Picking Cash Game Running Backs
We’ve talked bout the importance of volume when it comes to fantasy football before in this space, and that’s especially true at the skill positions. Today we’ll talk about the type of volume you’re looking for when picking running backs, particularly in cash games on DraftKings (contests where roughly half the field is paid outs, such as double ups and head to head games).
Volume is the name of the game
At the running back position we’re looking for both a high amount of total touches and diversified volume. By diversified volume, we mean usage in all three phases of the game: rushing, receiving, red zone.
Selecting an RB with a strong workload in those three areas provides you with “outs. Like an open-ended straight flush draw after the flop, there are a multitude of ways to make your hand.
Your running back can hit value (a crude way of determining value on DraftKings is 3x, so a $6,000 player would need 18 DraftKings points to hit value) by being successful in any three areas. An efficient game on the ground with a high amount of carries gives you a chance at 100 rushing yards, which is equal to 13 DraftKings points (there’s a three point bonus at 100 yards rushing). Involvement in the passing game can allow your RB to rack up points in a hurry since you receive a full point for every catch. Red zone usage is vital as a couple of short touchdowns can make up for an otherwise bad day. On the day all three of those work together – look out!
DeMarco Murray – The Poster Child
DeMarco Murray of the Tennessee Titans has been a great example of a workhorse RB early in the season. All the scenarios laid out in the preceding paragraph have happened to Murray.
Week Five – Murray doesn’t find the end zone but still works his way to 21.7 DraftKings points on the heels of 27 carries for 121 yards (15.1 points from rushing).
Week Two – Murray catches seven passes for 56 yards (12.6 DraftKings points) en route to a 21.5 point day.
Week Four – Murray just misses the 100-yard rushing bonus and has one of his worst receiving days, but he still makes his way to 25.9 DraftKings points thanks to a couple of short rushing TDs (worth 12 DraftKings points).
Week Three – Murray cracks 100 rushing yards, catches five passes, and records a red zone rushing TD leading to a 29.5 point DraftKings performance, his best of the season.
What constitutes a workhorse RB?
We know that DeMarco Murray fits the role of a workhorse RB. One way to define a workhorse RB is to look at their market share (percentage of team total) in all three major areas: carries, targets, and red zone opportunities. Murray has a 64 percent MS of carries (a little deflated due to playing alongside a running QB), 16 percent MS of targets, and 50 percent MS of red zone opportunities.
On the season we have 15 RBs with a MS of carries greater than 60 percent, 24 RBs with a MS of carries greater than 10 percent, and 20 RBs with a MS of red zone opportunities greater than 30 percent. If we use that 60/10/30 as our criterion for a workhorse RB, here is the list we are left with just five RBs:
Now, such a list by itself isn’t very useful. Roles will change and small sample sizes affect things. For example, CJ Anderson is losing touches to Devontae Booker, while Le’Veon Bell falls just short of this list because of reduced red zone touches over a small sample. We’d much prefer Bell’s workload moving forward. The spirit of this exercise to showcase the type of workloads we’re looking for and to place them in the proper context so that we’re making better DFS teams.
One important note on these type of RBs: they are game script independent, meaning they can achieve value and continue to rack up fantasy points regardless of if their team is leading or trailing.
Who to Play in Week Seven
With that said, let’s look at some potential workhorse RBs for Week Seven who project as good value plays:
*DeMarco Murray, Tennessee -- If anything, Murray’s volume is only trending upwards as his strong production has led to the phasing out of rooking RB Derrick Henry. Murray is in an ideal spot this week as the Titans are home favorites against a hapless Colts defense that has allowed the second most fantasy points to the RB position.
*Jacquizz Rodgers, Tampa Bay -- With Doug Martin and Charles Sims out, Rodgers was leaned on heavily last game for the Buccaneers, receiving 30 carries, six targets, and four red zone opportunities. With a low price tag against a bad 49ers defense that will inflate volume for opponents due to their pace, Rodgers is a great value play despite a lack of skill.
*David Johnson, Arizona -- Johnson may go relatively low owned in DFS tournaments due to a bad matchup against a good Seahawks team and lots of opportunity cost at the RB position this week. However, he has the best combination of workload and talent in the league. Johnson is seventh in carries, fifth in RB targets, and first in RZ opportunities. Of RBs with 60 or more carries, Johnson is first in fantasy points per carry.
*Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati -- In tournaments, we’re a bit less stringent in using an RB active in all three phases if we think the game will go a certain way. Jeremy Hill is not used in the passing game, so we’d consider him a game script dependent RB (horrible DraftKings scores the last three weeks). However, the Bengals have a high team total and are hefty home favorites (-10) over a terrible Browns team. This shapes up similar to Week Four when Hill received 21 carries against Miami, only this time we’re more hopeful better fantasy production follows.
This Bill Will Pay Your Bills
*Mike Gillislee, Buffalo -- With LeSean McCoy likely out this week, Gillislee will step into a big role. McCoy just missed our list of workhorse RBs, but it’s a bit unfair because his MS of carries (58 percent) is deflated due to playing with a running QB. Gillislee won’t be as efficient as McCoy, but he’s been good in a limited sample over his career, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and scoring six TDs off of 70 carries and 11 targets. However, he did struggle in his one start as a primary back last season with McCoy out.
With even league average efficiency, Gillislee could be the week’s best value play at any position. No other RB around Gillislee’s minimum price tag on DraftKings ($3,000) will come anywhere near his projected workload in all three phases.