NFL Week 15 Fantasy RB Breakdown: Pay up for Ezekiel Elliott

NFL Week 15 Fantasy RB Breakdown: Pay up for Ezekiel Elliott article feature image

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Ezekiel Elliott

  • Ezekiel Elliott and Tevin Coleman are among the top fantasy running backs for Week 15.
  • I why you should target them this week, but be sure check out the full piece on FantasyLabs for more plays.

Read the full version of this piece on FantasyLabs.

We are just three weeks away from the end of the regular season, and the NFL is still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 23.8 points per game per team. The action continues with an 11-game main slate that kicks off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at four running backs at the top of the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.

If you want more information on the rest of this week’s running backs, subscribe to FantasyLabs, where you can access the large suite of analytical DFS tools I use to research every player.

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Model Running Backs

Two of the backs atop the FantasyLabs Pro Models really catch my eye this week.

  • Ezekiel Elliott: $9,000 DraftKings; $8,800 FanDuel
  • Tevin Coleman: $4,200 DraftKings; $6,100 FanDuel

Ezekiel Elliott: Dallas Cowboys (+3) vs. Indianapolis Colts, 47 Over/Under

UPDATE (12/16): Right guard Zack Martin (knee) and tight end Geoff Swaim (wrist) are out. Left tackle Tyron Smith (neck) and wide receiver Tavon Austin (groin) are questionable after limited practice sessions all week. Smith seems likely to play. Austin has been out since Week 7.

Colts safety Malik Hooker (hip) and defensive tackle Margus Hunt (knee) are in. Safety Clayton Geathers (knee) is questionable but tentatively expected to play after limited practices on Thursday and Friday.

I will probably die believing that the Cowboys shouldn’t have drafted Elliott No. 4 overall in the 2016 draft, but as a fantasy producer, he’s elite.

Since he entered the league in 2016, only Saquon Barkley (22.6) and Le’Veon Bell (21.6) have averaged more FanDuel points per game than Zeke’s 20.0. On the season, Zeke leads the league with 333 touches and 1,764 yards from scrimmage. Not once this season has Zeke failed to get 18 touches in a game.

Since his rookie campaign, Zeke is the only back to average more than 100 yards rushing per game with his mark of 102.0. Although Barkley and a few other backs have been more productive this season, Zeke has gotten touches on an NFL-high 39.7% of his team’s plays.

Zeke doesn’t have a great matchup against the Colts, who rank fourth in the league with a 90.6 Pro Football Focus (PFF) run-defense grade. Dynamic rookie off-ball linebacker Darius Leonard leads the league with 135 tackles, and the Colts are yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season.

Even so, the Colts have allowed the best running backs to face them to put up points …

  • Joe Mixon (Bengals, Week 1): 23.4 FanDuel points, 17-95-1 rushing, 5-54-0 receiving on seven targets
  • Leonard Fournette (Jaguars, Week 10): 25.4 FanDuel points, 24-53-1 rushing, 5-56-1 receiving on five targets

… and the Colts are 26th in pass defense against running backs with a 12.7% mark in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. With his usage, Zeke is still likely to produce despite the matchup.

While it’s obviously less than ideal for Zeke to be a road underdog, his increased receiving workload is likely to insulate him from a game script-based letdown. Each NFL season, Zeke has enhanced his value as a receiver on a per-game basis (per the RotoViz Screener).

  • 2016: 2.7 targets, 2.1 receptions, 24.2 yards receiving, 4.0 receiving fantasy points expected
  • 2017: 3.8 targets, 2.6 receptions, 24.9 yards receiving, 5.0 receiving fantasy points expected
  • 2018: 6.2 targets, 5.0 receptions, 38.6 yards receiving, 9.8 receiving fantasy points expected

With 81 targets and 65 receptions, Zeke has team-high marks in both categories.

Of course, since wide receiver Amari Cooper joined the Cowboys in the Week 8 bye, Zeke hasn’t been the team’s leading receiver, but he has seen a significant increase in overall per-game production with Cooper.

  • With Cooper (six games): 24.5 FanDuel points, 83.3% Consistency Rating, 22.7 carries, 7.5 targets, 6.7 receptions, 161.7 and 0.83 touchdowns from scrimmage
  • Without Cooper (seven games): 16.3 FanDuel points, 57.1% Consistency Rating, 18.9 carries, 5.1 targets, 3.6 receptions, 113.4 and 0.57 touchdowns from scrimmage

Although he’s expensive, Zeke has provided an abundance of value over the past six weeks with his +9.36 Plus/Minus. On Wednesday’s edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, we highlighted Zeke as a strong cash-game candidate. Elliott had one of the main slate’s highest ownership rates last week, and we’re expecting him to be popular once again as the cheaper of the two high-priced backfield options available.

One potential drawback of rostering Zeke is that the Cowboys have tended to hit the under with quarterback Dak Prescott, especially against non-divisional opponents, on the road and finally against non-divisional opponents on the road. Under bettors have done well with Dak under center since 2016 (per our data at Bet Labs).

  • Over/under: 27-18 (60%), +2.92 Margin, 15.6% ROI
  • Over/under outside division: 18-10 (64.3%), +2.16 Margin, 24.2% ROI
  • Over/under on the road: 16-6 (72.7%), +5.39 Margin, 39.7% ROI
  • Over/under outside division on the road: 11-3 (78.6%), +3.86 Margin, 50.6% ROI

Even though the Colts play at a fast situation-neutral pace, and even though Colts-Cowboys has the slate’s second-highest over/under at 47.5 points (see live odds here), history suggests it could be a low-scoring contest.

Even so, Zeke should get his fantasy points: He has top-two median, ceiling and floor projections in our Models. Although Elliott (shoulder) is dealing with an injury and didn’t practice on Wednesday, he practiced in full on Thursday and is entirely expected to play this weekend.

I’ll probably look to bet the over on Elliott’s yardage props on Sunday morning. With Cooper, Elliot has had more than 110 yards rushing in four of six games. He’s also had at least 50 yards receiving in four of six. And not once since Week 8 has Zeke had fewer than 112 yards from scrimmage.

To find the best bets in the props market, use our Player Props Tool, which is powered by our industry-leading projections. Since Week 1, the props with a bet quality of 10 have gone 212-96-11, good for a 66% win rate. Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.

Elliott has a position-high 98% Bargain Rating on FanDuel, where he’s the No. 1 running back in the CSURAM88, Levitan and Raybon Models.

Tevin Coleman: Atlanta Falcons (-10) vs. Arizona Cardinals, 44 O/U

UPDATE (12/16): Wide receiver Julio Jones (foot, calf) and tight end Austin Hooper (knee) did not practice this week, but both will play on Sunday. Running back Ito Smith (neck) is probably to play after practicing in full on Thursday and Friday.

Cardinals slot cornerback Budda Baker (knee) and linebacker Deone Bucannon (chest) are officially questionable but expected to play after getting in limited practices on Thursday and Friday.

This has been a lost season for Coleman, but he could find some Samson-like redemption near the end of it with a strong matchup against the Cardinals, who are 29th with a 69.4 PFF run-defense grade and have allowed a top three mark of 31.1 DraftKings points per game to opposing backfields.

The Cardinals have allowed a league-high 361 carries and 16 rushing touchdowns to running backs. As a double-digit home favorite, Coleman is in a #SmashSpot and could benefit from a run-heavy game script.

Although rookie running back Ito Smith has certainly managed to siphon off a significant portion of the Falcons’ backfield production, Coleman is still the lead back in the committee. And without starter Devonta Freeman (groin, IR), Coleman has been at his best throughout his career.

  • Without Freeman (14 games): 12.0 DraftKings points, 12.8 carries, 2.9 targets, 2.1 receptions, 72.6 yards and 0.64 touchdowns from scrimmage
  • With Freeman (39 games): 8.8 DraftKings points, 8.2 carries, 2.3 targets, 1.6 receptions, 53.5 yards and 0.46 touchdowns from scrimmage

Even if Smith steals touches, Coleman has a big opportunity to produce.

It probably helps Coleman that the Cardinals have something of a funnel defense: They actually rank 10th in pass defense (0.6% DVOA), and wide receiver Julio Jones is likely to see a lot of Patrick Peterson, who has allowed a catch rate of just 54.3% and a 25-279-2 receiving line on 510 coverage snaps.

If the Falcons get an early lead, it’s easy to envision them opting for the running game instead of challenging Peterson or throwing to someone who isn’t their top receiver.

Of course, the Falcons are a disappointing 4-9 and have struggled to put teams away this season. If you think Falcons-Cardinals will stay relatively close, you can use our Lineup Builder to stack Coleman with quarterback Matt Ryan in tournaments. Over the past year, Coleman and Ryan have had a 0.45 correlation, slightly higher than the league-average 0.43 mark typically seen between a No. 1 running back and quarterback. Last week, Coleman and Ryan had a shared ownership rate of just 0.24% in the DraftKings Millionaire Maker.

With the lowest salary he’s had since Week 14 of 2016, Coleman is the No. 1 DraftKings back in the CSURAM88 and Freedman Models.

Read the full version of this piece on FantasyLabs.

Positional Breakdowns & News

Be sure to read the other Week 15 positional breakdowns.

For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.

Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.

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