The Week 2 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Sep. 20, at 1 p.m. ET.
In this piece, I highlight the running backs who stand out in our large suite of analytical DFS Tools, most specifically our FantasyLabs Models, and I include plenty of actionable analysis relevant to season-long fantasy as well.
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Top Running Backs in the FantasyLabs Models
There are three 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.
- Derrick Henry: $7,900 DraftKings, $8,300 FanDuel
- Kenyan Drake: $5,900 DraftKings, $6,600 FanDuel
- Jonathan Taylor: $5,700 DraftKings, $5,400 FanDuel
Odds as of Wednesday afternoon and via DraftKings Sportsbook, where you can get up to a $1,000 sign-up bonus today.
Derrick Henry: Tennessee Titans (-9) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 42.5 Over/Under
Henry wasn’t overly impressive in Week 1: He averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and 5.0 yards per reception, and he didn’t score a touchdown. Even so, Henry finished with 131 yards and a palatable 14.6 FanDuel points.
That’s what happens when a guy receives 31 carries and three targets.
Last year, Henry had a league-best 303-1,540-16 rushing line, and he’s the NFL’s only player with 1,000-10 campaigns on the ground in each of the past two seasons.
In Week 14 of 2018, the Titans finally unleashed Henry and let the Big Dog roam. As it happens, that game was also at home against the divisional rival Jaguars. You remember it: Thursday Night Football, 226 yards after contact, nine broken tackles — and an NFL-record 99-yard touchdown run.
A 17-238-4 rushing masterpiece.
In every game since then, Henry has had no fewer than 16 touches. Over that span, he has averaged 20.4 FanDuel points, 128.3 yards and 1.17 touchdowns on 21.9 carries, 1.5 targets and 1.3 receptions per game (including playoffs).
In his 20 regular-season games since his career-breakout performance against the Jags, Henry has been a fantasy RB1 60% of the time (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
In his one game against the Jags last year with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Henry had 28.0 FanDuel points on 19-159-2 rushing and 1-16-0 receiving. In his four games against the Jags over the past two years, Henry has exceeded salary-based expectations by an outrageous average of 11.9 points.
It’s not as if Henry’s dominance of the Jaguars is a random occurrence. Last year, opposing backfields were No. 2 in the league with 27.4 FanDuel points per game against the Jags, who were No. 31 with a 9.3% rush-defense DVOA and No. 28 with a 25.8% pass-defense DVOA against running backs (per Football Outsiders).
And in Week 1, they were utterly exposed by Colts running backs Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines, who combined for 42.3 FanDuel points on 20-76-1 rushing and 17-142-1 receiving on 17 targets.
The matchup for Henry is highly advantageous, and in his nine games as a home favorite since 2018, Henry has averaged 18.4 FanDuel points with a +6.63 Plus/Minus and 77.8% Consistency Rating (per our FantasyLabs Trends Tool).
This week, Henry is a top-three back in season-long leagues and a high-floor/high-ceiling play for cash games and guaranteed prize pools alike, especially on FanDuel, where he has a position-high 13 Pro Trends and is the No. 1 option in the Bales, CSURAM88, Koerner and Freedman Models.
Kenyan Drake: Arizona Cardinals (-6.5) vs. Washington Football Team, 47.5 O/U
Drake was somewhat overshadowed in Week 1 by quarterback Kyler Murray and change-of-pace back Chase Edmonds. In the team’s 24-20 win over the 49ers, Murray led the team with his 13-91-1 rushing line, and Edmonds outperformed him with his 3-19-1 receiving line on five targets.
Next to those performances, Drake’s 16-60-1 rushing and 2-5-0 receiving output underwhelms.
Even so, fantasy investors shouldn’t be dissuaded from Drake in Week 2.
He still played 71% of the team’s offensive snaps last week, and since joining the Cardinals in Week 9 last year, Drake has seen at least 64% in each outing. Drake nearly has an every-down workload.
In his eight games with the Cardinals in 2019, Drake impressed with 814 yards and eight touchdowns on 15.4 carries and 4.4 targets per game. For the second half of the season, he was the No. 3 back with 21.1 DraftKings points per game. He was a star.
Washington entered the year with PFF’s No. 3 defensive line, and the Football Team held Eagles running backs to a league-low 11.6 DraftKings points in Week 1 — but I’m not putting much stock in that performance.
Edge defenders Ryan Kerrigan, Chase Young and Montez Sweat and defensive tackles Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne and Matt Ioannidis form an imposing hexad, but the Footballers are far better at rushing the passer than stopping the run. Last year, they were No. 27 with a 60.9 PFF run-defense grade, and opposing backfields were No. 3 with 30.3 DraftKings points per game.
In Week 1, the Eagles were without three starting offensive linemen — left tackle Andre Dillard (biceps, IR), right guard Brandon Brooks (Achilles, IR) and right tackle Lane Johnson (ankle) — as well as starting running back Miles Sanders (hamstring). During the game, fill-in starter Boston Scott missed time with an undisclosed injury, and third-stringer Corey Clement (quad) entered the game with a soft-tissue injury he was forced to play through.
The Week 2 Cardinals are not the Week 1 Eagles. Last year, Arizona was No. 2 with a 12.0% rush-offense DVOA and No. 3 with 5.0 yards per carry and 35.9 expected points contributed via the ground game. Washington is unlikely to repeat it’s Week 1 run-defense dominance.
A big home favorite, Drake is a locked-in RB1 in season-long leagues and clear cash-game candidate in DFS, especially on DraftKings, where he has a position-high nine Pro Trends and is the No. 1 back in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner, SportsGeek and Freedman Models.
Jonathan Taylor: Indianapolis Colts (-3) vs. Minnesota Vikings, 48.5 O/U
Priced as the No. 19 running back on FanDuel, Taylor is No. 8 at the position with his median projection. He will be the cash-game chalk.
Entering the season, Taylor was widely expected to share rushing work with Marlon Mack and to forfeit all receiving work to Nyheim Hines. All of that changed in Week 1, when Mack (Achilles, IR) suffered a season-ending injury and Taylor flashed a 6-67-0 receiving line on six targets. For the slate, Taylor was No. 1 at the position with 87 yards after the catch (per RotoViz Statistical Summary) and No. 5 with 5.58 yards per route (per PFF).
He didn’t do much on the ground with his 9-22-0 rushing line, but he emphatically addressed the biggest concern that talent evaluators had about him entering the league: His substandard work as a receiver. At Wisconsin, Taylor had -0.07 expected points per target for his career (per Sports Info Solutions). On 50 catchable targets, he had eight drops. He was a clear net negative in the passing game in college.
But maybe it will be different in the NFL. Remember that the physically and productively comparable LaDainian Tomlinson also did little in college as a receiver before becoming one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL. At a minimum, the early results for Taylor are encouraging, and he seems slated for regular targets from checkdown-inclined quarterback Philip Rivers.
And his lackluster Week 1 rushing performance is a nonissue. We know he can run the ball. In three college seasons, Taylor proved himself to be one of the most prolific rushers in college history (and he chipped in as a receiver as much as he could).
- 2017 (14 games): 299-1,977-13 rushing | 8-95-0 receiving
- 2018 (13 games): 307-2,194-16 rushing | 8-60-0 receiving
- 2019 (14 games): 320-2,003-21 rushing | 26-252-5 receiving
In his final season especially, Taylor seemed to score every time he touched the ball.
The Colts have PFF’s No. 1 offensive line, and Taylor is an athletic marvel with his 99th-percentile 121.7 Speed Score (per Player Profiler). At some point, he will start ripping off chunk runs and scoring touchdowns.
Maybe that will happen in Week 2.
Last week, the Vikings allowed Packers running backs to put up 28.1 FanDuel points on 28-139-1 rushing and 9-37-0 receiving with 11 targets, and with their struggles at cornerback — they have three new starters this year — the Vikings might allow the Colts to extend drives and gift Taylor multiple goal-line opportunities.
A high-end season-long RB2 with upside, Taylor will be incredibly popular in DFS cash games and tournaments and is the No. 1 back in the Raybon Models for both DraftKings and FanDuel.
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Upside Running Backs for Guaranteed Prize Pools
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers ($10,000 DK, $10,500 FD): Easily the No. 1 fantasy back in 2019, McCaffrey continued his run of dominance in Week 1 with a 23-96-2 rushing and 3-38-0 receiving performance. He averaged just 1.8 yards per carry and 3.8 yards per target in his two games last year against the Buccaneers, but his workload and talent make it impossible for him to be anything other than the No. 1 running back in our Week 2 fantasy rankings.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys ($8,200 DK, $8,600 FD): Although the Cowboys disappointed last week with just 17 points in their first game under head coach Mike McCarthy, Elliott was still the No. 3 fantasy back with 22-96-1 rushing and 3-31-1 receiving. The Cowboys-Falcons game has a slate-high 53-point over/under, and Elliott has position-high floor projections in our Models.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs ($7,400 DK, $8,000 FD): While he didn’t record a reception last week, the compact rookie was No. 1 in the league with 138 yards rushing and No. 4 with 4.24 yards after contact per carry (per PFF) — and the targets will come eventually.
HC Andy Reid is an A-graded 66-44-3 against the spread when playing outside of Kansas City (good for a 17.4% return on investment, per Bet Labs), and the favored Chiefs should provide their rookie lead back with ample goal-line opportunities.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers ($6,500 DK, $6,900 FD): There will be a significant ownership discount on Ekeler this week given that he had fewer than 10 fantasy points with a 20.6% exposure rate in the Week 1 DraftKings Millionaire Maker (per our FantasyLabs Ownership Dashboard). He had just one target last week, but Ekeler was No. 1 at the position with 2.74 yards per route last year, and the underdog Chargers could have a pass-leaning game script against the Chiefs, who allowed an NFL-high 138 targets and 951 yards receiving to opposing backfields in 2019.
David Johnson, Houston Texans ($5,800 DK, $7,200 FD): A fantasy RB1 last week with 109 yards and a touchdown on 15 opportunities (carries plus targets), Johnson could have more usage this week given that change-of-pace back Duke Johnson (ankle) is dealing with an injury. Even though the Browns scored just six points, running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 18.7 DraftKings points against the Browns in Week 1, and Johnson could approach that number as a target-laden home dog with a sub-5% ownership rate.
Malcolm Brown, Los Angeles Rams ($5,700 DK, $5,200 FD): Backs are normally more expensive on FanDuel than DraftKings (because of the former’s larger salary cap), but that’s not the case with Brown, who is criminally cheap after playing a 60% snap rate in Week 1 and totaling 110 yards and two touchdowns on 22 opportunities. Brown has a position-high 99% Bargain Rating on FanDuel.
Melvin Gordon III, Denver Broncos ($5,200 DK, $6,700 FD): Given that change-of-pace back Phillip Lindsay (toe) was hurt after Week 2 salaries were released, Gordon comes with the Monday Night Football discount. The Steelers were No. 2 with an 89.5 PFF rush-defense grade last year, but Gordon should see most of the backfield’s carries, targets and goal-line opportunities, and he has a position-high 89% Bargain Rating on DraftKings.
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($5,200 DK, $5,900 FD): Very soon, RoJo could lose work to teammate Leonard Fournette because there was nothing exceptional about his 82-yard effort on 20 opportunities against the Saints. But in Week 2, he has a massive ceiling thanks to his matchup against the Panthers, who yielded the No. 1 overall fantasy finish to Josh Jacobs in Week 1 and were easily dead last with a 15.9% run-defense DVOA last year.
Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills ($4,800 DK, $5,200 FD): The rookie underwhelmed in Week 1 with just 27 yards on 13 opportunities, but he salvaged his performance with a touchdown thanks to three carries inside the five-yard line and two targets inside the 10. As the seemingly locked-in goal-line back, Moss as a big favorite could have multiple scores against the Dolphins, who were No. 29 with a 0.9% rush-defense DVOA and No. 32 with a 55.4% pass-defense DVOA against running backs last year.
Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams ($4,500 DK, $5,600 FD): On DraftKings, Akers is a forward-looking GPP pivot to the twin-priced Benny Snell, who will be extravagantly popular. Akers should have a nearly nonexistent ownership rate courtesy of his 43-yard Week 1 fart fest, but he did see 15 opportunities in his NFL debut, and his combination of college production, athleticism and draft capital suggests that he will break out eventually.
Benny Snell Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers ($4,500 DK, $4,600 FD): A Zero RB darling, Snell paid off in Week 1 with a 19-113-0 rushing performance in relief of injured starter James Conner (ankle), who is expected to sit in Week 2. As a home favorite, Snell should enjoy a run-heavy game script as the fill-in starter, and he has position-high +4.18 and +6.71 Projected Plus/Minus values in our DraftKings and FanDuel Models.
Peyton Barber, Washington Football Team ($4,400 DK, $5,400 FD): A volume-fueled script-dependent early-down grinder, Barber owned the libs in Week 1 with his high-T 17-29-2 rushing line. If he somehow gets another five carries inside the five-yard line this week, he might happen to fall into the end zone twice against the Cardinals.
James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars ($4,400 DK, $5,300 FD): An undrafted rookie out of Illinois State, Robinson was 16-62-0 rushing and 1-28-0 receiving in Week 1 with all but three of the backfield opportunities. The Jaguars have a slate-low 16.5-point implied Vegas total as road dogs, so it’s unlikely that Robinson will have a big game, but he has NFL-caliber athleticism with his 89th-percentile 127.5 SPARQ-x Score and will have a sub-5% exposure rate.
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team ($4,300 DK, $5,100 FD): With his 9-36-0 rushing and 2-8-0 receiving performance, Gibson annoyingly played behind Peyton Barber as a runner and J.D. McKissic as a receiver in Week 1. But Gibson has Jonathan Taylor-esque athleticism with his size (6-foot, 229 pounds) and speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash), and the Cardinals allowed the 49ers running backs to go off last week with 23-105-0 rushing and 9-162-2 receiving on 14 targets.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
- Wide Receivers
- Tight Ends (out Fri)
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Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Rosemount, Minnesota, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.
Pictured above: Jonathan Taylor
Photo credit: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images