The Week 4 NFL main slate kicks off on Sunday, Oct. 4, at 1 p.m. ET.
In this piece, I highlight the running backs who stand out in our large suite of analytical fantasy tools, most specifically our FantasyLabs Models.
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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.
Here’s where they place within our Week 4 fantasy football rankings (as of Wednesday afternoon).
- Alvin Kamara: No. 1 (PPR) | No. 1 (Half PPR) | No. 3 (Standard)
- David Johnson: No. 11 (PPR) | No. 10 (Half PPR) | No. 11 (Standard)
- Kenyan Drake: No. 13 (PPR) | No. 11 (Half PPR) | No. 9 (Standard)
- Devin Singletary: No. 15 (PPR) | No. 16 (Half PPR) | No. 15 (Standard)
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
Check in throughout the week as I publish the rest of the positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis, check out The Action Network. For updates, see our FantasyLabs News Feed.
Odds as of Wednesday afternoon and via DraftKings Sportsbook, where you can get up to a $1,000 sign-up bonus today.
Alvin Kamara: New Orleans Saints (-4) vs. Detroit Lions, 54.5 Over/Under
Just like the Camaro in 2009, Kamara is having himself a comeback. After putting up “just” 1,330 yards and six touchdowns from scrimmage last year, he now has NFL-best marks with 438 and six through three weeks.
- Week 3 (vs. GB): 44.7 PPR, 31.7 STD | 6-58-0 rushing | 13-139-2 receiving, 14 targets
- Week 2 (at LV): 38.4 PPR, 29.4 STD | 13-79-2 rushing | 9-95-0 receiving, nine targets
- Week 1 (vs. TB): 23.7 PPR, 18.7 STD | 12-16-1 rushing | 5-51-1 receiving, eight targets
Right now, no back is even close to Kamara, who is No. 1 with 0.84 PPR and 0.63 STD points per snap (per Pro Football Focus).
Last year, Kamara was hampered by knee, ankle and back injuries, which caused him to miss two games and look a half-step slow. By his own estimation, Kamara played at 75% in 2019.
On 1 leg… At 75%.. but we back to 100 ❤️ https://t.co/dYMblYKNU0
— Alvin Kamara (@A_kamara6) March 10, 2020
With his diminished ability, Kamara was a PPR RB1 in just 50% of his games last year (per RotoViz NFL Stat Explorer).
While that number isn’t bad for a mere mortal, it was significantly down from his 2017-18 mark of 65%.
When healthy, Kamara is an animal. Specifically, a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs. That’s the definition of a Camaro. At least that’s what Mr. Wikipedia says.
When it’s eatin’ SZN, Kamara consumes cars. Good thing he’s in the Motor City. It’s gonna be a buffet.
Kamara has a great matchup: The Lions are No. 29 with a 10.1% rush-defense DVOA and No. 23 with a 16.1% pass-defense DVOA against running backs (per Football Outsiders). Under defense-focused head coach Matt Patricia, the Lions have a horrible stop unit.
Last year, opposing backfields were No. 4 against the Lions with 22.8 fantasy points per game. This year, that number has bumped up to 25.1.
Since 2019, the Lions in six games have allowed six-plus targets to a running back (Saquon Barkley, David Johnson, Austin Ekeler and Aaron Jones thrice). With this aerial usage, these backs have gone on a tear.
- Fantasy production: 24.5 PPR, 19.5 STD points per game
- Football production: 18-87.8-0.5 rushing | 5-54.2-0.5 receiving, 7.3 targets
Do you think Kamara will have at least six targets in this game? How could he not?
No. 1 wide receiver Michael Thomas (ankle) and tight end Jared Cook (groin) are both dealing with injuries, and Kamara has had six-plus targets in 14-of-18 games since last year (including postseason).
Although he’s not a high-volume runner, Kamara easily leads all backs this year with 14.3 expected fantasy points receiving and 93.3 air yards and yards after the catch (AirYAC) per game (per RotoViz Player Statistical Summary).
Is it a net negative for Kamara that he’s not home at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (the Coors Field of fantasy football)? Probably not. Throughout his career, Kamara has actually had reverse home/away splits. In fact, no road running back has exceeded expectations more frequently than Kamara since his 2016 rookie season (per our <a ” href=”https://www.fantasylabs.com/tools/trends/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>FantasyLabs Trends Tool).
- Road (24 games): 70.8% Consistency Rating
- Home (27 games): 51.9% Consistency Rating
For whatever reason, Kamara doesn’t mind not having that home cooking. Probably because when he’s on the road, he has more opportunities to eat automobiles.
A locked-in high-end RB1 in season-long leagues, Kamara is a strong pay-up candidate in cash games and guaranteed prize pools.
He’s the No. 1 back in the Raybon Model for DraftKings, where he has position-high median, ceiling and floor projections. Kamara is also the top option in the SportsGeek Model for FanDuel.
Salaries: $8,000 DraftKings, $8,800 FanDuel
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David Johnson: Houston Texans (-4.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings, 54.5 O/U
As of writing, the Texans-Vikings game is still slated to be played, although it might be postponed because the Vikings last week played the Titans, who have recently had players and staff members test positive for COVID-19.
The NFL has alerted the Vikings and Titans and their opponents for Week 4 that their games may be rescheduled.
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) September 29, 2020
Assuming this game happens, Johnson warrants sustained hold-your-nose consideration.
Gone are the halcyon “Jam ‘Em In” days when Johnson was an automatic no-matter-what play. His 2016 All-Pro campaign with a league-high 2,118 yards and 20 touchdowns from scrimmage was truly special — but that was one Presidential election ago. A lot has changed since then for the pseudo-spry soon-to-be 29-year-old.
To start, he’s on a new team, and his transition from the Cardinals to the Texans hasn’t been altogether peaceful.
- Week 3 (at PIT): 12.6 PPR, 10.6 STD | 13-23-1 rushing | 2-23-0 receiving, three targets
- Week 2 (vs. BAL): 7.0 PPR, 5.0 STD | 11-34-0 rushing | 2-16-0 receiving, four targets
- Week 1 (at KC): 19.9 PPR, 16.9 STD | 11-77-1 rushing | 3-32-0 receiving, four targets
Johnson has rather uninspiring marks with 3.8 yards per carry and 6.5 yards per target, and the second-level numbers aren’t much better: Johnson is No. 43 at the position with 2.29 yards after contact per carry and No. 36 with 0.73 yards per route.
If not for his two touchdowns, Johnson’s 2020 season would be a disaster.
But he has three significant factors in his favor for this week.
First, the Vikings aren’t practicing right now. All of their in-person activities have been suspended for the time being due to their Week 3 exposure to the Titans. With this disruption in their schedule, they might be insufficiently prepared for this weekend.
Second, the Vikings are bad. They’re not just 0-3. Under defense-focused head coach Mike Zimmer, they are No. 31 in the league with 34 points allowed per game.
Opposing lead backs have produced against them.
- Derrick Henry (Week 3): 26-119-2 rushing | 2-11-0 receiving, three targets
- Jonathan Taylor (Week 2): 26-101-1 rushing | 2-9-0 receiving, two targets
- Aaron Jones (Week 1): 16-66-1 rushing | 4-10-0 receiving, six targets
And they are without edge defender Danielle Hunter (neck, IR) and linebacker Anthony Barr (pectoral, IR).
Third, Johnson has had elite usage over the past two weeks, ranking No. 2 with a 95% snap rate and No. 3 with a 75% rushing market share. This surge in opportunity has coincided with the absence of change-of-pace back Duke Johnson (ankle), who missed Week 2 and Week 3 and is uncertain for Week 4.
If Duke Johnson is once again out and Johnson the Elder operates as the team’s only backfield option, he could have a massive game against an accommodating Vikings defense.
A low-end RB1 in season-long leagues, Johnson is a viable mid-range play in DFS, especially on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 back in the Koerner Model and priced as the No. 21 player at the position.
Salaries: $5,600 DraftKings, $6,700 FanDuel
Kenyan Drake: Arizona Cardinals (-3.5) at Carolina Panthers, 52 O/U
This is Drake’s third straight week atop some of the FantasyLabs Models, and he has hit two foul balls. We’re not talking about a swing-and-miss batter or a guy with the stick on his shoulder — but all the same, the count is 0-2 against Drake.
Look, there’s a reason I don’t write our baseball breakdowns.
Through three weeks, Drake has been outproduced as a rusher by his quarterback (per RotoViz Screener).
- Kyler Murray (three games): 26-187-4 | +25.7 rushing points over expectation
- Kenyan Drake (three games): 54-219-1 | -1.5 rushing points over expectation
And despite his pass-catching prowess (135-1,061-6 in 2017-19), Drake has just 20 yards receiving on five 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 three-week meh-burger, Drake has impressed in his 11 games with the Cardinals.
- Fantasy production: 17.7 PPR, 14.7 STD points per game
- Football production: 16.1-78.4-0.8 rushing | 3-17.4-0 receiving, 3.6 targets
Drake has a three-down skill set and nearly an every-down workload — and his matchup could not be better.
Last year, opposing backfields were No. 1 in the league against the Panthers with 27.3 fantasy points per game. This year, that number has climbed to 32.2.
Every back with 10-plus carries against the Panthers has pummeled them.
- Austin Ekeler (Week 3): 12-59-1 rushing | 11-84-0 receiving, 11 targets
- Leonard Fournette (Week 2): 12-103-2 rushing | 4-13-0 receiving, five targets
- Josh Jacobs (Week 1): 25-93-3 rushing | 4-46-0 receiving, six targets
They are easily No. 32 with a 29.1 PFF run-defense grade.
Even though the count is 0-2, I just don’t think Drake is going to strike out in Week 4.
For what it’s worth, head coach Kliff Kingsbury has exceeded expectations on the road, going 6-1-2 against the spread (ATS), good for a 51.4% return on investment (ROI, per our Bet Labs database).
On the RB1/2 borderline in season-long leagues, Drake is a candidate for both cash games and tournaments in DFS, and you can use our Lineup Builder to stack Drake with his quarterback to lock up the Cardinals’ rushing production and get the added upside of any Murray-to-Drake pass-game usage.
Drake is the No. 1 back in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, SportsGeek and Freedman Models on DraftKings, where he has a position-high nine Pro Trends.
Salaries: $6,000 DraftKings, $7,000 FanDuel
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Devin Singletary: Buffalo Bills (-3) at Las Vegas Raiders, 52 O/U
Thinking about the Bills in this game makes me want to pull an Ace Ventura and practice my mantra.
First of all, I am absolutely betting on the Bills. Even with their Week 3 victory, I think the market hasn’t reacted enough to what we’ve seen out of the Bills this season. Their offense is legitimately good.
I’m not at all worried about the Bills on the road. As diminished as home-field advantage is across the league this year because of COVID-induced attendance restrictions, the Raiders might be at even more of a relative disadvantage at home: They just moved to Vegas this offseason, so the players are still acclimating themselves to the city and stadium.
With no fans in attendance, it’s arguable that the Raiders have almost no home-field advantage.
And in quarterback Josh Allen’s road starts, the Bills are 9-3-2 ATS (38.3% ROI).
This is one of my favorite bets of the week.
Secondly, this is a smash spot for Singletary.
Although he didn’t do much in Weeks 1-2 (19-86-0 rushing, 7-43-0 receiving on 10 targets), he leveraged the absence of rookie third-round running back Zack Moss (toe) into a functional performance last week.
- Fantasy production: 16.1 PPR, 12.1 STD points
- Football production: 13-71-0 rushing | 4-50-0 receiving, five targets
Given that Moss didn’t practice at all last week, he seems unlikely to play against the Raiders, which means that Singletary should get the supermajority of the backfield work in what might be the slate’s best matchup.
In three games, the Raiders have allowed four backs to go off.
- Rex Burkhead (Week 3): 6-49-2 rushing | 7-49-1 receiving, 10 targets
- Sony Michel (Week 3): 9-117-0 rushing | 2-23-0 receiving, two targets
- Alvin Kamara (Week 2): 13-79-2 rushing | 9-95-0 receiving, nine targets
- Christian McCaffrey (Week 1): 23-97-2 rushing | 3-38-0 receiving, four targets
If McCaffrey and Kamara dominate you, fine. You move on. But if Burkhead and Michel both do it — in the same game — then you evaluate your existence. You’re not living right.
Right now, the Raiders are living wrong. They’re No. 32 with a 21.3% rush-defense DVOA and No. 26 with a 32.6% pass-defense DVOA against running backs.
This almost goes without saying, but through three weeks, opposing backfields are No. 1 against the Raiders with 35.8 fantasy points per game.
In his final eight regular-season games of 2019, Singletary — as a rookie — was 131-603-1 receiving and 20-136-1 receiving on 29 targets. He’s talented enough to exploit an advantage matchup.
An upside RB2 in season-long leagues, Singletary is cash-game and GPP contender in DFS, especially on FanDuel, where he has a position-high +4.76 Projected Plus/Minus and is the No. 1 option in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner, Raybon and Freedman Models.
Salaries: $5,900 DraftKings, $6,000 FanDuel
Running Backs With Week-Winning Upside
In this section, I highlight some of the running backs I especially like as upside season-long and DFS tournament plays.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (-4.5) at Cleveland Browns, 55 O/U: With a position-high 93% snap rate on the year, Zeke is a locked-in top-three back. He leads all players with 95.3 yards rushing per game since his 2016 rookie season. The Cowboys-Browns game has a slate-high 55-point over/under. Salaries: $7,800 DraftKings, $9,000 FanDuel.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (-4.5) vs. Houston Texans, 54.5 O/U: Despite playing on an 0-3 team with just 52.7 offensive plays per game, Cook is 48-294-4 rushing and 5-24-0 receiving on nine targets. He’s No. 4 at the position with a 39% opportunity rate. The Texans have allowed a league-high 502 yards rushing. Salaries: $7,600 DraftKings, $8,700 FanDuel.
Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders (+3) vs. Buffalo Bills, 52 O/U: No. 2 in the league with a 45% opportunity share, Jacobs is being used like the 22-year-old big-bodied second-year first-rounder he is. In every game this year Jacobs has no fewer than 20 opportunities (carries plus targets). Darrell Henderson went off last week with 20-114-1 rushing and 1-6-0 receiving as the only back this year with 10-plus carries against the Bills. Salaries: $6,800 DraftKings, $8,000 FanDuel.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs (-7) vs. New England Patriots, 53.5 O/U: A Brian Westbrook clone, CEH is 55-240-1 rushing and 11-102-0 receiving on 16 targets and No. 7 overall with a 35% opportunity share. The Chiefs have a slate-high 30.5-point implied Vegas total. In quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ three starts against the Patriots, three different lead backs (Kareem Hunt, Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy) have combined for 31-149-1 rushing and 11-175-3 receiving on 17 targets. Salaries: $6,400 DraftKings, $7,400 FanDuel.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (-3) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 49 O/U: I’m a long-term Mixon bull but have been down on him this year, and that’s not really changing this week. But I acknowledge the upside he owns as a back-to-back 1,400-yard producer, and he’s on the positive side of his splits as a home favorite (per RotoViz Game Splits App).
Mixon is No. 5 with a 74% rushing share. Salaries: $5,800 DraftKings, $6,800 FanDuel.
Mike Davis, Carolina Panthers (+3.5) vs. Arizona Cardinals, 52 O/U: Christian McCaffrey he is not, but Davis has inherited the lead role. Last week he was 13-46-1 rushing and 8-45-1 receiving with nine targets. In his six career games with 15-plus opportunities, the 27-year-old journeyman has averaged 87.3 yards and 0.57 touchdowns from scrimmage. Salaries: $5,700 DraftKings, $6,300 FanDuel.
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears (+2.5) vs. Indianapolis Colts, 44 O/U: Quarterback Nick Foles is now the starter. Change-of-pace back Tarik Cohen (knee, IR) is out. Montgomery is not horrible. #Analysis. Salaries: $5,500 DraftKings, $5,800 FanDuel.
Carlos Hyde, Seattle Seahawks (+6.5) at Miami Dolphins, 54 O/U: Starter Chris Carson (knee) is uncertain to play, and I personally expect him to sit. Hyde is an early-down meat-and-potatoes grinder with three 1,100-yard campaigns in four years. The Dolphins are No. 31 with a 17.9% rush-defense DVOA. Salaries: $5,300 DraftKings, $5,700 FanDuel.
Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins (-6.5) vs. Seattle Seahawks, 54 O/U: Over the past three weeks, Gaskin has seen his opportunity share jump from 23% to 48%. The most well-rounded back on the team, he looks like the backfield’s locked-in leader. Gaskin could enjoy significant target volume in a pass-heavy game script. Salaries: $5,000 DraftKings, $5,400 FanDuel.
Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-7) vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 44 O/U: Against the odds, Jones out-rushed (13 vs. 7) and out-targeted (4 vs. 2) backfield rival Leonard Fournette last week. RoJo might still be the lead back after all. The Bucs could gift Jones with a fantasy-inflating run-heavy game script. Salaries: $4,700 DraftKings, $5,600 FanDuel.
Adrian Peterson, Detroit Lions (+4) vs. New Orleans Saints, 54.5 O/U: I don’t like it any more than you do. The 36-year-old had 85 yards and 23 opportunities last week and is on his way to a third consecutive 1,000-yard campaign. As underdogs, the Lions might rely on their running attack early on to shorten the game and sideline the Saints offense. Salaries: $4,700 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel.
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team (+13) vs. Baltimore Ravens, 47 O/U: Playing ahead of J.D. McKissic and Peyton Barber, the third-round rookie is seeing 11-15 opportunities each game. Gibson has accounted for 40% of Washington’s touchdowns over the past two weeks. A big underdog, he could see extra targets with a pass-leaning game script. Salaries: $4,500 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel.
Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens (-13) at Washington Football Team, 47 O/U: This one is a longshot, but the Gus Bus has potential. The Footballers will be without edge defender Chase Young (groin) and defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis (bicep, IR), and Edwards could receive an extended role as a big favorite. Edwards has averaged over 5.0 yards per carry each year of his career, and in 2020, he’s No. 1 with 5.17 yards after contact per attempt.
Another short paragraph on Edwards? Why not. In each of the past two seasons, he has been the NFL’s most no-nonsense North/South runner with Efficiency Grades of 2.78 and 2.93 (per Next Gen Stats). He might be the best pure rusher on the Ravens. Salaries: $4,000 DraftKings, $4,600 FanDuel.
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: Alvin Kamara.
Photo credit: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images.