Welcome to NFL DFS Pick One, a series in which, each week, I’ll pick a price range and position that might end up tilting the contest in your behavior and ultimately making a decision on who you should start. This week we’re talking running backs. Our three candidates: Austin Ekeler vs Cleveland Browns ($7,600 on DraftKings), Saquon Barkley vs Dallas Cowboys ($7,300) or Ezekiel Elliott vs New York Giants ($7,000).
Related: Running Back Rankings for Week 5
3rd Place: Austin Ekeler vs Browns
Ekeler had a huge day in the Chargers’ Week 4 win over the Raiders, posting 117 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. He added 3 catches for 28 yards and a receiving TD as well. Through four weeks, Ekeler is the RB2, but only the sixth-most expensive RB for the main slate in Week 5.
The Chargers backfield has a tough matchup against the Browns who have given up the second-fewest PPR points to opposing running backs so far in 2021. The Browns haven’t allowed 100 yards rushing against them, and they haven’t allowed a back more than 3 receptions or more than 29 yards receiving. They’re a top-5 rush defense per NEFF rating.
A Cleveland side that runs so efficiently and likewise stops the run so well is the main factor in making Ekeler my No. 3 for this list.
2nd Place: Ezekiel Elliott vs Giants
The Giants are ranked in the middle of the pack when it comes to scoring by opposing RBs (18th), but they’ve faced Melvin Gordon (and Javonte Williams), Antonio Gibson, and Alvin Kamara. While the G-men have not completely shut down these rushers, I’d say they’ve more than held their own against some of the NFL’s most elite talent.
The Cowboys rank No. 4 in points scored by their RBs, behind the Lions (surprisingly), the Titans, and Browns. After a slow start against the Great Wall of Tampa Bay, Elliott has turned it on in both fantasy and ‘in real life’. The only hangup with Elliot is the emergence of Tony Pollard who is having a career year on limited touches. Splitting up work in the backfield appears to be a boon for the Dallas offense in general, and with Pollard’s rising usage, Elliot’s stats are also on the rise.
The only real knock for Elliott has been his very modest work in the passing game. So far, he’s yet to pull in more than three catches in any game. The antiquated PPR scoring model hurts Elliott here, and that is why he’s No. 2 on this list.
1st Place: Saquon Barkley at Cowboys
The Giants are on the road this week, heading to Dallas for a divisional matchup. The Cowboys, by hook or crook, have been stingy to opposing running backs so far in 2021. Dallas has not allowed a touchdown by an opposing back, and the biggest fantasy day they’ve ceded to an RB was 16-PPR points to Austin Ekeler in Week 2. Surprisingly enough, they have a top-1 run defense per NEFF rating.
In comes Saquon Barkley and the red-hot, one-game win-streak-havin’ New Jersey Giants!
Barkley is getting more and more action each game, usage in keeping with what the Giants told us all pre-season. More importantly, Barkley is showing us his elite-amongst-the-elite athleticism we grew accustomed to. I doubt we’ll see Saquon get the 30 touches his fantasy GMs want, but he is getting a lot of work, and he is paying off that work. Moreover, Barkley is getting more and more work as a receiver out of the backfield, snagging six and five receptions over the last two weeks. This receiving edge gives Barkley just enough to make him No. 1 on this list.