Ultimate Zero RB Watchlist: NFC Week 6
Welcome to the Ultimate Zero RB Watchlist. The goal of this piece is to help you find RB targets for your Zero-RB teams before anyone else even knows about them. We know that startable RB weeks can come from almost anywhere in the NFL. By being aware of depth charts that could yield surprising weekly starters, we put ourselves in position to grab the next breakout RB before he breaks out.
We’ll take a close look at depth charts around the league in order to find the next-man-up situations that nobody is talking about . . . yet. Throughout the season we’ll monitor playing time and usage to identify exploitable, under-the-radar trends that have the potential to pay off with league-winning upside.
Be sure to check out Cort Smith’s companion piece on the AFC.
Week 6 marks another change in the format of this piece, as this time we’ll use expected points and PPR together to identify some possible regression candidates. The table below lists each running back’s season-long expected point total along with their season-long PPR total, and the difference between those.
A negative number in the “Points Over Expectation” column indicates some positive regression may be in store, while a positive number indicates that negative regression may be on the way. That is to say, players with larger absolute values in the “Points Over Expectation” column are those who are drastically over- or underperforming their workloads. This sort of over- or underperformance often leads to actionable opportunities for buying low and selling high. Below the table I’ll offer some commentary on the most interesting situations.
Snap Share, Expected Points, and Fantasy Points
|Player||Team||Week 5 Snap Pct||Week 5 ruEP||Week 5 reEP||Week 5 Total EP||2017 Games||2017 Snap Pct||2017 ruEP||2017 reEP||2017 Total EP||2017 PPR||Points Over Expectation|
- Jonathan Stewart ranks second to last in the NFC in points over expectation. He’s disappointing his fantasy owners, but he is getting some valuable touches, and he led Carolina RBs in snaps Week 5. Even with Christian McCaffrey (himself a buy-low candidate) taking opportunities, Stewart should still provide value in positive-game-script situations.
- Andre Ellington has mildly outperformed his opportunity, but I’m including him in the Buy Low section because I don’t think people realize how valuable a workload he’s getting. He ranked third in the NFC in Week 5 total expected points. On the season, only 15 RBs in the NFL have more EP than Ellington. He’s seen double-digit targets in each of the last two games. No RB in the league has more targets than Ellington in 2017, and only Duke Johnson has more air yards (and only by two). In terms of target share, Ellington is the Cardinals’ No. 2 receiver. Adrian Peterson’s arrival in Arizona would not appear to threaten Ellington’s workload at all.
- Carlos Hyde trails all RBs in total fantasy points over expectation. I hesitate to call him a buy low, however, as he’s been losing snaps to Matt Breida. While it initially appeared Breida’s ascendence was due to the Hyde’s lingering hip injury, Kyle Shanahan quelled that speculation by flatly stating the Niners were going with the “hot hand” at RB. In other words, Hyde lost snap share precisely because he trails the league in points over expectation. Breida has also not played up to his opportunity, so he might be an even more compelling buy at this point. Even though it doesn’t feel like you’d be buying low on Breida at the moment, he’s trending in the right direction and could increase in value as the season continues.
- Whoever gets the early-down role in Washington will likely end up being a worthwhile investment. Both Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine are currently underperforming their workloads. Washington faces a struggling 49ers team on Sunday, and they are currently double-digit favorites. This game should set up nicely for Kelley if he’s healthy, or Perine if he’s not. Chris Thompson, meanwhile, has been the most efficient RB in the NFC. Only Kareem Hunt has more points over expectation. We should expect Thompson’s rest-of-season production to fall more in line with his workload.
- Jerick McKinnon was second in the NFC in total expected points in Week 5. Although he has slightly outperformed his opportunity-based expectations in 2017, the massive bump in workload value that we saw on Monday night cannot be ignored. He is the top waiver priority at RB this week.
- While it was Orleans Darkwa who scored the long touchdown, Wayne Gallman led the Giants RBs in total expected points in Week 5. Yet neither of them are the best back to own going forward. With Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall both done for the season, expect more passing work to flow through Shane Vereen, who caught nine passes and led the team in targets in Week 1 when Beckham was out.
- Todd Gurley is coming off a season-low in snap share and expected points, as he forfeited nine backfield carries to Tavon Austin. He also ranks second in the NFC in points over expectation, meaning some negative regression might be coming. That said, before last week, he was leading the league in RB expected points. If you think the Rams’ Week 5 usage was a fluke, Gurley might be worth buying after a disappointing week. If it has you worried, then you have two good reasons to try to sell Gurley to an owner who thinks it was a fluke. At this point, I’m probably on the “buying” side, but one more week like this will be enough to swing me in the other direction.
- RotoViz darling Aaron Jones was on the field for a Ty-Montgomery-esque 88 percent of the Packers’ offensive snaps on Sunday. He’s scored nearly 10 points more than expected over two games in 2017. He now leads the Packers in rushing yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry to Montgomery’s 3.3. Is it possible he’s the best RB in Green Bay? I don’t know, but given his outperformance and Montgomery’s impending return, I would consider trying to sell Jones in redraft leagues. At best he’ll be stuck in a timeshare when Montgomery gets back on the field. At worst Montgomery will take over his previous role and Jones will be turned into a pure handcuff. The good news is that we know that if Montgomery has to miss more time, Jones would be in line for a massive workload.
- I said last week that Adrian Peterson was droppable. His recent trade to Arizona has changed nothing. He was already being used minimally in New Orleans, and now he’ll share limited early-down work with Kerwynn Williams. Let other fantasy owners burn FAAB dollars.
- Although all Chicago RBs have been outperforming expectations on the season, Tarik Cohen is the only one who has consistently lost snap share upon Benny Cunningham’s return. The window to sell high on him may have come and gone. Although I still think he’s probably the most talented RB on the Bears’ roster, he’s not startable at the moment, and may even be worth moving in a redraft, if you can find a buyer who thinks he’s buying low. In dynasty, on the other hand, I’m the one trying to buy low right now.
- J.D. McKissic has performed well with C.J. Prosise out of the lineup and Chris Carson’s season over. He’s scored almost 10 fantasy points more than expected in two games. However, he only got 27 percent of snaps in Week 5, and that number figures to go down once Prosise returns. Now might be the time to move on from McKissic.