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By John Evans
Special to Yahoo Sports
Last week was the worst ever for this column, as all five of my calls backfired. Before that belly flop, I was pretty proud of my win percentage, but humility is called for when you get beat, so my apologies to anyone who parlayed my picks into a pitiful card. I’m back and more determined than ever to predict the future for five running backs you can play in Yahoo Daily Fantasy.
In hopes of a fully positive Week 12, I’m going to be fully positive myself and make all five players I write about recommendations for you — each is a fine option for the money. While I look closely at offensive lines, sometimes the secret to success is choosing running backs who have proven the ability to transcend their blocking. That’s something three of this week’s choices have in common.
Let’s get to it.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints ($32 in Yahoo DFS)
I avoid discussing the most-expensive options in this space because the value proposition with playing them is generally more about how using, say, Christian McCaffrey, affects the rest of your lineup building than an analysis of his weekly prospects. He’s a super-stud nearly every time he ties up his cleats. But the also-studly Alvin Kamara has been a mild disappointment this year, currently ranking 15th among RBs in total points and ninth in PPG. Latavius Murray was a beast while Kamara was injured and they’ve split carries evenly since then. Two weeks ago Atlanta (Atlanta!) suffocated the Saints’ offense and stymied Kamara too, though it’s looking more like a compliment to the Falcons after they did the same thing to Carolina in Week 11.
While it’s fair to question the value of playing Kamara for $32 in Week 12, he’s a great bet to go off against the Panthers. Brian Hill may have bombed in Atlanta’s 29-3 win (much to my chagrin), but Carolina remains one of the juiciest matchups around. These philanthropic Panthers gift fantasy points to just about anyone who runs a football in their direction. No team has allowed more yards or touchdowns on the ground. Atlanta installed a new defensive play-caller and elevated their efforts to save a potentially doomed Dan Quinn, providing some explanation for reversing their season-long trend. With Carolina, it’s safe to consider last week’s stout effort an outlier.
What’s more, Atlanta’s line is 27th in Adjusted Line Yards – Football Outsiders’ measure of run-blocking — and New Orleans ranks first in that important metric for running backs. You probably know that the Saints have a top-tier offensive line, and the latest stats bear that out. Only the Cowboys’ RBs are stuffed at or behind the line less frequently than the Saints’, and this unit is also seventh in success percentage on short-yardage and goal-line runs. Ryan Ramczyk is having the best season of his young career and the line didn’t miss a beat when Andrus Peat’s injury forced Nick Easton into service last week.
Carolina has a top 10 pass defense, so I expect the Saints to instead exploit the Panthers’ weakness, run the rock and find success doing it. Murray may get his, but Kamara is a special talent overdue for some explosive plays. We shouldn’t forget his 94th-percentile Burst Score coming out of Tennessee or overlook his NFL-best 40.3 percent Juke Rate this season (both stats courtesy of PlayerProfiler.com). Even against Tampa Bay’s impenetrable rush defense last week the Saints’ star averaged nearly six yards per carry and showed that he’s all the way back from his lower-body injuries. In this matchup, Kamara should remind us why he was a top-five pick in redraft leagues.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns ($31 in Yahoo DFS)
Last week I almost wrote up Josh Jacobs at $29 vs. Cincinnati but didn’t because it seemed too obvious, and I attack the hapless Bengals’ defense almost every time I sit down at the keyboard. All Jacobs did was have his fourth hundred-yard rushing day in his last six games. This week though, the answers to the test aren’t written on the chalkboard. Oakland faces a Jets run defense that is now the NFL’s stingiest, statistically. Jacobs’ price has gone up a dollar, so why not just pay $31 to deploy Nick Chubb against another of our favorite defenses to target, the Miami Dolphins?
Over the last month, Miami has allowed opponents to pile up more rushing yards than anyone outside of Charlotte, NC. On the season they’re second only to our beloved Bengals. Miami’s revolving door on defense has yet to usher in a lineup that can stop the run, and now fifth-round pick Andrew Van Ginkel is getting a go at defensive end. While first-rounder Christian Wilkins has played up to that pedigree, the rest of this line has struggled to wrap up ball carriers. At the second level, Raekwon McMillan is a well-rounded run defender, but Jerome Baker is frequently out of position. By Football Outsiders’ calculations, this is the NFL’s weakest defense overall.
Cleveland’s run blocking has been nothing to write home about. Fortunately, Chubb only needs a sliver of daylight to explode through. According to PlayerProfiler, the former Georgia star is first in the NFL in breakaway runs (12) and fourth in Evaded Tackles. Chubb is also fourth in yards after contact with a defender, which means he doesn’t rely on well-executed blocks to break free.
The Browns are wisely using Kareem Hunt as a pass-catcher rather than scaling back Chubb’s workload — he still leads the league in carries at 20.1 per game and averages a whopping five yards per attempt. Only eight teams generate a higher percentage of their total offense via the ground game. Cleveland’s passing attack continues to move in fits and starts, compelling them to feed Chubb. That shouldn’t be a problem against Miami. While you may be aware that Cleveland is down a couple of key defenders up front, they can still handle the Dolphins and produce a run-friendly game-script. Only Cincinnati and Washington are run on more frequently than Miami.
Poised to put a hurtin’ on the Fish, Chubb is a worthy investment at $31.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans ($30 in Yahoo DFS)
While fellow big back Leonard Fournette has been largely kept out of the end zone — and disappointed fantasy gamers like myself last week — the hulking Derrick Henry has eight rushing touchdowns to his name and has powered to fifth in fantasy points among running backs despite largely pedestrian run blocking. Henry has two receiving touchdowns on a mere 13 catches! One way or another, this dude finds the end zone regularly. Given his high workload – Henry has 187 of his team’s 210 rush attempts (89%) and is the engine of this offense — that trend should continue.
In Week 12 Henry will barrel into Fournette’s Jaguars with his usual gusto. Jacksonville’s up-and-down run defense has been battered in successive weeks, as Carlos Hyde (160) and then Indy’s backfield (236) rolled up the rushing yards against them. The ageless Calais Campbell remains one of the NFL’s preeminent run stuffers, but he’s missed a lot of tackles in 2019. Linebacker Najee Goode has been an unmitigated disaster in run support and even Myles Jack, the Jag’s best ‘backer, has taken a step back this season. Over the last five weeks, this D has given up the NFL’s fifth-most rushing yards and three touchdowns. On the season they’re allowing a healthy 4.65 yards per carry on rushes up the middle, where the majority of NFL runs go.
The Titans’ offensive line is no pillar of stability either, ranking 19th in Adjusted Line Yards, but they’re getting healthy out of the bye. While rookie Nate Davis is still playing like a guy who isn’t ready for NFL competition, the rest of the front five is rounding into form. Tennessee is now fifth in success percentage on short-yardage and goal-line runs. Henry is second in yards after contact with a defender, so he doesn’t need to pass untouched through a gaping hole to make gains. According to PlayerProfiler, the big fella is fifth in Evaded Tackles and fourth in Juke Rate.
At $30 in Yahoo DFS Henry represents the median between McCaffrey ($40) and the duo of Devin Singletary and Le’Veon Bell ($20). With a matchup like this, he will have every opportunity to run roughshod the way he did last week against Kansas City’s league-worst rush defense (188 rushing yards, two touchdowns). I wouldn’t anticipate a monster stat-line like that one, but start Henry with a spring in your step.
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks ($23 in Yahoo DFS)
Chris Carson comes at a substantial discount to Kamara and Henry despite being second only to Chubb in carries and seventh in rushing yards per game (a nose of the football ahead of Henry and Ezekiel Elliott). Thoughts of Rashaad Penny forcing a timeshare may remind us of summers at the beach — they’ve been absent that long. Carson is fifth in the NFL in touches. Of course, this week the peripheral factors aren’t favorable for the seventh-round success story. The matchup is far tougher than Henry’s and his offensive line is worse, but Carson has yet to total less than 50 total yards in a game and he’s averaging 104 to go with six touchdowns on the season.
The Seahawks’ run-blocking is average at best. At least they’re consistent, however — no member of the current starting five is egregious. Joey Hunt, a former sixth-round pick forced into duty at center, hasn’t been overshadowed by more familiar names. The surprise is that the o-line’s star player, Duane Brown, isn’t playing up to his reputation. But none of these guys are going to be bulldozed by run stuffers. And Carson is third in yards after contact with a defender, so like my last two picks, he’s not counting on wide-open lanes to plunge through.
That’s a good thing when you play the Philadelphia Eagles. Definitively one of the least-enticing matchups for running backs, this defense has allowed the NFL’s fourth-fewest rushing yards and the sixth-lowest average per attempt. Over the last month, only New Orleans has permitted RBs a smaller section of real estate. DE Brandon Graham is perennially a top run defender and despite some tackling woes, he’s held firm again. The linebacking corps is shaky, however, so if Carson gets to the second level of the defense he can do some damage. What’s more, Philadelphia ranks 21st in short-yardage and goal-line situations and has seen nine rushing touchdowns scored against them, which is league-average.
With Carson facing Philly’s forbidding front, he isn’t likely to be heavily used in DFS this Sunday. Getting Carson’s kind of usage at a steep discount makes him a fine contrarian play. The Eagles have largely been a pass-funnel defense, as only six teams have faced fewer rushing attempts, but their secondary is now healthier and playing at a higher level. I don’t expect Seattle to abandon their run-heavy tendencies — the Seahawks are fifth in carries per game — on this cross-country trip to Philly. The exceptionally elusive yet always hard-charging Carson could surprise.
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles ($14)
Dropping all the way to $14 for my final recommendation of Week 12 we have a ball-carrier on the other side of Carson’s contest. As I type this Jordan Howard has still not been cleared for contact and can be considered doubtful to play. If he’s out again Miles Sanders should see a voluminous workload at home against Seattle. Versus New England last week Sanders played a season-high 85% of the snaps and received 60% of the RB carries. He didn’t do much with the opportunity, but it’s tough sledding when you face the Patriots.
Lane Johnson is expected to miss this game and that’s a downgrade to the rushing attack, as rookie Andre Dillard is a finesse pass protector, not a road grader. That said, the Eagles’ offensive line is a major strength. Brandon Brooks has been the league’s most devastating interior blocker this season and there aren’t many centers you’d rather have on a running play than Jason Kelce. No o-line has been more effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Seattle’s front seven surrenders just over 101 rushing yards per game, which is stingy, but this matchup is more middle-of-the-road than it appears. The Seahawks are bottom 10 in Adjusted Line Yards allowed and opponent yards per carry. The Eagles’ o-line can win this battle in the trenches. Boosting Sanders’ fantasy prospects is his involvement in the passing game. He leads all rookie running backs in receiving yards with 314 and has five games with at least 30.
Yes, there’s a chance that newly (re)acquired Jay Ajayi is ready to roll after spending last Sunday’s loss to the Patriots on the sidelines, but with a $14 RB play, we have to accept some risk. And Philly is actually sixth in rushing attempts per game, with 29.1. There will be enough carries to go around. Sanders is the week’s best bargain-bin special.