DFS Roundtable: Running Back Builds

Give us your ideal cash-game RB pairing. And if you haven't already, give us two low-dollar options that you'll be sprinkling into your GPPs.

Yet again, our main slates lack a few of the more attractive running back options (Le'Veon Bell, Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon). That takes some guys off the board, but really trims down our player pool and allows us to concentrate our exposure on our 3-5 favorites. Even with pricing as tight as it is, that's generally a good thing for our purposes.

Give us your ideal cash-game RB duo (or DraftKings trio); i.e., if you were to enter only one contest all week - say, a mid-dollar 50/50 where floor is king - whom would you play? And if you haven't already, give us two low-dollar options (keeping it under $5,000 DK / $6,000 FD) that you'll be sprinkling into your GPPs to a decent degree.

Justin Bonnema: Build around Leonard Fournette. That might make some folks uncomfortable given his recent issues with injuries and suspensions, but the Jaguars have a great matchup that should set him up with short fields. If the Titans can sack Jacoby Brissett eight times, imagine what the Jaguars can do. Stack Fournette with his defense in all formats.

Second option: Marshawn Lynch. His floor is a major concern but he logged 75% of snaps last week and 29 touches on his way to 111 total yards and 1 touchdown. He has at least 77 yards or a touchdown in each of his last 3 games. And to make matters even better, his team is a seven-point favorite with the Giants coming to town with Geno Smith under center.

For a cheap option, I think you can look at Jamaal Williams for $5,700 on FanDuel and $4,700 on DraftKings, assuming he's the clear-cut starter. I think the Packers win this game. The Buccaneers defense has the 30th-ranked pass DVOA and 20th-ranked rush DVOA, and they just lost two of their best players along the offensive line. The Packers should have no trouble moving the ball and may even get some short fields, leading to extra red-zone work for Williams.

Jason Wood: Usually I love Bonnema’s perspective, but this week I disagree with his running back targets. I'm heavily invested in Fournette this year, particularly in redraft leagues, but I don't agree that he's cash-viable this week regardless of the matchup. Fournette isn't healthy, and I don't see how that's magically changed in a few days’ time. He needs rest, and he won't get it for another two months.

Fournette, when healthy, is a dominant workhorse at least. You can no longer say the same of Lynch. He's arguably the third-best running back on the Raiders roster. With Michael Crabtree suspended and Amari Cooper banged up and ineffective, I worry the Raiders offense will be completely stymied. This game doesn't set up as one in which Lynch can pound the ball and grind the clock out. 

The right answer to the perfect cash-game pairing is Melvin Gordon III and Alex Collins. Collins' workload continues to increase in spite of Danny Woodhead's return. The Ravens are still inconsistent offensively but are establishing an identity behind the ball-control power game led by Collins paired with the dominant defensive unit. Gordon is coming off a few down weeks, but he's healthy and gets an amazing matchup against the Browns. Don't be fooled by the Browns’ run defense ranking: that's more a byproduct of teams having such an easy time passing on the Browns than because the run defense is stout. The Chargers will use Gordon in the passing game, and then he'll break Cleveland's back late in the game as a runner.

Justin Howe: I do like Fournette this week, but only as a contrarian play in GPPs. His current issues are frightening to many DFSers, and sadly they’re real issues – Fournette could aggravate his long-term ankle injury or get benched at any time. As a result, that will drive his ownership way down, and his massive bust potential could crush your 50/50 and double-up games. If he churns out 8.5 points and you’re one of just 5% to own hi, you’re likely toast.

I’ll be building around Lynch and Gordon. Jason nailed the case for Gordon: he’ll likely dominate the Chargers offense to a degree, one way or the other, and his potential for touchdowns shoots him right out of the stratosphere; this could be his best game of the year. And while I’m in agreement with Jason on Lynch’s floor – it sucks – I can’t shake the massive value here. $4,800 on DraftKings is absurdly low for a bell cow – which Lynch is right now, for better or worse – in an excellent matchup. If the Raiders can contain Geno Smith (lol), Lynch looks like a lock for 18+ touches and a handful of scoring opportunities. He’s not a good runner anymore, but 3.5-4 touches per $1K of salary is an exceptionally big deal.

John Mamula: My ideal cash game duo is Gordon and Jordan Howard. Both running backs have a high floor as they should see a minimum of 15 touches with their attractive matchups. Gordon is in a great spot as the Browns rush defense has regressed over the past few weeks. They allowed Joe Mixon to run for 114 yards and 1 touchdown last week and surrendered 111 yards to Fournette in Week 11. 

Howard is in a prime "bounce-back" spot against the 49ers, who have allowed 129.5 rushing yards per game (3rd-worst in the league). The Bears will lean on Howard in a game that is expected to remain competitive throughout.

Chris Feery: I’m on board with Fournette as well. Stacking Fournette with the Jaguars defense makes a ton of sense, and it provides your cash game lineups with some nice upside to boot. The hit-or-miss nature of Fournette’s recent production leaves me a little skittish, but the game script for this tilt points towards this being a week on the hit side.

Next up, I agree with John’s call on Howard. He has a chance to make some noise against the porous defense of the San Francisco 49ers, and this looks like a great spot for head coach John Fox to ride him until the wheels come off.

For cheaper options, Jamaal Williams is also my preferred choice. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a mess these days, while the Green Bay Packers are still showing a ton of fight in spite of the season being derailed with the injury to Aaron Rodgers. A number of backs have had solid days against the Buccaneers this season, and Williams should join that list.

Danny Tuccitto: Building cash game lineups, I immediately look for pass-involved RB1/1As on teams that are home favorites. That narrows this DraftKings slate down considerably, as the vast majority of backs either qualify on the "home" front or the "favorite" front or the "pass-involved" front, but not all three. Said process of elimination leaves us with the following (short) list: Alvin Kamara, Devonta Freeman, and Melvin Gordon III. From there, I look at the value probabilities. In this case, Kamara's is 35 percent (with an actual 3x frequency of 55 percent), Gordon's is 27 percent (32 percent actual), and Freeman's is 22 percent (20 percent actual).

So that has me leaning towards Kamara and Gordon. And so do a few other things: Freeman is coming off a concussion and going against a Vikings defense that a) allows the third-least fantasy production to running backs according to Austin Lee's normalized stats, and b) ranks eighth in pass defense DVOA on running back targets. One jarring hit might end his game right there. (Note: I'm not rooting for this. That would be craven and isn't what fantasy football should be about it. Just saying it has a sizeable probability and I'm laying out a probabilistic case.) And even when he's in, he's not projected to do much as a receiver. That's too much variance for me to take on in cash games.

Therefore, the choice seems clear, right? It's Kamara and Gordon; set it and forget it. Well, no. Their combined salary is $16,200, or nearly one-third of my entire DraftKings budget. Rostering both of them in the same lineup would result in punting at several positions, which is the opposite of what you want in cash games.

So what should I do? The answer is play two cash lineups, one with Kamara and one with Gordon, and find the best value that loosens the aforementioned criteria to two of three rather than three of three. This is where someone like Jamaal Williams comes into the picture. Green Bay isn't a favorite, but they are at home, and Williams is involved in the passing game, as evidenced by his 24.7 receiving points over the past two games. (To wit, Tampa Bay ranks 22nd in DVOA on running back targets.) He's also only $4,700 and has a cash game value probability of 55 percent. Sign me up. If I pair him with Kamara, then that drops my running back cost from $16,200 to $13,100.

That leaves finding a running back to pair with Gordon in a separate lineup who meets two of my home, favorite, and pass-involved criteria. Picking one of the home favorite seems like an easy choice for that parlay, but DrafKings' full PPR scoring format suggests a pass-involved running back that's either at home or is a favorite. Unfortunately, it turns out, there aren't any. In that case, I'll take one of the following:

Howard (home favorite) at $6,500, for a combined cost of $15,300. Not the savings I'd like, but at least it's something. Once upon a time (way back in 2016), Howard was involved in the passing game. If a renaissance were to happen, then at least San Francisco allows the most fantasy production to running backs and ranks 30th in pass defense DVOA on running back targets. Also, his cash game value probability is 49 percent.

Carlos Hyde (pass-involved) at $5,900, for a combined cost of $14,700. There isn't any particular stat that suggests Hyde will be uber-efficient, but his massive volume is undeniable. Also, his cash game value probability is 44 percent.

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