clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Advanced NFL DFS: Running backs

We continue our breakdown of NFL DFS. In this section, we look at running backs, with definitions and some advanced strategy.

Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants celebrates his touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium on December 15, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.The New York Giants defeated the Miami Dolphins 31-13. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In daily fantasy football, like in most things, getting the fundamentals down is integral toward laying a foundation of knowledge to build from as you progress as a player. For DFS, that means learning how to pick running backs.

Running backs


You know what a running back is, but finding the best two or three for your lineup each week isn’t easy. We take you through the process.



Opportunity is king for running backs. The difference between running backs on average isn’t all that much, so big touches are predictive to useful fantasy points. We can’t count on explosive rushing plays, as they aren’t predictable and are rare. That means we want a strong number of touches and touches near the end zone.


For DraftKings, targets and receptions are a huge part of the puzzle. With one-point awarded per reception, receiving backs have a big advantage. We are hoping for an average around 20 touches, but if 3-5 of those are receptions, your back will have more upside than if they are all carries.

A player like Derrick Henry, who doesn’t see many targets, can be the exception, but you are still limiting upside when you use a back without targets. The Titans did well to stay in games and keep feeding Henry last season, but unlike Christian McCaffrey, Henry becomes much riskier when his team is trailing by a wide margin and moves away from the run.

Goal line touches

I want my running back to, at the very least, be considered once his team gets close to the end zone. Again, long runs are rare and shouldn’t be counted on, even in GPPs. Securing players with consistent touches and targets, especially in the red zone and closer, is a must. And, on average, you are going to see more goal line rushing attempts from teams with a lead. Unless you have a very good reason, go with the running back on the favored team.


There are plenty of matchup statistics out there worth checking out, but one of the best goes back to volume of touches. How does a specific defense get attacked each week? Do they often trail, allowing teams to rack up rushing attempts while they run out clock? Again, we want our running backs to be on teams favored to win, giving them better odds for 20+ touches.

There are unicorns like Christian McCaffrey, who will get touches no matter what, while also producing well on those touches. Playing McCaffrey each week was likely a decent play last season, especially in cash games, but he is just one back. Even if there were more McCaffrey’s, you wouldn’t be able to play all of his clones.

Cash games

Pay up for running backs, especially at home and favored, and use them in the flex spot in cash games as a rule. Quarterbacks and running backs are the easiest to project due to them getting secure touch totals. When paying up for a back, he is most-likely going to have a high touch floor and be in on third-downs as a receiving option.

Cash game value

You won’t be able to pay up for three stud running backs for your lineup, so you will need to find value. Touches remain the key. Often a running back might be cheap due to low touchdown production but still have touchdown upside due to goal line looks. If you can expect 15 touches from a running back, you need to look closely at him, especially if he comes at a discount. That includes players in tougher matchups. Touches outweigh matchups, especially when the price is good.

Avoid injuries

Sometimes we will end up waiting on a player to practice on a Friday before penciling him into a lineup spot. Yes, if a player is probable to play, he will likely play, but if his injury was to his lower body, his odds of having a good game go down. There are exceptions, but unless a player has consistently performed well while only getting a Friday practice in, I will avoid.

GPP games

Hitting on one stud running back in tournaments is still a big part of winning. There are just too many points available from the position to go full value back when looking for upside. Being contrarian is useful for GPPs but you can go overboard, setting yourself up for low priced and low scoring backs. We know that running backs are the most consistent non-QB slots to fill in your lineups. That means that going contrarian isn’t going to be as easy as it is at wide receiver or tight end.

After you grab that stud running back is when you’ll look for that lower priced play. You still want good touch projections, but at a discount. This is also where you would play that running back that has been elevated due to an injury but is super cheap. Everyone will play him, but so should you. It may not feel right in GPPs but it’s usually the best move.