Daily Fantasy Football Running Back Primer: Week 1
When building daily fantasy football lineups, tackling the running back position first is a great way to kick off your research process. Due to the volume of the position, you'll typically find less variance at running back compared to their counterparts at wide receivers and tight end, and unlike quarterbacks, you can roster up to three backs in any given FanDuel lineup. Figuring out your favorite core plays is important for establishing a foundation in both cash games and tournaments.
With that in mind, let's start building that core! In this piece, we'll go through the top overall plays at various price points on FanDuel's main slate every week. Then, we'll follow that up by taking a look at the riskier or lower-owned guys you might want to target in tournaments.
Studs of the Week
Saquon Barkley ($9,200) and Christian McCaffrey ($8,900): Let's get these two out of the way first. You probably don't need me to tell you that two of the consensus top overall picks in season-long drafts are elite plays in pretty much any matchup.
In 2018, Barkley averaged 16.3 rushes and 7.6 targets per game, while McCaffrey tallied 13.7 carries and 7.8 targets. With consistent volume on the ground, through the air, and in the red zone, few can match the high floor and ceiling this duo brings to the table.
Of the two, Barkley gets the tougher matchup on the road against the Cowboys, a team that ranked third in Adjusted Defensive Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play last season. Still, Barkley performed just fine against them in both 2018 matchups, even seeing a whopping 16 targets (14 receptions) in Week 2.
Our projections have Barkley and McCaffrey tied for the most fantasy points among running backs in Week 1.
While Ezekiel Elliott ($9,100) would normally be right there with them, he's an extremely dicey play with the expectation that he'll be limited to just 20 to 25 snaps. Even if this proves to be an exaggeration, it's pretty apparent that Elliott won't see a full workload against the Giants, making it difficult to justify rostering him as the second-most expensive running back on the board.
Dalvin Cook ($7,400): According to numberFire's projections, Dalvin Cook shakes out as the top point-per-dollar back of the slate, and that's with plenty good reason as a 4.0-point home favorite against the Falcons. Last season, Atlanta's defense was the second-worst against the run by our metrics, and they were frequently tormented by running backs in the passing game, too, allowing the most receptions and second-most receiving yards to opposing backfields. That all lines up perfectly for a monster day from Cook, who should have a hefty workload with Latavius Murray no longer around to steal touches.
Nick Chubb ($7,400): With Duke Johnson shipped out of town and Kareem Hunt out of the picture until Week 10, Nick Chubb has a stranglehold on this backfield to begin the year. Favored by 5.5 points at home against the Titans, the game script should favor a heavy dosage of Chubb, and he could even see an uptick in receiving work this season. Upon being named the starter in Week 7 a year ago, he averaged just over 20 touches across his last 10 games.
Kerryon Johnson ($7,000): Although the Lions are on the road, they're still 2.5-point favorites over the Cardinals, and Kerryon Johnson gets a fantastic draw against a defense that gave up the most FanDuel points to running backs last year and ranked 28th against the run by numberFire's marks. Johnson should see a boost in targets with Theo Riddick out of the picture, and with Arizona's offense likely playing at a breakneck pace under Kliff Kingsbury, that can only mean even more possessions for Johnson and the Lions.
Chris Carson ($6,600): Dalvin Cook and Chris Carson figure to be two of the most popular plays on Sunday, with Carson coming in at an even cheaper price tag despite being in a fantastic spot against the Bengals. The Seahawks are not only a 9.5-point home favorite, but they were the run-heaviest team in the league last season and the only one that ran on more than half their plays. That bodes well for their lead back in a date with numberFire's 27th-ranked rush defense in 2018.
Austin Ekeler ($6,400): With Melvin Gordon still holding out and not expected back any time soon, it will be the Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson ($5,900) show as 6.5-point favorites against the visiting Colts this weekend.
Gordon missed three games last year in which both Ekeler and Jackson were active, and if we throw out a Week 7 game before Jackson was involved in the offense, over the other two -- Weeks 13 and 14 -- Ekeler averaged 14 carries and 6.5 targets, while Jackson averaged just 7.5 and 1.5. Ekeler also exceeded 68% of the snaps in each of those games, whereas Jackson was below 40% in both.
Of course, we're talking about a rather small sample, and with talk of something closer to a 50-50 split during the preseason, it's very reasonable to expect that gap to close. While that makes Jackson worth a shot in GPPs, Ekeler should still be the safer overall play as the guy who will be more involved in the passing game and has had the workload edge in the past.
Todd Gurley ($7,600): Your guess is as good as mine regarding how much Todd Gurley plays in Week 1, but we know how massive his ceiling is on this high-flying Rams offense. Even if the days of him averaging more than 20 touches a game are over, Gurley should still be the guy getting those precious goal-line snaps, so a path to a multi-score game is still well within the realm of possibilities. For what it's worth, Sean McVay stated that Gurley won't be on a snap count this weekend. And despite being on the road against Carolina, the Rams have a robust 25.75 implied total.
Leonard Fournette ($7,200): If you're rolling with a Chiefs stack this weekend, why not run it back with Leonard Fournette? His involvement in the passing game should keep him on the field even if Jacksonville falls behind, and Kansas City was numberFire's worst run defense in 2018. Fournette is coming off a disappointing sophomore campaign, but he's saying all the right things entering the season and will be the clear lead back in Week 1.
Damien Williams ($6,900): Much like Gurley, Damien Williams' volume is a giant question mark with LeSean McCoy ($5,800) now around, but he's an important cog in an offense that could pile up the points against the Jaguars. Sure, a road contest against Jacksonville isn't the most appealing matchup, but this game still has a 51.5 total -- the highest of the slate -- and Kansas City put up at least 26 points in every game last season.
Rostering a running back in a committee is never any fun, but Williams is still expected to be the starter, and if he gets off to a strong start in this one, perhaps he gets the bulk of the work in Week 1. As Williams demonstrated down the stretch in 2018, we all know how much upside he has in this offense when given the chance.
Matt Breida ($5,400): Yet another back in a shared backfield, Matt Breida will split duties with Tevin Coleman ($6,300) against the Buccaneers. Perhaps this ends up being a fairly even split, but Breida is technically the presumed starter and is the much cheaper of the two backs. He won't have to be perfect to justify his price tag, and there's plenty of scoring upside in a potential shootout (50.5 over/under).