By John Evans
Special to Yahoo Sports
In this season of jack-o’-lanterns, scary movies, and costume parties, a fright no one wants to experience is looking at a daily fantasy card that bombed. You want to feel chills of excitement as the running backs you chose terrorize opposing defenses on Sunday. The trick (and the treat) is choosing players with the right combination of ability, offensive line help, and favorable defensive matchup.
I’ve identified a cluster of RBs in the $18 to $20 range who provide the best value this week. These guys can easily outperform their price tag while bringing more certainty than cheaper options. But let’s start with someone you should bypass for his backfield mate …
Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers ($23 in Yahoo DFS)
Not so long ago the privilege of playing Melvin Gordon commanded a high price in DFS, but this season has been a different story. Gordon hasn’t seemed like the same player since returning from his self-imposed exile. If carries were the only metric we cared about, his 12, 8 and 16 aren’t terrible in today’s NFL. But over those three games, Austin Ekeler has received nine more snaps and four of them were last week, so this isn’t just about knocking off rust. And yes, Gordon scored a receiving touchdown in that game, but he’s averaging a meager 27 yards rushing. That kind of production gets no one’s heart aflutter.
The good (no, great) news is that left tackle Russell Okung is slated to return this week. That should help an offensive line that has looked like a row of turnstiles at times this season (the Pittsburgh game springs immediately to mind). Okung has been a fine run blocker throughout his career and this unit could really use the help. Injuries have exposed a crippling lack of depth for Los Angeles. The Chargers are 24th in Adjusted Line Yards, Football Outsiders’ measure of run blockers’ effectiveness, and the team has fallen to 27th in rushing yards per game.
In Week 8 the Bolts’ backs must contend with the feared Chicago defense, but lately, these Bears have looked a little mangy. Losing Akiem Hicks, a bulwark of the D-line, has really hurt them. Over their last two games, Chicago has been run over by Josh Jacobs and Latavius Murray. The week before that they bottled up Dalvin Cook — no easy task — but Cook still found the end zone and added six receptions to give him 70 total yards.
In fact, over the last month, the Bears have allowed the fifth-most receptions to running backs. Since Gordon returned, he has nine catches to Ekeler’s 25. The Chargers have become one of the league’s most pass-happy teams, so that’s important. What’s more, Keenan Allen was a late addition to the Chargers’ injury report (hamstring), which often means a midweek injury and heralds a murky status for gameday. You may be aware that the Chargers’ pass-catchers outside of Allen and Ekeler are the oft-injured Hunter Henry and the usually-playing-hurt Mike Williams. That’s pretty much it. Were Allen to sit this one out, it looks like a week where the passing game flows through two to three players. As has been the case all season, Ekeler would be one of them.
Both Gordon and Ekeler could have success in this contest. The Bears have allowed five rushing touchdowns in their last three games, and even with his game-ending goal-line fumble, Gordon could get one here (Ekeler has blown more than one of those himself, you may recall). MGIII might justify that $23 price tag, but deploying Ekeler ($19) instead will save you $4 to use elsewhere. I think he’s the better bet to produce, anyway.
LeSean McCoy, Kansas City Chiefs ($20 in Yahoo DFS)
A top dog has emerged in the Chiefs’ committee backfield and it’s LeSean McCoy. While Shady isn’t dominating snaps, he’s turned 20 carries into 108 yards (5.4 yards per pop) over the last two weeks while the Williamses have 12 totes for just 14 yards. They’ve totaled six receptions to McCoy’s four, but it’s pretty clear which Chiefs back would be the beneficiary of a greater emphasis on the ground game.
Which brings us to this week. It’s likely the Chiefs run the ball more when Green Bay comes to town. Not even this diehard Raiders fan was the least bit happy to see Patrick Mahomes go down in Denver, but it happened and Matt Moore will presumably be under center in his stead. Though Tyreek Hill can always take a short pass to the house (and did so against Denver), it’s safe to say that with a QB who was out of the league last year, we can expect a less explosive passing attack.
After seeing what Aaron Rodgers did to Oakland in Week 7, Andy Reid probably doesn’t want this game to turn into a test of dueling passers. His defense might not give him a choice but Big Red will almost certainly see the wisdom in ball control for this matchup. While the Packers’ pass defense has slid drastically of late, they are still easier to run on than drop back and pass against. They have a fearsome pass rush but have been gashed on the ground. Over the last month Green Bay has given up 437 yards on RB carries — a total only five teams have topped.
Can Kansas City’s offensive line capitalize? While this unit has been average by some metrics, only eight teams have a lower yards-per-carry average than the Chiefs, and the line has the league’s second-worst Adjusted Line Yards ranking. Blame the backs, blame the blocking, blame whoever, but this rushing attack has struggled. Still, among tackles, Mitchell Schwartz has been a top-three run blocker and his bookend, Eric Fisher, returned to practice this week. Fisher has been out since Week 2 with a torn groin (ouch!) and whenever he suits up it will give the team’s run-blocking a noticeable boost. This would also move the struggling Cam Erving back to his more comfortable position at guard (if not to the bench).
A weaker passing attack isn’t good news for the running back because we want our ball-carriers put in scoring position as often as possible. That said, Kansas City’s lead back should receive at least 10 to 15 carries. This seems like a great week to deploy McCoy.
Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers ($19 in Yahoo DFS)
Even the Vikings watch the 49ers play and think, “Wow, they run the ball a lot.” Over their last three games, San Francisco has generated 48 percent of their total yards via the ground game — only Baltimore and Washington rely more heavily on the run. Kyle Shanahan’s winning gameplan has been to play stifling defense and batter defenses into submission with his running backs. Jimmy Game Manager isn’t asked to do much most weeks; his team has thrown the fewest passes in the NFL.
This week San Francisco hosts Carolina. While the Panthers are no pushovers on either side of the ball, this one still sets up well for the Niner backs. Carolina is bottom 10 in both rushing yards allowed and yards per carry. Their six touchdowns allowed to RBs are only two fewer than the league-leading Jets. Two bouts with the Bucs, one of the NFL’s most run-challenged offenses, makes their numbers look better than they are. Vernon Butler may be developing into a worthy replacement for injured DT Kawann Short, but this remains a positive matchup for RBs.
Another team getting a big boost on their offensive line this week or next, San Francisco welcomes tackle Joe Staley back to practice after a multi-week injury. During Staley’s absence, Mike McGlinchey also went down, so the team had to test the mettle of their backups. Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill have performed admirably, proving both the adaptability of Shanahan’s scheme and the depth of this offensive line. Even after a couple of down weeks, the 49ers are third in Adjusted Line Yards and second in team rushing yards per game. Matt Breida has the highest yards-before-contact average among RBs, a stat for which the o-line deserves some credit.
Okay, so if it looks like the 49ers will have success running the ball, why not play Breida over Tevin Coleman? He’s a more dangerous runner and just a dollar more to play this week. Not so fast, friend. Though the perpetually banged-up Breida was poked in the eye in the win over Washington and did not return, it’s usage, not health, that suggests Coleman is the better play. Over the last two weeks, the former Falcon is averaging seven more touches than Breida and has 17 more carries.
Sure, the “Breida Breakaway” has become a signature play for San Francisco, but the safer bet is to save that dollar and just play Coleman.
Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints ($18)
Alvin Kamara did return to practice this week, but with the 6-1 Saints’ bye coming up there is no reason to rush him back or overuse him at home against Arizona. Until last Sunday, investing in Latavius Murray seemed like one of drafting season’s many fantasy mistakes, but with Murray’s 29.5-point performance against the Bears, that bet bounced back with a vengeance. Murray showcased his famous feel around the goal line, powering his way in for a pair of scores as well as 150 total yards.
Whoever’s running the rock for the Crescent City has the benefit of the NFL’s best offensive line. While other vaunted lines have faltered in 2019, this one has been as advertised (okay, Andrus Peat has been really up and down). The Saints are currently second in Adjusted Line Yards and fourth on runs between the guards, where most NFL carries go.
As for Arizona’s run defense, it’s often been exploited by running backs. They allow 129.1 rushing yards per game, a bottom-eight mark, and only their low touchdown count (3) speaks well for them. Getting star CB Patrick Peterson back helps the whole defense but New Orleans is a tough place to play and the Saints’ sixth-ranked stoppers could put their offense in favorable situations. Murray may not score two touchdowns in back-to-back weeks, but I like his odds of finding the end zone at least once. His team is averaging three rushing attempts inside their opponent’s five-yard line, a mark only the Patriots and Rams have bettered.
Ty Johnson, Detroit Lions ($13 in Yahoo DFS)
With the news of Kerryon Johnson going to IR (sniff, sniff) Ty Johnson is the bargain-basement pick of the week. The Lions haven’t called upon the plethora of backs waiting patiently on their couches (I guess I can drop Jay Ajayi?), at least not yet, so it looks like Johnson will carry the mail and J.D. McKissic will mix in with him, mostly on passing downs. There is always risk in a situation like this and Johnson doesn’t seem ready for a workhorse role, but he’s an electric runner with elite long speed (4.45 40-yard dash) who posted a highly impressive seven-yards-per-carry average at Maryland.
Detroit has invested in its offensive line and this season the team is reaping the benefits. Led by the powerful interior tandem of Graham Glasgow and Frank Ragnow, Detroit is a respectable 14th in Adjusted Line Yards and first on off-tackle runs behind LT Taylor Decker. Though the team’s rushing production hasn’t been anything to write home about, this line can put lesser front sevens on their heels.
So who’s on tap in Week 8? Over the last month, Detroit’s opponent has been steamrolled by opposing running backs, allowing the fourth-most rushing yards to the position and the second-most receiving yards. Last week the New York Giants had no answer for another understudy pressed into service as Chase Edmonds ran wild on them for the week’s biggest fantasy performance at the RB position. In youngsters Dexter Lawrence and B.J. Hill the G-Men have the beginnings of an RB-swallowing black hole up front, but the disappointing play of Jabrill Peppers on the back end and a revolving door at linebacker have this defense averaging the NFL’s seventh-most rushing yards allowed.
The Lions must be licking their chops. At $13 in Yahoo DFS, Johnson can cede plenty of passing-game production to McKissic and still pay off handsomely for those who put his name on their card.