Daily Fantasy Football Running Back Primer: Week 3
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
Ezekiel Elliott ($8,800): After splitting carries with Tony Pollard in Week 1, Ezekiel Elliott put to rest any worries about his workload last week against Washington. Elliott racked up 23 carries and a pair of receptions on his way to 120 total yards and a touchdown, while Pollard was relegated to a mere five touches.
With Elliott now fully unleashed, the only thing stopping him from having a big performance on Sunday is how quickly the Cowboys decide to ease up in an expected beatdown of the woeful Dolphins. Not only does Dallas have a slate-high 35.00-point implied total, but they're massive 22.5-point home favorites. That's right, they could win by three touchdowns and fail to cover the spread.
And on top of all that, Miami has one of the league's worst run defenses through two weeks, ranking 28th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play.
Perhaps Elliott gets rested some in the second half, but the Cowboys will naturally have to score a bunch of touchdowns to get out to that comfortable lead, and there's a good chance he'll be the guy cashing in on said touchdowns Even with his split workload in Week 1, Elliott has compiled 8 of the Cowboys' 10 rushes in the red zone.
Not only is Elliott numberFire's top-projected back of the slate, but he's also the best point-per-dollar value.
Dalvin Cook ($8,300): From one heavy favorite to another, the Vikings may not be favored by more than three scores, but they're expected to win fairly easily versus the visiting Raiders, with Minnesota listed as 9.0-point home favorites.
And if there's one thing Minnesota likes to do, it's run the ball. In a positive game script against the Falcons in Week 1, they only had Kirk Cousins throw 10 times all game, and while they had to pass more in a comeback attempt against the Packers last week, they still rank dead last in passing play percentage through two games.
As a result, Cook has tallied at least 20 rushes in back-to-back games (along with 5 combined targets), and we're likely to see things play out much as they did in Week 1, with Cousins taking a backseat to the running game. This should be even more the case after Cousins' disastrous Week 2 performance, too, where he only completed 43.8% of his passes and was picked off twice.
Oakland also ranks just 18th against the run by numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics and was 29th in 2018.
Saquon Barkley ($9,200) and Christian McCaffrey ($8,900) remain strong plays as true bell-cow backs, though they're arguably more geared toward tournaments as high-priced road underdogs with uncertain quarterback situations. The Giants are handing the reins over to Daniel Jones, which could (should?) be a net positive against the Buccaneers, but we simply won't know until we see how things play out. Meanwhile, Cam Newton has been ruled out against the Cardinals, leaving Kyle Allen as the starter in Week 3.
Austin Ekeler ($7,600): Austin Ekeler has done a fine Melvin Gordon impression for the Chargers, averaging 14.5 carries and 6.5 targets through two weeks. He's the clear lead back ahead of Justin Jackson, seeing the field for 74% of the snaps, compared to just 26% for Jackson. And while they've split touches in the red zone, Ekeler has been the guy in close, scooping up five of the Chargers' seven rushes inside the 10-yard line and all three carries inside the 5-yard line.
Best of all, despite cracking 20 FanDuel points in back-to-back weeks, Ekeler remains fairly affordable, and another strong performance could be coming up against the Texans. The Chargers are 3.5-point home favorites, and Houston comes in as numberFire's 30th-ranked defense against the run.
David Johnson ($7,000): A quick look at last week's box score, and you might be concerned by David Johnson's usage against the Ravens as he only logged eight touches and saw his snap rate drop from 87% in Week 1 to 60%.
But much of that had to do with a wrist injury that forced Johnson to miss a fair amount of time in the first half, which perhaps also explains why he saw just one target after getting seven the prior game. He's already been declared good to go for this week, though, and if his volume jumps back up to his Week 1 tally (24 touches), then we're getting quite the deal on a workhorse back at just $7,000.
The matchup also checks out, as the Cardinals are slight home favorites against a Panthers team starting an inexperienced Kyle Allen. Carolina ranks just 26th against the run by numberFire's metrics.
According to our projections, Johnson is the second-best point-per-dollar running back value on the board.
Chris Carson ($7,000): Much like the Vikings, the Seahawks prefer to run the ball, ranking just 26th in passing play percentage this season and dead last in that stat in 2018. That's helped Chris Carson to 15 rushes in each of the first two games, and he also remains involved in the passing game, with target totals of seven and three. He's in fantastic spot as a 5.0-point home favorite over the Saints, who just so happen to be the worst rushing defense thus far, per our numbers.
But the one caveat that comes with rostering Carson is that Rashaad Penny could be starting to creep into his workload. Following a small role in Week 1, Penny saw 10 rushes and a target last week, and subsequently, Carson's snap rate dropped from 77% to 54%. Penny still only saw the field for 33% of the snaps -- so this remains Carson's backfield -- but Carson has also already accounted for a pair of fumbles (and was involved in a third), and the Seahawks have been quick to change backfield roles in the past.
The fantastic matchup keeps Carson squarely in play at this price tag, but be aware of the risk if Seattle continues increasing Penny's share of the pie.
Frank Gore ($5,700): Given the plethora of mid-range values this week, you might not need to drop this far down in cash games, but Frank Gore sure is intriguing at this price tag with Devin Singletary ruled out for Week 3.
Even with Singletary healthy for most of last week's game, Gore enjoyed a hefty workload, seeing the field for 59% of the snaps while notching 19 carries and catching a pair of targets. T.J. Yeldon figures to see an increased role on Sunday, but seeing as he's only taken part in 5% of the snaps so far, Gore should easily earn another 20-plus touches.
The matchup is a nice one, too, with the Bills favored by 6.0 points at home over the Bengals. Cincinnati has already allowed five touchdowns to opposing backfields (three rushing, two receiving), leading to them giving up the most fantasy points to the position through two weeks.
Alvin Kamara ($8,000): We typically view Alvin Kamara as a clear-cut top play most weeks, but with Drew Brees out for an extended stretch, the Saints now find themselves with an uncharacteristically low 19.75 implied total in Seattle with either Teddy Bridgewater and/or Taysom Hill manning the ship. Bridgewater wasn't terribly effective in relief of Brees last week, earning -0.02 Passing NEP per drop back -- a far cry from the 0.35 Passing NEP per drop back Brees earned before his injury.
This situation leaves Kamara on some shaky ground if this offense suddenly swirls down the toilet without Brees, and it won't help matters that he's also up against the top schedule-adjusted rushing defense through two weeks.
That said, we know the touches should still be there, with Kamara averaging 13.0 carries and 5.5 targets so far, and all it takes is one breakaway play to fly up the running back leaderboards. As pointed out in Brandon Gdula's game notes this week, the Seahawks are also susceptible to pass-catching backs, which falls right into Kamara's wheelhouse.
And while he's still the fifth-most expensive back, this is a good chunk cheaper than Kamara's salary over the first two games, allowing us to get him at both a slight discount and potentially lower ownership.
Sony Michel ($6,800): Sony Michel bounced back with 83 yards and a score off 21 carries last week, but his usual lack of receiving work and a lost fumble left him with a somewhat unspectacular 12.3 FanDuel points. Still, he came just short of a second score on the one-yard line and already has eight red zone carries this season, so it's likely only a matter of time before Michel gets himself a multi-touchdown game.
Like the Cowboys, the Patriots are favored by a ridiculous 22.0 points and have an enormous 32.75 implied total over the Jets. The Pats should once again roll this week, so expect another 20 or so rushes for Michel in the positive game script.