We all know what a boon pass-catching running backs can be for fantasy purposes. Even in leagues that don't offer PPR bonuses, today's NFL provides a ton of opportunity for third-down and receiving-specialist backs to post GPP-tilting lines. And most attractively, they tend to come both cheaply and lower-owned than many of their peers as the DFS world chases touchdown opportunity over potential receiving volume.
Below I've listed four prominent (yet cheap) options of late in this arena. Do any of these guys have, in your eyes, a strong shot to bring home tournament value while primarily playing on passing downs? (And did I miss any of your Week 15 favorites?) Bear in mind that these guys generally project for fewer than 5-7 rushes, so you'll need to bring some strong reasoning as to why we should roster them over more stable touch volume elsewhere.
Duke Johnson Jr ($4,400 DraftKings / $6,000 FanDuel)
Danny Woodhead ($4,200 DraftKings / $5,000 FanDuel)
J.D. McKissic ($4,000 DraftKings / $5,900 FanDuel)
Andre Ellington ($3,900 DraftKings / $5,500 FanDuel)
Jason Wood: I'm not interested in any of these backs at FanDuel.
Danny Woodhead ranks 52nd among running backs in FanDuel scoring over the last month, scoring just 20.2 points. Alex Collins has established himself as a true workhorse, and Javorius Allen reminded us last week of his ability to snipe value at the goal line.
J.D. McKissic ranks 42nd with 28.3 points, and the Seahawks appear set to give Mike Davis another shot at being the bellcow.
Ellington is a complete non-factor. He's scored just 10.4 FD points in the last month, and ranks outside to Top 70.
Duke Johnson Jr, on the other hand, remains a talented player with a defined role. Johnson has scored 38.40 FD points over the last month, which ranks a respectable 24th. But keep in mind that his point average (9.6 FD points) represents a meager 1.6x multiplier on this week's salary ($6,000).
On DraftKings, Johnson becomes interesting. He's scored 45.4 DK points in the last month (11.35 points), which represents a healthy 2.6 multiplier. Johnson is no lock to generate GPP value, but at least his baseline is closer to where it needs to be. If you can convince yourself Johnson's role and matchup are unusually attractive this week, he's viable.
McKissic, Woodhead, and Ellington are as unattractive on DK as they are on FD.
Justin Bonnema: Jason nailed it. Johnson is the only one I'd consider and even that's shaky. None of these backs have a ceiling worth chasing and their floors are ghastly. But I will offer one other player who is cheap, plays for a great offense, is a great receiver, and could be a solid GPP play this week: James White. Now, his floor is just as ugly as all the other running backs in this thread. But he actually has a decent ceiling that could be met in a high-scoring game in Pittsburgh. Not that we ever want to chase Patriots' running backs, but White has seen 10 targets over the last two games, and played 64% of snaps last week with the Patriots playing from behind. I think we see more of him this week even with both Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan back in action. White is $4,800 on FanDuel and $3,600 on DraftKings, both of which are near site-minimum. He's risky, to be sure, but he's a better play than McKissic, Woodhead, Ellington, and Johnson.
Dan Hindery: None of these guys catch my eye and with some serious running back value under $7,000 on FanDuel and under $5,000 on DraftKings, I don't think you need to get too creative at the position this week with these lower-volume players.
The back who catches my eye has a bit more well-rounded game in addition to catching a lot of passes and has a dream matchup in Week 15: Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon has averaged 38.8 snaps, 10.8 carries, and 5 targets per game over his last four. He faces a Bengals defense that has been destroyed by injuries at the linebacker position, with all three starters expected to miss Week 15. The Bengals have allowed 78.8 DraftKings points to opposing backs over the last two weeks, with both Jordan Howard and Le'Veon Bell scoring 30+. The Vikings are huge home favorites and should be able to exploit the Bengals in the run game and by throwing to running backs out of the backfield. At just $4,800 on DraftKings, McKinnon is an excellent tournament play.
Justin Howe: None of thee guys look particularly viable outside of a mass-entry strategy. McKissic is at least a snap leader for his offense (31 last week), but looks like more of a decoy/weapon than an offensive contributor. If pressed, Johnson definitely has to lead the way – he’s the only option who’s been woven prominently into his offense this year. You have to pay a bit for his lame floor, but he’s come within 1 DraftKings point of GPP value on this salary 3 times already.
I like that Dan brought up McKinnon, who’s registered 15+ touches in 3 of his last 4 games as a complement. I’m confident, with both Vegas projection (26.25 points) and defensive quality (the Bengals are simply skewered by injury) considered, that the Vikings will score copiously. And McKinnon’s ceiling – 15-20 touches for 100+ scrimmage yards – gets an ultra-sexy boost with the added touchdown potential. He makes sense to plug into a deeper GPP; the ownership will be sub-5%.
Chris Feery: I also have zero interest in any of the four players mentioned, as this is a week in which there’s some really nice value at running back. On both sites, Kenyan Drake and Collins are very reasonably priced, and they both bring tournament upside to the table. For a pass-catching back with upside, Bonnema mentioned an excellent GPP target by the name of James White. He’s quite risky as you never do know exactly how the game plan of the New England Patriots will shake out on a weekly basis, but that factoid will limit his ownership percentage. As such, he’s the kind of player that can help you creep up the leaderboard if he happens to go off. Outside of White, I’m not too intrigued by any other low-priced pass-catching backs. I’ll likely be looking towards the middle of the salary scale and upwards as I select running backs this week.
Danny Tuccitto: Echoing the group, it's either Duke Johnson Jr or no one if I'm choosing between these four. To wit, here are their probabilities of reaching 4x value on DraftKings this week: Johnson (22%), Woodhead (10%), McKissic (7%), Ellington (4%). So yeah, it's Johnson and it's not even close.
That said, my favorite receiving-specialist running back of the week in tournaments was already mentioned by Dan, who made the definitive case: McKinnon at $4,800 on DraftKings (19% tournament value probability).