South runners based on his Efficiency metric (per Next Gen Stats).
- 2018: 2.78 (1st)
- 2019: 2.93 (1st)
- 2020: 3.2 (3rd)
Edwards has 5.2 yards per carry on 402 career attempts and has rendered the services of benched starter Mark Ingram totally needless.
Nyheim Hines, Colts (-14) vs. Jaguars (49.5 O/U): See Taylor, Jonathan. That’s a long list. Hines is 17-73-2 rushing and 14-91-1 receiving on 17 targets in three games against the Jags since last year.
Darrel Williams, Chiefs (+3.5) vs. Chargers (44 O/U): No. 1 back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle/hip) is out, and backup Le’Veon Bell might see little playing time in a meaningless game, so Williams could get a lot of action as the Chiefs literally run out the clock on the regular season. In his five career games with eight-plus carries, Williams has been …
… not horrible? Maybe useful?
Dare Ogunbowale, Jaguars (+14) at Colts (49.5 O/U): No. 1 back James Robinson (ankle) is out, and Ogunbowale was 14-71-0 rushing and 3-7-0 receiving on five targets with a 71% snap rate in his absence last week. If I had something else to say about Ogunbowale, this is where I would put it.
Malcolm Brown, Rams (+1) vs. Cardinals (38.5 O/U): Quarterback Jared Goff (thumb) is almost certain not to play this week, so the Rams might lean more on the ground game — but No. 1 back Cam Akers (ankle) is also unlikely to play and Darrell Henderson (ankle, IR) is out. In a must-win game, Brown could see a lot of action. In his six games with double-digit carries since last year, Brown has been adequate.
Brown has position-high +4.66 and +3.91 Projected Plus/Minus values on DraftKings and FanDuel.
The Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs, Freedman is commonly called the Oracle & the Labyrinthian.
Pictured above: Dalvin Cook
Photo credit: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images