By John Evans
Special to Yahoo Sports
We’ve reached the double-digit weeks of the 2019 NFL season, and it seems like half the league is on bye. Fortunately, the schedulers have favored daily fantasy gamers by putting several star running backs on the main slate, so we have a plethora of options at the most pivotal position. Each week I look for the best combination of pricing, player talent, defensive matchup, and game-script, paying close attention to the projected performance of each RB’s offensive line. After all, a disciplined and determined defense can corral the most gifted of backs if his offensive line isn’t up to the challenge.
As usual, the five ball-carriers I’ve chosen to spotlight for Week 10 are four recommended plays and one stay-away. Let’s get on with it!
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears ($20 in Yahoo DFS)
We picked on the Lions last week, to great results (Josh Jacobs, 120 rushing yards, two TDs) and for good reason. Detroit’s opponents average four trips inside their 20 each game, which gives opposing RBs extra cracks at the end-zone. Over the last month, the Lions have given up 63 more yards on the ground than the next-worst team! Despite an abundance of talent up front, this defense just hasn’t found a way to stop the run.
And that’s good because the Bears offensive line isn’t blowing anyone off the ball. In fact, this unit has been pushed around like a barbell at a weightlifting competition. Chicago is a woeful 29th in Adjusted Line Yards and Mitch Trubisky has a higher run-blocking grade than any lineman. For years the story went that if Kyle Long was healthy, this group would be good. But Long’s run-blocking slipped last year and then fell off a cliff in 2019 before he was lost for the season in Week 5. Even Cody Whitehair, by far the team’s best blocker, has regressed in the running game for a second consecutive year. One ray of sunshine: Bears backs are averaging 2.5 yards before contact, which puts them in the top 10. And Long’s replacement, Rashaad Coward, has actually been an improvement in the ground game.
While Chicago *should* be up to the task in the trenches this week, game-plan is the biggest factor in David Montgomery’s favor. As Trubisky has melted down, Montgomery has become a larger and larger part of the offense. His snap count has nearly doubled and he’s seen 31 and 17 touches the last two weeks, scoring three touchdowns in that span. After Montgomery reeled off 135 rushing yards against the Chargers, the Eagles’ dominant front seven limited him to 40 last week. Still, he’s now ninth in Dominator Rating, PlayerProfiler.com’s measure of a player’s percentage of his team’s yards and touchdowns.
Measurables were never Montgomery’s strong suit, but at Iowa State, he forced more missed tackles than any rookie in this class (Devin Singletary was second). As a Bear Montgomery is 15th in tackles evaded, according to PlayerProfiler. His secret is that he has a low center of gravity, the balance of a tight-rope walker, and an arsenal of creative moves to befuddle defenders. Matt Nagy is now using more Montgomery-friendly I-formations, and it’s paying dividends in his production. Nagy knows that feeding the rookie RB is his best bet to beat Detroit, and Montgomery has the talent to reward his coach’s faith in him. For $20 he offers DFS gamers RB1 potential at a reasonable price.
Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills ($19 in Yahoo DFS)
At $19 an even better value than Montgomery is fellow rookie Devin Singletary, who seized control of the Buffalo backfield last week and also has a favorable matchup on Sunday. Singletary is another back whose game relies more on guile than off-the-charts athleticism. The difference is that the Bills’ offensive line is a clear-cut strength. Buffalo is third in Adjusted Line Yards and 11th in team rushing yards per game. Ty Nsekhe and Jon Feliciano were unheralded additions to this unit in the offseason and both have been a boost to the Bills’ run-blocking.
Admittedly, it’s been a small sample size for Singletary – he has just 40 NFL carries — but the kid has been shockingly elusive. Early indications are that his plus vision, creative footwork, and never-say-die attitude are translating to the pros. Frank Gore’s gutty running and ultra-reliable pass protection will keep him in the mix, but in terms of productivity Singletary has run circles around the creaky veteran. What’s more, Singletary’s own pass pro has been impressive, especially for a rookie.
So we have a promising young back and an effective offensive line. The other key component of a good fantasy play? The defensive matchup. A date with Cleveland definitely qualifies as a positive in this regard.
The Browns just allowed Phillip Lindsay to reel off 92 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries, and for this defense, there was nothing unusual about that. (I thought Royce Freeman would have a bigger day, but what can you do?) Over their last five games, Cleveland has allowed 70 yards or more to six different running backs. On the season RBs have averaged 4.9 yards per carry against them. Play Singletary with confidence.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings ($35 in Yahoo DFS)
I don’t normally try to sell you on the elite, workhorse RBs because they’ll find their way into enough lineups as it is. But at $35 in Yahoo DFS this week, Dalvin Cook isn’t prohibitively priced compared to the second tier of stud backs and feels like a safer investment than any of them.
What the Minnesota offensive line has accomplished this year is startling. The Vikings are fifth in Adjusted Line Yards, Football Outsiders’ measure of run-blocking proficiency, and ninth in rushing yards before contact with a defender, a signal that the front five is controlling the line of scrimmage. The run-blocking of tackle Brian O’Neill and guard Pat Elflein has dramatically improved in 2019, and rookie center Garrett Bradbury has made strides since a rough start to the season. Minnesota copes with his inconsistent play in the pivot by calling the NFL’s fewest runs up the gut, preferring to let Elflein and left tackle Riley Reiff lead the way for Cook. (All NFL teams run between the guards more than off-tackle or outside, but Minnesota’s percentage is just 32 percent.)
Dalvin Cook made last year’s less-imposing o-line look better than it was, and he’s obviously making their lives easier again in 2019. Minnesota is fifth in Football Outsiders’ Open Field Yards, which measures RB gains more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. According to FO, Cook is third in DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, which essentially grades backs on a curve and adjusts for opponent performance. He also leads the league in breakaway runs and is second in tackles evaded. Wow!
Part of what makes Cook a must in DFS this week is his matchup with the Cowboys. Saquon Barkley ($37) and Ezekiel Elliott ($30) have a tougher draw in the Jets and Cook’s Vikings, respectively. Other than Leighton Vander Esch, who has struggled in his sophomore season, all three levels of the Dallas defense have reliable tacklers, but they’re still allowing a middling 4.2 yards per carry. The Cowboys d-line is 21st in Adjusted Line Yards allowed and 26th against inside runs, which makes Bradbury less of a liability. My feeling is that Minnesota can mash in the trenches here. Though Dallas shut down Saquon last week, at least on the ground, containing Cook will be a tall order.
It’s no accident that the former FSU Seminole leads the league in both rushing attempts and rushing yards. Talent, scheme, and game-script usually work in his favor and that should again be the case in Week 10. This feels like a close, hard-fought game, limiting backup Alexander Mattison to less mop-up duty than he’s accustomed to and keeping Cook on the field.
Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens ($25 in Yahoo DFS)
Maybe this is a bait-and-switch, but for $25 how do we not play Mark Ingram against Cincinnati this week? Workload is our only concern here. Splitting carries with his quarterback, Ingram is averaging 16 rushing attempts and a couple of catches per game, usage that puts him outside the league-leaders in touches. And Gus Edwards ganked his touchdown Sunday night when Ingram needed a breather after gashing the Patriots with a 53-yard scamper. Keep in mind, though, only San Francisco runs on a higher percentage of their plays than Baltimore. Most weeks Ingram gets plenty of opportunities to produce in fantasy.
The positives outweigh the negatives here, beginning with Baltimore’s offensive line. The Ravens are seventh in Adjusted Line Yards and first in rushing yards gained before contact with a defender. (Ingram is eighth in yards AFTER contact with a defender, so that’s a winning combo!) The dynamic scheme run by OC Greg Roman puts defenses on their heels — especially when orchestrated by the greatest rushing quarterback we’ve seen since Michael Vick – but that doesn’t mean the blockers aren’t doing their jobs at a high level. Left guard Bradley Bozeman is the only link in this chain that hasn’t been adamantine, and his line-mates can cover for him.
When we see “Cincinnati Bengals” on the schedule this season, it’s a green light to start the opposing running back. Cincy is allowing about 27 more rushing yards per game than the second-worst team (Miami). Let that sink in for a second. Andrew Billings has presented an effective roadblock in the middle of the defensive line, but his tackling has been terrible. Conversely, early down linebacker Preston Brown has been a sure tackler, but he’s often out of position to make a play. Everything that could go wrong usually does for this defense.
This time Ingram is poised to top his Week 6 stat-line against the Bengals (74 total yards, one touchdown). For one thing, Cincinnati’s offense will be led by a rookie quarterback making his first career start. After adding Marcus Peters via trade and getting Jimmy Smith back from injury, Baltimore’s back end has suddenly become one of the league’s scariest secondaries. Turnovers could thrust Ingram and company into easy scoring position on more than one occasion. Baltimore doesn’t need to put Lamar Jackson in harm’s way to win this game and will probably do what they do most weeks anyway: Run, run, run. That means more Gus the Bus (also a very good play at $13), but this could still be a monster game for Mark Ingram.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams ($24 in Yahoo DFS)
The aforementioned Bengals limited Todd Gurley to 44 yards in their last outing, though he saved his day with a score. If you can’t get it going against Cincinnati, you’re not likely to do so against Pittsburgh. Last Sunday Marlon Mack did compile 89 scoreless yards against them, but it took 21 carries to do it. Gurley is averaging just 13 totes per game. And yet, playing Gurley over Ingram would only save us a dollar in Yahoo DFS!
The former Georgia star’s knee troubles are well-documented, but keeping him healthy(ish) for the postseason isn’t the only factor in Gurley’s fantasy decline. A season ago the offensive line was a huge plus, setting a record with 5.49 Adjusted Line Yards per attempt. While after a very shaky start the Rams have climbed to ninth in this metric, they’re a full yard worse than last year. Rob Havenstein, generally viewed as one of the NFL’s best young tackles, is having a nightmarish season. The great Andrew Whitworth is finally showing his age after 207 career games and the unit’s other holdover from the 2018 campaign, Austin Blythe, has taken a huge step back.
Since Week 2 Gurley has averaged under 40 rushing yards per game and his YPC has dipped below the “Mendoza Line” for running backs (four yards per carry). And yet this fading star is $24 in a matchup against a Pittsburgh front that is sixth-best in the league against inside runs, which as I mentioned is where most NFL carries go. (They’re ninth against runs off right tackle, which the Rams attempt more than any team in the league.) The Steelers are still searching for consistency in their linebacking corps, but can this version of Gurley get to the second level and take advantage? I have my doubts.
What’s more, Jared Goff has struggled badly when pressured this season. The Steelers are top five in defensive-pressure rate. Gimme touchdowns for Gurley after long passing plays often boost his bottom line, but LA’s offense may struggle as a whole at Heinz Field.