In this piece, I highlight running backs who stand out in our large suite of analytical fantasy tools, most specifically, our FantasyLabs Player Models. While the models are built for DFS contests, this is an all-purpose fantasy article with actionable information for all formats.
As news breaks throughout the week and we adjust our projections, player ratings in our Player Models will change. For updates, visit the models directly.
Top Running Backs in the FantasyLabs Models
There are four running backs atop the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, and Ryan Hodge have constructed.
Here’s where they place within our Week 6 Fantasy Rankings (as of Friday):
- Antonio Gibson (10th)
- Darrell Henderson (12th)
- Khalil Herbert (15th)
- Darrel Williams (22nd)
We’ll discuss why these four are popping in our models, as well as take a look at some other backs who could help you take down a tournament.
FantasyLabs Positional Breakdowns
For more in-depth NFL analysis, check out The Action Network.
Top Model Running Backs
Antonio Gibson ($6,500 DraftKings, $6,700 FanDuel): Washington Football Team (+6.5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (55 total)
Gibson has improved in terms of fantasy scoring the past two weeks, largely thanks to three touchdowns (after being held scoreless the first three weeks). His rushing role has been strong all year (sixth in the league rush attempts), but his limited pass-game role means he needs touchdowns to be a solid fantasy asset.
It’s somewhat curious that Gibson hasn’t been more involved in the pass-game. It seems to be related to the quarterback situation; Gibson drew five targets in the only game Ryan Fitzpatrick played, but only two in every game since.
Still, all signs would point to Gibson getting more involved through the air. He was listed as a wide receiver in college and had more receptions than rushes his senior year. Ron Rivera and company are the staff that brought us Christian McCaffrey, so it’s not like they’re against throwing the ball to running backs.
The obvious issue is the number of targets that go to J.D. McKissick. However, the Football Team would be wise to shift some of those touches to Gibson. Gibson has superior numbers in yards per reception and yards after the catch per reception.
We never want to make decisions based on what coaches should do, but a Gibson breakout game should come soon. Washington has few playmakers, so getting the ball in his hands could be necessary against a high-scoring Chiefs team. The matchup is great too — the Chiefs rank dead last against the rush by DVOA in the NFL.
Gibson leads two of our Pro Models on FanDuel, where he has a 95% Bargain Rating and projects as one of the best points-per-dollar running backs.
Darrell Henderson ($6,000 DraftKings, $7,300 FanDuel): Los Angeles Rams (-9) at New York Giants (48.5 total)
The Rams seem committed to giving Henderson — who leads four of our Pro’s Models on DraftKings — a workhorse role. Removing his game missed due to injury, Henderson has 70% of the running back carries and all but one of the running back targets on the season.
His price, especially on DraftKings, reflects a much smaller role. For comparison, Ezekiel Elliot ($7,100 DraftKings) is sitting at a 62.5%/48% of running back, rushing/receiving share. That role is immensely valuable this week, with the Rams implied for the second-highest Vegas total and as the second-largest favorites.
New York is a great matchup for backs too. They’re the third-worst team on the slate, with a +3.8 Opponent Plus/Minus Allowed on DraftKings. Since this stat takes salary into account, that means DraftKings has yet to fully account for how soft a matchup the Giants are.
As I mentioned in the Quarterback Breakdown, I like the idea of playing Henderson and Matthew Stafford together, particularly in cash. The pair of them likely ensures you have exposure to every Rams touchdown. You also, of course, get nearly double points if Henderson catches one instead of running it in.
Henderson is our Pro’s favorite play on DraftKings this week. He leads four of our models there.
Khalil Herbert ($4,600 DraftKings, $5,500 FanDuel): Chicago Bears (+5.5) vs. Green Bay Packers
DraftKings has been aggressive with their pricing on backup running backs in recent years, making them more challenging decisions. However, Herbert was the third-string back in Chicago a few days ago, so his price is still near the $4,000 DraftKings minimum.
With David Montgomery injured, and Damien Williams now in the COVID protocols, the Bears won’t have much outside of Herbert this weekend. Williams still has a chance to play, but his chances are slim with a positive test on Thursday.
This week, Herbert is ranked in the top 15 in our PPR rankings but is outside the top 30 in DraftKings pricing. This one is exceedingly simple for cash games. Tournaments are where the decision gets interesting.
It will be absolutely crucial to weigh Ownership Projections on Herbert against his ceiling. Herbert’s 13.59 projected points are a huge value at his price but could still hurt you in tournaments. If the other value plays outscore him, or a few of the higher-priced backs go for 30-plus points, 13.59 points won’t help you regardless of the Pts/Sal.
It will be hard for Herbert to reach a ceiling game strictly on the ground. The Bears are heavy underdogs, so total running plays will be limited. With Herbert never catching more than 10 passes in a season in college, his passing game role is unlikely to be much.
This all makes Herbert an obvious play for cash games and perhaps smaller tournaments. He leads one of our models on both DraftKings and FanDuel. I’d be careful for tournaments, though. Unless this Chicago offense wildly outperforms expectations, and/or his ownership projections are low. There are far more ways he can hurt your lineup than help it.
Darrel Williams ($4,900 DraftKings, $5,200 FanDuel): Kansas City Chiefs (-6.5) at Washington Football Team
Like Herbert, Williams is being thrust into a starting role thanks to an injury in front of him. Williams is the preferred play on FanDuel. He’s cheaper than Herbert there and leads two of our Pro Models.
Unlike Herbert, Williams is playing for the team with the highest implied total on the slate. The combination of total scoring and a positive game script sets up much better for running backs. Williams also saw an increased role even before the injury to Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Even before the injury, Williams had seen his carry count increase each game this season.
The passing game role is also a bonus to Williams. Mahomes is never going to target backs at an extremely high rate, but Williams had equaled CEH’s target count across Week 3 and 4. His five targets in relief of Edwards-Helaire last week was the most by any Chiefs back this season.
Our projections expect Jerrick McKinnon to mix in for a bit of work, lowering Williams Median Projections. However, the combination of pass-game ability and offensive environment make his ceiling very high for a player at his salary. For tournaments, the decision between Williams and Herbert will likely come down to Ownership Projections.
Other Running Backs With Week-Winning Upside
Christian McCaffrey ($8,800 DraftKings, $10,000 FanDuel): Carolina Panthers (+2.5) vs Minnesota Vikings (45 total)
McCaffrey has a chance to return this week after missing two games due to an injury. (Follow our NFL News Feed as we get closer to Sunday for more information). If he does, he comes back at a steep discount. The matchup with the Vikings is also one of the best for running backs by any measure. The Vikes rank 29th in Adjusted Line Yards, 20th in rush DVOA, and allow opposing backs a +1.5 Plus/Minus. With all the value backs available on this slate, paying up to get McCaffrey at one of your running back spots could be a valuable way to differentiate if he’s healthy. If he misses, Chuba Hubbard ($5,900 DraftKings, $6,900 FanDuel) would be a great play.
Update: McCaffrey was ruled out Friday afternoon.
Austin Ekeler ($7,900 DraftKings, $8,400 FanDuel): Los Angeles Chargers (+2.5) at Baltimore Ravens (51.5 total)
How good has Ekeler been this year? He leads all running backs not named Derrick by at least 19 DraftKings points this season. After failing to draw a target in Week 1, he’s racked up 25 in the four games that followed, en route to four straight two-plus point DraftKings (18+ FanDuel) games. Ekeler has a rock-solid role on the league’s sixth highest-scoring offense.
This week, he takes on the Ravens’ 22nd-ranked defense. Ekeler is a better bargain on FanDuel, but his pass-game role makes him more valuable on DraftKings. In my book, that puts him in play on both sites.
Ezekiel Elliot ($7,100 DraftKings, $8,300 FanDuel): Dallas Cowboys (-3.5) at New England Patriots (51 total)
While the preseason hype surrounded Dak Prescott and the passing game, the Cowboys are firmly trying to establish the run this season. They’re throwing at the third-lowest rate in the league this year, even with Week 1’s 58 attempts factored in.
This all bodes well for Elliot. I mentioned above how his market share is down this year. The counterpoint to that is the overall rushing volume has expanded enough that we can live with a smaller percentage of it. Zeke has topped 23 DraftKings points in three straight games.
His Ceiling Projection is the third-highest on the slate for this matchup with the Patriots’ 22nd-ranked rush defense. Zeke has performed significantly better as a favorite over the past three seasons, which is the case on Sunday, per our Trends tool:
Kareem Hunt ($6,200 DraftKings, $7,400 FanDuel): Cleveland Browns (-2) vs Arizona Cardinals (49.5 total)
At least for fantasy purposes, Hunt is the RB1 in Cleveland. It’s about time somebody said it. He’s outscored Nick Chubb this season but is still priced behind him on both sites. While Hunt is better as an underdog, a fast-paced shootout with the Cardinals boosts Hunt. He leads Chubb 21-5 in targets this season. Hunt is both a better bargain (93% Bargain Rating) and better suited to DraftKings. He has more touchdowns than Chubb on the year so far, but Chubb has the higher touchdown equity, making Chubb a slightly better play on FanDuel.
Update: Nick Chubb was ruled out on Friday. Kareem Hunt now leads the slate in Pts/Sal projection on both sites.
Jonathon Taylor ($6,600 DraftKings, $7,500 FanDuel): Indianapolis Colts (-10.5) vs Houston Texans (43.5 total)
Taylor is averaging over 20 DraftKings points over the past month, and this week couldn’t set up much better for him. The Colts are the slate’s biggest favorites and should be able to lean on the run early in this one. While his season-high in carries is only 17, we could certainly see a higher number this week.
His efficiency should be up too. The Texans rank 30th in rushing DVOA. While I’d like to see more pass game work (targets are split essentially evenly between Taylor and Nyheim Hines), Taylor still has a ton of upside.
Would 100 yards and two touchdowns in a projected rout of the Texans come as a shock this week?
D’Andre Swift ($6,300 DraftKings, $7,100 FanDuel): Detroit Lions (+3.5) vs Cincinnati Bengals (46.5 total)
Swift has one of the best roles in the NFL for full-PPR scoring. His 35 targets through five games trails only Najee Harris (39.) It’s been up and down for Swift this year. He has three games over 22 DraftKings points and two games under 12. This seems like a good time for an “up” week, though. The Lions should see the return of starting tackle Taylor Decker, clearing the way for more outside runs to Swift.
The Lions are extremely thin at wide receiver, with injuries to what was expected to be their top two wideouts in Tyrell Williams and Quintez Cephus. Tight end TJ Hockenson, who’s second to Swift on the Lions in targets this year, is banged up and only saw three targets last week.
Finally, co-starting running back Jamaal Williams missed practice on Thursday. If he can’t go, Swift should be in for a monster role. Since we’re relying on receiving volume, keep your Swift exposure to DraftKings. Conveniently, he’s also a better value there, with a 77% Bargain Rating.