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Week 4 DFS Running Back Outlook: Jonathan Taylor, Austin Ekeler, Saquon Barkley

The stud running backs in the NFL haven't paid off on DraftKings and FanDuel but that may change in Week 4.

Investing in the top end of the fantasy running back pool in 2022 has rarely paid off over the first three weeks of the season. The combination of Jonathan Taylor, Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, Najee Harris, and Dalvin Cook produced only one game with more than 20.00 fantasy points in PPR formats. Here’s how the top five running backs drafted in season-long leagues rank in fantasy points heading into this week’s action:

· Jonathan Taylor (46.90 – 10th)

· Christian McCaffrey (46.00 – 11th)

· Austin Ekeler (42.90 – 13th)

· Najee Harris (38.60 – 19th)

· Dalvin Cook (36.00 – 23rd)

Last week, Khalil Herbert came off the bench after an injury to David Montgomery and led all running backs in scoring (30.90 fantasy points). Seven other backs scored more than 20.00 fantasy points. Derek Henry (25.30 fantasy points) finished with the second-highest output, thanks to a better-than-expected role in the passing game (5/58). Saquon Barkley is the only back to score 20-plus fantasy points in two matchups (33.40 and 22.60), pushing him to first in running back scoring (67.80 fantasy points) for the season. Jamaal Williams was the second RB to succeed (20/87/2 with two catches for 20 yards) after an injury to D’Andre Swift. Williams finished third in scoring (24.70 fantasy points).

Week 4 Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

Here’s a look at the top running back plays in Week 4:

Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts (DraftKings – $8,800/FanDuel – $8,700)

When drafting or playing Taylor in Daily Fantasy Contests, there is the expectation that he will provide a significant edge. He looked the part in Week 1 (31/161/1 with four catches for 14 yards), but the Colts failed to get him a touchdown in back-to-back games while scoring only 20 points. Indy only has four touchdowns on the year, with weakness in their yards per rush (4.0) and yards per catch (6.6). Taylor gained 122 combined yards with a touchdown and three catches on 19 touches in his home start in 2021 against the Titans. However, the Colts barely used him in his matchup in Tennessee (10/64 with one catch for eight yards). The Titans’ defense struggled with running backs over the first three games (63/381/1 – 6.1 yards per carry) while not being challenged in the passing game (8/70/2 on 14 targets). Taylor ranks first in the running back projections this week, giving him a chance to score more than 30.00 fantasy points for the first time this year. Two touchdowns are almost necessary for him to pay off the daily games.

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (DraftKings – $8,000/FanDuel – $8,100)

Over the first three games, Barkley has been on the field for 86.3 percent of the plays run by the Giants. He leads the NFL in running back production (408 combined yards with two touchdowns and 13 catches) while averaging 22 touches per game. Barkley already has three runs over 20 yards, with one hitting the 40-yard mark, which matches his 2021 season (162 carries) with a third of the chances (53). However, as exciting as he looks, Barkley can’t reach a higher ceiling without the Giants having more success passing the ball (188/2, 176/1, and 186/0 – 6.1 yards per pass attempt). As a result, they’ve scored only five touchdowns on 34 possessions. Over the first three weeks, running backs gained 501 combined yards with three touchdowns and 12 catches on 93 touches vs. the Bears. They allow 5.0 yards per rush to running backs. Barkley should see plenty of action in this matchup with an excellent chance to score. He’ll pay off handsomely with more than 100 yards rushing with multiple touchdowns in the daily space. I expect him to be on many rosters this week.

Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers (DraftKings – $7,700/FanDuel – $8,400)

Of all the top-tier running backs, Ekeler may be the most frustrating so far. His role in the passing game remains high (21/139 on 22 targets), but he is gaining only 2.5 yards per rush and 6.6 yards per catch (4.4 and 9.2 in 2021). The Chargers lost their starting left tackle for the season and Justin Herbert is battling a rib issue, the smart move would be to look elsewhere for upside at running back. In addition, Los Angeles has only had him on the field for 56.4 percent of their snaps. The Texans struggled in all three matchups defending the run (109/607/3 – 5.6 yards per catch), with backs catching 14 passes for 92 yards. Over the first three weeks, Houston played three teams with questionable depth at wide receiver and tight end. The Chargers need a win and they should force the Texans to defend the whole field. Ekeler appears to be an against-the-grain play based on his stats this season, but his matchup offers upside if Los Angeles can solve this offensive line issue.