There is a ton of value to be mined from the top five fantasy football running backs in week three.
5- Jeremy Hill (CIN), $6,600 vs (TEN)
The Titans were boot-stomped by DeMarco Murray over the weekend. The Cowboys running back rushed for 167 yards and a touchdown. Bengals starting running back Giovani Bernard ran the ball a whopping 27 times against the Falcons, but he wasn’t terribly efficient, and Hill was the more impressive runner. Bernard’s pass catching skills and wiggle always make him a candidate for a big game, but with Hill’s solid showing I expect the gap in carries to close further. Football Outsiders ranks the Titans as the 22nd run defense while Pro Football Focus ranks them 16th against the run. Hill hasn’t forced any missed tackles this year, but he’s done a good job of picking up yards after contact with 2.5 yards after contact per attempt (YCo/Att) per Pro Football Focus. To put that number in perspective, Marshawn Lynch ranked tied for 12th in 2013 with an identical 2.5 YCo/Att.
4- Stevan Ridley (NE), $7,450 vs (OAK)
The Patriots squashed the Vikings in week two, and that allowed them to run the ball 37 times while attempting just 22 passes. Ridley easily led the team in carries with 25 compared to six for Shane Vereen. Equally important, he didn’t fumble the ball. As long as Ridley is able to hold onto the football, he’ll have a chance to get steady work, especially in games the Patriots race out to a big lead. Vegas Insiders has the Patriots as easily the biggest betting favorites in week three currently laying 14 points to the Raiders. The Raiders run defense ranks 17th at Football Outsiders, and 29th at Pro Football Focus. No matter how you slice it, the Raiders aren’t a good run defense. Another boat race appears in the offing for the Patriots, and another heavy work load is a distinct possibility while the Patriots salt away a big win.
3- DeMarco Murray (DAL), $14,700 @ (STL)
I expect Murray to be the highest scoring running back this week, but his huge price tag drops him to third in the pecking order. The Rams were an embarrassment against the run in week two allowing Bobby Rainey to rip off 144 yards rushing on 22 carries. And with just a 31 yard long rush from Rainey, the numbers aren’t inflated by one breakaway carry. Murray is light years ahead of Rainey in talent level, and through two weeks he’s your NFL leader in missed tackles among running backs according to Pro Football Focus. He’s doing a lot after contact as well, ranking fourth with a 3.0 YCo/Att. If your looking for volume, Murray is your guy, too. He trails only Arian Foster in rushing attempts. A big effort is a near certainty from Murray against a Rams run defense that Football Outsiders ranks 24th and Pro Football Focus ranks 30th.
2- Donald Brown (SD), $7,900 @ (BUF)
The oft-injured Ryan Mathews is on the shelf for a few weeks with an MCL sprain, and that means Brown will step in as the Chargers primary ball carrier. Danny Woodhead will still be used as the club’s receiving back, but Brown’s stock is way up, and he’ll look to reward the club for their offseason investment in him in free agency. When glancing over running back leaderboards most folks don’t likely expect to see Brown leading any favorable carries, but that’s just what he did in one notable category last year. Among running backs that played 25% of their teams snaps, Brown was the league leader with 3.3 YCo/Att in 2013. The Bills and their 2-0 record host the Chargers this weekend, and while they’ve successfully secured a pair of wins, it hasn’t been due to their run defense. Football Outsiders ranks them 16th against the run while Pro Football Focus likes their run defense even less ranking the Bills 26th.
1- Darren Sproles (PHI), $8,350 vs (WAS)
Sproles has been a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense. While no one would claim Sproles is a better running back than LeSean McCoy, it is fair to say he’s outshined his backfield mate through two games. That won’t continue all year, but even with a limited number of snaps taken (57 through two games), he’s clearly an integral part of the offense when he is on the field. The former Saint back leads the Eagles in yards from scrimmage, receiving yards, receptions, and touchdowns. His receiving prowess makes him a stud in full point per reception DFS scoring formats, but he’s also been a contributor on the ground having totaled 71 yards rushing on 11 carries in week one and another 26 on just four carries against the Colts. He’s also scored two of his three touchdowns on the ground. With two very good games in the book, his ownership rates will surely be up, but his cost makes him worth it.