Wild Card DFS Breakdown: Running Backs

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Wild Card DFS Breakdown: Running Backs

Hey there. If you weren’t already aware, you’re reading Part-2 of a 4-Part breakdown on this week’s Wildcard Weekend DFS slate. In this article, we’ll be breaking down all relevant RBs, after already covering QBs, WRs, and TEs.

Before digging too deep into the individual players, I did want to mention a few important notes this week:

1) On a typical full-game slate, I want to feel comfortable with every player I’m rostering. Ideally, even my punt-plays are tremendous values with high-upside. On a shorter slate like this (6 games or 3 games depending on which tournament you enter) it’s okay to roster a relatively “gross” name if you feel they give you a stronger lineup overall – allowing you to pay up elsewhere.

2) I can’t stress enough the importance of late-swap on these smaller slates. If you have any tournament lineups that seem unlikely to cash, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by adding exposure to some “riskier” lower-owned players.

3) In the TLDR, I’ve listed out the top RB plays in order of value (according to me). This isn’t super strict. And in some cases sort of arbitrary. But it also doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as most of my readers think it does. What really matters, and especially with this short slate, is that you’re building a lineup that’s well correlated. Or, as Johnny would say “that tells a story.” And making sure you’re paying attention to ownership and then working off of that. Is J.D. McKissic a better play than Antonio Gibson? It depends. Who will be more highly owned? Gibson makes more sense if fading Tom Brady and co. and stacked with Washington DEF. McKissic makes more sense stacked with Tom Brady and/or Tampa Bay DEF.

TLDR

DK: Alvin Kamara > J.D. McKissic > Cam Akers > Derrick Henry > Ronald Jones > David Montgomery > Nick Chubb > Jonathan Taylor

FD: Alvin Kamara > Derrick Henry > Cam Akers > J.D. McKissic > Antonio Gibson > J.K. Dobbins > Ronald Jones > Jonathan Taylor

Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
DK: $8,500, FD: $9,000

Just to remind everyone, the last time Kamara stepped foot on a field, he set a new career-high in rushing attempts and scored 59.2 fantasy points – the 3rd-most fantasy points by any player in any game over the past 10 seasons.

This season, with Drew Brees starting, Kamara averages an absurd 12.5 carries, 8.3 targets, 21.4 XFP, and 29.3 FPG this year. I’m sure these numbers are somewhat inflated by the absence of Michael Thomas – he played in only 7 games (only 3 with Brees) and will be back this week – but these numbers are still not inflated enough to make him anything less than the top RB play of the week.

The Saints are favored by 10.5 points against a Bears defense that ranks 6th-best in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed (-4.0). That might be a concern with any other RB, but not Kamara, who turned 12 carries and 13 targets into 163 YFS against them in Week 8. Kamara should be prioritized this week, as the No. 1 RB and No. 1 high-priced play of the slate.

Latavius Murray is only in play if Kamara is out, which seems unlikely at the moment. If Kamara is out, Murray is an easy lock-button play. Ownership is irrelevant. Lock button. The end.

David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears
DK: $6,900, FD: $8,400

Since Week 5, Montgomery averages 19.9 FPG and 18.9 XFP on 80% of the team’s snaps. Those numbers rank 4th-, 3rd-, and 1st-best, respectively, among all RBs over this span. Since Week 11, he ranks 2nd among all RBs in FPG (25.7), just 0.4 FPG off of Derrick Henry for the lead. Over this stretch, Montgomery has hit at least 20.0 fantasy points in 6 of 6 games. If you can’t tell, these numbers are pretty crazy, and not at all in line with his current salary on DraftKings.

Of course, likely adjusted into his depressed price-tag is the fact that this is an absolutely brutal matchup. The Bears are 10.5-point road underdogs, and New Orleans ranks best in FPG allowed to opposing RBs (17.8). Adding to the concern is the fact that Montgomery had the position’s overall-softest strength of schedule during his hot streak, worth, in quantifiable terms, a boost of 4.4 FPG to his per-game average. All 7 of his last 7 games came against opponents ranking bottom-10 in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs. And 6 of those 7 games came against opponents ranking bottom-6. New Orleans, meanwhile, ranks best in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs, worth 6.1 FPG off of Montgomery’s per-game average. Essentially, if matchups are everything we should be shaving 10.5 points off of Montgomery’s 25.7 FPG average. Matchups are not everything, but (clearly) this is still pretty big.

Of course, Montgomery’s recent upsurge in production might not entirely be due to his soft schedule. Immediately prior to Montgomery’s hot streak, Bill Lazor took over play-calling duties from Matt Nagy and Cody Whitehair – PFF’s No. 2-graded run blocking center – moved over to left guard. So, clearly there are some other factors at play here.

Ultimately, Montgomery is a risky play but with good upside. He’s a top-5 play on DraftKings, but lower on FanDuel.

Cam Akers, RB, Los Angeles Rams
DK: $5,100, FD: $6,100

Cam Akers is far too cheap on both sites. Far too cheap. Okay, sure, he’s still a bit banged up, dealing with an ankle injury. And okay, yeah, he averaged just 1.6 YPC last week. But he also handled 25 touches of 29 touches out of the backfield. And, since Week 13, he averages 21.5 carries, 2.8 targets, 18.7 XFP, and 16.6 FPG. That sort of volume looks even better when we realize he’s handled a bell cow-like 82% of the backfield’s XFP over this span. For perspective, 18.7 XFP and a 82% XFP share of the backfield would both rank top-6 among all RBs if over the full season. Expect Akers to see good volume again this week (with Darrell Henderson is still out) but with hopefully better efficiency (with LT Andrew Whitworth finally back).

Here’s what HC Sean McVay had to say on Akers in his January 5th press conference:

On paper, the matchup isn’t great. We don’t yet know who the starting QB is going to be, and the Rams are currently 4.0-point road underdogs. Seattle ranks tough on the ground (8th-best in YPC allowed), but they’re not unbeatable – Tennessee and Buffalo are the only defenses playing this week to give up more FPG to RBs than Seattle. Akers is risky, and far from a lock, but he’s also probably still a top-3 RB value on both sites.

Antonio Gibson / J.D. McKissic, RB, Washington Football Team
DK: $5,700, FD: $6,200 / DK: $4,900, FD: $5,400

Washington travels to Tampa Bay as 8.0-point underdogs to face a Tampa Bay defense that ranks 2nd-best in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs (-5.3). They rank best in YPC allowed (3.36), best in rushing FPG allowed (9.0), and 6th-worst in receiving FPG allowed (11.6) to opposing RBs.

Over his last 8 healthy games, Gibson averages 20.5 FPG and 15.3 XFP in wins (4) and 14.1 FPG and 11.9 XFP in losses (4). He’s been highly gamescript-dependent this season. But he’s also highly talented and heavily utilized near the end zone. He could hit, and even post a monster score. But I’ll be betting against it this week (at least on DraftKings, he’s a decent value on FanDuel), and instead turning towards McKissic, who is one of my favorite plays of the slate.

Since Week 9, McKissic has seen a team-high 22% target share. This season, he averages 8.8 targets per game in games Alex Smith has started and finished, but only 5.7 in all other games. Over Washington’s last 4 losses, McKissic averages 12.3 targets, 82.5 total yards, and 21.0 fantasy points per game. Yes, this is a running back putting up WR1 numbers. Over Washington’s last 7 losses, he averages 10.1 targets per game and 17.3 FPG, hitting double-digit fantasy points in all 7 games. He’s seen far less volume and has been far less productive in victories, but gamescript is perfectly in his favor this week. He’s a great value, and probably goes as overlooked as he has all season.

Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
DK: $9,200, FD: $10,200

Henry’s a freak. He’s awesome. I love him. But I also don’t think he’s as much of a lock as he was the past 4 weeks or so.

Over his last 8 games, Henry averages 184.7 rushing YPG and 34.0 DK FPG in victories (5), but 87.0 rushing YPG (87.0) and 10.9 DK FPG in losses. Over his last 22 games, he averages 29.0 FPG in victories (16), and just 12.6 FPG in losses (6) with a high of just 20.2.

Henry is an elite workhorse, but he’s not a bell-cow (arbitrary distinction I defined here), averaging just 7.1 receiving YPG on the season. Meaning he’s always going to be massively gamescript-dependent. That’s a concern this week, as 3.0-point underdogs. A bet on Henry is a bet on a Tennessee victory, or, at least a very close game. And there’s definitely some leeway here. A 3.0-point spread isn’t exactly very high, and Tennessee did win their last 2 games (both in 2020) against Baltimore, with Henry averaging 29.0 carries, 164.0 rushing yards, and 24.2 DKFPG against them.

Baltimore ranks 12th-best in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to RBs (-1.1). They rank 14th-best in YPC allowed (4.48) and 8th-best in rushing FPG allowed (11.5), though the latter stat is also a function of the fact that they led the league in point differential this year. But, again, Henry has had success against them. And the spread is close, and the Over/Under (54.5) is the highest on the slate by a margin (3.5).

I like Henry a lot. I just prefer Kamara. (But feel free to disagree with me. Our projections do.)

Jonathan Taylor / Nyheim Hines, RB, Indianapolis Colts
DK: $7,900, FD: $8,800 / DK: $4,700, FD: $5,600

Since Week 12, Taylor ranks behind only Derrick Henry in FPG, averaging 26.1 FPG and hitting at least 19.0 in 5 of 5 games. Over this span, he averages 19.4 carries, 2.4 targets, 144.6 YFS, and 6.7 YPC. He’s scored 7 touchdowns over the last 4 weeks, and has a low of just 74 rushing yards over his last 6 games. This hot stretch culminated in a monster Week 17, where Taylor was very Henry-like, totaling 253 rushing yards on 30 carries. He played on a season-high 83% of the snaps last week, and has played on 61% of the snaps since Week 11. (He played on just 41% of the team’s snaps over his prior 7 games, only twice eclipsing 45%.)

However, Indianapolis held a lead throughout the majority of all 7 of Taylor’s last 7 games. That’s the concern with Taylor. He’s been held to 2 or fewer targets in 6 of his last 9 games. Like Henry, he’s a workhorse and not a bell cow. Like Henry, he’s awesome, and it might not matter, but he’s definitely at a disadvantage in negative gamescript. And, like Montgomery, his recent hot streak has coincided with a pillow-soft strength of schedule. Since Week 11, he’s had the league’s 2nd-softest schedule at the position (behind Montgomery), worth in quantifiable terms a boost of 4.0 FPG to his per-game average.

Gamescript is a concern this week, as 6.5-point road dogs. But I think this is another soft on-paper matchup for Taylor. The Bills are giving up the 13th-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing RBs (+1.1). They rank 15th-worst in YPC allowed (4.47) while giving up the 11th-most rushing FPG (14.9) to opposing RBs, despite often playing behind a massive tailwind of positive gamescript. Per PFF, Buffalo is the 3rd worst-graded defense against the run.

The last time Indianapolis trailed throughout, Hines saw 10 carries and 10 targets (totaling 95 YFS). He’s vaguely in play, but I don’t expect to have much exposure to him on the full slate, though our projections do like him. He makes a lot more sense as a leverage-play off of Taylor (who will go over-owned) on the Saturday slate. And Taylor is a strong play with legitimate slate-busting upside, but I don’t think I’ll have him in my top-5. (But of course I would have him in the top-5 of a Buffalo-fade lineup. And that’s how you need to be looking at a lot of these players: “How does this particular player make sense on this individual lineup?”)

Nick Chubb / Kareem Hunt, RB, Cleveland Browns
DK: $6,700, FD: $7,700 / DK: $4,800, FD: $5,900

In games both RBs played in full, Nick Chubb out-snapped Kareem Hunt, but only 53% to 46%. Interestingly, when Cleveland trailed by two scores or more, Chubb still out-snapped Hunt (51% to 46%). But when Cleveland led by over a touchdown, Hunt out-snapped Chubb 57% to 40%. That sort of usage is pretty strange considering Hunt is the preferred pass-catching back, and pass-catching backs typically see the bulk of their work in negative gamescript. Hunt out-snapped Chubb last week, but this was the only time that’s happened since Week 12.

Chubb averages 26.9 DK FPG over his last 9 games with LG Wyatt Teller active. Over this span, he’s hit at least 23.5 DKFP in 6 of 9 games, and 35.0-plus in 4 of 9. If you can’t tell, these numbers are wildly good, and point to a massive slate-busting ceiling. Hunt, meanwhile, averages just 53.0 YFS, 3.3 YPC, and 11.2 FPG over his last 7 games.

On paper, the matchup is brutal. Much tougher than it was last week, with Ben Roethlisberger, T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, etc. all out. The Steelers are 6.0-point favorites and rank 2nd-best in FPG allowed to opposing RBs (18.8). Add to this, Cleveland will be without starting RG Joel Bitonio and their HC and play-caller Kevin Stefanski (COVID-19), and the team has only been allowed to practice in a virtual capacity all week.

A bet on Chubb is a bet on Cleveland keeping things at least somewhat close, and talent overcoming a tough matchup. A bet on Hunt looks to me like just a poor one. At least on paper. But then again, he’s cheap, and Cleveland’s RB usage doesn’t seem to be as rational as it should.

{{Ronald Jones|RB|TB}}, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DK: $5,500, FD: $6,700

Tampa Bay is favored by 8.0 points against Washington. In the 8 games Tampa Bay won by 7 or more points, Jones averages 21.7 FPG, but just 9.8 FPG in his other 6 games. Like Taylor and Henry, he’s only a workhorse and not a bell cow. However, according to Vegas, that distinction shouldn’t matter much this week. But he’s also a much lesser version of Taylor and Henry – he’s reached 85 YFS in only 5 of 14 games, and has hit 60% of the team’s snaps only once over his last 9 games.

Although gamescript is strong, Washington is a very tough matchup on paper, ranking 9th-best in YPC allowed (3.93) and 3rd-best in FPG allowed (19.0) to opposing RBs. If this is a blowout, I think we should be looking at something similar to what we saw in Jones’ last 2 games, where he averaged 15.0 carries, 1.0 targets, 81.0 YFS, and 1.0 touchdowns per game. And the ceiling version of that is the 100-yard rushing bonus and 2 touchdowns. But maybe the odds are good – this should be a blowout, and the Buccaneers have scored 122 points over their last 10 quarters.

Jones is a strong play at price. He’s not in my top-5 but he’s not too far off either.

Chris Carson / Carlos Hyde, RB, Seattle Seahawks
DK: $5,900, FD: $7,000 / DK: $4,400, FD: $5,000

In early December, Pete Carroll (who is always overly-optimistic on player injuries) told reporters Chris Carson was not close to 100%, still dealing with the effects of a foot injury. Although Carson has hit at least 4.00 YPC in 11 of his last 11 games, he has seen a diminished workload. Even last week, without Carlos Hyde, he barely out-snapped Rashaad Penny (30 to 28) and Alex Collins was also given 5 carries (1 inside the 10-yard-line). And Carlos Hyde will be back this week.

I think we’re looking at the typical workload from Carson – somewhere around 13 carries and 3 targets. That’s decent volume. Almost good (on a short slate like this), certainly not great. In any case, that’s the usage Carson has seen over his last 5 games, yielding a 13.8 FPG average. Hyde’s usage is even trickier to peg down. (That might be the big takeaway. Pete Carroll’s RB usage hasn’t made much sense this year.) Over Hyde’s last 6 games with Carson active, he’s seen at least 17 touches 3 times and fewer than 3 carries 3 times. I suppose that makes him a decent YOLO / contrarian play for GPPs at his price, but I don’t think that’s the most-likely outcome.

Anyway… The matchup is tough on paper. In their 2 meetings against Los Angeles earlier in the year, no RB reached 12.0 fantasy points, though Hyde and Carson both missed Week 10. The Rams rank 5th-best in YPC allowed (3.79) and 9th-best in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs (-2.9). Seattle is favored, but only by 3.5 with Jared Goff’s status still in question.

I don’t know. This reads to me like a murky situation without much upside. I’m probably looking elsewhere this week.

Baltimore Ravens RBs

JK Dobbins averages 12.8 carries, 0.7 targets, and 16.2 FPG since Week 11 (52% Snap%), scoring at least 1 touchdown in 6 of his last 6 games. Since Week 13, Gus Edwards averages 10.0 carries, 1.2 targets, and 12.1 FPG on a 36% Snap%.

Baltimore has the highest implied point total on the slate (29.0), which is great, and projected gamescript in their favor, but not a lot of it, favored by 3.5-points. The on-paper matchup is soft – Tennessee is giving up the 5th-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing RBs. The next two worst defenses playing this week rank 13th- and 19th-. Tennessee ranks 11th-worst in YPC allowed (4.57), 8th-worst in rushing FPG allowed (15.6), and 15th-worst in receiving FPG allowed (10.5).

Dobbins is a high-level talent and the league-leader in YPC (6.0), but he does have serious volume concerns. He’s caught just one pass over his last 5 games and has a season-high of only 15 carries this year.

I think Dobbins is not very high on my priority list. The volume just isn’t good enough to warrant much exposure. But, ultimately, he’s fine. He’s affordable. He could go off. But he’d probably have to do it the same way he went off last week, when he turned 13 carries into 160 yards and 2 scores. I’m far more of a volume-chaser at the RB position, rather than someone who bets on efficiency. But, again, he’s “fine.”

James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
DK: $5,000 / FD: $6,200

Benny Snell scored 19.7 fantasy points in Week 15, with James Conner out. And then Conner scored 17.6 fantasy points the following week. Outside of that, a Pittsburgh RB hasn't exceeded 15.0 fantasy points since Week 6. Pittsburgh has been the league’s 2nd-most pass-heavy team over this stretch, passing on 71% of plays versus a 58% expectation (based on situation and score differential.)

Projected gamescript (-6.0) favors Pittsburgh’s RBs this week, but that’s been true for a while without it ever really yielding positive outcomes. The on-paper matchup is tough, however. Cleveland ranks 8th-best in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs (-3.2) and top-10 in both YPC allowed (4.07) and receiving FPG allowed (7.8) to opposing RBs.

Maybe there’s something here, but I’m not really seeing it.

Buffalo Bills RBs

Since Week 9, Devin Singletary averages 8.0 FPG and Zack Moss averages 6.9 FPG. On small slates like this, there’s an edge to be had if one of these two RBs goes off at low ownership. But that’s really the entirety of the argument for Singletary or Moss – no one will be playing them.

But when I’m rostering a low-owned player, I want it to make at least some sense. There has to be something in the data justifying their place on my roster beyond low-ownership. Something, anything hinting at a ceiling game. And I’m just not seeing that from either RB. So, I doubt I have any exposure to either RB this week.

Scott Barrett combines a unique background in philosophy and investing alongside a lifelong love of football and spreadsheets to serve as FantasyPoints’ Director of Analytics and Lead DFS Writer.

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