NFL DFS Preview: Targeting Running Backs

Written By PlayPicks Staff on September 3, 2016 - Last Updated on June 27, 2018
Running Back

The NFL Season is upon us and that means another huge DFS season for NFL fanatics. We are gearing our NFL DFS Preview to FanDuel and DraftKings where we have millions of dollars up for grabs, with several contests at a low price point. If you’ve never played NFL DFS on DraftKings, click here and get a FREE entry into the $5 Million Fantasy Football Millionare, which pays $1 million to first place. For a free $10 on FanDuel (new users only), click here.



There are several different ways to go about creating a successful NFL team on DraftKings, but where I like to focus on is opportunities. It’s a simple formula: the more opportunities a player has, the higher his chance of converting those opportunities into fantasy points. We’ll discuss snap counts, carries, red zone carries, targets, and red zone targets and how each of those can help you make money this NFL season.



Snap Counts


Perhaps the most basic stat we’re going to discuss is number of offensive snap counts based on percentage of total offensive plays. Here were your 2015 top 5 :


Devonte Freeman (Atlanta): 67.4% of total offensive snaps


Deangelo Williams (Pittsburgh): 65.2% of total offensive snaps


Adrian Peterson (Minnesota): 65.1% of total offensive snaps


Latavious Murray (Oakland): 64.4% of total offensive snaps


Frank Gore (San Francisco): 62.4% of total offensive snaps





Some running backs are better blockers than others, which could skew our snap count data (as it relates to fantasy production) so it’s important to see if these same top 5 are getting the highest number of carries. Your top 5 of 2015:


Adrian Peterson (Minnesota): 327 attempts, 20.4 attempts per game


Doug Martin (Tampa Bay): 288 attempts, 18.0 attempts per game


Latavious Murray (Oakland): 266 attempts, 16.6 attempts per game


Devonte Freeman (Atlanta): 265 attempts, 17.7 attempts per game


Frank Gore (San Francisco): 260 attempts, 16.2 attempts per game



Red Zone Carries 


We want touchdowns!! A key to fantasy success for a running back is going to by finding the end zone, especially for those backs who do not see many targets in the passing game.  For this category, we’re going to look at carries inside the 20 yard-line, inside the 10, and inside the 5, sorted by number of TD’s.


Inside the 20


Deangelo Williams (Pittsburgh): 46 attempts, 11 TD’s


Devonte Freeman (Atlanta): 47 attempts, 10 TD’s


Jeremy Hill (Cincinnati): 36 attempts, 10 TD’s


Todd Gurley (St. Louis): 28 attempts, 9 TD’s


Adrian Peterson (Minnesota): 45 attempts, 7 TD’s


David Johnson (Arizona): 21 attempts, 7 TD’s.


Jonathan Stewart (Carolina): 46 attempts, 6 TD’s


Others with 6 TD’s: Doug Martin, Chris Ivory, Mark Ingram, Lamar Miller, Jeremy Langford, Spencer Ware


Inside the 10


Deangelo Williams (Pittsburgh): 28 attempts, 11 TD’s


Jeremy Hill (Cincinnati): 24 attempts, 10 TD’s


Devonte Freeman (Atlanta): 24 attempts, 9 TD’s


Todd Gurley (St. Louis): 14 attempts, 7 TD’s


Adrian Peterson (Minnesota): 24 attempts, 7 TD’s


Inside the 5


Deangelo Williams (Pittsburgh): 16 attempts, 11 TD’s


Jeremy Hill (Cincinnati): 13 attempts, 8 TD’s


Devonte Freeman (Atlanta): 11 attempts, 5 TD’s


Todd Gurley (St. Louis): 8 attempts, 5 TD’s


Others with 5 TD’s: Jeremy Langford, David Johnson, Chris Ivory, Spencer Ware





This is one of my favorite categories to “target” when selecting a running back, simply due to the 1 point-per-reception of DraftKings, and the 0.5 ppr on FanDuel.



Danny Woodhead (San Diego): 107 targets, 81 receptions (75.7%), 756 yards,  6 TD’s


Theo Riddick (Detroit): 99 targets, 80 receptions (80.8%), 697 yards, 3 TD’s


Devonte Freeman (Atlanta): 97 targets, 73 receptions (75.3%), 578 yards, 3 TD’s


Darren Sproles (Philadelphia): 83 targets, 55 receptions (66.3%), 388 yards, 1 TD


Shane Vereen (New York Giants): 81 targets, 59 receptions (72.8%), 495 yards, 4 TD’s


Duke Johnson (Cleveland): 74 targets, 61 receptions (82.4%), 534 yards, 2 TD’s


Charles Sims (Tampa Bay): 70 targets, 51 receptions (72.9%), 561 yards, 4 TD’s


Giovanni Bernard (Cincinnati): 66 targets, 49 receptions (74.2%), 472 yards, 0 TD’s.



Red Zone Targets


This will include targets from “inside the 20” and “inside the 10.”


Inside the 20


Danny Woodhead (San Diego): 15 targets, 10 receptions, 5 TD’s


Theo Riddick (Detroit): 13 targets, 10 receptions, 2 TD’s


Shane Vereen (New York Giants): 11 targets, 8 receptions, 4 TD’s



Inside the 10


Danny Woodhead (San Diego): 8 targets, 5 receptions, 4 TD’s


Shane Vereen (New York Giants): 5 targets, 4 receptions, 4 TD’s


Devonte Freeman (Atlanta): 4 targets, 3 receptions, 1 TD


Targeting Running Backs


David Johnson (Arizona): I LOVE everything about David Johnson, especially on DraftKings where you’ll receive the full point per reception. Arizona’s GM Steve Keim recently called Johnson the “best receiving back he’s ever seen,” referencing others’ comparisons to Marshall Faulk. It’s a crowded backfield, but something Johnson himself says he’s been working on most? Pass protection. This screams playing time. Obviously, it’s not up to him whether he’ll get the playing time, but his competition doesn’t scare me a whole lot. Chris Johnson (DJ’s backup) saw 9 more red zone carries last season, but had 5 fewer TD’s. Inside the 10 and 5, both backs saw a similar number of carries, with David Johnson still having the significant advantage in TD’s. He’s a top 5 back in all leagues this season, and a gold mine in DFS. Arizona ran the ball 41.84% of its total plays last season (11th).



Devonte Freeman (Atlanta): Freeman surprised many people last season, reaching 100 rushing yards 4 times, running for 11 TD’s, while adding 73 receptions and 3 TD’s through the air. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, his production is likely to be cut into by Indiana University’s Tevin Coleman, who the Falcons and Coach Dan Quinn are very high on. Expect Freeman to still be the lead back, but offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan loves Coleman’s speed, and I expect him to utilize it quite a bit. Freeman’s snap count won’t be nearly what it was last season, but expect him to still contribute in the red zone more so than Coleman. Coleman is likely to see more targets through the air.  The two are nice complements of one another, and will be used as such. If Coleman can stay healthy and limit the fumbles, he has the higher upside of the two backs this fantasy season. Atlanta ran the ball 39.20% of its total plays last season (19th).



Jonathan Stewart (Carolina): Stewart returns as the lead back for the Panthers, and should be poised for a strong season, hopefully free of injury. The best way to describe Jonathan Stewart’s 2015 is consistent. His lowest rushing yard total of the year was 50 yards in week 4, averaging just over 76 yards per game. However, he did lack in the touchdown category, racking up only 6 on the ground. Stewart doesn’t add much value through the air, catching just 16 passes for 99 yards on the year. It’s definitely interesting that Stewart carried the ball 46 times inside the 20, second-most in the league. Obviously, Cam Newton takes away a good number of opportunities, especially for touchdowns, picking up 10 of them on the ground. I think Stewart can be productive this DFS season, but will more than likely be a GPP-only play even in the best of match-ups. The best scenario for him is going to be games where Carolina is projected a favorite by more than a touchdown, but even then it’s hard to see him better than GPP-only with his upside being limited by Cam.



Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati) & Jeremy Hill (Cincinnati): Typically when we see a dual running back situation, we cringe, but I’m optimistic here. Both Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill have roles in this offense, which makes both usable for DFS. Last season, Bernard saw 54.9% of the offensive snaps, while Jeremy Hill saw 43.4%. However, Hill rushed the ball 69 more times, totaling 11 TD’s, compared to Bernard’s 2. Bernard gained his own competitive advantage in the passing game, catching 49 passes for 472 yards, but did not reach the end zone through the air. We can expect more of the same this season, as Hill caught more than 2 passes in a game just once all season. Finally, Bernard had the advantage on yards-per-carry, averaging 4.7 compared to Hill’s 3.6 but don’t let that scare you away. Hill saw 24 carries inside the 10, compared to Bernard’s 13, and is the clear favorite to score the TD’s this season. The way I’d decide is this: In a higher scoring game (use Vegas’ over/under totals to determine), I love Bernard because in theory, he’ll see more passes his way, and still get his handful of carries. Other than that situation, I believe Hill will be the preferred option, even in DFS where we see the points-per-reception. In 4 of the 6 games where Hill scored a rushing TD, he did it more than once. People may naturally be attracted to Bernard with the reception upside, but I believe both can be relied upon in the right game situation. Cincinnati rushed the ball 45.8% of the time in 2015, 7th highest in the league.



Duke Johnson (Cleveland): Duke Johnson is an interesting option this season in DFS. Part of me is uncertain and here’s why: 1) Isaiah Crowell still is expected to see the majority of carries; Johnson did not score once on the ground last season. 2)  The Browns have a better offense this year, and so expect the “dump-offs” and “check-downs” to decrease this season, as a lot of them came later in games last season where they were already behind. On the flip side, Johnson did have 9 games in 2015 where he caught 4 or more passes, averaging 8.8 yards per catch. I’m still higher on Crowell, with the TD potential, but in a game where Cleveland is a heavy underdog, a GPP play of Johnson could work, as he’s going to see the majority of action on passing downs.



Theo Riddick (Detroit): Say hello to another “passing down specialist,” Theo Riddick. Riddick saw 99 targets through the air last season, which was 2nd among running backs (Woodhead had 107) and was tied for 33rd among all players. Here’s the problem: he only scored three touchdowns, all through the air. He needs to show that he can run as well, even in limited carries. He averaged 3.1 YPC in 43 attempts last season. He’s no doubt valuable in PPR leagues such as what we see in DFS, especially considering the Lions threw the ball over 66% of their plays — highest in the league. Expect more of the same this season, so if you like what you saw last season, then go for it. I think we may see a bit of improvement from him on the ground, but still be wary, as it likely won’t be too much of a variation from his production last season. Ameer Abdullah still has the starting job and will handle nearly all the rushing downs.



Adrian Peterson (Minnesota): Another season, and another year where AP is near the top in all fantasy drafts. He expressed sentiment this week that he’d like to retire a Viking and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he led the league in yardage and attempts once again. Peterson also tied for the lead in rushing touchdowns, with 11.  He did lead the league in fumbles as well, but he still didn’t seem to have any issues topping the leaderboard. In DFS, I see AP as a top three option.



Shane Vereen (New York Giants): Overrated? Last year, maybe, but not this season. Last season,  he saw only 38.7% of the offensive snaps, but seems poised for an increase, particularly in the running game. Rashad Jennings is still the starting back, but he doesn’t scare me much. We all know what Vereen is capable of and I believe the veteran may be a bit underrated going into this season.



Latavious Murray (Oakland): A preseason can be useful in trying to project a player’s usage in an offense, but that’s not the case here. Even with the quiet preseason, Murray is the #1 guy in Oakland and will look to build on his 2015 Pro-Bowl season where he was one of 7 running backs to go over 1,000 yards on the ground. Murray caught three or more passes in 7 games last season, adding 232 yards through the air. There is some worry about rookies DeAndre Washington and George Atkinson III, particularly Atkinson who has had a stellar preseason. I’d take wait-n-see approach just to be safe, but I’m not too worried about Murray.



Darren Sproles (Philadelphia): Sproles saw just 34% of offensive snaps last season, but it will be interesting to see his usage with Murray gone. He’s listed second on the unofficial depth chart, and if he could see 80+ carries again this season, I’d be hppy with that — considering his production in the passing game. Don’t count the 33-year old out just yet, but I’d still take a wait-n-see approach with #43.



Deangelo Williams (Pittsburgh) & Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh): What a nice surprise Williams was last season. 11 touchdowns (tied for the most in the league)  in 10 games and 200 attempts (to compare: the others with 11 TD’s had 223, 265, and 327 attempts). With Bell serving a 4-game suspension to start the season, expect Williams’ to continue right where he left off last season. As far as Bell is concerned, he too should be one of the top PPR options in the league, provided he can stay clean and healthy.



Danny Woodhead (San Diego): See: Darren Sproles. Woodhead had an outstanding 2015 season but Melvin Gordon looks good and is definitely going to see the majority of carries. With that said, Woodhead still has a significant role in this offense and San Diego should continue to throw the ball at a high rate, throwing the ball just under 65% of the time last season.



Frank Gore (San Francisco): I’m trying to think of a way to describe Frank Gore, and all I can come up with is: consistent. Unfortunately, for fantasy purposes, I’d say “consistently average.” It’ll depend on the match-up, but I’ll mostly avoid Gore, especially in Indy’s pass-first offense.



Todd Gurley (St. Louis): Now let’s make a 360 and talk about a guy who could easily be the #1 running back in all formats. Gurley lived up to the hype coming into his rookie season, going over 1100 rushing yards in 13 games. His lack of value as a pass catcher limits his upside just a tad in DFS, be’s truly an elite, top 3 talent that should be used with confidence no matter the matchup.



Charles Sims (Tampa Bay): #2 to Doug Martin, but still enough talent to keep an eye on. Sims averaged 4.9 YPC on 107 attempts, and averaged 11 yards per reception on 51 catches. He has the potential to become a viable fantasy option at some point, but not until he moves out from Doug Martin’s shadow.



Other Elite Talents


Ezekiel Elliot (Dallas): Get ready for ‘Zeke to shine. Elliot was looking like an elite option before Romo got hurt, and now will be relied on even more. The Ohio State product is poised for a huge year and very well could take down this year’s Rookie of the Year award. He’s a top 5 DFS option this season, no question.



Jamaal Charles (Kansas City): If he can stay healthy…. It’s always been the biggest question mark with JC, as we all know his potential. Another ACL injury could end his career, but for now, let’s hope for the best. Don’t let his injury history keep you from playing him. He’s still a borderline top 5 PPR option.



DeMarco Murray (Tennessee): Could he be back? A strong preseason has certainly gotten him some second-looks by fantasy football fanatics. Derrick Henry will obviously have a role in this offense, but don’t discard Murray just yet…




Don’t Forget About…


LeSean McCoy (Buffalo), CJ Anderson (Denver), Lamar Miller (Houston), Mark Ingram (New Orleans), Carlos Hyde (San Francisco), Thomas Rawls (Seattle)




Statistics found here: Snap Counts, Carries, Red Zone Carries, TargetsRed Zone Targets, Rushing Percentage




Thank you to everyone for taking the time to read this! Best of luck this NFL season.



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