By John Evans
Special to Yahoo Sports
It’s lucky Week 13 in the National Football League! Now that the turkey has been gobbled up and thanks have been given, it’s time to survey Sunday’s DFS slate. Last week I advocated spending $30 to play Derrick Henry against Jacksonville. Two touchdowns and 175 total yards later, it will cost us $27 to go back to the well with Henry against Indianapolis.
Even in a much tougher matchup, that’s a great way to start our card. But if you prefer to pay up at other positions or pair Christian McCaffrey ($42) with a low-cost option, here are four bargain ball-carriers for you to consider, as well as one pricier play to avoid.
Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers ($22 in Yahoo DFS)
I’m steering clear of Tevin Coleman ($22) in Yahoo’s daily game this week. The 49ers have one of the league’s best rushing attacks, but this backfield in general and Coleman specifically have cooled considerably in November. Outside of Week 8, in which the former Falcon scored four touchdowns and had 105 rushing yards, he’s averaging 42.8 rushing yards this season and has three scores in eight games. Coleman continues to split snaps with multiple running mates and is averaging less than 15 touches per game. On the season his yards-per-carry average is under 4, so he’s not very efficient with the limited opportunities he receives. The former Indiana Hoosier has just 19 catches so far, so passing-game production hasn’t really padded his stat-lines either.
San Francisco has taken to the air more frequently over the last month. In that span, only 11 teams have fewer rushing attempts than the previously run-heavy 49ers. That’s benefitted Jimmy Garoppolo and the pass-catchers, but gaudy rushing totals have been absent from the box scores. Even in last week’s laugher over Green Bay, Coleman only amassed 49 total yards and bailed out fantasy gamers with a touchdown. Five of his six second-half carries came with the 49ers up 30-8 midway through the fourth quarter.
Then we have to factor in the 49ers’ Week 13 opponent. Over the last month, Baltimore has been a bottom-five matchup for running backs. San Francisco is still a top 10 offensive line in Adjusted Line Yards – Football Outsiders’ measure of run-blocking — but the Ravens’ defensive line is even better (top five!) in the equivalent stat, Adjusted Line Yards Allowed. Nose tackle Brandon Williams is a handful in the middle and journeyman Josh Bynes has solidified the second level since rejoining Baltimore’s linebacking corps in October. What’s more, San Francisco benched Joe Staley’s understudy during the win over Green Bay. If Staley can’t return this week the left tackle spot could be a problem against the Ravens on Sunday.
The way the Ravens run roughshod over opponents often takes teams out of their gameplan. They’ve faced the league’s fewest rush attempts, an indicator of how many big leads they’ve built. The 49ers may attempt a ground-and-pound approach rather than attack Baltimore’s ball-hawking secondary, but unless the defense can contain Lamar Jackson and company they’ll be back to throwing the ball soon enough. While Coleman is the 1-A in this committee backfield and will be involved regardless of game-script, Matt Breida is expected back and Raheem Mostert has played well. I see no reason to deploy Coleman at this price point when there are better options for less.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars ($21 in Yahoo DFS)
Two weeks ago Leonard Fournette was $23 against Indianapolis but failed to break a scoreless streak dating back to Week 5. In fact, he handled a career-low eight carries in a dispiriting 33-13 loss. Seeing the error of their ways, the Jaguars’ coaching staff fed Fournette last week against the Titans and he got a career-high 33 touches. Even with two long runs called back by holding penalties, the big back rolled up 97 rushing yards and found the end-zone twice. His big step forward this season has come in the passing game and Fournette displayed his receiving skills against Tennessee, turning 12 targets into nine grabs for an additional 62 yards. It was Week 12’s highest-scoring RB performance in Yahoo scoring.
If you were leery of Fournette last week, I was right there with you, but that emphatic performance is more predictive than his eight-carry outing even though the Jaguars lost both games. Foles threw 37 and 38 passes in successive weeks, so it wasn’t going run-heavy that made the difference so much as simply keeping Fournette involved. Even if the Bucs’ often-explosive offense lights up the Jags, their bell-cow back should still get his in the passing game.
It won’t be easy to maintain offensive balance against Tampa Bay. The Bucs have been one of the tougher teams to run on this season as opposing RBs manage just 62 rushing yards per game, on average. However, a workhorse can still post solid totals. Alvin Kamara and Derrick Henry garnered 75 rushing yards against Tampa Bay and Chris Carson had 105. Kamara (47) and Carson (28) combined for 75 additional yards through the air, too. Fournette is fourth among RBs in receptions and sixth in receiving yards.
The fact that Fournette is second to Derrick Henry in yards gained after contact with a defender indicates that he’s plowing through defenders rather than running through holes his o-line opens for him. The Jaguars are just 24th in Adjusted Line Yards and tackle Cam Robinson has been a liability on the left side. Fournette is facing slightly lighter boxes since Foles returned from injury, but the veteran quarterback has failed to elevate this passing game enough to really help in that regard.
With this less-than-ideal matchup of o-line and front seven, Fournette is not a slam-dunk play. However, for $21 I feel good about him being the centerpiece of the Jaguars’ offense again. The reason we gravitate to players like Fournette is that there are so many committee backfields in today’s NFL it makes RB production much harder to predict. Only Christian McCaffrey can top Fournette’s 23.8 touches per game. He sure isn’t scoring as many touchdowns as CMC, but that voluminous workload guarantees his opportunity.
Jonathan Williams, Indianapolis Colts ($18 in Yahoo DFS)
With Marlon Mack out, the Colts demonstrated their commitment to Jonathan Williams by feeding him 26 carries in Week 12’s loss to Houston. The former Arkansas Razorback rewarded them by racking up more than 100 rushing yards for the second week in a row. Even Marlon Mack never did that in his 10 games played this season.
Who is Jonathan Williams? At Arkansas, he and Alex Collins formed a productive rushing tandem before a foot injury spoiled Williams’ senior season and depressed his draft stock. Though the former Razorback lacked an impressive 40 time, in the eyes of some experts — notably, Greg Cosell – he showed both the game and the traits of a “foundation back.” Williams is the kind of natural runner a team can build their ground game around. At a thickly built 220 pounds, he can handle 20 carries without breaking down. Williams generally makes those carries count thanks to his quick feet, outstanding lateral movement and tendency to finish runs with authority. He’s also a capable pass-catcher.
I was a fan of Williams coming out of school, but his career to this point is certainly undistinguished. After being chosen in the fifth round by the Buffalo Bills he played just 14 games between 2016 and this season, totaling 94 rushing yards in that span. For whatever reason, it hasn’t happened for him until now. Now, two successful games are no guarantee of future success, but he’s in a good situation.
The Colts’ offensive line is known for bullying opposing front sevens at the line of scrimmage. They’re ninth in Adjusted Line Yards and all five starters grade very well in run blocking. In his second year, Quenton Nelson has made the leap from very good to All-Pro caliber. Whoever is running the rock for Indy gets a big boost from the blockers. The team ranks third with 144.2 rushing yards per game.
This week Williams faces a middling Tennessee Titans defense. Before Fournette’s fine day in Week 12, they surrendered 77 rushing yards to Damien Williams and 146 to Christian McCaffrey. Like many defenses, the Titans have held up well against struggling running games but can be had by a better opponent. The last time these teams played, in Week 2, Mack and Jordan Wilkins combined for 133 rushing yards. Jurrell Casey and Jayon Brown have missed time due to injury, however, so the Titans’ run defense will be at full strength here for the first time in a while.
As Wilkins gets healthier he will likely see a larger role in the Colts’ offense, and he’s actually shown more in his brief NFL career than Williams had until Week 11. But given the way things have gone since Mack went down, I’ll take the calculated risk to play Williams for $18 this week.
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($16 in Yahoo DFS)
Like Fournette, I thought Ronald Jones was a good play in Week 11 ($14), but he bombed. RoJo promptly reasserted himself against Atlanta last week, leading the Bucs’ backfield in carries and targets and scoring a rushing touchdown to go with 67 total yards (three receptions). The former USC Trojan continues to pass the eye test on several plays per game and seems poised to pounce on a great matchup.
Week 13 may be that matchup. Over the Jacksonville Jaguars’ last three games no team has allowed more fantasy points to running backs. Four opposing RBs topped the century mark in rushing yards and Jacksonville gave up five touchdowns on the ground. Calais Campbell’s run defense remains remarkable in his 12th season, but if a RB gets past him the linebackers are likely to whiff on the tackle. Jacksonville has cycled through second-level defenders without finding a combination that has been effective in run defense. The Jags are always capable of popping up with a good performance, especially against lesser competition, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen them in peak form.
While Tampa Bay’s offensive line is no great shakes, the unit has crept toward average in run blocking after finishing 2018 31st in Adjusted Line Yards. Center Ryan Jensen doesn’t seem to be the same player he was in Baltimore, but Demar Dotson has put 2018’s poor showing behind him. There are no standouts here, but every starter is adequate or better.
Make no mistake, Jones does not have the reliable workload of a Henry, Fournette or even Williams (to date), as he is splitting snaps with Peyton Barber and Dare Ogunbowale. Playing him still seems like a spin of the roulette wheel. But since his snaps spiked in Week 9 Jones has been a reliable fantasy play in three of four games, with his miss coming against the forbidding New Orleans defense. The Bucs’ back is a good bet to return value on a $16 investment.
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles ($16 in Yahoo DFS)
I’ve written about the same RB in consecutive weeks if my stance changed on them from matchup to matchup, but this may be the first time I’ve touted the same guy two weeks in a row. With Jordan Howard’s status very iffy again, it’s hard to imagine him getting a heavy workload against Miami even if he is cleared for contact. We do know that Lane Johnson will return this week, which really moves the needle for the right side of Philadelphia’s offensive line. Johnson may be the NFL’s preeminent run-blocking right tackle. With him in the fold, the Eagles’ front five is back to being a running back’s best friend.
Sanders wasn’t amazing against Seattle last week, totaling 86 scoreless yards (three receptions), but other than fumbling on a two-point conversion attempt he did nothing to shake the team’s faith in him as their feature back of the future. Sanders received a season-high 14 touches and showed the same big-play ability he has all year. If Carson Wentz hadn’t missed the rookie by a mile on a potential touchdown toss there would be more hype on him this week.
I’ll probably have to give Miami a break in Week 14 because their injury-ravaged defense is one of the league’s easiest targets. Last week I recommended paying up for Nick Chubb against them and that worked out, as Chubb rolled to 164 total yards and a touchdown. Over the last month, only Jacksonville has surrendered more rushing yards than Miami, and the Dolphins are eighth in receiving yards allowed to RBs.
Jay Ajayi (#RevengeGame) may cut into Sanders’ opportunities, but I’ll gladly pony up the $16 in hopes that the Dolphins provide yet another running back with a smash spot.