DFS Running Back Analysis: Week 1

Sep 08, 2017
DFS Running Back Analysis: Week 1

I have never been one for a huge intro with witty remarks or clever a opening statement. And now that I am writing here at 4for4, I intend to keep it that way. I am stoked to be here this season and look forward to helping you become a better DFS player. I will be breaking down the running back position each week based on the following set of criteria:

  • Chalk: The players who should end up being very highly owned for the slate.
  • Studs: Expensive players with high floor and ceilings that should come with a lower ownership percentages than the chalk.
  • Mid-Range: Players who come in cheaper than studs but aren't value or "punt" plays.
  • Value: The cheapest options at the position.

Here is my breakdown on a handful of running backs, including their upside, downside, and where we can find an edge for the week one slate of games.

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Until further notice, LeVeon Bell and David Johnson will always project as being the highest-owned RBs on any slate. While I am not entirely sure you can fully commit to #TeamJamEmIn this week, you may want to find a way. Both Bell and Johnson ended up 3x-ing their salary in 62% of the games they played last year. They also 4x-ed their salary in 25% of the games they played. This truly shows the floor/ceiling that each of them have.

Just keep in mind if you end up rostering both, you will be giving up a lot of volume and TD equity at your WR slots, and you will need to rely on a value QB. At the end of the day, I think playing the cheaper one on your DFS site of choice in cash and having exposure to both in GPPs is the optimal move.

  • LeVeon Bell ($9300/$9800) - If looking to target just one of Bell or DJ, Bell has a much better matchup, as the Browns rank 27th in RB aFPA and allowed 18 TDs to opposing running backs last year. It is worth noting that the Steelers might ease Bell back into work since he held out in the preseason.
  • David Johnson ($9400/$9400) - The Cardinals scored 42% of their touchdowns in the red zone on rushing plays while the Steelers scored 28% of theirs in the red zone in 2016. DJ also saw 88% of his team's rush attempts from inside the 5, while Bell was at 71%.
  • Carlos Hyde ($6800/$4600) - Volume is the name of the game in DFS, especially early on, and Hyde should certainly have it. Hyde was a top-12 running back in terms of offensive snaps played last year (66%), and was fairly efficient on those snaps, averaging .38 fantasy points per snap. He will have a tough matchup versus a Carolina defense we have projected eighth in RB aFPA (which is most certainly contributing to San Francisco’s low, 21.5-point implied team total). Hyde will be full-on chalk over at DraftKings, but he is priced up a tad on FanDuel, which will drive down his ownership over there.

The other RB that has a good shot at being chalk is Todd Gurley ($7300/$6000). He comes at almost a $4,000 discount from Bell on DraftKings, and is priced below guys like Jordan Howard on FanDuel. Gurley should get plenty of touches as a three-down back—many of which should come from inside the Colts' 20-yard line. Gurley handled over 25 touches in the red zone last year, including 10 touches from inside the 5, which ended up converting into 5 TDs. The Rams are currently -3.5 home favorites, have a 22.5 implied team total, and will get the 24th-ranked defense in projected RB aFPA.


Obviously, the aforementioned Bell and Johnson are studs on this slate. But there are a few more high-priced guys we should pay attention to, such as LeSean McCoy, Jordan Howard, Devonta Freeman, and DeMarco Murray.

At first, I thought LeSean McCoy ($8500/$8200) was going to be the perfect pivot off DJ/Bell lineups, but as the week goes on, I think he might end up carrying a tad more ownership than I originally projected. That being said, he carries a huge workload and should push a 80% snap percentage this year. He was extremely efficient last season, averaging 0.46 fantasy points per snap. The Bills are slate-high 9.5-point home favorites, and once Vegas releases player props, I would be surprised if McCoy is anything less than a -200 favorite to score a TD this Sunday.

Since Jordan Howard ($7500/$6300) and Devonta Freeman ($8300/7000) will be playing in a game with one of the highest totals on the slate (it's sitting at 49.5 as of this writing), here are some bullet points for them:

  • Both the Bears and Falcons are ranked 25th or below in projected RB aFPA, so the matchup is prime for both. I do think that the Bears front seven is much improved this year, so keep that in mind.
  • Both Howard and Freeman will handle goal-line carries, and both should be involved in the passing game. Freeman saw 9.9% of his team's market share of targets, while Howard saw 8.1%. Freeman trumped Howard at the goal line as well, handling 15 attempts from inside the 5, while Howard only handle 6.
  • Chicago is the home underdog; Freeman’s team is favored to win by 7 points.
  • Howard out-snapped Freeman by 10% last year, 685–58%.

Out of all the stud RBs, DeMarco Murray ($7600/$7400) might be my favorite. The Titans are a -2 home favorite and carry an implied team total upwards of 26 points. Oakland ranks 21st in projected RB aFPA. Murray is also the pass-catching back in this offense, and will be running behind what is perhaps the best offensive line in football right now. I know Derrick Henry is a concern, but I think he becomes a true concern latter on in the year.


Running backs like Gurley, Marshawn Lynch ($6900/$5300), Kareem Hunt ($5800/$5800), and Melvin Gordon ($7400 should carry the highest ownership in this tier, but below are a few other RBs to take note of:

**Note — Jay Ajayi was in this tier, but that MIA/TB game has been postponed**

  • Christian McCaffrey ($6500/$5400) - It is no secret this dude has talent and speed; according to playerprofiler.com, he ranked in the 98th percentile in college dominator and the 97th percentile in agility score. He will most likely concede goal-line work to Jonathan Stewart early on, but that is also baked into his price. With his matchup being so soft (the 49s are ranked 31st in RB aFPA), he might be able to do a lot with his projected 13–14 touches.
  • Isaiah Crowell ($6500/$5300) - He is a heavy underdog, so there’s always a risk of game script going awry, but he has a top-five projected matchup against the Steelers and home-field advantage going for him behind what should be one of the league’s best offensive lines.
  • Ty Montgomery ($6600/$5800) - The Green Bay game has the highest over under of the slate at 51 points. The Packers are a -3 home favorite and have an implied team total of 27 points. Ty Montgomery will be put to the test early and often this season and this is the perfect place for Green Bay to do it. Montgomery was efficient with his snaps last year (0.35 fantasy points per snap), and is heavily involved in passing downs.


Value is a little hard to find on this slate, as most of the inexpensive RBs are splitting time and/or have undefined roles in the offense. Duke Johnson and Darren Sproles are two RBs who are cheap, but fit the bill of third down and passing-down-only specialists.

Carlos Hyde ($6800/$4600), whom I touched on above, is a lock for value on DraftKings, but not so much so on FanDuel, though he could go underowned there due to pricing.

One running back who is not in a time share and will defiantly see his teams goal line work is Frank Gore ($6000/$4300). Sadly, Andrew Luck is not starting this game, so we definitely lose some TD equity, as the Colts might be hard pressed to find the red zone in this game. However, in games where Luck did not start, Gore still saw an average of 16.6 rushing attempts and 3.6 targets per game, which is decent volume for the 45th-highest priced RB on DraftKings and 32nd-highest priced RB on FanDuel.

The running back situation in Detroit is a hard one for me to wrap my fingers around. John Paulson has both of the their RBs in his top 25 PPR rankings for season-long leagues, indicating they should both be in for a good year. Ameer Abdullah ($6100/$4300) missed essentially all of last season with a fractured foot, but should be the early-down back while Theo Riddick ($5900/$4700) takes the passing-down work. Detroit is a home underdog, but does have a healthy implied team total of 23.25 points heading into Sunday. The game script here screams to me that Theo should see a heathy amount of snaps and could even be featured in 2-minute or hurry-up offense. He is priced slightly more than Abdullah on DraftKings but is still a value.

Full-Slate Notes

It is worth noting that C.J. Anderson ($7200/$6600) is a top value on DraftKings, but on FanDuel. The Chargers rank 27th in RB aFPA and Denver is a -3.5 home favorite with a healthy 23.5 team total. We might be singing a different tune, however, if Jamaal Charles ($5500/$4200) starts to work his way into a true role in the offense, but I don't see that happening for a few weeks.

Run good this Sunday and hit me up on Twitter @RyanHodge if you have any questions!

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