By John Evans
Special to Yahoo Sports
Fantasy football is a game of matchups, as an NFL player can dominate his competition one week and then be neutralized the next. (Just ask my long-lost cousin, Mike Evans.) By Week 6 the data on teams’ strengths and weaknesses is fairly robust, though the fluctuating health of key players will change the equation on a week-to-week basis. I try to take all that into account when analyzing DFS prices for running back plays.
Touting the same guys two weeks in a row is something I don’t do here, but between you and me, last week’s hits Leonard Fournette, Aaron Jones and Derrick Henry are all good starts again. To keep it interesting, though, here are some predictions that touch on other teams and players. As usual, I find a high-priced guy I’d fade and four better values for you.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns ($31 in Yahoo DFS)
Whatever the failings of the Browns’ offense in general or their o-line specifically, betting against Nick Chubb hasn’t been a profitable enterprise this season. Chubb is just that good at football. It took time for the former Georgia Bulldog to fully recover from his gruesome 2015 knee injury, but by the time he hit the combine, his elite athleticism was back. Chubb exceeded the 90th percentile in both Speed Score and Burst Score. This season he’s fourth in rushing yards per game, averaging over five yards per attempt, and breaking 22 MPH runs. Chubb checks in as the RB5 in Yahoo scoring.
Cleveland’s offensive line has been more help than harm. While Baker Mayfield has been under pressure for more than half of his drop-backs, this unit has relied on interior strength to spring Chubb. Sixty percent of Cleveland’s carries are inside runs, and both Joel Bitonio and J.C. Tretter have been top-five run blockers at their positions. Cleveland is sixth in rushing yards before contact. Nonetheless, this isn’t a line that will dominate all comers. They are just 20th in Adjusted Line Yards, Football Outsiders’ measure of run-blocking effectiveness.
In Week 6 Chubb and Co. host Seattle, a tougher draw than some metrics suggest. While they’ve given up five touchdowns to RBs, this defense has shut down a whos-who of ball-carriers between the twenties. The Seahawks have limited the following running backs to an average of 43 rushing yards, at 3.6 per carry: Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Alvin Kamara, James Conner, and Joe Mixon. They’ve been more generous to RBs via the air, but Chubb is averaging 22 receiving yards per game. Not bad, and more than last year, but he remains reliant on his rushing prowess to produce. Seattle’s interior run-pluggers – Quinton Jefferson, Al Woods, and Poona Ford – have graded very well. At the second level, the great Bobby Wagner has been top-three in run defense and K.J. Wright isn’t far behind.
Is Chubb a matchup buster? He has been so far. And yet, while Chubb is crazy-talented and dominating touches in his backfield — two BIG advantages — the Browns are 17th in total rushing yards and the sophomore stud has just 11 red-zone touches (one goal-line carry). In season-long leagues, Chubb remains a must-start RB1, but paying this DFS price ($31) is a gamble I’d rather not take in a week with many other options.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints ($29 in Yahoo DFS)
I almost never write about Alvin Kamara, as it just seems too obvious. He’s a fantastic back and has perhaps the league’s most dependable offensive line creating opportunities for him. What’s more, Kamara is rarely a DFS bargain. This week, however, the Saints’ star should not be overlooked.
New Orleans’ opponent has a reputation for being one of the toughest matchups in the league, but they haven’t been in 2019. In fact, the Jacksonville Jaguars are allowing 136.6 rushing yards per game, which is eighth-worst in the NFL, and this D is dead last in Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency rating. Only seven teams have surrendered more runs of 20 or more yards. (Alvin Kamara has four breakaway runs, good for eighth in the league.) While the ageless Calais Campbell still grades very well vs. the ground game, and Yannick Ngakoue has improved markedly, the Jags’ linebackers are struggling to stop the run. Rookie Quincy Williams has been a massive liability in that department.
Meanwhile, only the Cowboys’ La’el Collins has graded better than Saints tackle Ryan Ramczyk in run blocking. Center Erik McCoy’s rookie season has gone as well as could be hoped. Yes, Terron Armstead and Andrus Peat have disappointed, but New Orleans is still seventh in Adjusted Line Yards and finding great success on outside runs. The Jaguars are bottom-eight when defending right-end runs, so this advantage will likely be exploited on Sunday.
The fact that Kamara has just two touchdowns may be depressing his DFS price, but with his heavy usage — turns out Latavius Murray is no Mark Ingram – he’s due to score more. Per PlayerProfiler.com, the former Tennessee Volunteer is No. 1 in Evaded Tackles average and No. 2 in Juke Rate, which basically means he’s ridiculously elusive. Those stats, along with Jacksonville linebackers struggling to tackle, make for an explosive combo.
Keep in mind, however, that Alvin Kamara is reportedly questionable for Sunday’s contest with an ankle injury, although his absence from practice is being described as more precaution than anything else. Monitor the situation before setting your DFS lineups, but if he’s good to go, pay the $29, play Kamara, and expect a spike week.
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks ($27 in Yahoo DFS)
While I also like James Conner ($24) against the Chargers, I’ll pony up the extra $3 to deploy the runaway train that is Chris Carson. He’s on the other side of Chubb’s matchup and, as formidable as Seattle’s run defense has been, Cleveland’s has been just the opposite of late. The Browns’ defensive line ranks 29th in Adjusted Line Yards allowed and RBs have scored scads of fantasy points against Cleveland. Their run defense has not been the same without linebacker Christian Kirksey, but last week’s debacle against the 49ers was a new low (245 rushing yards, 2 TDs). Sheldon Richardson is the only part of this front seven that is grading well in the ground game.
In the trenches, these units are a study in contrast. According to Football Outsiders, Seattle has been extremely effective running to the outside and Cleveland has been extremely ineffective at defending outside runs. (They’re not great up the middle, either.) While the Seahawks’ line lacks stars, this well-coached group gets the job done. Even with guard D.J. Fluker likely out on Sunday, the next man up (Jamarco Jones) was doing work against Aaron Donald and the Rams last week.
Not only does Carson run like a man possessed — he’s second only to Kamara in broken tackles — the former Oklahoma State Cowboy is hogging the team’s RB touches right now. Every year the Seahawks seem to get most of their touchdowns through the air, but two of Carson’s three scores this season came on receptions. One way or another, he’s likely to do some end-zone celebrating this week.
Carlos Hyde, Houston Texans ($18 in Yahoo DFS)
As there’s no hype on Hyde, the retread RB is likely to be little-used in DFS this week. That’s just another reason to like him. This no-frills chain-mover has been quietly solid so far, without a dud game to sink fantasy gamers. He’s actually 18th in Football Outsiders’ DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, which puts him ahead of big names like David Johnson, Chris Carson, and Joe Mixon. Last week Hyde got 21 carries and found the end zone. There’s no doubt the Texans saw Indy’s formula for victory against Kansas City’s high-powered attack and will hope to emulate it this week.
That might not be possible if Patrick Mahomes is feeling spry, but the Chiefs’ run defense was exploitable even before interior defenders Xavier Williams (IR) and Chris Jones (Doubtful) landed on the shelf this week. K.C. is near the very bottom of the league in most metrics. Ex-Brown Emmanuel Ogbah has found new life in Chiefs Kingdom, but the rest of this front seven has really struggled.
Meanwhile, the much-maligned Houston offensive line is more than holding its own on running plays. Not only are the Texans 13th in Adjusted Line Yards, but they’ve also been shockingly effective in short-yardage situations and only five teams have had their RBs stuffed at or behind the line less frequently.
Now, Houston didn’t compile those stats against a murderer’s row of defenses, but they aren’t facing New England here. Hyde should make hay if the game is competitive, and I think it will be. Yes, Tyreek Hill could break a couple of long ones (if he plays) and put Houston in a hole, but the way things are trending I expect the Texans to hang. Regardless, Hyde’s backfield mate, Duke Johnson, isn’t heavily involved right now.
Adrian Peterson, Washington Redskins ($16 in Yahoo DFS)
I’m not going to spout a bunch of stats about Washington’s offensive line being good because, frankly, it isn’t. This unit is 27th in Adjusted Line Yards and really, really misses Trent Williams (and Brandon Scherff, a devastating run blocker). Williams won’t be back this week, but the good news is that Adrian Peterson will be going up against the Miami Dolphins.
The very same Miami Dolphins who have been a fantasy goldmine for opposing running backs.
Interim coach Bill Callahan has told the world to expect Peterson-friendly playcalling, which may be gamesmanship but is probably not a complete bluff, either. The quarterback carousel in Washington has reached laughable proportions and beyond rookie WR Terry McLaurin, the passing game isn’t a strength in the nation’s capital.
Of course, the rushing attack has been even more anemic, so playing Peterson this week is all about the matchup. Washington’s defense isn’t good but they’ve been far better than Miami’s historically putrid performance to date, so it’s easy to imagine a run-heavy game-script working for the visitors, who are road favorites. That’s what Peterson needs to produce. AP isn’t the elusive breakaway runner he used to be, but he’s still got “it” and can capitalize on a dream matchup like this one. Fire him up.