The Week 3 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Sep. 27, 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 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.
- Jonathan Taylor: $7,000 DraftKings, $6,700 FanDuel
- Chris Carson: $6,600 DraftKings, $7,700 FanDuel
- Miles Sanders: $6,400 DraftKings, $7,400 FanDuel
- Kenyan Drake: $6,000 DraftKings, $6,500 FanDuel
Jonathan Taylor: Indianapolis Colts (-10.5) vs. New York Jets, 43.5 Over/Under
For the second week in a row, Taylor will be a cash-game chalk lock, especially on FanDuel. Priced as the No. 12 running back, Taylor is Nos. 3 & 4 with his median and ceiling projections.
A massive home favorite, the rookie is in the ultimate smash spot, and his usage and production over the past two weeks have been encouraging.
- Week 2 (vs. MIN): 18.0 FanDuel points | 26-101-1 rushing | 2-9-0 receiving on two targets
- Week 1 (at JAX): 11.9 FanDuel points | 9-22-0 rushing | 6-67-0 receiving on six targets
In Week 1, Taylor addressed any concerns fantasy investors might have had about his receiving ability. 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 against the Jags, Taylor showed he can be a reliable contributor in the passing game, and although the Colts didn’t need him to do much as a receiver in a blowout victory last week, his overall pass-catching numbers for the season still look good. Among all running backs, he’s No. 2 with 105 yards after the catch (per RotoViz Statistical Summary) and tied for No. 9 with 2.62 yards per route (per Pro Football Focus).
And in Week 2, with teammate Marlon Mack (Achilles, IR) out for the year, Taylor operated as the clear lead back in a run-heavy game script, capturing 65% of the team’s carries.
Taylor is yet to tear it up on the ground, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry and 2.37 yards after contact per attempt, but his rushing performance to date is probably 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.
Maybe that won’t happen this week. Taylor does have a tough matchup against the Jets, who last year were No. 2 with a -29.4% rush-defense DVOA (per Football Outsiders). Under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the Jets have allowed just one 100-yard rusher (Ezekiel Elliott, 28-105-1 in Week 6) since last season.
They might have one of the league’s most talent-deficient defensive units, but at least the Jets are dedicated to stopping the run, right?
But even if efficiency eludes Taylor in Week 3, he should still produce as a favorite in the “Mack role.” In his 2018-19 stint as the lead back, Mack put up fantasy points in his 10 games the Colts won by more than a field goal (per RotoViz Game Splits App).
- Rushing production: 19.9 carries, 99.1 yards, 0.9 touchdowns
- Receiving production: 2.3 targets, 1.8 receptions, 10.3 yards, 0.1 touchdowns
A locked-in RB1 in season-long leagues, Taylor is as good of a bet as any back this week to finish with 100 yards and multiple touchdowns rushing.
The top back in the Raybon and Freedman Models on FanDuel, Taylor leads the position with his +5.43 Projected Plus/Minus as well as his 99% Bargain Rating.
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Chris Carson: Seattle Seahawks (-5) vs. Dallas Cowboys, 55.5 O/U
Oh, baby. These lineups almost make themselves. The Seahawks have a slate-high 30.25-point implied Vegas total, and almost nothing gets my blood flowing like the thought of Carson as a favorite.
Under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Carson has averaged 17.3 DraftKings points in his 19 games laying points (per our FantasyLabs Trends Tool). Insert here any phrase from a David Bowie song. Any song will do.
Even in the new #LetRussCook era, Carson has produced, ranking No. 6 at the position with 22.2 DraftKings points per game.
- Week 2 (vs. NE): 19.8 DraftKings points | 17-72-0 rushing | 3-36-1 receiving on three targets
- Week 1 (at ATL): 24.6 DraftKings points | 6-21-0 rushing | 6-45-2 receiving on six targets
Carson has yet to score on the ground this year, but the rushing touchdowns will come. Last year, he was easily No. 1 on the team with 20 carries inside the 10-yard line and nine carries inside the five.
His rushing bona fides are established.
Over his past 20 regular-season games, Carson has averaged 18.9 DraftKings points and been a top-12 producer 55% of the time (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
The Cowboys offer a nondescript matchup, but it is notable that in a Week 1 loss they gifted an 18-79-2 rushing and 3-31-0 receiving performance to Malcolm Brown, who is comparable to Carson with his meat-and-potatoes playing style.
A low-end season-long RB1 with top-three upside, Carson is the No. 1 back in the Freedman Model for DraftKings.
Miles Sanders: Philadelphia Eagles (-5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 46 O/U
Writing these blurbs is a pleasure when the guys at the top of the Models are actually good.
Sidelined by a hamstring injury in Week 1, Sanders returned in Week 2, and even though the Eagles suffered an ugly 37-19 loss, he was the slate’s No. 12 fantasy back with a 20-95-1 rushing and 3-36-0 receiving performance.
Over his past 16 games (including playoffs), Sanders has looked like a star, averaging 15.3 DraftKings points on 192-929-4 rushing and 52-542-3 receiving with 69 targets. For a guy just starting his second season, that kind of production — especially as a receiver — is very nice.
Some fantasy investors might have concerns about Sanders’ workload. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson has exhibited a penchant for backfield committees throughout his tenure, and Sanders did play behind running backs Jordan Howard and Darren Sproles to start his 2019 rookie campaign.
But in the second half of the year, he emerged as the team’s clear lead back, and since the Week 10 bye, he has averaged 20.6 opportunities (carries plus targets) per game. Last week, change-of-pace back Boston Scott had just four carries and three targets, while third-stringer Corey Clement was limited to special teams.
Sanders is the guy.
The Eagles are dealing with injuries all along their offensive line: Left tackle Andre Dillard (biceps, IR) and right guard Brandon Brooks (Achilles, PUP) were lost before the season even started, and left guard Isaac Seumalo (knee, IR) exited Week 2 early.
Even so, I’m not worried.
The All-Pro stronghold of center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson is intact, and the Bengals last year were No. 28 with a -0.3% rush-defense DVOA. Through two weeks, opposing backfields are No. 3 in the league against the Bengals with an abysmal 38.3 DraftKings points per game.
A rock-solid RB1 in season-long leagues, Sanders is an attractive cash-game and tournament option in DFS.
Sanders is the No. 1 back in the Koerner and Raybon Models for DraftKings, where he has position-high marks with a +3.21 Projected Plus/Minus and nine Pro Trends.
Kenyan Drake: Arizona Cardinals (-5.5) vs. Detroit Lions, 55 O/U
And yet another home favorite. In case you missed the memo: Running backs favored at home tend to outperform expectations.
- Put them in your cash-game lineup.
- Win money.
Drake hasn’t been a world-beating producer through two weeks. In fact, he has been outproduced as a rusher by his quarterback (per RotoViz Screener).
- Kyler Murray (two games): 21-158-3 | +13.9 rushing points over expectation
- Kenyan Drake (two games): 36-146-1 | -2.3 rushing points over expectation
And despite his pass-catching prowess (135-1,061-6 in 2017-19), Drake has just 14 yards receiving on four targets this year.
But he still has 18-plus opportunities in each game for 2020, and since joining the Cardinals in Week 9 last year, he has never had a snap rate lower than 64%.
Even with his recent two-week meh-burger, Drake has impressed in his 10 games with the Cardinals.
- Fantasy production: 19.4 DraftKings points, 16.9 FanDuel points per game
- Football production: 97.4 yards, 0.9 touchdowns on 19.8 opportunities per game
Drake has a three-down skill set and nearly an every-down workload — and his matchup is decadent. The Lions have PFF’s No. 27 defensive line, and opposing backfields have relentlessly dished out top-five fantasy punishment to HC Matt Patricia’s run-stop unit since last season.
- 2020 (two games): 37.6 DraftKings points, 34.1 FanDuel points per game (fourth)
- 2019 (16 games): 29.1 DraftKings points, 25.3 FanDuel points per game (fifth)
In the pre-Drake era, then-lead back David Johnson went off on the Lions in Week 1 last year for 18-82-0 rushing and 6-55-1 receiving on seven targets.
If the aging-and-breaking Johnson could do that in Murray and HC Kliff Kingsbury’s NFL debut, then Drake can certainly do that now.
On the RB1/2 borderline in season-long leagues, Drake is a candidate for both cash games and tournaments in DFS, and I like the idea of stacking him with Murray to lock up the Cardinals’ rushing production and get the added upside of any Murray-to-Drake pass-game usage. Use our Lineup Builder to stack Drake with his quarterback.
Drake is the No. 1 back in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner and SportsGeek Models on FanDuel, where he has a position-high 13 Pro Trends.
For good measure, Drake is also the top option in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan and SportsGeek Models for DraftKings.
Upside Running Backs for Guaranteed Prize Pools
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys ($8,300 DK, $9,000 FD): With Christian McCaffrey (ankle) and Saquon Barkley (knee, IR) out, Elliott is deservedly the week’s highest-salaried back. In a game with a slate-high 55.5-point over/under, he has position-high median, ceiling and floor projections in our Models and is the No. 1 running back in our Week 3 fantasy rankings.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans ($7,800 DK, $8,200 FD): Since breaking out in Week 14 of 2018, Henry has averaged 126.4 yards and 1.13 touchdowns from scrimmage per game and was especially dominant in 2019 with his league-best 303-1,540-16 rushing line.
Despite having 200 yards on a league-high 56 carries, Henry has yet to find the end zone, but he should discover it this Sunday against a Vikings team that has allowed 71 points through two weeks.
Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders ($7,300 DK, $8,300 FD): Coming off his second straight 100-yard game from scrimmage, Jacobs is No. 1 on the Raiders with 44.7 expected fantasy points and No. 2 with a 15% target share. The Patriots held opposing backfields to a league-low 16.2 DraftKings and 13.1 FanDuel points per game last year, but Jacobs is a near-mortal lock for 20 touches.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers ($6,800 DK, $7,500 FD): Overstated was the 2020 demise of the best pass-catching back west of Christian McCaffrey. Ekeler still has just five targets and no touchdowns on the year, but his 235 scrimmage yards, 5.1 yards per carry and 11.6 yards per target suggest that he should dominate against a Panthers defense that has been the league’s most generous to opposing backfields since last season (31.9 DraftKings points allowed per game in 2019; 47.5 in 2010).
James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers ($6,700 DK, $7,100 FD): Despite suffering a serious-seeming ankle injury in Week 1, Conner had a 77% snap rate and 73% rushing share in Week 2. In his 22 career games with at least 40% snaps played, Conner has averaged 102.6 yards and 0.95 touchdowns on 20.2 opportunities — and barring an injury, he should go well over that threshold this week as a home favorite against a Texans unit ranked No. 30 with a 39.1 PFF run-defense grade.
Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($6,200 DK, $6,400 FD): With his 12-103-2 rushing and 4-13-0 receiving performance last week, Fournette looks like the Bucs back to roster.
As a big favorite, Fournette could benefit from a run-heavy game script against a Broncos defense that has allowed back-to-back 100-yard rushing performance to the Derrick Henry and James Conner.
Mike Davis, Carolina Panthers ($5,100 DK, $6,000 FD): Christian McCaffrey he is not, but Davis is set to inherit the Run-CMC role, and in limited relief last week, he flashed with his 8-74-0 receiving line on eight targets. In his six career games with at least 15 opportunities, the 27-year-old journeyman has averaged 16.2 DraftKings and 13.7 FanDuel points.
Joshua Kelley, Los Angeles Chargers ($5,000 DK, $5,900 FD): In defiance of his status as a rookie fourth-rounder, Kelley has a team-high 29.3 expected fantasy points through two weeks and has firmly secured the grinder role vacated by Melvin Gordon III. He couldn’t have a better matchup as a big home favorite against the Panthers, who last year were No. 32 with a 15.9% rush-defense DVOA.
Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers ($4,900 DK, $5,700 FD): Starter Raheem Mostert (knee) is unlikely to play, and No. 2 back Tevin Coleman (knee, IR) is definitely out, so McKinnon is slated to serve as the lead back after popping off for 3-77-1 rushing last week.
In Week 1, the Giants allowed a 19-113-0 rushing performance to mid-game backup-turned lead back Benny Snell Jr.
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team ($4,700 DK, $5,500 FD): After playing second fiddle to the Peyton Barber-J.D. McKissic duo in Week 1, Gibson wisely smashed the fiddle in Week 2 and shredded on his 1980s Flying V guitar. His workload is still a projection, but Gibson is likely to get 10-15 opportunities, and the Browns were No. 30 with a 1.9% rush-defense DVOA last year.
Frank Gore, New York Jets ($4,400 DK, $5,400 FD): I mean, he won’t be in my lineups, but Gore had 21 carries last week when he was rostered at just 1.56% in the Millionaire Maker (per our Ownership Dashboard). He will have even less exposure this week playing across from the chalky Jonathan Taylor, and … you know, let’s just pretend that I never wrote this blurb, thanks.
Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots ($4,000 DK, $4,800 FD): Playing in place of the absent James White (parental bereavement), Burkhead had a pseudo-serviceable 8.9 DraftKings and 6.9 FanDuel points in Week 2. The team’s most well-rounded back, he could be in line for more usage if White misses Week 3 against the Raiders, who have been demolished over the past two weeks by two guys named … checks notes … Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara. So, guys super similar to the min-priced Burkhead, obviously.
Jeffery Wilson, San Francisco 49ers ($4,000 DK, $5,200 FD): If you plan on investing in Jerick McKinnon, be prepared to rage watch maybe the most random goal-line vulture in NFL history do his thing. In his two-game stint as an active backfield contributor last year (Weeks 2-3), the special-teamer was a fantasy RB2 thanks to his 18-52-4 rushing production.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
Pictured above: Chris Carson.
Photo credit: Abbie Parr/Getty Images.