Pick a backup or timeshare back who you feel may be poised to overachieve drastically in Week 4. It could come through unexpectedly strong volume (think Derrick Henry back in Week 2) or through wild, bloated efficiency (think recent Chris Thompson). Tell us why you foresee a strong week, and whether you suspect the rest of the DFS world will agree and jam his ownership.
James Brimacombe: Three names immediately come to mind here: Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, and Wendell Smallwood. I could make a case for each of them to see an increase in opportunity and production this week, but the name I am most interested in is McCaffrey. Although he is not your typical running back and not likely to see 10+ carries, he does have the ability to put up big games catching the ball. Last week he carried 4 times for 16 yards, but caught 9 of 11 targets for 101 more, and that is where the value lies with him. He has 18, 12, and 13 touches through the first 3 weeks. He has yet to find the end zone, but has a fantastic matchup this week versus the Patriots. New England is dead last against opposing running backs so far this year, allowing 112 rushing yards, 0.7 touchdowns and 6 receptions for 84 yards and 0.7 touchdowns to the position. That 6/84/0.7 is the line I like for McCaffrey here, especially considering how involved the Panthers got him in the passing game last week.
Jason Wood: James offered up my favorite running back play of the week -- Christian McCaffrey. He's been unfairly overshadowed by fellow rookies Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, and Dalvin Cook, but McCaffrey has done nothing to dissuade my optimism in the first three weeks. With the Panthers dealing with injuries and Cam Newton appearing less-than-healthy, it behooves the Panthers to build the offense around a combination of McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart. It shocks me to say this, but playing against the Patriots defense may be just what the doctor ordered. The Patriots rank last in many defensive categories, and McCaffrey should have little difficulty amassing high fantasy points per touch in this contest.
Digging a bit further into the crates, I'll throw out Alex Collins in Baltimore. He was picked up off the practice squad heap in Seattle and immediately stepped into a role with the Ravens. He’s looked the best of the committee, albeit in limited snaps. It's entirely possible Collins does nothing this week, but at his price and low ownership, I don't mind him as a GPP flier that could return multiples of his salary.
Justin Bonnema: I think James absolutely nailed it with at least two of those. Wendell Smallwood worries me only because he's unlikely to be a consistent red zone option, especially this week with the Eagles hitting the road to L.A. as underdogs.
Mixon's yards per carry aren't great, but he leads the team in rushing attempts and has just one fewer target than pass-catching maven Giovani Bernard. With a new coordinator running the offense, Mixon immediately jumped to the top of the depth chart in terms of usage, netting 21 touches last week to Bernard's 5 and Jeremy Hill's 8, while also dominating snap counts. Thus far, Mixon leads all Bengals in opportunity share (targets + carries over offensive snaps) and is second in total yards. There are only two things missing from his rookie resume: a 100-yard game, and a visit to the end zone. I think he checks both those boxes this week against the Browns.
Justin Howe: It’s hard not to like Mixon’s outlook going forward. As Bonnema points out, he dominated snaps in Week 3 (34 of 61) and was treated as the clear-cut feature back – Bernard and Jeremy Hill have been effectively marginalized. He looks dazzling in the open field, and you can’t convince me Bill Lazor’s offense isn’t more dynamic with Mixon taking the lion’s share of work.
McCaffrey scares me a bit because he so desperately needs that out-of-this-world receiving production just to make value. His DFS salary has skyrocketed, yet he remains a longshot to top 25-30 rushing yards, so I can’t imagine him hitting value without another 8-9 receptions. It’s certainly plausible – I love the guy and think he has a monstrous NFL outlook. But it’s also an extreme projection for a running back, and in this timeshare, and with his offense struggling so mightily, I’m not paying up for him.
In GPPs, I’m finding solid salary relief in Jacquizz Rodgers’ final week as the Buccaneers’ starter. No, he hasn’t wowed anyone with just 82 yards through 2 games. And he loses all passing down work to Charles Sims (Rodgers has yet to draw a target through two games). But his matchup with the Giants is surprisingly mouthwatering. The Giants have been gashed thoroughly by the run, allowing 129-193 ground yards in each game. Their gap play has been poor, and their downfield tackling even worse; even the Lions’ soft-touch running game got in on the party in Week 2. Opposing lead backs have averaged 4.92 yards per carry and 87.0 per game – solid numbers made even more astounding when we consider they include Ameer Abdullah and Wendell Smallwood, both of whom posted their only decent games against the Giants. At his salary, Rodgers doesn’t need to do more than produce 80-90 yards and find the end zone just once to bring home GPP value.
Chris Feery: James nailed the top three selections. Of that trio, I’m most intrigued by Christian McCaffrey and Joe Mixon. McCaffrey is in a great spot to produce against a Patriots defense that has been seriously disappointing thus far. If we factor in the assumption that the Panthers will be playing from behind in this tilt, the pass-catching young back has even more potential upside this week. As for Mixon, it’s just a matter of time before the Bengals completely give him the keys to the backfield. A date with the Browns looks like a great time to do it, and he could check a 100-yard game and a touchdown off of his to-do list, as Bonnema mentioned.
For Smallwood, I can certainly see the intrigue due to the fact that a crowded Eagles backfield got a lot less crowded with the injury to Darren Sproles. However, I’m actually more intrigued by the underrated LeGarrette Blount. He’s generally viewed as touchdown-dependent by the fantasy community. I agree to an extent, but he can accumulate yards with enough opportunity as well. He’s in an intriguing spot against a Chargers defense that has been weak against the run to date, and I’ll definitely be looking Blount’s way as a contrarian GPP candidate.
Moderator: I’m glad someone mentioned Blount. Folks may flock to Wendell Smallwood, but it has to be noted that Blount has taken every Eagles snap from inside the 5-yard line thus far. And they cost virtually the same.
Danny Tuccitto: I agree completely and don't have anything to add about the aforementioned trio. Heck, an additional name I was going to throw out there was LeGarrette Blount, but Chris beat me to it. Therefore, the two names I'll toss into the ring are complete tournament fliers rather than part-time running backs worth investing heavily in; and so no, I don't foresee the rest of the DFS world jumping on board this particular bandwagon.
First, there's Andre Ellington, who:
has a 28 percent chance of hitting 4x on Draftkings,
is facing a 30th-ranked 49ers pass defense that's had difficulty covering running backs since Reuben Foster's injury, and
has seen his snap share increase each week since David Johnson's injury.
The second running back I'll name is Paul Perkins. Yes, he's been utterly ineffective thus far in his NFL career, to the point where he's 0-for-16 at hitting 4x. That said, neither Shane Vereen nor Orleans Darkwa practiced on Thursday, so Perkins may end up as the only active player in the Giants' usual running back rotation. Furthermore, Tampa Bay's pass defense ranks 29th overall and 27th specifically on running back targets. That's potentially increased volume and increased efficiency -- if Perkins can somehow conjure up the skill to take advantage of it.