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CFL DFS Strategy: Cashing in on Running Backs
Chris Kay
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CFL DFS Strategy: Cashing in on Running Backs

In this week’s strategy article, I’m going to look running backs. Heading into the season, I looked at the this position as one that would never make its way into one of my two flex positions. Boy, was I wrong. After three weeks, we’ve seen there are plenty of reasons to rely on these players in our DFS lineups.

The biggest positive to using a running back flex in any format is the amount of touches they receive. When looking at every running back that has played in at least two games, there are six that averaged 12 touches or better per game. There is not one receiver in the CFL that averages 12 targets per game, let alone 12 receptions per game.

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The key to picking running backs in the CFL is to target those that are used in the passing game. There are five running backs that have played in more than one game and have four receptions or more per game.

The biggest negative concerning this position in DFS is that a great game on the ground does not equate to Fantasy points. 60 rushing yards on the ground is just six points. Receptions are key and if your back can turn 12 touches into eight carries and four receptions then he sees a point increase of four points.

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Now that you understand what I’m looking for when it comes to the running back position, let’s take a look at those that are available from week-to-week, starting with the elite.

Elite – Andrew Harris and John White

Harris and White are the best of the best at this position and have provided plenty of opportunities and production for your lineups. These two have been used staples in their respective offenses, generating the most touches per game of those who have played more than one game. Not surprisingly, these two running backs could easily be considered the most talented in the league. Harris has run for 998 yards or better in three of the last four seasons, while White played just nine games last season and still ran for 852 yards. They are also the only running backs to see at least 15 touches in each game this season. Because of that, I’m comfortable rolling with these two in all formats.

On the Cusp of Greatness – Brandon Whitaker and Jerome Messam

These players have shown the talent to be the your second running back in cash game formats, but they haven’t developed the consistency to be your primary running back target through the first three games. In my opinion, Whitaker is the more appealing player. Not only is he priced more attractively than Messam, but his usage has begun to increase following the week one loss to Hamilton. Over the last two weeks, Whitaker has seen 15 and 20 touches respectively with 11 of those coming via the passing game. Will Toronto continue to use him like an elite running back or will another six-touch game rear its ugly head? For now, I feel Whitaker’s value is higher in tournaments. Regarding Messam, if he were to see more usage in the passing game then he would easily join the elite category. Of his 36 touches this season, only five have come through the air. The 6’3, 263 pound running back has caught 27, 31 and 47 passes in seasons past, and that’s just what it’ll take to consider him safe in any format to use as a flex.

Those with Potential – Anthony Allen, Nic Grigsby, and Curtis Steele

With only one game under their belts, these three running backs don’t quite have the resume’ to build your lineups around, but they have shown flashes of potential. The back I’m most confident in of the three is Anthony Allen. He ran for 107 yards on 16 carries last week and added a touchdown reception as well. With BC’s offense struggling under center at quarterback, they will need to keep the running game relevant. As long as Jeremiah Johnson is injured, Allen will be the starting running back and a player I want to have significant exposure to.

Nic Grigsby generated 14.3 Fantasy points on 19 touches this past week, but let’s not jump to conclusions. This is a running back that has been released four times in his CFL career and missed snaps multiple times due to minor “injuries.” He was banged up several times in the game against Calgary last week.

Curtis Steele has proven the ability to be an effective runner (18/108/0 in two games), but only saw 10 touches in the Roughriders’ week three loss. He’s definitely a player I want to keep an eye on as the season progresses, but you can’t possibly feel comfortable using him in cash games at this point in 2016.

Thanks, But No Thanks – CJ Gable and Jeremiah Johnson

Gable and Johnson are two running backs I won’t be considering any time soon. These two have shown flashes of talent, but Johnson is hurt and Gable isn’t used nearly enough to consider in any format. It certainly doesn’t help that Gable’s offense is pass first and when Johnson does get back from injury, he’ll be battling with Anthony Allen for snaps where he’ll see very few (if any) targets in the passing game.

Currently Injured – Tyrell Sutton

Sutton has been placed on the 6-game injured list, so we don’t have to worry about him for quite some time, but we should consider him once he does get healthy. Sutton averaged 11.5 carries and 4.5 catches in his first two games of the season. Last season, he was a superstar back in the CFL, leading the league in rushing while adding 43 catches and 334 yards via the passing game. Sutton’s talent is legit and should be considered as such when he is 100%.